A thrilling true tale of a woman on a mis­sion

G Neri’s new book Grand Theft Horse tells an inspiring story of a girl who gives up al­most every­thing to res­cue a race­horse,

Gulf Times Community - - BOOK REVIEW - writes Co­lette Ban­croft

Many young girls go through the horsecrazy phase. (I know I did.) Most of them get over it. Not Gail Ruffu. The real-life main char­ac­ter of Grand Theft

Horse, a new graphic bi­og­ra­phy for mid­dle-grade read­ers, gave up al­most every­thing to res­cue a race­horse she trained and part-owned when its other own­ers wanted to put the horse in mor­tal peril. It was a quest that dom­i­nated years of her life, land­ing her in court more than once, and al­most land­ing her in jail.

Her inspiring story, and that of the race­horse Ur­gent En­voy, are the sub­jects of G Neri’s lat­est book. Neri has pub­lished 10 books for young read­ers, from the Coretta Scott King Hon­our-win­ning Yummy: The Last Days of a South­side Shorty to Tru & Nelle and Tru & Nelle: A

Christ­mas Tale, both based on the child­hood friend­ship of au­thors Tru­man Capote and Harper Lee. Neri’s 2011 book, Ghetto

Cow­boy (an­other true tale about peo­ple who love horses), is in de­vel­op­ment as a TV se­ries, with Idris Elba signed to star.

On his web­site, Neri writes that Ruffu is his cousin. He didn’t know her well grow­ing up, but when they met again as adults she told him, “I’m a wanted woman” and pro­ceeded to re­count the story that be­came Grand Theft Horse.

Ruffu was one of 13 chil­dren; their fa­ther’s mil­i­tary ca­reer kept them on the move all over the world. As a kid, she watched TV shows like The Lone Ranger less for the cow­boys and In­di­ans than for the horses they rode. Ev­ery Christ­mas and birth­day, she asked for a horse of her own. When the fam­ily landed in Texas for a few years, she fi­nally got her wish, tem­po­rar­ily.

As a young adult she stud­ied horse­man­ship and sta­ble man­age­ment in Europe, learn­ing meth­ods of train­ing and car­ing for race­horses that were more hu­mane than the profit-driven prac­tices of US horse rac­ing.

Back in this coun­try, she be­came li­censed as a trainer, which led to her dis­cov­ery of a horse who had lit­tle train­ing but pow­er­ful po­ten­tial. She couldn’t af­ford to buy Ur­gent En­voy on her own, so she en­tered into a part­ner­ship with a lawyer. He quickly ma­nip­u­lated the deal so that she be­came a mi­nor­ity owner with sev­eral part­ners, but she was so happy to have the horse she didn’t mind.

Ruffu de­ployed the hu­mane train­ing meth­ods she pre­ferred, which in­cluded lim­it­ing work­outs and never med­i­cat­ing the horse. But her part­ners pressed to race him be­fore she thought he was ready. The dis­agree­ments WELL CON­STRUCTED PLOT: Neri does a sterling job of telling a com­plex story and he keeps it rac­ing along with a skill-fully con­structed plot.

es­ca­lated; even­tu­ally the other own­ers took pos­ses­sion of the horse. Later, Ruffu dis­cov­ered that they planned to race him de­spite a frac­tured leg, pretty much a death sen­tence, so on Christ­mas Eve of 2004, she stole the horse.

For years, she kept him hid­den while she wran­gled through the court sys­tem with the other own­ers. She lost her trainer’s li­cense, she lived in her van, she nearly lost hope. But she never aban­doned Ur­gent En­voy, and along the way she found al­lies that led to the book’s happy end­ing.

Neri does a sterling job of telling a com­plex story, even its byzan­tine le­gal as­pects, in a way that younger read­ers will un­der­stand, and he keeps it rac­ing along with a skill-fully con­structed plot. The pen-and-ink graph­ics by il­lus­tra­tor Cor­ban Wilkin are mus­cu­lar and invit­ing, giv­ing both Ruffu and her horse a bit of su­per­hero glow.

Ruffu’s own story may end hap­pily, but Grand Theft Horse takes on a larger cause as well. As Ruffu her­self writes in the af­ter­word, “In Amer­i­can horse rac­ing, twen­ty­four race­horses (on aver­age) die ev­ery week on race­tracks. About 3,600 horses died rac­ing or train­ing in­side state-reg­u­lated race track en­clo­sures over the three years lead­ing up to 2012.” Drug­ging horses so they can race with in­juries is so per­va­sive that rac­ing forms list what med­i­ca­tions each horse has been given (or at least the le­gal ones).

Imag­ine such stats and prac­tices oc­cur­ring openly in a sport played by hu­man be­ings.

Ruffu doesn’t want to out­law horse rac­ing, the book makes clear how much she loves the sport as well as its ath­letes. But she be­lieves it could be made safer and more hu­mane, if only the peo­ple in­volved were less money mad and more horse crazy.– Tampa Bay Times/


IN WORKS: Neri’s 2011 book, Ghetto Cow­boy (an­other true tale about peo­ple who love horses), is in de­vel­op­ment as a TV se­ries, with Idris Elba signed to star.

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