The pretty good books of Susan Larson

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The Joinup Begins: Sam Changes his Mind

In this vignette from “Sam (a pastoral),” both Ruthie and Sam forgo their first impulses, namely to fight; they stop a moment and re-consider each other and decide to try a little trust.


‘Sam sauntered down the barn lane like an old moo cow, his head bobbing between Evvie and me, his ears waggling back and forth in time with his strides. My heart was thumping about three beats per waggle. I led Sam close to the stave bench, then stood on it and slowly looped the reins over his neck.

Sam tensed up and rolled a spooky-blue left eye around to glare at me. He whuffed out hard through his nose as I undid the halter and lifted the crownpiece of the bridle up in front of his face…

Hmpf!” he said, and flung his nose straight up. How could he? After I had been so nice to him.

“Should I smack him?” I asked Evvie.

“I dunno, is be being bad?”

Was he? Or was he just expecting to get yarned around? We stood there another minute. The nose stayed up, the eye stared at me. Finally I took the bridle down and reached out nice and slow with my empty hand. I stroked Sam’s neck.

“Don’t worry, Sam.” My voice was shaking. “I won’t yarn you around, ever. Ever. I promise.”

That eye glowered down at me and I looked up at it. I kept stroking his neck. It was as hard as stone. Another long minute went by.

The eye closed. Sam smacked his lips and made a sound like a sigh. Did I hear him say,

“Tsk. Oh, all right, if it means that much to you.” Sam lowered his head. I held up the bridle again and he took the bit. I eased the crown piece over his ears, off side, near side. Sam sighed again while I did up the buckles; then the eye opened and looked at me. Not glaring…

Sam lifted his nose up close to my face. He sniffed my hair and my mouth and touched my cheek with his whiskers. I sighed and shut my eyes…’


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An Exerpt from “Sam (a pastoral)”

Sam arrives

Cousin Billy’s van pulled into the barn lane bright and early, at eight o’clock. Billy let down the ramp and led Sam out. Actually, Sam exploded out in one giant leap and never touched the ramp. He was quivering all over, bug-eyed, high-tailed and high-headed. He looked quite a bit uglier– and oranger– and wilder– than I remembered…

We led him out to the pasture, and in and out of his new stall a few times, and along all the fence lines, reading the how-to-settle-them-in-to-their-new-home instructions in “A Horse of Your Own” as we went.. .

Finally we turned Sam loose to investigate on his own. He did another complete tour of the pasture at a high-prancing trot, sometimes screeching to a halt, nostrils whiffing, eyes flashing blue, looking. He looked at the twelve Holsteins he shared his new home with; he looked at Connnor’s Holsteins in their pasture a half mile away; he looked at Byron mowing his hay, a little late in the season, down-hollow.

The only thing he ignored was us.

Pretty soon Byron chugged up on his tractor, parked it in the lane and walked out to meet us.

“Seen the van com up. Thought I’d take a look at your new pony. Built to last, ain’t he?”

I just nodded and watched my horse thundering around the pasture.

“You ride him over at Billy’s? How’s he go?”

“Goes good, Boy Jeez. Stops good too.”

“All you need.” Byron watched Sam some more, chuckled a few times, rubbed the back of his neck, then climbed up on his tractor and chugged back down to his haylot…

“When can I ride?” said Evvie.

“It says here we’re supposed to let him settle in for a day. Tomorrow. Or the day after. Then we’ll put the bridle on.”

How was I going to put the bridle on, was what I was thinking…

Read the rest of “Sam” free as a Kindle or Kindle app ebook. Dowload free Dec 12-13!

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“Sam (a pastoral) Free Kindle Book thru 12-13

“Sam (a pastoral)” is about a horse of no value, who has had it with most of the human race. Sam, the horse, is rescued from an uncertain fate by a child who is starting to believe she has no value.  Somehow this unlikely pair works out their issues, including:

1.  Talking back, make that screaming back, at her family when they belittle her most cherished dreams.

2. Refusing to be bridled.

3. Refusing to let go of an idea once it enters her head, especially if horses are involved.

4. Refusing to be shod.

5.  Sticking to her notion that the first rule in animal care is care.

6. Sticking to his notion that the first rule in human care is care.

By the turning point in this book Sam is doing the rescuing, because his child, Ruthie, has lost all sense of herself.  Her father has left the house for good; as a parting shot, he blames Ruthie and Sam for the breakup of the family.  Shattered by guilt and consumed with rage, she plunges into a dark winter of the soul that is mirrored by the worst weather their neck of the woods has seen in years.

Sam stands by his kid as Ruthie acts out in all sorts of awful ways. He forgives her tantrums, and pulls her out of her funk and back into the world of the living as a lush spring arrives. More challenges wait in store for the devoted pair, as Ruthie struggles to regain herself and to practice her own and Sam’s notions; that the first rule in the care and feeding of either humans or animals, is care.

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Are Horses Slaves?


I raise some questions in my book “Sam (a pastoral)” about how we treat animals and each other. Ruthie, my young heroine, loses her temper and takes it out on Sam. She tells no one, but the guilty feeling that the horse will always remember the abuse and never trust her again, is eating away at her.  After a bitter fight with her sister about the human and animal slavery, Ruthie asks her Dad to clarify this question for them. Here are a few bits Dad’s philosophy.


“When you face facts you see that Fear and Hunger are the only forces in the world. There’s no such thing as love. Nobody, man nor beast, works because he loves it.  I get up and commute to the office every day because I am afraid of getting fired and going hungry. If I could arrange things to suit myself, I wouldn’t have a wife and kids, ha ha, and right now I’d be asleep under a palm tree in the South Sea Islands, with a few lines out to catch fish for dinner….


“Every animal in the world–and we are animals too– is driven by Fear and Hunger and nothing else. Is that good? Is that bad? It’s just reality. Sam obeys you because the whip and the bit give him pain, and he fears pain…that’s the way the world works, for all of us….”


Ruthie absorbs several ideas from Dad’s lecture.  First, that her Dad does not love her or want her.  Second, that kindness doesn’t matter. As she lies sleepless in her bed that night she thinks:


I could yank Sam’s mouth and beat and starve him and it wouldn’t make any difference. I just believed all that gushy oh-my-pony-loves-me stuff so I could get to ride. What Dad said was true. Sam was my slave.


It takes a while for Ruthie to dig out from under this stark view of the world.  But we have hope that she is going to, because this view makes her feel even worse than she did when she was writhing with guilt about hurting her horse and betraying their bond.  But the questions remain in her heart, and ours: do we take care of each other, or do we exploit each other?







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Horse Interviews Human

During the week of Dec 9-13k that “Sam” is running free on Kindle (there’s an image!) Sam has graciously consented to  interview his biographer, me.

S: Why did you take so long bringing my biography to the waiting world?
B: Cut me some slack, I was singing opera and stuff.
S: Why are there so many human beings hogging the attention? I don’t think you put me into enough scenes.
B: You have the title role. You  had a large circle of acquaintance, people you liked. People you hated.  I needed to stuff them all in.

S: What inspired you to write this poignant and tender book?
b: You did.
S: And what were your major influences?
B: You were.
S: No, I mean your literary influences.
B: Early influences areAnna Sewell, who wrote Black Beauty, Felix Salten, who wrote Bambi, and  L. Frank Baum, who wrote about a talking horse named ‘Stampedro’ in “The Yellow Knight of Oz.”  Stampedro, like you, was cantankerous.  I am very fond of Jane Smiley’s “Horse Heaven.” These are all stories where the animals talk.
S: How does my biography compare with these classic works of literature?
B: Well, you talk too.  Are you trying to embarrass me in public?
S: Sorrrry. I just want to be immortal, like Black Beauty, Is that too much to ask?
What was it like when we met for the first time?
B: You were not what I expected. I was expecting a pony.
S: Well you weren’t what I expected either. I was expecting to go to, you know, to the Alpo factory.  So how did we join up?
B: We had a lot in common. We were stubborn and mistrustful at first. It could easily have gone the other way.
S: You were a considerate rider though, from the start.  I always appreciate  it when humans want me to do something, that they ask me nice. I don’t like being bullied, you know?

B: I have an aversion to that myself. But I remember trying to bully you a few times, when I lost my temper.
S: And how did that work out?

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“Sam (a pastoral)” Kindle Giveaway

From December 9-13, my pretty good book “Sam (a pastoral)” a novel about horses and humans for young and older adults, will be offered as a free gift to you in the Kindle edition on

The ‘real’ Sam was a horse with common looks and no talent. He won no races, ribbons, or medals for bravery. What can I say about him? He  had a kindly temperament. He behaved for the farrier and the vet. He liked a good gallop, whenever possible. He was my friend.  The fictional Sam,  the humble  trash nag standing at the  center of this story, serves as an example of plain ordinary goodness. He is the calm center of the hurricane of human folly.

The human characters in this book don’t win any prizes either. In their way they are trying desperately to find some happy; some of them do, some don’t.  Small triumphs dot the story: a  man leaves his deadening job the city and goes fishing. An alcoholic kicks his habit by training ‘pulling ponies.’  An timid housewife takes a job and buys herself a pickup truck. A damaged kid adopts thrown-away animals.

Ruthie, the troubled girl who narrates the tale, is convinced that her steed Sam talks to her. She describes him like a lover would in affectionate detail: his hair, his eyes, his lips. She  gauges his moods by watching his ears. On the other hand, the important humans in her life are a blur. She doesn’t see them, nor they her. Mired in a cycle of misunderstandings, tantrums, physical fights, and vicious revenge plots, they talk, or shout, past each other, to the point of insanity. At war with God, her neighbor, and herself, Ruthie wants to find the happy. She may or may not heed Sam’s sound advice on this subject.

While  the characters in “Sam” are struggling and being miserable and so on, they can also be pretty funny. Even Sam is funny. Full disclosure: some sensitive issues are addressed, including bullying, parental abuse and abandonment, teen pregnancy, cruelty to animals, and the humiliation of somebody’s mother-in-law. No graphic violence or gore, no sex scenes, but intense emotional content may disturb younger kids, or kids with family issues.

I invite you to saddle up and ride with Sam for absolutely, totally, utterly free, during my Kindle Freebie Giveaway Dec 9-13.  Download this pretty nice book if you like horses, humans, or both, or know somebody who does.  If you like him, feel free to  post a good word about Sam somewhere.