Cover Image: The Last Diving Horse in America

The Last Diving Horse in America

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Member Reviews

A longer review to come soon! This was an enjoyable book and I quite liked it.. Thanks for the chance to try it.
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I really wanted to be in love with this book. It represents a lot of things I believe in: the healing power of horses, animal rights, and rescuing animals in need. Unfortunately, there were quite a few things that just made me cringe too hard to love the book.

As a horseperson, some of the things that Branigan describes feeding to horses and doing with the horses is equal parts reckless and scary. I understand that she knew little to nothing about horses at the time described in the book, but there’s no mention of asking anyone for advice or checking if it was ok before doing these things. There’s also no mention that it’s not a good idea and shouldn’t be done unless given permission by the horse’s owner. You never know which horse has dietary or metabolic issues or even behavioural issues until something goes wrong.

As for the story of Gamal, it was equal parts him rescuing her and her rescuing him. The former diving horse gave Branigan the confidence and courage to move forward in her life and become the legendary animal rescuer she is today.

Overall, it’s a well-written memoir with interesting stories tying together to explain how Branigan came to be an animal rescuer and advocate. I just couldn’t get past some of the horsey faux pas parts to completely enjoy it.

Received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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The Last Diving Horse in America is a warmly personal memoir of animal (and human) rescue and the special inter-species bonds which define and enhance us. Released 19th Oct 2021 by Knopf Doubleday on their Pantheon imprint, it's 288 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately. 

This is a touching and well written memoir full of anecdotes of a lifetime of animal rescue by Cynthia A. Branigan. She begins with the plight of performing animals and "diving" horses, specifically Gamal, one of the last, and moves on to other rescue animals and their stories. The book moved me deeply and is written in an honest and unvarnished way in plain language. I enjoyed reading about her life and her family and her work in rescue and animal protection. The book is peppered with personal and family anecdotes and wry self deprecating humor. There are a number of black and white photos from the author's personal family archive as well as publicity and newspaper historical photos.

Four stars. This would be a superlative choice for public or school library acquisition, and for readers who enjoy memoir and biography. Well written, informative, and engaging.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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Like many reviewers, I don't usually sit down and read every book cover to cover. I need to read enough to see whether a title is a good fit to purchase for my library, but not every word. But when I started reading this book, I couldn't stop. Branigan's tale of saving a cast-off diving horse from the Atlantic City pier is a compelling read.

This is an engaging book, if kind of a case of false advertising, based on the title and cover. Gamal the diving horse is important to the story, but also not really the focus of Branigan's memoir. Instead, she tells stories of how she came to be an advocate for animal rights, and the various strays and rescues who came into her life.
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I was intrigued by this topic (always loved the movie Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken) but man - Branigan‘s memoir BLEW ME AWAY. This book was one that, upon finishing, I could not get the topic of animal rescue out of my head and more than once, was looking up horse auctions and crunching numbers on how to find a barn nearby to rent space. Branigan goes into detail about her early work for The Fund for Animals, which was run by Cleveland Armory (who is quite a character himself), and then she ends up rescuing a horse, Gamal, that had been a diving horse on Steel Pier in Atlantic City. The Fund for Animals and their work (the burros!!!) I found to be absolutely fascinating - and Branigan writes beautifully from the heart and with a deep connection to these animals. More than once her words made my heart twist and I def cried, but what a selfless passion she has thrown herself into working with the fund. She is rewarded - her connection with Gamal is nothing but a miracle, and then later, other animals that come into her care. This is a must read for anyone who has an appreciation for these groups that work to save animals that are neglected, abused, or just have no home. Anyone that enjoys reading about horses would also enjoy this - I learned so much.
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The title of the book is The Last Diving Horse in America, however, this is more a book about an animal rescue organization and one woman's lifelong journey with animal advocacy.  The premise of the book sounded fascinating, as many fans of the Disney film Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken would be familiar with Sonora Webster, Doc Carver, and the diving horses.  The author sourced historic records and photographs from the actual events that occurred at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.  She researched the performers' history, and tried to understand the trainers' motives or reasons for participating in such an act.  She even went on to describe her own history with viewing the diving horses in the 60s as a young teen.

However the book began to meander to different animal rescues and I found myself losing interest or empathy for the other animals who weren't as well researched or fleshed out.  The tone of the book at times took on snobbish qualities as only the east coast and parts of the west coast were considered worthy residences.  At one point, the author's beloved dog passes away, but there is a typo in which he is referred to as Sparkplug instead of Stockbridge.  I did not care for the narrator's voice or vision as I felt that there was a distinct lens through which the story was told and I as a reader just couldn't connect to it.
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Disclaimer: I read this as a NetGalley ARC. No compensation was received other than the chance to read this work.

This book discusses the circumstances surrounding the rescue of the last of the 'diving horses' after the Atlantic City act was closed for good. The author also discusses her time working with an animal rescue organization, the Fund for Animals, and how it led her to her passion of rescuing and rehoming racing greyhounds.

Overall, this was an interesting read. The author chose to discuss various concerns and situations that came her way during her life, but some of the stories tend not to have any distinct resolution aside from 'I made my recommendations and reported my findings to Cleveland.', which could be frustrating if you are a reader that likes to know what the final outcome was.

The love the author has for animals and their welfare shines throughout the work.

Recommended for those who like books on the history/biography of famous animals (ex. Seabiscut), or those interested in animal welfare groups.
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Book is relatively well written and decently researched but I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped. Not the fault of the author in anyway but I dont know if I would recommend it.
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