I’ve really got to stop putting things on the list before looking into their availability. It turns out that The Year of the Horse is in fact not only out of print but almost entirely inaccessible. I could have spent $45 plus shipping on a used copy, but that is running to about three-quarters of my monthly Patreon take. For a book I doubt I will ever read again. I’m afraid I’m going to have to piece the summary together from what I could read other places, and I haven’t read the book. Have never even had the opportunity to read the book.
The story as I learned it is the one from the movie, so we’ll be doing it differently this time. In the movie, it’s the story of Fred Bolton (Dean Jones), an advertising executive. His young daughter Helen (Ellen Janov) takes riding lessons. She wants a horse, but the family can’t afford one and also Fred is desperately allergic. However, he gets the idea of combining the need for a can’t-miss classy campaign for Aspercel, a stomach remedy, with Helen’s current fixation. All that has to happen is that Helen has to become a champion on the horse, getting the horse’s name in papers High Society reads. That Fred’s falling in love with Helen’s coach, Suzie Clemons (Diane Baker), doesn’t hurt.
Now. I cannot find the book for an amount I’m willing to pay. (Walmart claims to have it cheaper, but it’s out of stock, which is completely pointless.) From what I can tell, the primary change to the Disney version is giving Suzie a little more agency. In the book, she seems to be Fred’s secretary. In the movie, she runs her own riding school and is good enough to be an Olympic champion. She might even have gained an ex who’s a real rival to Our Hero. It’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed is that mid-century Disney movies tend toward giving women who are ported over from books more agency than the original versions.
I was really looking forward to comparing the two, because it’s genuinely one of my favourite obscure live-action Disney movies. Oh, it’s not exactly high art. You also have to have a lot of patience for riding scenes, because that’s about a third of the movie, for some strange reason. But I’ve always liked it. I like that Helen is given a blossoming romance with the brother of one of her riding friends—Ronnie (a young Kurt Russell) was given a car by his parents with the understanding that he had to drive her to her riding events. There’s even a lot I could say about Janov, who died tragically young in a house fire.
But the book is instead an example of something not really being protected by copyright. No one wants to read it but me. I admit this pretty freely. Most people have forgotten it even exists. My family’s fond of the movie, but most people haven’t seen the movie, either. It’s out of print. No one is making money off this book. Eric Hatch died in 1973, before even my older sister was born, and he was born a little over a month before Walt himself. So even if he were making money, he’s dead, and any children he may or may not have had almost certainly are, too. (I can’t find out if he had children.) Who does it benefit to keep this book from being available for free online?