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Sam Savitt

Sam Savitt (1917-2000) , illustrated over 100 books, and wrote several horse stories.  Besides his book illustrations, he was also the official artist to the United States Equestrian Team (it was a course of great pride to him that the first horse he trained, War Bride, was on the team.)  Perhaps unsurprisingly bearing in mind the sheer amount of equestrian illustration he did, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would reply “I want to be a horse.”  

Savitt was inffluenced by Harold Von Schmidt, famous for his illustrations of the American West, under whom he studied, and Paul Brown.  He graduated from Pratt Institute in New York City in 1940.  He then spent four and a half years in Burma during the Second World War with the army engineering corps, but managed to find horses even there.  He started his career doing magazine illustrations, and became well known for his illustrations for Dell comic book covers, for whom he did Western illustrations.  He wrote, or co-wrote, 17 books on horses, as well as private commissions and the Sam Savitt series of charts, which were used in the Smithsonian.

His first book was Step A Bit - The Story of a Foal.  The book started as a series of illustrations.  When they were complete, Sharon Banagan, an editor at EP Dutton, who published the book, suggested he write some words to pull the drawings together.  Savitt’s first reaction was that he couldn’t, but Banagan said “Oh sure you can, just little simple sentences. This is his first day out... “  Sam Savitt went on to write seven horse books for children, though There Was a Horse and A Horse to Remember are essentially the same book.  It took him a couple of books before he entered the world of fiction proper:  Midnight, the next book he wrote after Step a Bit, is the fictionalised story of a real horse.  After There was a Horse, he returned again to writing about a real life situation with Wild Horse Running.  Perhaps he was happier dealing with what he could see: after all, much of his life was spent drawing just that.

His illustrations have a unique charm.  UK readers are most likely to have come across them in William Corbin’s Horse in the House, which although it had a different cover illustrator in its Puffin printing, did keep the Sam Savitt illustrations inside.  He had that very rare ability to draw both horses and people:  some are not perhaps as succesful as others (I can’t bring myself to like the cover of Suzanne Wilding’s Harlequin Horse), but in the main I love them.  They are full of energy.

Sam Savitt led an energetic life:  always a keen rider, he continued to ride until he was in his eighties, when he had a stroke which unfortunately meant he could no longer paint or ride.  The author of an excellent essay on Sam Savitt, Leo Pando, said “Once he lost his artistic gifts, he lost his will to live.”  Sam Savitt died on December 25, 2000.

Books illustrated by Sam Savitt:  I suspect there are very many more than I have managed to find so far.  If you know of any, do please let me know.   Everything I have found is listed here.

Finding the books:  I will only cover books Sam Savitt wrote here:  with the ones he illustrated, how hard they are to find depends on the author’s rarity.  So, some of the Patsey Grays will cost you a lot!  Of the books Sam Savitt authored Step a Bit is expensive, even as an ex-library copy.  Midnight is easy and cheap to find as a paperback; a bit less so in hardback but not impossible. There was a Horse:  cheap, but generally ex library. A Horse to Remember, Wild Horse Running, Vicki and the Black Horse and Vicki and the Brown Mare are all cheap as both paperback and hardback.  For UK buyers: the books do occasionally turn up, but you will probably have to buy them from America.

Thank you to Bette Savitt, of Sam Savitt Art & Books, for permission to use images of his work.

Links and sources
An article on Sam Savitt’s work: an excellent essay, well worth reading.
Sam Savitt’s website: run by Sam’s widow - prints, books and other memorabilia for sale
Wikipedia article on Sam Savitt
A review of There Was a Horse

Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau, Lisa Catz, Amy M Buchanan and Konstanze Allsopp for supplying pictures and information.

There Was a Horse

The Dial Press 1961

The blurb: “When high school senior Mike Benson takes a chance and buys the big gray horse Viking, he

doesn’t know what he is getting into.  His girl friend, Jenny, vacillates between resentment and pride, but his

older brother, Chris, encourages Mike to put aside some of his duties on the dairy farm to spend more time

training Viking.  Mike experiences one humiliating fall after another, and he seems to be losing the battle to

control Viking’s erratic behaviour.  Then Derf, a new farmhand shows up and provides clues to the mystery

of the Thoroughbred’s past. The three throw themselves into a rigorous Steeplechasing training programme

that reaches a thrilling climax at the legendary Maryland Hunt Cup Race.”




Vicki and the Black Horse

Doubleday 1964
Scholastic, pb, 1975, 1989, 140 pp.

This is the story of a friendship between two horses. Vickie buys a half-starved pony, who, when he is better,
turns out to be an escape artist and an outlaw, loved only by Pat, the black Thoroughbred who was the pride
of the whole Jordan family.  Trouble begins when the wicked pony is sold, and the events that follow change
the lives of Vickie and her family, and their beloved Pat.  That pony has to be found.

Vicki and The Brown Mare (sequel)

Dodd, Mead 1976

Published as The Brown Mare, Xerox, 1976

The blurb:
“One day, Vickie Jordan rides a mare that seems to have the ability to jump but has had no proper training.  
Vickie convinces Skylark’s owner that it is wrong to let a mare with such possibilities “rust out”.  During this

time, due to Vickie’s hard work, the mare becomes a top-rate jumper.  Vickie rides Skylark to victory in the

small local shows, but when they move into the big time the girl makes a disturbing discovery about herself

and her horse. The situation is further complicated when the United States Equestrian Team shows an

interest in Skylark.”

Step a Bit - The Story of a Foal

EP Dutton, New York, 1956

This is, oddly enough, the story of a foal.   Step -a-bit is a Thoroughbred foal, born in a stall.  This is his story.




Midnight, Champion Bucking Horse

E P Dutton, New York, 1957

Scholastic pb, 1957, 1963, 1965, 1969

Parents’ Magazine Press, 1974

The story of a real horse:  Midnight was the greatest Rodeo bucking horse of all time. No one ever managed
to stay on his back for more than 10 seconds. He was not vicious: he simply competed with man and won.
His story is told in the first person by the three people who knew him best:  Jim McNab, Vern Elliot and
Pete Knight.  Sam Savitt worked closely with Vern Elliot, the only survivor when the book was written, to
recreate the horse and his story.




Wild Horse Running

Dodd, Mead 1973

Reprinted 1976
Scholastic pb, 1975

Another story based on fact: there are wild horses in the Prior Mountains of Montana, and it is a struggle to
keep them free.  This is the story of the grey mustang Cloud, and his struggle to stay free.  He is captured,
and escapes, but then meets an unhappy boy who has come West.  The boy gets to know Cloud, but then
has a difficult decision to make.

Other books written by Sam Savitt:

Around the World with Horses

Dial, NY, 1962

Rodeo:  Cowboys, Bulls and Broncos
Doubleday, New York, 1963

A Day at the LBJ Ranch

Random House, New York, 1965

America’s Horses

Doubleday, 1966

Equestrian Olympic Sketchbook
Yoseloff, 1969

True Horse Stories
Dodd, Mead, New York, 1970

Sam Savitt’s Book of Horse Nonsense

Black Horse Press, 1975

Dingle Ridge Fox and Other Stories

Dodd, Mead, New York, 1976

Draw Horses with Sam Savitt

Viking Press, New York, 1981

(How to Draw Horses, Pelham, London, 1981)

One Horse, One Hundred Miles, One Day - the Story of the Tevis Cup Endurance Ride

Dodd, Mead, New York, 1981

Horse Books written and illustrated by Sam Savitt

A Horse to Remember

The Viking Press 1984
Puffin 1986

This is essentially There was a Horse.

The Equestrian Olympic Sketchbook
A.S. Barnes and Company, 1969, South Brunswich and New York

Thomas Yoseloff Ltd, London

Many thanks to Amy M Buchanan for the pictures.