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
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 allcheap 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.
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
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
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