For most of your life, you’ve been told to dream big.
Reach for the stars, they said. Go for it. Just do it. Carpe diem.
That’s all good advice, especially when you don’t yet know what your deepest dream is. It’s even better advice when, as in “The Horse Lover” by H. Alan Day (with Lynn Wiese Sneyd), your dream is a little wild.
Alan Day did not need another ranch. He already owned a 198,000-acre spread that “straddled” Arizona and New Mexico and a 45,000-acre ranch in Nebraska, but touring the 35,000-acre Arnold Ranch in South Dakota felt curiously like coming home. Day fell in love with the land and made an offer to buy it. He wasn’t sure what to do with the ranch — until a friend coincidentally presented an intriguing proposal: the Bureau of Land Management had been in charge of capturing wild mustangs for years, but there was a problem with unadoptable horses. Day’s friend likened the animals’ holding pens to a sort of prison that was expensive to run.
A privately-held sanctuary seemed to be a good solution for Day’s new ranch, taxpayers, and horses alike. And so — after months of preparation and piles of official paperwork — 1,500 horses were delivered to the Mustang Meadows Ranch.
The first business at hand was to train the horses. Day, a cattleman at heart, knew that skittish animals could be taught to acclimate to humans, so he and his cowboys set about doing so.
This helped calm the mustangs, and facilitated moving them and caring for their health. Out of old, tiny corrals and in an atmosphere they were “born” to roam, once- scruffy horses grew fat and sleek on prairie grasses, and individual personalities began to emerge. The BLM was happy, and so was Day.
But then, as often happens, politics got in the way. Local government officials tried to have Day arrested due to an accident. BLM officers directed him to do something unimaginable. They took his horses for reasons he thinks he figured out. On April 13, 1993, everything fell apart.
I have mixed feelings about this book, and here’s why: “The Horse Lover” is a gorgeous book. Beautiful, really, but it’s littered with wince-worthy memories that I really wish I’d never had to read. The author is a true gentleman cowboy and an exceptional storyteller. From start to finish, we’re treated to one anecdote after another of horses he’s loved and people he’s known. Over and over, I felt like I was leaning on a fence while reading, smelling horseflesh, and listening to nickers and prairie — all good signs of a tale that pulls you in and keeps you there. But then there are peeks at the reality of ranch life, years ago, and that’s hard stuff to read. It doesn’t completely overtake this memoir, but it crops up and bears mentioning. Keep that in mind and beware, and “The Horse Lover” could be a dream book.