“Alec heard a whistle—shrill, loud, clear, unlike anything he had ever heard before. He saw a mighty black horse rear on its hind legs, its forelegs striking out into the air. A white scarf was tied across its eyes. The crowd broke and ran.”
Walter Farley first imagined the Black Stallion, a wild creature of blazing speed and mysterious origins, when he was a teenager and high school track star in 1930s. He kept working on the story, sometimes turning parts of it into class assignments at college. After graduation, he began writing for a New York advertising agency, but he still kept working on his horse stories.
Although Farley’s first book editor told him he would never be able to make a living as a writer for young people, Alec Ramsay and the Black proved him wrong. These characters shared a friendship that spanned more than a dozen books and also featured in three movies.
Walter Farley once told Contemporary Authors: “My greatest love was, and still is, horses. I wanted a pony as much as any boy or girl could possibly want anything—but I never owned one. I tried selling subscriptions to win a pony, which was offered as a prize to the kid who sold the most subscriptions. Then my uncle with a flock of show horses and jumpers moved from the West Coast to Syracuse, and I was deliriously happy. I was at the stables every chance I could get.”1
After he became a successful children’s writer, Walter Farley started an Arabian horse farm in Pennsylvania where he raised the kind of horses he had dreamed of as a boy while he kept writing stories that told of the connection between horses and humans. Not all of them were about the Black Stallion but most all celebrated the connection between animals and humans.
He once said:
“There is no way to explain the magic that some people have with horses. It is almost a mystical gift. It may be that horses sense that these people truly care about them. It may be a handler’s sensitivity that accounts for his or her uncannily precise timing and coordination that creates a oneness between horse and rider. Or it may be none of these, but a form of art itself, as creative as any art can be and just as unexplainable and rewarding.”2
The Black Stallion’s Legacy
Princess Haya of Jordan
loved Walter Farley’s books. They kept her company during the very turbulent times of her childhood and inspired her to achieve great things for anyone, but especially for a woman living in the Arab world.
She was the first Arab woman to compete in equestrian events at Olympic, world and continental championship levels and the first Arab to hold the presidency of the International Equestrian Federation. She is also the first Arab and the first woman to serve as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations World Food Program.
It seems that she and Walter Farley share the understanding of the unique gift of certain horsemen, for, after her 2000 Olympics show-jumping appearance, she told an interviewer: "I do not 'ride' horses. When I sit on a horse's back, we are one — one heart, one mind, one aim."
The Black Stallion continues to inspire new generations of young people who are drawn to the strength and courage of a friendship formed between a boy and his horse. Walter Farley’s son and his friend have created the Black Stallion Literacy Foundation
to bring his books to schools across the country along with visits from real horses. According to the foundation’s Web site:
“The program strives to both create an interest in reading in first-grade students and to maintain an interest in learning and reading comprehension in fourth-grade students. The program does this through a fully developed curriculum and teacher workshops that incorporate classroom-learning techniques with unique encounters with live horses.”
So the connection between Walter Farley’s big, black horse and young readers continues. Walter’s son Tim has said of this remarkable program, “When they touch the horse, they have a connection, a real connection with what they are reading about.”
Fast Facts on Walter Farley:
Born: June 16, 1915 in Syracuse, New York
Attended Mercersburg Academy and Columbia University
Married: Rosemary Lutz in 1945; children: Pamela, Alice, Steve, and Tim
Military service: worked as a reporter for the U.S. Army, Fourth Armored Division, 1942-46
His first book: The Black Stallion, was published in 1941
Awards: Pacific Northwest Library Association’s Young Reader’s Choice Award, 1944, for The Black Stallion, and 1948, for the Black Stallion Returns; Boys Club Junior book Award, 1948, for The Black Stallion Returns; literary landmark established in Farley’s honor by Venice Area Public Library, Venice, Florida
Died: October 16, 1989, of a heart attack in Sarasota, Florida
Information for this article comes from:
1”Walter Farley.” Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2010. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center.
2”Walter Farley.” Authors and Illustrators for Young Adults. Vol. 58. Thomson Gale, 2004. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center.
More to Explore Online:
The Black Stallion Site
“This is the site for information on Walter Farley's The Black Stallion. We have extensive information on the history of The Black as well as current features.”
The Black Stallion Literacy Foundation
“…helps children discover the joys of reading and the excitement of learning through the wonders of live horses and Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books.”
Princess Haya Awaits Games
More on the princess’ extraordinary life.