SHY BOY by Monty Roberts


The Horse That Came in from the Wild
by & photographed by
Email this review


Roberts (The Man Who Listens to Horses, 1997) deploys melodrama in the interest of common decency in this tale of gentling a wild mustang into the domesticated community of horses, then giving him a choice: stay with your new friends or run free to the herd. It is Roberts’s wish to “make the world a better place for the horse—all horses, including free horses without names.” He has made it his duty to show that the brutality typically employed to break a horse is simple cruelty, and there is a much kinder method. He calls it “joining up—: forging a relationship of trust and generosity through communication and fair treatment. As ably spelled out here, this is achieved through a kindness of voice and touch, and a body language he calls Equus, “ingrained in the genetic, tribal memory of all the world’s horses.” To demonstrate that his technique can succeed even in the wide open spaces of the Sierra Nevada, he convinced the BBC to film him starting (Roberts’ term for breaking) a mustang from the wild. So unfolds the story of Shy Boy, a creature Roberts paints as an American icon, noble and romantic in extremis: strong and free, wild and graceful and sensitive. Evidently stung by allegations that all was not kosher in his first book, Roberts, in an unappealing defensive tone, makes sure there are plenty of independent experts on hand to observe his every move as he and Shy Boy get to know each other; the book has nearly as many pages of photographs as text. Roberts takes detours in the book to excoriate abusers of humans and animals, before breathlessly, and hamfistedly, charging to the climactic moment when Shy Boy must choose between the herd and a home with Roberts. Roberts may be relentlessly self-righteous and not above going weepy to ingratiate himself with his readers, but his mission is too laudable to be ridiculed. (100 color photographs)

Pub Date: May 5th, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-019433-2
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999