Black Beauty lives at the end of Main Street and Pegasus takes wing from the pasture around the corner in a new exhibit touring public and school libraries worldwide through 2012.
The exhibit, Vanessa Wright’s “The Literary Horse: When Legends Come to Life”, pairs up to 100 photos of today’s novice through Olympic horses and riders with family-friendly, secular, and cited public domain quotations from the world’s great books. Showcasing first-time riders through Special Olympic and Olympic champions, 26 horse breeds, and 29 equestrian disciplines – ranging from carriage driving and show jumping to jousting and mounted archery – The Literary Horse provides visitors with a real-life tour of world classics, such as The Iliad, Richard III, and War and Peace, as well as beloved children’s tales including, Black Beauty, Cinderella, and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
“I hoped these images would help people see themselves in the great books and inspire them to live their own legends,” says Wright. “Heroes aren’t just people who lived long ago – they are our neighbors, our friends, our family members and ourselves. The beauty, heart, and spirit we admire in legendary horses exists in our pasture pets, service horses, and competition partners. Together, we face challenges as thrilling and as extraordinary as the quests of old. After all, every great story, at its heart, reflects the greatness that is already within us.”
Gigi: Who are The Literary Horse (and Riders Read) participants?
Vanessa: The Literary Horse exhibit features novices through Special Olympic and Olympic champions. Yet no matter what their background, all participants share three important traits. First, each person must have a love of the horse, and of the equestrian sport, art, or mission they pursue. Second, each horse must be happy, healthy, safe, and sound for the work he/she is expected to do. (A 34-year-old companion horse, for example, is not expected to be in the same shape as a 10-year-old Grand Prix dressage competitor!) Finally, each person must be committed to education – to learning, sharing, and passing on excellence in horsemanship and equestrian skill. These criteria keep participation open to novices through experts, young children to seniors, riding schools, veterinary clinics, and therapy and service organizations, and, of course, to all horses from the shaggiest backyard pasture pet to the most decorated international champion. However, the criteria also emphasize the one thing that links them: the capacity for unnoticed or celebrated but absolutely real greatness in every person and every horse. Riders Read! is a photo series that accompanies The Literary Horse exhibit. In the Riders Read! posters, the exhibit participants are pictured reading on, to, or “with” their horses. It’s a lot of fun – one vaulter is pictured reading while doing a full split on her coach’s horse! – and the images can encourage reluctant readers to give a new book a try.
G: Why horses? What is it about the horse-human connection that is so inspiring?
V: Horses give us the chance to be our best selves. Horses don’t care what you look like, what you have, where you come from, or what grades you get or what job you have. Horses care about – and respond to – who you are. If you can be brave, kind, thoughtful, and patient, you can forge a true connection with a horse, and through that connection – that bond, that friendship – the horse will give you the physical, mental, and emotional wings to fly.
G: How many libraries have hosted The Literary Horse exhibit?
V: More than 35 public, school, and university libraries have hosted The Literary Horse: When Legends Come to Life. The exhibit began at my home library, the Nashua Public Library in Nashua, New Hampshire, in May 2008. It has visited libraries large and small, from the West Buxton Public Library in Buxton, Maine, a tiny converted one-room schoolhouse built in 1853, to the Lexington Central Public Library, which featured a 50-piece exhibit as part of their celebration of the city’s hosting of the 2010 World Equestrian Games. The exhibit has a “happily ever after” coming up, too. In December 2012, The Literary Horse exhibit will go on permanent display at the Norco Horse Library in Norco, California, also known as Horsetown, USA!
G: What are the most unusual ways libraries have used the exhibit?
V: How about horses *in* the library! Three librarians have invited real, live miniature horses into their libraries during The Literary Horse exhibit. Young (and young-at-heart!) visitors got to learn and ask questions about horses, pet and brush (and hug!) the visiting horse, have their picture taken, and, of course, check out a stampede of horse-themed books! Another half dozen librarians have had ponies and horses visit outside the library. The owners – local riding instructors, Pony Clubs, and 4H groups – gave talks and answered questions about horses and invited visitors to meet and pet the horses, and two instructors offered free pony rides and wagon rides. Still other libraries have organized free horse-themed workshops, ranging from veterinarians giving “Healthy Horse” talks to farrier demonstrations to horse-drawing classes with an equine artist to poem readings and singalongs led by equestrian authors and musicians.
Oh! And one library partnered with a nearby polo academy turned their entire main reading room into a polo tack room, with saddles, bridles, mallets, balls, and all kinds of other tack and equipment on display among the shelves. One afternoon they had a group of young schoolchildren visit, and watching the kids light up as they played with the bridles and brushes made me think a few new young horse-lovers were minted that day!
G: Each library chooses its exhibit; how do librarians select their images?
V: Two months before the exhibit, the hosting librarians browse a private online catalog and choose the images they want. Since I am always shooting new photos for The Literary Horse, this lets each librarian pick from the latest shots! Some libraries, though, get a series of particularly special photos. If a library invites me to their town, I photograph local riders and horses to include in their exhibit. Best of all, these photos are then entered in the catalog so that they can be part of future Literary Horse exhibits, too.
G: Where do you store everything? Do you have to keep a special place so the images and posters stay in good shape?
V: I would need a gallery of my own to store all 100+ framed prints! Luckily, though, the exhibit has been traveling for three straight years, and it has never been home for more than a few days. On those days, the prints stack practically to the ceiling in my studio. Any extra, unframed prints – including the free images given away at each exhibit! – are kept in individual sealed bags in a set of drawers built into my drafting desk.
G: In the Riders Read photos, how do you get the horses in the photographs to look like they are reading, too?
V: It’s easy: all the rider needs to do is choose a book her horse likes! 🙂 Seriously, the kids, teens, and adults in the exhibit are the kind of horse-people whose horses turn toward the sound of their voices. The horses, too, because they are given loving care and steady guidance, tend to be happy, confident, and curious, eager to investigate whatever their “people” find interesting. I like to imagine that they enjoy a good story, but I know they definitely enjoy the warm affection of sharing one with their “person.”
G: What is the first horse story you remember?
V: My grandparents told me the true, triumphant and heart-breaking stories of racehorses from the first August day I toddled into their home, which sat two blocks away from the famous Saratoga racetrack. I think they would have named me Terlingua or Ruffian if they could have and I think I wouldn’t have minded if they did. 🙂
G: When did you start collecting horse books?
V: All of my books are horse books – whether they’re Anna Sewell’s 1877 Black Beauty or Taylor Clark’s 2010 Nerve: Poise under Pressure, Serenity under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool – because I tend to see fiction and nonfiction through they eyes of a horsewoman. As much as I love reading great books, though, I love sharing them even more. The Literary Horse exhibit has been a fantastic way to share horse books with entire library communities, and so many visitors asked me questions about what books would be best for their children, friends, and loved ones that I also started a blog, GreatBooksforHorseLovers.com, to help kids, teens, and adults find horse books, movies, music, and real-life literary adventures that they’ll love!
G: Do you remember when you first had the spark of the idea for The Literary Horse traveling exhibit?
V: I could never forget: my inspiration is nosing my shoulder right this minute, demanding to say “Hay!” 🙂 Meet my horse, Pegasus, a 17 hand Thoroughbred-Lipizzan gelding, who inspired and began The Literary Horse exhibit. I’ve been reading aloud to Pegasus since I first brought him home ten years ago. The more I read, the more I realized that the heroic horses and people in myth and literature were a lot like the horses and people I knew. Then one day I was taking pictures of Pegasus, and he happened to walk toward me in such a way that a fan of dazzling sunbeams blazed around him, and for a moment, it looked like he really was the mythical Pegasus striding out from the sun.
The idea blossomed instantly. I’d find and photograph novice through Olympic horses and riders – those who exemplified the kind of courage, commitment, joy, and connection that have enriched human life and history for thousands of years – and pair them with quotations from classic books. The exhibit would honor the roles horses have played in human history and inquiry, celebrate the “new” legends that are arising among our horses and horse-people every day, and invite the greater community to join us in the learning, delight, and inspiration that the art of horsemanship continually offers. Of course, it would also celebrate and support libraries, and promote reading and community literacy.
My greatest hope, though, then and now, would be that The Literary Horse: When Legends Come to Life exhibit would help young and young-at-heart lovers of horses and epic adventure see themselves in the great books and inspire them to live their own legends. Best of all, finding themselves in a library, visitors could then borrow the books and seek whatever assistance they might need to begin their own journeys, horse-powered or otherwise. Every Literary Horse photo, quote, and biography shares that same message: Go on, live your legend!
G: Thank you, Vanessa. What an inspiring exhibit. I would love to see it and hope one day I will! Did you know that the name Chancey for the main horse in Chancey of the Maury River came from an appy I met in New Hampshire? I hope I get to meet Pegasus one day!