Horsewoman must-read: The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

This is a reprint of what I wrote in college as the editor of The Eagle at Chadron State College. I am currently re-reading this book and enjoying it just as thoroughly as I did the first time I cracked open this realistic, yet magical read. Next in my pile of books to read is Molly Gloss’ Falling from Horses.

Author Molly Gloss highlights the workings of a woman broncobuster, who, tough as any man, uses gentle, thoughtful techniques of breaking horses during the rough times that World War I presented. “The Hearts of Horses” intricately introduces Martha Lessen and the group of local farmers and ranchers she breaks colts for. As the story progresses, less emphasis is placed on Martha herself and more on the complicated lives of her neighbors. Remaining tidbits about Martha and the horses she gets to know better helps to continue each of their unique stories.

Molly Gloss

Martha had never considered herself a social butterfly. However, she finds she has something to offer each family in addition to horsemanship skills rare to the time period.

The Kandel family owns a small chicken farm and a blue roan colt named Dandy that is being trained by Martha. The father has cancer and he and his small family have to learn to cope with the lack of knowledge from doctors of the time.

Mata Hari, the Dutch spy horse, belongs to a small family with an alcoholic father. The mother handles daily chores, family income, and the care of her three children. As she becomes friends with Martha, the mother finds the strength to continue on, only to experience an overwhelming tragedy.

Henry Frazer is the foreman of a close-by ranch and the expected lover in the story. He has an interesting background as well, in the form of a dead brother and a crippled sister-in-law. A delicate romance develops between Martha and Henry as the story progresses, with much learning had by both.

Martha uses methods of training similar to many trainers today, including followers of Ray Hunt. She does not buck her horses out; instead, she gently introduces a horse to weight on his back and a person above him, without linking the movements to harm. She also uses a method similar to Monty Robert’s round penning to get a horse to yield to a person, rather than running away from the original fear—the person.

Martha also spends time eliminating fear of inanimate objects and teaching her horses to pick up their feet for a farrier, not to flee when tangled in barbed wire, and to ground tie with patience while the rider does things like opening gates or tending to sick calves.

Proof that Martha’s techniques are effective comes when she gets in a wreck with Big Brown, another of her colts. She uses her practical teachings to untangle him from a pile of strewn barbed wire, as he patiently waits for her assistance.

Gloss captures the language of the time period and of broncobusters. She has a way of wrapping the reader up in Martha’s daily tolls and worries, gains and strides. The reader feels like he or she is sitting on a nearby fence, with dust in their eyes and concern on their face, watching Martha lean over a small bay colt with a high-strung attitude, teaching him to accept someone above him.

Molly Gloss

This book is an inspiration to all. It deals with the rough edge of cancer in the family, the sorrow in a dead-beat drunken father, the twinge of loneliness, some things most of us will brush with in our lifetimes. Most inspiring of all, however, is Martha herself. Even to women who have never touched a horse, breathed his warm breath, felt his soft neck. Martha will teach women to find strength in a world that isn’t quite equal or understanding. Throughout the novel, she makes a living of a man’s job, but remains humble and deserving.

“The Hearts of Horses” would be appreciated by horsewomen and history buffs alike. There is just enough balance of war-time talk and horse lingo to keep all readers entertained, but not in over their heads. The many ranching families provide a nice backdrop to Martha’s challenges and struggles to be a handy, bronco-busting woman in man’s world of ranching.

Visit Molly’s website here:

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

About Savanna Simmons

I'm Savanna Simmons and I live north of Lusk, Wyoming, on the Four Three Ranch with my husband Boe and our sons, Brindle and Roan. I grew up evolving my horsemanship with clinicians like Ray Hunt, Joe Wolter, and Jack Brainard, but not within a...

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