Happy Horse, The

28 May 2019

The Happy Horse
Written by Carolyn Williams, Illustrated by L.E. Stevens
Published by Ghostmountain Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$20.00 ISBN 978-1-9994737-0-9

There’s so much adoration and delight – both in and between the lines – of Carolyn Williams’ slim, illustrated softcover, The Happy Horse, I’m reminded of a movie opening where it’s all blue skies and butterflies … which portends a forthcoming turn into darkness.

Williams, a “transplanted Englishwoman living life (and loving it) out in the wilds of the great Canadian prairies” has teamed with Ohio illustrator L.E. Stevens to produce a book about the sweet life of a never-officially-named-in-the-story horse (I glean it’s “Snoop” from the dedication) that the writer actually owned – his photo appears above the book’s dedication – and clearly admired, as the book’s an homage to that extraordinarily ambitious animal. You could say that this is a book about a horse with a life well-lived. A happy horse with a life well-lived!

Williams employs repetition of the phrase “He was a Happy Horse” as the last line in the first thirteen pages of this thirty-two page text – each facing page features a line-drawn illustration of the horse and its activities – and alters that phrase slightly near the end. Using repetition helps beginning readers to learn; it’s a device often used in children’s literature.

The story begins with the horse’s birth, “Late at night, [w]hen the stars were bright,” and we’re told that both the horse’s mother and the horse’s “human” loved him. We see the horse “playing” with friends, and learn that both he – and his human – loved it when his coat was brushed. The horse learns how to play with a ball, to ride quietly in a trailer (“So that he could go to different places [w]ith his human,”) and to play chase. Eventually he transitions into a racehorse, a cow horse, and a participant in a “Cow Horse Competition”. That’s quite a horse!

But what he loves best is being at home with his human.

This story demonstrates how even quiet stories can be effective, and in fact, an homage to a loved one – or a loved animal – is as worthy of being printed as a story that includes a grand plot.

Illustrator Stevens’ cartoon-styled illustrations, surrounded by ample white space, are a good match for the minimal text, and the cover features the smiling horse on a background of denim blue. Stevens’ bio states: “His dogs love him and his beautiful wife tolerates him”.

I knew what was coming, of course. It had to. All I’ll say is that the only colour within the story proper occurs in the symbolic rainbow at the end of the story. Gulp.

On the back cover the writer – who’s also passionate about dogs – explains that her horse “taught [her] how to love life again,” and other important lessons, including to “HAVE FUN” every day. The dog-human connection is often remarked upon and written about; perhaps less so the horse-human connection, but clearly the bond is remarkable. That comes across. Indeed, for Williams the connection’s been life changing.


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