Rating: 4.5 stars
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Do you have a love of horses? Do cowboys make your heart beat faster? From the fields of England to the dusty rodeo arena, here are six stories about that special bond that can exist between man and horse. The Horsing Around anthology contains stories by six wonderful authors, truly something for everyone.
Horses have a special place in my heart so I adored this anthology. But even if your knowledge or fondness of horses is slight, there is such a variety of stories included within that I am sure you will find a tale to love and connect with among them. Here are my mini reviews of the stories in the order they are found in the anthology:
Ride Like a Stallion by Kiernan Kelly
Rating 4.5 stars
This is a tale told from two very different perspectives. One is Thomas Bone, a young man injured when he was a child on his father’s ranch. The resulting injury permanently disabled him, leaving him with the nickname T-Bone and as the object of pity and derision by those around him. The other? That would be Gander, the “ugly” mixed breed colt T-Bone pleaded with his father to save when the mare carrying him was having trouble with the delivery. And despite everyone’s predictions and expectations, the two grow up together, becoming more than anyone could have imagined.
This story is unusual as it includes the “voice” of Gander and his perspective on their story as it unfolds. This author’s use of Gander as a co-narrator works surprisingly well, offering the pathos of his plight during the events that occur along with the love for “his boy.” Also especially noteworthy is the spare, utilitarian rancher father. He is such a strong character that his presence dominates each small scene in which he appears, a man who will continue to surprise you throughout the story. I have three favorites in this anthology and this is one of them.
Loadin’ Up by B.A. Tortuga
Rating 3.75 stars
Kaycee Johns, owner/trainer of rodeo bucking broncs, is loading his horses up to travel to the next venue when his nephew’s inexperience has one rearing, unwilling to enter the trailer. Only the intervention of Julian Martinez, one of the new rodeo safety men, saves the horse and gets her settled and loaded without injury. Their attraction to each other is immediately and lusty, leading to a white hot night of sex and just perhaps something more.
The paragraph above lays out the entire story. They meet, have sex, and decide to travel on together. Succinct and sexy. What elevates the story is Tortuga’s signature voice and descriptions. Here is our first impression of Julian:
One of the safety men — a new kid, all braids and hawk nose and beaded chaps — looked up from where he’d been cooling down his buckskin and the rope flashed out, easy as you please. The kid caught June right around the neck, and she settled at the weight of an experienced hand. She wasn’t mean; she’d just get away with anything if you let her.
From just a few words, we can see Julian so very clearly that almost nothing more is needed. Combine that with her colloquialisms and the regional portrait is clear and defined.
Old Scars by Aaron Michaels
Rating: 4.5 stars
Owen Parker is working with one of his horses on his stable outside of Reno when Jerry appears to ask for a job. Last time Owen saw Jerry was at the Nevada State Prison where Jerry was incarcerated. Owen was filling in for a friend with the Nevada’s saddle horse training program for prisoners and Jerry was an inmate assigned to the program. Now, five years later, Jerry has survived his time and is looking for employment.
Owen’s specialty is mustangs, a wild, unpredictable horse not easy to train and Owen just happens to have a horse that everyone else has failed with. Ace is one scarred old mustang with one chance left to make it, but something about this animal reminds Owen of Jerry. Jerry had a special touch with the horses in the prison training system and before he can understand why, Owen is giving Jerry a job and Ace to train. And there is the attraction Owen has always felt towards Jerry to consider.
Jerry realizes that this job with Owen and Ace might be his last chance to make it outside prison. His love for horses and his feelings toward Owen being the things that kept him sane while incarcerated. Can he save Ace, and in doing so save himself as well?
An exceedingly well written story, Michaels’ characters come to life amidst the dust and heat of a Nevada stable corral and the mustangs brought there for training and a new life. The author’s sure touch with characterization carries over to the horses portrayed here as well. Ace with his scarred hide and suspicious outlook, his “scars weren’t from whips or spurs, but from battles out in the wild.” The affection the men feel for these wild horses is clear and telling, along with an appreciation for the mustang’s nature and natural history. The men too come across as lean, whip cord tough, and wary as the horses themselves. Another one of my favorites here.
Clear Round by Jane Davitt.
Rating: 5 stars
There is cause for an uproar in the village when the manor and field that is normally used by the region for their annual horse is sold to an “outsider,” a builder not favored for his plan for a new factory inside the village boundaries. Appointed town messenger and beggar if need be, Danny Felden, owner of Merrydown Stables, visits the new owner, Seth Trent, to obtain use of the field for yet another year, if for no other reason then he runs the event and his niece is entered in her division. Unfortunately, Seth is uninterested and afraid of horses. Undeterred, Danny manipulates Seth into a bargain for free lessons with Danny for the use of the field. Sparks fly between the prickly Danny and the arrogant Seth, leading to romance and love. But a disaster on the field leads to a explosive argument and separation. It will take a clear round to bring the men back together and for love to prevail.
I adored these characters. The dialog throws as many sparks as does the developing romance, with prickly and defensive Danny clashing with the smoothly arrogant Seth to everyone’s amusement and interest. A clear round during a horse show is one free of errors, no missed jumps or knocked down poles, horse and rider working in unison for a perfect round. It’s hard to do and a wonderful analogy for a romance. I loved this story and think you will as well.
The Secret in Indigo by Missouri Dalton
Rating: 4 stars
Traumatized by the loss of his lover in a fire, rider and horse trainer Beau is still in mourning for Patrick five years later. Now working for a traveling circus, Beau helps to train and manage the horses for a sibling horse act. Liam, the brother trick rider is interested in Beau, but Beau has no intention of opening himself up for more hurt and another love. Then the past arrives to inform Beau that his boyfriend’s death was no accident. With murder in the air and revenge on the mind, can Liam save Beau from his past and leave him open for a future with Liam?
This story starts off dramatically with a barn ablaze, screaming horses inside waiting to be rescued. Missouri Dalton dumps us into the conflagration and the pain of the moment. It’s intense and scary and the rest of the story never lives up to the emotional introduction and the events of the moment. It picks up five years later with an emotionally withdrawn Beau, who drinks to forget, cut off from family and friends. Our knowledge of Liam is limited, the return to Georgia a little too swift. This story would have benefited from a longer length and more exposition. Still, its got some stunner moments. And horses, of course.
For Love and Money by Sean Michael
Rating: 4 stars
Football star Deon Jerome, “linebacker extraordinaire,” is afraid of horses. His agent has signed him to a lucrative ad campaign, but the problem is that he must ride a horse for the ad and Deon is panicking big time. Now he needs an old friend’s help, a friend whose phone number is memorized rather than listed on his cell phone. Truck Wilson is a large animal vet and the closeted Deon’s occasional friend with benefits.
When Deon travels to Truck’s home and farm for help with his horse phobia, their old attraction flares into something more like love than just convenience and friendship. With love before him warring with the fear of coming out, which will Deon choose?
Sean Michael’s gift of characterization is front and center in the men in this story. Deon Jerome Green is a big man full of fear outside of the football field. He is afraid of horses and he is afraid to come out as gay. But Deon’s need for Truck and the requirements of the commercial bring Deon to Truck’s for work on his phobia and a weekend of sex and togetherness, culminating in a life changing decision for them both. Michael gives us a realistic portrait of a man trying to come to grips with his fear of horses as well as being out about his sexuality. It’s a sexy, compassionate and ultimately rewarding short story.
Consider this solid and varied anthology of horse stories highly recommended. Great authors, with a variety of stories to choose from, truly something for everyone to enjoy.
Cover illustration by BSClay works extremely well for the stories within.