Since their first meeting in Yakari and Great Eagle, Yakari the Sioux boy who can speak to animals and Little Thunder the wild mustang have been virtually inseparable. When they were apart there was a good reason (see Little Thunder’s Secret or The River of Forgetfulness), but in The First Gallop their friendship goes through the fire.

Yakari thinks up a way of making his chores easier by hitching a travois to his dog Drooping Ear, an idea Yakari is proud of, but impresses Drooping Ear far less. He’s disappointed when the tribal sage Tranquil Rock tells him this is nothing new, recalling a time in his memory when the Plains Indians did not have horses and had to think up other ways to get work done. Tranquil Rock also tells Yakari of the Sioux’s first encounters with the horse. An excited Yakari is desperate to tell Little Thunder what he’s learned, waking the sleeping pony up to do so. Unfortunately Yakari’s approach doesn’t sit well with the spirited mustang, and after a heated argument he gallops away onto the plains. Yakari tries to find him before realising his friend is gone for good. A heartbroken little boy goes to sleep that night and dreams of his friend. Is this the end of their friendship?

Previous Yakari adventures often placed Yakari and Little Thunder in some life-threatening situations and The First Gallop is a big departure from that format. Writer Job has gone for a gentle tale about friendship, freedom and respecting the boundaries of relationships. It’s a hopeful optimistic yarn that promotes adopting an attitude of humility, suggesting that living in peace requires some give and take. The underlying moral is: We all make mistakes but if we learn to listen to each other and work together, it’s never too late to start over. It’s a far cry from the antics of the previous Lords of the Plains. Writing these life lessons into your story risks sounding condescending, but Job surprisingly avoids that. Instead it’s the measured and thoughtful musings of a man who has learned hard life lessons and is imparting them to his audience. How Job avoids sermonising is by scripting a lengthy dream sequence that gives artist Derib the opportunity to show off his prodigious talents. He lovingly renders village life and Sioux history, gifts warriors with nobility, adds a poised dignity to the aged Tranquil Rock and imbues the horses with energy. At this point Derib had been illustrating Yakari for almost 20 years and refined his work through trial and error.  The large flowing frames are filled with detail and vivid colours infusing the story with vitality. This is quality cartooning from an artist who has never been a slouch by any means.

The First Gallop isn’t the best Yakari tale Derib and Job have created, but it’s also far from the worst. It’s well written and difficult to find flaws in Job’s script other than it lacks the spirited adventure of earlier albums. Don’t let that put you off too much as it’s still a pleasant and well illustrated read. The series will continue with The Lake Monster.