Author: Nancy Springer
Author's web site: https://www.nancyspringer.com/
Length: 121 pages
Quote: “He couldn’t get reckless on horseback. Ever.”
Colt is an unusual horse story. Although it’s written at the reading level of girls “going through a horse phase,” it’s about a boy called Colt, another boy called Rosie, and two horses, called Liverwurst and Bonita.
At the beginning of the story, Colt is a wheelchair dweller. It’s physically possible that he might build up enough strength to walk with braces and crutches, but he’s not motivated to try. Then his teacher suggests horseback riding lessons. The doctor says it’s safe for Colt to ride as long as he doesn’t let a horse trot. Colt naturally wants to learn to trot...so his horseback riding ends for a while.
Rosie is Colt’s stepbrother. At first Colt was physically afraid of sharing a room with an able-bodied older boy. Then he tried coping with his fears by playing mean tricks on Rosie. Now the boys are buddies.
Colt copes with the loss of riding lessons so bravely that a horse breeder takes pity on Colt and sends him the Paso Fino mare called Bonita, who’s been specially bred to walk fast and never trot. The man’s not being altruistic; Bonita is one of the animals commercial breeders reject. She's small, and although she’s a fine horse, buyers want bigger horses. Colt resumes riding. One day, when Rosie goes out to walk with Colt and Bonita just for security, an accident happens, and Colt ends up rescuing Rosie.
But he still has to live with spina bifida. Great medical progress has been made in the last fifty years. Within living memory, children born with Colt’s deformity didn’t live to Colt’s age. Now it’s reasonable for kids like Colt to think about the jobs they’ll do when they grow up. In the course of this story Colt begins to develop empathy. (We’re not told his exact age, but he seems to be in the early teens.) He’s thought enough about physical disabilities to have a better than average sense of what other people are able to do. He thinks he may become a teacher for other handicapped kids; he’ll probably be a good one. But...he can’t get reckless. Not ever.
Though better known as a writer of feminist fantasy novels for women and girls (I've been a fan of hers since The Hex Witch of Seldom was new), Springer has worked with horses and “Horses for the Handicapped” programs, which offer physical therapy for people with mobility impairments in real life. Colt is far from the most memorable character she’s invented; he’s more like a carefully constructed composite, a representative for Springer’s students. What he attempts and achieves are what many students with disabilities say they want. He’s interesting to the extent that readers find spina bifida interesting. Older readers, who think of spina bifida as something people die from, may be especially interested in letting Colt refresh their understanding of spina bifida as something people live with.
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