Monday, February 14, 2011

Smoky the Cowhorse (1927)

Sometimes, you read a book that keeps you thinking.  You might not have thought much about it while reading it, but it keeps coming back.  I finished Smoky the Cowhorse several days ago.  Today I drove to Athens, TX, about 2 hours drive each way, and had time to listen to the radio.  I started out with news about Egypt and the great revolution which has recently unfolded.  I went on to sing-along to Bohemian Rhapsody and other fun songs.  And then I spotted some horses in a field.  Brown with white on their noses and legs.  And the first thing I thought of was Smoky.

Smoky the Cowhorse is written from the perspective of the horse, mostly, and partly from the man who loved and trained him, Clint.  A strong cowboy accent pervades the writing, which I found slightly annoying at first, but then it kind of grew on me.

Smoky, a wild mustang pony in Wyoming, was owned by the Rocking R ranch, although he did not know that.  His herd ranged the hills and plains, fattening up in spring and summer, foraging through snow and bizzards in winter, until he is spotted and kept to be broken for a cattle horse.  Clint did the breaking for the Rocking R.  When he saw Smoky, he knew he had found a horse worth keeping for life.  He loved him and taught him all he could as gently as he could, although Smoky resisted mightily.  But Smoky comes to love Clint as well.

Smoky and Clint gain a reputation for their devotion.  Smoky will not let another rider on him and had saved Clint's life more than once.  But, as in life, a little opposition keeps it interesting. 

A really bad dude rustled Smoky.  He did not just steal him, he broke him.  Clint "broke" him to the saddle and to work.  This man broke his spirit and trust.  He beat him cruelly and eventually, Smoky fought back.

I won't go into all the details, but after years of separation, Clint and Smoky reunite.

This book has caused me to look a little differently at how animals are used.  Clint took these wild animals of immense power and beauty and trained them.  He didn't make them tame, but made them useful.  The work they did was necessary for the running of the ranch and having hardy ponies was imperative.  But, it felt wrong to me, to take them out of the wild and the life they had known of freedom, rather than taking stock that was bred for usefulness. (I'm not sure if I'm making the difference I feel about this clear.) 

I'm looking at this story now in an allegorical sense.  If you look at Clint as the God figure, and at Smoky as us, people, it kind of makes sense.  Clint took Smoky and did not change his being, or sense of self or lessen his abilities.  Clint took Smoky and made him something more than he was before.  He took Smoky's natural abilities and taught him how to use those to greater purpose.  And he did this out of love.

God takes us, rebellious wild things, and does the same.  He doesn't want to change who we are, we are his children.  He does want us to be more than we think we can be.  And through his gentle training and coaxing, we can become great.  The Lord shows us what we can do and be with his power.  I recently read a quote that I really liked.  "We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day." (Richard G. Scott, "The Transforming Power of Faith and Character," Ensign, Nov. 2010,43.)

Smoky was a good read.  I don't know that kids these days would like it as much as I did.  It isn't fast- paced, and the subject matter is far removed from these modern days, but I liked the development in the relationship between Clint and Smoky.  I liked the pace and the flavor and learning about cowboys and life in the olden days.  I think if you could get a child into it, they would enjoy it as well.

James, Will.  Smoky the Cowhorse. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1926.

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