Vian Smith is one of the most beautiful stylists I have ever read. At ten or eleven I read this book and immediately saw the quality of the writing as well as loving the subject matter. As well as a racehorse trainer he had been a journalist and editor, and he wrote several other books for adults and children. This was his last work. In America this was published as Horses In The Green Valley, including photographs. Parade of Horses is the same book without photos but with a final chapter added by his son after he died in 1969 at the tragically early age of 49.
Smith was looking back on all the horses he had known in his life, each chapter a different age. He began by looking at a calendar with a picture of a horse drawn plough and thinking, no it wasn't that clean and easy. Horses were working animals and Smith remembers the vanner, a type rather than a breed, which was a stout cob that pulled the bread van and all the other vans. He shows us the different breeds of carthorse, the Shire or Clydesdale with so much feather or hair around the feet that 'you needed the patience of a saint' to keep the mud cleaned off them. The ponies of the circus which came to his village were tremendously exciting for a small boy and he was allowed to help. The comedy pony was a skewbald called the joey; the stout cob which circled the ring with a dancing lady on his back was called the rosinback because his back was smeared with resin. Smith grew into a lad able to help with racehorses and he cared for Loppy 'though they pretended his name was something else' which never won a race and wasn't plated but 'ran all his races in shoes worn thin as sixpences.' The canal horse, the popular coloured children's pony, and books such as Black Beauty which changed the way people saw horses and treated them - 'For the first time the children of working class parents could read. They read Black Beauty and they wept' - are all discussed. Finally Smith, who ran a family racehorse stables, describes the training of a filly to steeplechase and wryly adds 'You gain a racehorse and lose a pet.' The filly and his son tackle their first race, but the filly slows down after the third fence. There was no problem 'She was more intelligent than we thought' as there were three training fences at home and once she realised there were more, she took off again. Smith's wife can't watch as she is afraid of falls. In the second race, the filly gets off to a flying start and the loudspeaker says, 'All over the first.' Those were the last words he left us. Whatever your age, if you love horses, read this book.