Married; wife's name Ulrike; children: one son.
Home—Camden East, Ontario, Canada.
Journalist and freelance writer.
Three Canadian magazine awards.
(With Ian Miller) Riding High: Ian Miller's World of Show Jumping, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Canada), 1990.
Heading Home: On Starting a New Life in a Country Place, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.
Wild about Horses: Our Timeless Passion for the Horse, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Horses Forever, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
Little Horse of Iron: A Quest for the Canadian Horse, Random House Canada (Toronto, Canada), 2001.
Grace under Fire: The State of Our Sweet and Savage Game, Penguin Books Canada (Toronto, Canada), 2002.
Harvest of a Quiet Eye: The Cabin as Sanctuary, Viking (Toronto, Canada), 2004.
The Horse's Shadow (juvenile novel), Penguin Books Canada (Toronto, Canada), 2005.
(With Carol Fletcher) Healed by Horses: A Memoir, Atria Press (New York, NY), 2005.
The Horse God Built: The Untold Story of Secretariat, the World's Greatest Racehorse, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2007.
The winner of three magazine awards, Canadian journalist and freelance writer Lawrence Scanlan is a passionate lover of horses who has written Wild about Horses: Our Timeless Passion for the Horse and Horses Forever, both of which were published in 1998. Each of these books contains engaging tales about horses such as Eclipse, Man O'War, and the horses that ran for the American Pony Express. Scanlan has also written the book Heading Home: On Starting a New Life in a Country Place, about his experiences after moving from the large city of Kingston, Ontario, to the much smaller community of Camden East.
In Wild about Horses, Scanlan explains why horses have always captured the imagination of humans. "Partnership with the horse is ancient and primal and consuming, and writers and storytellers are drawn to that territory," Scanlan wrote. In the book, Scanlan uses his journalistic background to piece together the origins of man's long relationship with the horse. He discusses such things as horse history and mythological legends. One story Scanlan relates in the book is that of the horse Comanche, the lone survivor on the American side after the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn, otherwise known as "Custer's Last Stand." While all the soldiers of the U.S. Calvary, including George Armstrong Custer, were killed in the battle, Comanche walked away, later to be found by others who descended upon the scene of carnage. Scanlan quotes from the special orders of Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis, whose symbolic gesture ensured that the legendary horse would never be ridden again. "Though wounded and scarred, his very silence speaks more eloquently than heroic manner in which all went down that day," wrote Sturgis, who lost his son in the battle. Scanlan also includes a section about racehorses that is loaded with facts about famous runners like Ruffian and Secretariat. While Carolyn T. Hughes, writing in the New York Times Book Review, contended that Scanlan had written "eloquently," a contributor for Publishers Weekly was not as impressed. "This equine elegy reads like an overgrown term paper," the contributor wrote.
Big Ben tells the story of the horse of the same name, which made his mark as an international jumper. Not only does Scanlan take time to introduce Big Ben's rider, Ian Millar—who would coauthor Riding High: Ian Miller's World of Show Jumping with Scanlan—and groom, Sandi Patterson, but he also describes the details of the horse's life, such as how the animal overcame several health emergencies before becoming famous. During the course of the book, Scanlan explains the intricacies of international jumping, as well as its unique terminology. In the opinion of critic Helen Mason, who reviewed Big Ben for Quill & Quire, Scanlan's narrative "moves quickly from visual detail to suspenseful action." In addition, Mason deemed the book "ideal for young readers."
Horses Forever is very similar to Wild about Horses in that it includes many of the same stories that appeared in Scanlan's previous effort, while adding others. Most of the discussed horses are legendary and well known, including Big Ben, Comanche, Ruffian, Eclipse, and Northern Dancer. Scanlan also includes the much more obscure tale of a horse named Colonel. The story was related to him through a letter sent by an elderly New Mexican woman who learned through a magazine article of the author's intention to write a book containing interesting stories about horses. This woman had heard the story from another woman who lived in Minnesota, and whose sister was saved by Colonel when they were just children nearly a century before. As far as Scanlan could learn, the inclusion of the story in his volume was the first time that it had ever been put into print. The girl, Eleanor, who was four years old at the time, had gotten caught in front of some horses stampeding on her family's farm. Family members could only look on, helplessly, and could not save Eleanor. However, Colonel, the family's favorite horse, proved the hero. "Colonel bolted forward, bent one knee and knocked the little girl to the ground, then straddled her and faced the oncoming herd. An instant later the thundering horses sped round him, like water around a tree. Colonel nuzzled Eleanor, then stepped back as her mother took the girl in her arms," Scanlan writes. In addition to the stories, Horses Forever contains numerous color and black-and-white photographs.
Heading Home is a very different kind of work for the author. Scanlan, who once worked for the Camden East-based magazine Harrowsmith, made the move from Kingston, Ontario, in the early 1980s. Like many others, Scanlan had grown tired of the hustle and bustle of city life. Instead of continuing to tolerate it, he decided to move his family to the eastern Ontario village, which he refers to as a "country place." However, he soon found out the move was far from idyllic, as he encountered several problematic situations: everything from having to fix broken pipes to fending off damaging beavers, not to mention having to gain the acceptance of the locals. His experiences compelled him to pen Heading Home, which critic Jamie Swift of Canadian Forum referred to as "a skillfully wrought account of one man's evolving relationship with a place and, yes, a community."
As Swift commented, Heading Home is really the story of a community, something Scanlan felt was lacking in the growing city of Kingston. The book is a candid look into the daily life of country living, which, as Scanlan found out, can be filled with surprises. He relates that one of the reasons that he moved to his Camden East home was that it reminded him of his grandfather's farm, and after moving there he hoped to recover some of the heritage that he had denied for so long. "My house, my village seemed right both to live in and, when the time came, to wake my Irish grandfather," Scanlan writes. "The village was more than simply the absence of size and bustle; it was the presence of something—a feeling, a sensibility, a sense, finally, of place." Despite its village charm, Camden East, on the shores of the winding Napanee River, has seen an influx of people, like Scanlan, seeking a better quality of living. This fact has made some longtime local residents somewhat resentful of the newcomers. "Locals say, ‘You new people are romantic tree-huggers and we resent you, your money and your belly-aching.’ Recent arrivals counter, ‘You born-and-breds have no sense of history or the value of your own community.’ … And so a rift divides locals and newcomers," Scanlan writes. Yet, as he goes on to note, the two sides came together when confronted by a common foe in the form of a monstrous quarry that a city-based cement company proposed to build near the town. Newcomers and old-timers alike worked together and formed the community group called HOWL (Hands-off Our Water and Land) in an effort to derail the project. At the time of the book's publishing the digging of the quarry had not been started. "If the quarry comes," Scanlan noted, "I can't live here anymore."
Critical response to Heading Home was quite positive. Jamie Swift of the Canadian Forum called it "a book well worth reading," while Tom Hawthorn of Canadian Geographic called the work a "sober meditation on life." Noting the book's country feel, Hawthorn contended that reading it was "like a long chat over coffee at a big farmhouse pine table with a particularly erudite host."
The Horse's Shadow, a book for younger readers, tells the story of Claire, a fourteen-year-old Canadian girl who runs away from home in 1863, off to work with horses and escape her debt-ridden family. Settling in Civil War-torn America, she continues to care for and train the horses her father has sold to an American horse dealer, and whom she secretly followed south of the border, posing as a boy, Clint Flynn. Ruth Latta, in a review for CM magazine online, remarked that "caught up in the fictional dream, readers enjoy learning new things if they're presented subtly. Scanlan's research is a bit too obvious, resulting in more of a history text than a novel." Victoria Pernell, writing for Resource Links, noted that "the story gives an insight into the American Civil War and some of the connections it had to Canada."
With The Horse God Built: The Untold Story of Secretariat, the World's Greatest Racehorse, Scanlan sets out to recount the story of the relationship between Triple Crown winning racehorse, Secretariat, and Eddie Sweat, the horse's longtime groom, while pointing out that grooms such as Sweat, an African American, represent the workers who are so necessary in the process of training a champion, and yet are the individuals who receive the least compensation for the hardest work. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly pointed out that this premise plays a very small role in the actual text but concluded that, due to Scanlan's knowledge about horses, the book "bulges with insight into and sensitivity toward the world of Thoroughbred horse racing." Writing for the New York Times Book Review, Bill Barich commented of Scanlan that "his portrait, though neither gritty nor entirely fresh, will satisfy those who can't get enough of Secretariat."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Scanlan, Lawrence, Heading Home: On Starting a New Life in a Country Place, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.
Scanlan, Lawrence, Horses Forever, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
Scanlan, Lawrence, Wild about Horses: Our Timeless Passion for the Horse, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Booklist, October 1, 1998, Nancy Bent, review of Wild about Horses, p. 300.
Canadian Forum, December, 1996, Jamie Swift, review of Heading Home, pp. 42-44.
Canadian National Geographic, January-February, 1997, Tom Hawthorn, Heading Home, pp. 74-75.
New York Times Book Review, November 1, 1998, Carolyn T. Hughes, review of Wild about Horses, p. 22; June 3, 2007, Bill Barich, "Peerless Stallion," p. 43.
Publishers Weekly, August 24, 1998, review of Wild about Horses, p. 37; February 19, 2007, review of The Horse God Built: The Untold Story of Secretariat, the World's Greatest Racehorse, p. 155.
Quill & Quire, June, 1994, Helen Mason, review of Big Ben, p. 48.
Resource Links, April, 2006, Victoria Pennell, review of The Horse's Shadow, p. 49.
CM Online,http://www.umanitoba.ca/cm/ (September 2, 2005), Ruth Latta, review of The Horse's Shadow.