Written by Ned Ackerman
Published: 1998

The horse lurched. Muscles straining, Running Crane struggled to stay on, but the ground rushed upward to slam the breath out of him.

“I told you the Siksika would fall off!” Weasel Rider shouted. He reined his plunging horse around in a tight circle, making it kick dirt onto Running Crane. “The only thing he can ride is a stump!”

The other Kainaa youths riding with Weasel Rider laughed.

“Falls Off — that should be his name.”

Thanks to my early love of horse stories, I ended up reading a lot of books featuring American Indians. I always preferred stories featuring them working with horses because their training methods for taming and earning the trust of wold horses was always presented as far more humane than how the white settlers did things. (Obviously this could vary among individuals and peoples.) Spirit Horse was one of my favorites, and rereading it for the first time in years, I still enjoyed it very much.

Running Crane is from the Siksika Nation of the Blackfoot Nation, which had few horses and so he never really learned how to ride. His mother remarried into the Kainaa Nation where Running Crane’s lack of skill and lack of proper medicine has become a a hurtle to his acceptance by some of the others. Weasel Rider in particular taunts Running Crane tries to sabotage Running Crane when they are both chosen to go on a horse raid against the Snake People. But Running Crane is determined to capture a horse of his own, particularly the beautiful blue-white stallion held by the Snake People, a spirit horse. But when the raid goes awry, Running Crane is separated from the rest of the hunting party and ends up finding the spirit horse. With time and patience, Running Crane earns the stallion’s trust and returns in triumph to take his proper place among the Kainaa.

I love the lilting feel of the writing in Spirit Horse, almost like it’s a tale being told but also with the immediacy and dramatic turns that the retelling of legends sometimes lack. It’s a story of patience and perseverance, of overcoming both fears and obstacles, in a way that is heartfelt and inspiring. The author apparently did consult with a Blackfoot medicine man to help ensure accuracy when writing this story, so I trust that Spirit Horse gives at least a taste of the richness of Blackfoot culture.