The horse is probably the largest land animal we will likely encounter in North America, domesticated or otherwise. While I have been horseback riding a few times over the years, I was always leery of sitting astride one. Not only did I feel bad for the horse for having me as a rider, but I was also unsure of what the horse might get it into his head to do. Would it take off, dragging me behind? Or balk and not move at all? Unless you really know horses, I can’t imagine ever feeling comfortable around one.
Nova Scotia’s Brent MacGrath is not like that; he has been around horses and harness racing all his life. A car salesman day (and a very good one at that, apparently), he knows a good horse when he sees one. One day he saw a really good horse that just happened to turn out to be a really great one: Somebeachsomewhere, who would eventually become a horse of a lifetime, setting new harness racing records and breaking old ones all over North America. And winning hearts, for “Beach” as he was affectionately known, was a favourite of everyone who came into contact with him. “He was a very nice horse to be around,” Reg Petipas, one of the co-owners of Schooner Stables said.
I will admit that I was totally unfamiliar with horse racing in Canada and with harness racing in particular. Frankly, I wasn’t really that interested in reading the book, but as I like to watch movies about thoroughbred horses like Sea Biscuit and Secretariat, I thought: “why not a winning Canadian horse?”
In a recent interview, Marjorie Simmins had with The Miramichi Reader, she was asked if harness racing was something she was familiar with before writing Somebeachsomewhere. She replied: “I was aware of harness racing before I wrote the Beach book, but I hadn’t been involved in the industry or been to a racetrack in some years. Once I realized that Somebeachsomewhere was the Secretariat of harness racing and that he was owned by six Maritimers, I couldn’t wait to get started on the story.”
As I was familiar with Marjorie Simmins’ previous books, I knew that a book about a horse, written by her (a lover of horses and an accomplished rider) would be a good read. I wasn’t disappointed. Somebeachsomewhere held my interest all the way through. Although he had a brief professional career, and a retirement to stand stud cut short by a fatal illness, Ms. Simmins not only covers Beach’s history and all his races, but his travels to Australia for stud purposes, and his retirement back to Hanover Shoe Farms in Pennsylvania.
Also included are interviews with all the members of Truro’s Schooner Stables (who owned Beach) as well as Paul MacDonnell who was the only jockey to sit behind Beach in all of his races. There are black and white as well as full-colour images of Beach in action and a helpful glossary of racing terms (even betting terminology) that Ms. Simmins thoughtfully includes for the uninitiated such as myself.
All of this: great writing, an exciting story, interesting people and places all go into making Somebeachsomewhere an exceptional book to read, even if you are not into horse racing. Kudos go to Nimbus Publishing for wrapping Ms. Simmins’ text in a beautiful package, too.
(Note: this review originally appeared at the Atlantic Books Today website.)
Marjorie Simmins began her thirty-year career as a freelance journalist in Vancouver, with regular work published in the Vancouver Sun and in trade magazines. She has since published numerous essays and articles in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies, and won gold medals at both the National Magazine Awards and the Atlantic Journalism Awards. Simmins is the author of Coastal Lives, Year of the Horse, and Memoir: Conversations and Craft. She is also a lifelong equestrian, starting with a focus on English riding, and latterly, focusing on Western disciplines.