What are you passionate about? Who supports your interest? Have you ever been an activist? In Mustang Wild Spirit of the West by Marguerite Henry, Annie Johnston loves horses. So does her family and her future husband. One day after spying a cattle truck of horses more dead than alive, Annie became an activist. This is her story. What’s even more noteworthy is that Annie Johnston, affectionately known as “Wild Horse Annie,” actually lived and fought for the survival of mustang. I love this book! Every time I read it, and I have read it multiple times, I am unable to put it aside.
Annie’s story began with her father whose life was saved by a mustang when he was a boy. In the earliest chapters, we also read about Annie’s first encounter with a mustang herd and her first ride on a mustang colt named Hobo. Annie’s mother thinks she will outgrow horses, but her father doesn’t. He thinks she’ll grow up to be a horse doctor or something similar. He believes God is training her to be different and has a plan for her. However, one morning while she is five, Annie wakens to a changed world–one full of pain and polio. Yet even in her youngest years, she is a fighter. Before long, she has regained her strength and is plummeting into adolescence, marriage, and ultimately the battle that changes her life and the mustang world.
Don’t think for a moment that the battle to save the mustang was a quick or easy one. Many people didn’t care if these magnificent horses lived or died–and some even had an invested interest in their slaughter. Horse meat was being used to make pet food. Moreover, these wild horses were being accused of grazing on ranch land. The highs and lows that Annie faced to establish a bill to protect the mustang form the bulk of the drama of Mustang Wild Spirit of the West. The brief coming-of-age story that makes up the first third of the book is interesting and touching, but my heart races most during Annie’s her campaign to save the mustang. Without the background chapters, we might not root for Annie or understand the dire plight of the mustang before 1966. Yet it is the last two-thirds of the book that I can’t put down. I already know the outcome but, just like in Columbo mysteries where the murderer is revealed at the beginner but I still wish to see the case being solved, I remain anxious to know how will Annie save the mustang.
Although I initially read Mustang Wild Spirit of the West over thirty years ago, I have never forgotten Annie. This time, something surprising struck me about the book: It is religious! In its very first sentence, Annie states, “If God has a plan for all of us, I like to think He coupled me with horses from the start.” Many other references are made to God throughout the book. I loved how one day after Annie returned from the hospital where she was treated for polio, she tucked a chicken egg from a nest into her pocket before school and the baby chick hatched there! Her father said, “You walking so gentle and careful, it could only happen to you.” Annie believed that the chick was part of God’s way of making up for her polio. After Annie’s fight to save the mustang began, she continued turning to God. She never forgot that God had a plan for her and the mustang. This knowledge, along with the support from family, townspeople, politicians, and even children, helped her persevere through many setbacks. The rest of us horse-lovers are grateful for her faith and for God’s plan.
While I love discovering recent releases, I am also slowly rereading old favorites. Some don’t stand the test of time, but this one happily does. The beauty of books is that not only can they entertain but can also change us. Marguerite Henry is responsible for instilling within me both an admiration of horses and an activist spirit. Whether you love animals, their history, or just a riveting story, Mustang Wild Spirit of the West is an exhilarating read.