Alan S. Evans is a real-life horse whisperer in northern Florida. His debut novel, Spirit
Horses, uses that expertise to craft a modern day western that begins in Tennessee and takes
on a life of its own in Wyoming. The story follows Tennessee horse trainer, Shane Carson, who is
quite content working on his horse farm and raising his two young children with his wife. When a
woman leaves a wild mustang mare with an unusual brand at his farm, Carson doesn't realize that
the horse may become his salvation. Carson's wife finds out that the brand is registered to the
Shoshone on the Wind River Reservation in Montana.
Though Carson applies his wiles to the mare, she still seems unhappy—so much so that
Carson's young son, Jacob, begs his dad to return the horse to her original herd. Carson promises
his son that he will find a way to reunite the horse with her herd. Before he can do that, his
family is killed in an automobile accident, and Carson plunges into a deep depression. Stumbling
upon an essay that Jacob had written about the horse, Carson decides to honor his promise to his
son and return the horse to Wyoming. But things aren't as simple as showing up with a horse and
handing the reins over to the nearest Shoshone.
Carson is initially ignored by the tribe and gets on the wrong side of the hotheaded son of
unscrupulous rancher Vince Nethers. Soon Carson finds himself entangled in a range war over the
land where the wild horses graze, because Nethers is convinced there is oil on the reservation.
Spirit Horses is a good read. There are Shoshone legends, ambushes, shootouts, romance,
and enough good guys and bad guys for any good western. Evans' experience with horse shows brings
an authenticity to the book. And his characters are believable and lifelike.
I was surprised to read in the author's note that the references to native spirituality
attributed to the Shoshone were Evans' own contrivances. That can sometimes be a real drawback
to some readers, especially those Shoshone who might read this book, particularly if they are
presented in a way that shows no understanding of them as a community or a nation. On the other
hand, the Shoshone, or any other tribe an author might characterize, may not want their real
spiritual practices written about, even in a positive manner. It's a tough judgment call.
Nevertheless, Evans' native spirituality does seem plausible, and his portrayal of Native
American people is positive.
Evans is currently working on a new book—not about horses at all—called A