Video: Jude's Gentle Giants - Belgrade man features his real-life Percheron horses in coming-of-age novel
It's not unusual for Pete and Joe, two immense black Percheron draft horses with hooves the size of a man's head, to get into your personal space. Inquisitive and friendly, they're not shy about shoving their large wet lips in your face for a nibble.
It’s not unusual for Pete and Joe, two immense black Percheron draft horses with hooves the size of a man’s head, to get into your personal space.
Inquisitive and friendly, they’re not shy about shoving their large wet lips in your face for a nibble.
Given their penchant for making their presence known, it’s not difficult to understand why Pete and Joe play major roles in a recently released novel written by their owner, Les Graham.
The rural Belgrade man, who operates a radiant floor heating business with his wife, Kathy, at their Timber Frame Ranch, has raised Percheron horses for nearly 25 years.
Over the past 12 winters, Graham wrote “Jude’s Gentle Giants,” a coming-of-age book that tells the story of a Christian teen-aged boy named Jude Bonner whose faith and friendships grow alongside his Percheron horses – named Pete and Joe.
“These two guys just add a lot of dimension to my life and I tried to portray that in my book, ‘Jude’s Gentle Giants,’ with the relationship of Jude, a high school boy, and the trials and tribulations of raising a pair of Percheron horses,” said Graham, during an interview on a misty day in the horse pasture, where Pete and Joe constantly nuzzled and circled Graham.
The book has a strong Christian message, but it’s not the story of Graham’s life, unless you look at the protagonist in the book, a mean-spirited boy named Greg Shants.
Graham, who is from Ohio, said he grew up in a “non-spiritual” and “non-loving” home where he was “taught to hate and to be prejudiced.”
That attitude and way of life changed for Graham, especially after he became a Christian in 1993.
Graham said the message of faith is a big part of the book, which is the first in a series.
“I certainly tried to portray a Godly aspect in this and Jude’s reliance on God to get him through the trials and tribulations of life,” said Graham.
“God never promised a life full of roses. There’s going to be hurdles to jump and stuff, so I wanted to portray a family that relied on God.”
A key part of the book is a lesson in forgiveness that revolves around Jude’s response to regular harassment by Shants and a female classmate named Judy Clemons.
The horses are the “heroes of the book,” said Graham.
“I hope that when readers read the story, that they see the bond that’s forged between Jude and his horses,” he said.
“And that’s a very true bond that happens with horses and man, and just the responsibility of caring for such big animals, and treating them correctly and training them correctly.”
Graham’s Percheron horses, including his first team named Ben and Lad, who have since died, have been a larger-than-life presence in his life.
He has driven them in parades, sleigh rides, weddings and funerals.
He’s also used the horses to harvest wood that he used to build timber frame barns (which were erected without any nails) on his farm during festive barn-raising celebrations with family and friends.
Graham incorporated some of his own experience of raising and training his horses in the book but through the eyes of a teenaged boy.
Graham acknowledges that writing a novel has pushed him out of his comfort zone.
“I never thought of myself as an author,” he said. “But it’s just something God gave me and put on my heart to write.”
After the idea for the book emerged a dozen years ago, Graham said he “sat down and started typing.” The project was reserved for the winter months.
The initial result was one large book that, at the strong urging of an editor, was split into two books.
While it required additional work to craft two separate books in a series – which could possibly include a third book down the road – Graham said he’s pleased with the final results.
Graham said “Jude’s Gentle Giants” is geared for junior-high readers, but he’s been getting positive feedback from adult readers as well.
Illustrations by Mike Bregel of Willmar include sketches for each chapter with a hidden cross in each piece of artwork. Readers are challenged to find the cross in each sketch, said Graham.
The sequel, “Surrendering the Reins,” which Graham said is targeted at high school-aged kids and older, is undergoing final touches and is expected to be released late this winter.
“It takes Jude to the next level, age-wise, where he gets married,” said Graham.
It’s a journey that also has more “trials and tribulations,” said Graham, teasing that the end of the second book is “pretty dramatic.”