Book Review: Spirit of the Horse
A Celebration in Fact and Fable
By William Shatner with Jeff Rovin
Thomas Dunne Books (May, 2017); ISBN: 978-1-250-13002-0 (hardcover); ISBN: 978-1-250-13003-7 (e-book); 292 pages; Hardcover, e-book
Reviewed by Margaret Evans
William Shatner, renowned actor for his roles in Star Trek (both the TV series and movie series), TV series T.J. Hooker, and Boston Legal among others, and celebrated director, producer, musician, and pitchman, is a lifelong horse lover and competitive rider with a deep and abiding understanding of the power that horses have to inspire healing. He continues to spearhead the annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show which he started in 1990 to benefit children.
The day he mounted a horse for the first time, a lifelong passion was born, which he has now documented in his new book Spirit of the Horse. But Shatner’s approach to the book is unique in that he shares not only his own stories but those of legendary and historic literary people in celebration of the horse and the emotional connection we have with them. He draws on Aesop, the Brothers Grimm, Jonathan Swift, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Jack London, all legends in their own right.
What makes the book interesting is that Shatner puts a contemporary experience on a classic story. He tells the tale of Alexander the Great and his horse Bucephalus, who was afraid of his own shadow. Alexander took that to task and always turned his horse into the sun to mount, thereby eliminating the fear of shadows in his horse.
“Lest you think the shadow story is apocryphal, I’ve ridden horses that have tried to jump shadows on the ground because they weren’t familiar with them,” writes Shatner. “Horses can be bold and brave and they can also be skittish and craven. Some can endure cannon fire, others will flinch at a cracking branch. Part of what any rider has to do – and do well if they want to continue to ride – is to understand this and be sensitive to the horse’s own quirks and neuroses.”
Buying his first horse was an accident. He had bought some land in central California with plans to live on it and he hired a watchman to take care of it until he could build a house. The watchman suggested he put a horse on the land and that he should go to the local auction. Meeting up with a friend and his 12-year-old son, Philip, they watch the proceedings and Philip urged Shatner to buy a three-year-old Quarter Horse. Shatner raised his hand in a gesture to say no to Philip. But when the auctioneer saw the movement, he called “Sold, to William Shatner…”
Shatner had inadvertently become a horse owner and had forever changed his life. Many other horses followed as well as a wealth of competitive experience.
“A reining horse is trained to execute extraordinary bursts of energy, of galloping and sliding, for example, and then to stand absolutely still,” writes Shatner. “That stillness is part of the equestrian skill… I have learned that in reining, as in life, periods of stillness and reflection are essential.”
Shatner found one of those moments of stillness and reflection when he visited famed actor Christopher Reeve who had become a quadriplegic following a riding accident at a three-day event in Virginia in 1995. Reeve couldn’t breathe on his own but his first words to Shatner were three short phrases, “Tell me. How your horses are. And how much you love riding.”
The rest of the visit was wall-to-wall horses and as Shatner recalls, “I cannot say what was in his heart during my visit but I know what was in his eyes in spite of everything. Joy.”
And it is the joy of horses that Shatner celebrates in Spirit of the Horse.