It is a small world, the one made up of cutting horses and their lovers, but novelist McGuane (Nothing But Blue Skies, 1992, etc.) invests it with such urgent purpose and unimagined beauty, even the most horse-shy will feel the pull of its attraction. McGuane lives on a ranch in Montana where horses have always been a part of the landscape. This small collection of eight essays speaks of those horses, the ones that he just kicked around with (“I am a wanderer in any case but I prefer inarticulate companionship”), others that shared with him candent moments hunting, where “man and horse and dog, birds and forest coalesce into something of duration.” Mostly, though, what has caught McGuane’s fancy, indeed, what has McGuane wrapped around its hoof, is the cutting horse—a horse trained to weed a single animal, a cow, say, out of a herd. He relates, in the clackity music of bright, spare, yet melodic prose, the horse’s history, the mechanics of its work, how the better trainers handle them (there is a terrific chapter on McGuane’s tutelage under the resolute and inspired hands of trainer Buster Welch). He appreciates the “eye-of-the-storm” style that marks the competent rider; the horse’s alertness to space, shape, smell, and light; how a horse imposes its moods and ways on us; the unadorned pleasure of watching the best cutters doing what almost comes naturally. Then there is the suspect character of the horses; McGuane, perhaps out of envy, likes them on the wild side, full of “chaotic personal ideas.” With more than a hint of pride he will say of a horse “the only safe place is on his back,” then he can get wistful—like a besotted protective daddy—over the birth of a sorrel filly in the corral of his high valley home. Horses have taken McGuane home off wild stormy mountains in more ways than one. This book is a payback, an inclusive horse-hug, a humble confession of love, a thing—like its subject—of spare beauty.