Wild Horse Annie (Velma Johnston)
I‘ve never been a big reader of biographies except for Margaret Forster’s who has covered everyone from Thackeray to Daphne du Maurier. Forster’s skill at drawing the reader into the life of her subject and exposing the dramas, big and little, which fill out that life without exaggeration, without embellishment, is unparalleled. Alison Griffiths and David Cruise, authors of Wild Horse Annie & The Last of the Mustangs. The Life of Velma Johnston have met, if not surpassed, such high standards–not only for the voluminousness of their research–but also for the quality and flow of the writing. There is no hint of sentimentalism in their account of a woman scarred early on by polio who took on the US Bureau of Land Management long before animal or horse advocacy groups were part of our culture. It’s a true David and Goliath story in which a seemingly nondescript American citizen (1950s homemaker, secretary) chances upon a horse transport and is so horrified by what she sees that she determines to stop it. As it turns out, she changes the course of american law with regard to the treatment and slaughter of the American mustang. I can’t say enough about the authors’ handling of the many characters who flow in and out of Velma’s messianic mission, nor their deft presentation of Velma herself. As a child, I was a great reader of Marguerite Henry’s classic horse stories for youngsters: I loved them all. But like most young horse-lovers, I didn’t know anything about the underbelly of the horse culture nor anything about how their slaughter came about initially to feed protein to our pet dogs. As the fast food burger outlets grew during that period, more and more land was taken over by cattlemen who claimed the mustangs were pests, using up pasture they needed for their cow herds. I learned a lot about the american mustang’s displacement from natural corridors which for centuries had been his home. As my own novel, Ground Manners, approaches its publication date, I’m glad I didn’t come across Wild Annie before now: I never would have finished my book. And the few grisly scenes of slaughter in GM are more than matched by disturbing descriptions in Wild Annie. I had polio as a child–a very minor case compared to Annie’s; and she died on my birthday. Another reason I feel close to her and her passion to save the mustangs. But mostly, I am part of a readership grateful to Griffiths and Cruise for bringing Velma’s courageous mission back to the table.