For equestrians who like to read, H. Allan Day's The Horse Lover: A Cowboy's Quest to Save Wild Mustangs (University of Nebraska, 2014) is both enjoyable and crucial. Day has a friendly voice throughout this memoir, and it serves to create a sense of camaraderie helpful for those who have not lived the ranch life but who can relate to having had beloved horses. Day is very clear that he loves horses, a love tempered with knowledge of them, as well as working partnerships. The lifestyle Day outlines in this memoir is, for many people, completely mythic, a part of American heritage that's almost extinct.
Appropriately, Day's memoir is about creating a refuge for America's wild horses, who are today almost extinct. He details the land needed, the knot of administrative regulations and layers of government, and throughout it all is his love of horses motivating his Herculean task.
Day's sense of naturalism permeates this work. At one point, he writes, "Mornings soon became my favorite time. I'd lie in bed listening to chirps and caws and rustling leaves, then brew a pot of coffee and drink a cup on the porch. The wild turkeys would fly down from their perch and feast on a breakfast of grasshoppers. This was our private time, when the ranch and I smiled at each other .:
Anyone who has spent time outdoors knows this sense of morning's sweetness. Yet, Day makes a point of detailing the nonstop work required, "Even on gusty mornings when tiny, sharp snowflakes stung our eyes and cheeks and the cold snaked through our jeans and gloves (...) Some days the gray sky hung so low I was tempted to prop it up with tent poles. Other times it fell, in millions of crystal pieces that blanketed the ground white. Regardless,(...) we had to feed (...) We needed twenty-five to thirty pounds of hay per mustang, which equated to fourteen bales of hay per day (...) Even then, a whiteout might obscure the horses or stacks of hay. We drove slowly."
Weekday. Weekend. Holiday.
Sun. Rain. Hail. Wind. Lightning. Snow. Ice.
"Feeding the horses was as much a responsibility as feeding our families. For the love of horses, we did it ." This is the dedication to which every horse person can relate, how horses frame every day.
Day's memoir gives anecdotes of horses he's loved in his life as a true cowboy, and some involving his daughter when she was a young jump-rider. He is of the school that good horse care is good horse care, that good training is good training. Day makes a point of advocating against brutality, of "breaking a horse by breaking his will (...which) too often required punishing a horse severely," and much of the memoir concerns itself with the horses in his life.
Yet, it is the mustangs and the imperative of their threatened future which is the foundation for Day's writing. While Day maintained a refuge for mustangs for five years - a refuge that allowed the horses to eat grass, move about, drink running water, and live as horses should instead of the prisons of dirt and close confines that are the current fate of well over half of America's wild horses - his memoir poses no happily ever after. Instead, readers are confronted with one man's heroic effort to save our wild horses, and the governmental nightmare that seems focused only on their brutal extinction. Day turned neither a blind eye nor a hand away from this war on our wild horses. His memoir gives each reader ample instruction for how to try and help without being bossy about it.
For anyone who cares about the fate of our wild horses, for anyone who cares about horses at all, Day's book is a friendly, but serious horse-loving text on a life dedicated to horses.