Ponies, ponies, ponies
Sam Savitt (1917-
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-
His first book was Step A Bit -
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.
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-
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 -
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
Scholastic, pb, 1975, 1989, 140 pp.
This is the story of a friendship between two horses. Vickie buys a half-
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
“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-
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 -
EP Dutton, New York, 1956
This is, oddly enough, the story of a foal. Step -
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
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
Equestrian Olympic Sketchbook
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 -
Dodd, Mead, New York, 1981
Horse Books written and illustrated by Sam Savitt
A Horse to Remember
The Viking Press 1984
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.