Some years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing a real Hollywood maverick named Joe Camp. You might remember that Joe created the Benji movies, those independent features that shocked the studios and made a bundle of money by offering simple stories about a persistent little mutt named Benji. Camp, whose son, Brandon, recently directed Love Happens with Aaron Eckhart and Jennifer Aniston, kept creating books and movies about the beloved Benji, whom I referred to in 2004 as the screen’s most popular pooch since Lassie. But when the last movie failed to ignite, Joe Camp was discouraged and decided to take up a new hobby, with his lawyer wife, Kathleen. The result is his book, The Soul of a Horse: Life Lessons from the Herd, published in 2008. It’s an exercise in transference from dog to horse by someone who made his career out of caring about animals.
One of the best aspects of the Benji pictures, including the one that didn’t do as well, Benji Off the Leash, is Joe Camp’s strong sense of what forms the bond between man and pet and his soul-searching book about horses builds on that bond. As Camp turns inward in this meandering journal of an amateur horseman discovering and coming to terms with how one ought to treat a horse, he yields page after page of original and thoughtful insights about properly tending to this beautiful animal of prey. From feeding, riding and communicating to blankets, horseshoes, and ropes tied to posts, his hard-won lessons on the ranch, coupled with Kathleen’s slightly different approach, is another volume in the growing literature of books that argue for an organic, or “natural”, treatment of the horse.
One need not accept all of his conclusions, most of which make sense, to gain value from this thought-provoking, and, at times, poetic call for knowledge and understanding in horsemanship. As he puts it: “Few have put it all together into a single philosophy, a unified voice, a complete lifestyle change for the domesticated horse.”
“Leadership makes a difference,” Camp writes. “Even with borrowed horses. Or rented trail horses, who carry folks around every day of their lives. You never know when it will come in handy for the horse to think of you as a leader. And it’s so much nicer to know that you’re off on a ride with a friend. A partner who trusts you. Not some vacant-eyed mechanical device manufactured just to carry you around. The rub, of course, is that leadership isn’t easy or free. With horses or in life. It’s earned. But it does make a difference, and is worth every ounce of the effort.” Whether it’s his most treasured horse, Cash, or Kathleen’s Skeeter, or Mariah, Pocket, Handsome, or, later, Mouse, Soul of a Horse, with a foreword by Monty Roberts, is itself something of a treasure, from a man whose love of dogs has given us so much joy on screen. (Kindle for iPad app version read and reviewed.)