Author: Mim Eichler Rivas
ISBN-10: 0-06-056704X (pbk)
The following review was contributed by: Shelley Bueché: Click Here to Read More of Shelley's Reviews
This fantastic book is sprinkled with magic, a galloping romp of a tale about Beautiful Jim Key, a horse, and Dr. William Key, a horse whisperer in the truest sense. Rivas book begins with Dr. Key, or Bill, “an ex-slave from Shelbyville, Tennessee, a Civil War vetern, horse whisperer, self-taught veterinarian and one of the most recognized African-Americans of his day” in his quest to produce the ‘perfect’ horse.
In May 1889, a scraggly foal was born … rather than name him with the biblical name that Bill chose, “Bill Key named his raggle-taggle horse Jim. But just in case Jim understood and took it as a lack of kindness, he gave the unpromising young Arabian-Hambletonian his own last name.”
What proceeds in subsequent chapters is the amazing journey that Dr. Bill Key and Jim Key took together, one of kindness and compassion, a humane route to equestrian training that had never been tried before in the United States at the time.
Dr. Key became so attached to Beautiful Jim Key that after Jim became too large to stay overnight in the home, Dr. Key made a cot for himself in the stable and slept there for the rest of Jim Key’s life. Using gentle techniques, Dr. Key went about teaching Jim to read, write, spell, perform mathematic equations and even debate politics. Of course with these amazing feats, the Keys hit the road and travel across the country performing in exhibitions for spell-bound crowds.
Beautiful Jim Key and the ‘Doc’ dazzled crowds at expositions, with their performances. Jim would paw the ground and choose letters thereby spelling words that the audience requested, but it was mathematics that truly impressed the skeptics in the crowd with Jim’s ability to perform math equations with relative ease.
Author Mim Rivas does a superb job of crafting Beautiful Jim Key’s story with details of American history at the dawn of the twentieth century. As interesting as the rise of Beautiful Jim Key from a sickly colt to a horse of magnificent bearing, is the background on Dr. Key and his humble beginning as a slave, ‘Doc’ Key was treated with the same compassion he bestowed on his horse Jim Key. The fact that Doc was able to perform wonders with his kind techniques and not with an iron fist that was the norm at the time, paved the way for a new era of humane treatment for animals.
The tale of Beautiful Jim Key and his trainer Bill Key is lost no more. This story is one for the history books and will have readers riveted page by page wanting to know more about this dynamic duo.