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Why the Novel "Horse" Should Have Been Titled "Racehorse"

Geraldine Brooks' 2022 Book

a vintage photo of the HORSE, Lexington and his black trainer
By James Mullen - Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. / United States. / States / Kentucky. / Stereoscopic views of Kentucky. (Approx. 72,000 stereoscopic views : 10 x 18 cm. or smaller.) digital record, Public Domain,

Traveling Between Time Periods

Many modern novels explore different time periods, each with its own story, and then tie all the timelines together. Geraldine Brooks' novel, Horse, is no exception.

The book starts in Washington, D.C., in today's time. Here we meet Theo, a black British guy working on his Doctorate in Art History. Jess is an Australian zoologist working at the Smithsonian putting together and mounting animal skeletons. When Theo comes across a discarded old painting of a gorgeous horse, he is intrigued. Theo travels to the Smithsonian to get help finding out more about the painting. After an unfortunate incident where the highly educated and tolerant Jess proves just how easy it is to racially profile someone, Jess and Theo start seeing each other.

The painting of the horse that Theo has found is a link back to two other time periods.

Brooks takes us back to before the Civil War where we meet Jarrett, a young slave who has spent his whole life caring for horses under the supervision of his father, Henry Lewis. Lewis is known for his knowledge and his uncanny ability to train horses. Jarrett is skilled and knowledgeable about handling horses and is the one who was present at the foaling of Darley, later known as Lexington. It is this gorgeous stallion that appears in the painting that Theo finds more than a hundred and fifty years later in his neighbor's trash.

That painting loops us back into the New York art world of the 1950s and 60s, and an art dealer named Martha Jackson who has a connection to horses.

Three different time periods are connected by one painting of a Horse.

The truth of Geraldine Brooks' novel, Horse

The novel is historical fiction based on truth. The novel, Horse, is about the fastest racehorse and the greatest sire of all time, a thoroughbred named Lexington.

Lexington's achievements are so many that it would be easy to think that his greatness was exaggerated to benefit the story. But they are not. Lexington, did indeed, sire 575 foals, four winning the Belmont Stakes and three winning the Preakness. He also set records for being the fastest horse on the race track in many circumstances.

But the most poignant truth told in the book is that this great horse went blind. He could no longer race. His "greatness" then was transferred to the breeding stable.

Many of the characters in the book are also true, including Cassius Clay, the painter Thomas Scott, Harry Lewis, Richard Ten Broeck, Martha Jackson, and Jackson Pollock just to name a few.

Sad truths - and why the book should be titled Racehorse

Not only does Geraldine Brooks use many facts, but she also illuminates the sad truth of slavery and racial prejudice.

Jarrett is a phenomenal trainer, dedicated to the health and safety of his horse, but he is a slave, never seen in his own right. Instead, the chapter titles reflect only who "owned" him at the time. He was "Warfield's Jarrett," "Ten Broeck's Jarret," or "Alexander's Jarret."

The wealthy, white horse owners manipulate the rules so that the great trainer, Henry Lewis, Jarrett's father, is cheated out of his part ownership of a champion horse. In the hands of the privileged and powerful, laws are passed that take away a Negro's right to own a horse and keep him from his share of the purse when the horse wins.

The world of horse racing is powered by black men, grooms, trainers, and jockeys who have no rights.

Just when you think we are a long way from the prejudices of the Civil War, Brooks forces us to look at modern times and the sad and unexpected injustices that the kind, intelligent, articulate Theo suffers simply because his skin is black.

The story of the amazing horse Lexington is compelling. You will want to find out what happens at each race, with each new location, and with each owner. You will fall in love with the magnificent horse, Lexington, and empathize with his devoted trainer, Jarrett.

But as you follow along with the story of Lexington, you'll be pulled into the strong undercurrent themes of race and prejudice, recognizing that - even now - 150 years after the Civil War - we have a long way to go.

Who should read this book?

Anyone who loves horses and/or history...

People who care about racetrack records and/or race relations...

Those who are interested in the Civil War or civil injustices...

Readers who like a good story...

Geraldine Brooks' 2022 novel, Horse, is a galloping good read.


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