When I was kid, I didn’t have a horse. Sometimes I didn’t even have lessons. But I did have books – I had tons of books. I had books on horse care, books on riding and books filled with stories of horses. Some days all I would do is just read my books. Books allow you to escape to another world. You can feel the experience of riding through a country field in England, even if you’re just a little girl in the suburbs.
There are lots of books that I loved as a kid, but some books really stand out and stick with you. Certain iconic and classic books that are universally beloved. These are all the books that any horse lover should try – They are basically required reading for equestrians!
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)
The story of a horse in 18th century England, told in right from Black Beauty himself. This well bred horse goes from a plush, gentleman’s horse in the country to a hard working cab horse in London. Life at this time is often bleak, and the book shows it, and the love and care from the many humans Black Beauty meets is often bittersweet. Telling the story from the perspective of a horse broke literary ground, and the book was an instant best seller.
Anna Sewell, the author, was injured as a teenager and permanently disabled. She turned to horses, learned how to drive them, and had a deep admiration and respect for the work they did.
Black Beauty was her only book, written on her deathbed. She lived only 5 more months, long enough to see it become a best seller.
This book has been made into a good movie, and had many “interesting” movie adaptations. There have been many book adaptations of the novel have been made, ones for younger audiences, illustrated, etc. This book is my absolute favorite. When I was younger I bought many different versions of it.
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley (1941)
The story of a wild Arabian stallion, tamed by the misfortune of being stuck on a desert island with a teenage boy. Despite the massive amount of testosterone between them, they become allies and friends. After their rescue, they decide to enter a horse race.
The Black Stallion received the Young Reader’s Choice Award in 1944, and there were several sequels, spin off novels and an origin novel, plus a bunch of movies. An entire cinematic Black Stallion universe.
I haven’t read The Black Stallion, but I’ve seen parts of the movie. I’ll have to give it a try soon.
National Velvet by Enid Bagnold (1935)
Velvet Brown is a 14-year-old girl who lives in rural Sussex, England. She is a passionate horse lover, and dreams of one day riding in the Grand National, a steeplechase race that is considered to be one of the most challenging horse races in the world.
One day, Velvet wins a spirited gelding in a raffle. She names the horse The Piebald, or simply The Pie. The Pie is a wild and untrained horse, but Velvet is determined to train him for the Grand National. Velvet enlists the help of Mi Taylor, a young drifter who knows horses. Mi teaches Velvet how to train and ride The Pie, and they set off to compete in the greatest horse race in the world.
National Velvet was well received and turned into a movie which was also extremely popular.
I haven’t read this book but it’s not for lack of trying. Despite being a book oriented for children, I found it hard to read, so I gave up. I’ll try again one day, I like the movie so much, the book is bound to be good!
Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (1947)
The Beebe children live with their grandparents on Chincoteague Island in Virginia. Every year, they wild horses are rounded up in the nearby island of Assateague, swim across the channel, and get auctioned. The children have their sights set on the wild horse Phantom. She’s able to be rounded up because she’s slowed down by her new foal Misty. The Beebe children manage to purchase Phantom and Misty and train Phantom for a horse race.
This book is based on some true events, but is definitely fictional. Misty did exist, born to Phantom and the Pied Piper, but she was born in captivity. The characters were real, but the story is a bit embellished.
I read this book as a kid, as I think lots of people did, but I also read the follow up novels. I’m still dreaming of going to the Pony Penning one day.
My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara (1941)
Ken lives in Wyoming, and his father has promised him a horse. Ken see’s a beautiful yearling filly, but it has wild, untamable blood. His father agrees to lets him have the filly, but just catching this horse is trouble. The filly is only caught because she is hurt severely. Ken spends hours attending to her needs, but while the filly grows stronger, he grows weaker.
My Friend Flicka was immediately popular. Mary O’Hara wrote two sequels, Thunderhead, Son of Flicka and Green Grass of Wyoming.
There’s also been numerous movies versions made. The original was made all the way back in 1943, followed by movie versions of the two book sequels.
Then the original book was revised in 2006 in a movie called Flicka, followed by Flicka 2, and Flicka: Country Pride. I haven’t seen these movies, but I feel like they could be perfect for one of my movie reviews.
The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans (1995)
Teenager Grace loves horses, but one day while riding in the snow, she and her friend have an accident with fatal consequences. Her friend and her friend’s horse are killed, and Grace and Pilgrim are severely wounded. Both girl and horse are traumatized and Grace’s mother decides to haul both of them to visit the legendary “Horse Whisperer” to get him to save them.
Nicholas Evans was inspired to write this by the real life trainers Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt and especially Buck Brannaman.
Evans said, “… The one who truly inspired me was Buck Brannaman. His skill, understanding and his gentle, loving heart have parted the clouds for countless troubled creatures. Buck is the Zen master of the horse world.”
In 1998, the movie version came out, and I’m pretty sure everyone in my generation of horse girls saw that movie. We all vividly remember that first scene.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (1982)
Another story told through the eyes of a horse. Joey, the horse, is first loved by a farm boy, Albert, but is sold off to the army by his father. World War I has just begun. Albert tries to follow Joey, but he’s too young for to join the army. Joey is trained for cavalry and sent to war. Once there, he is passed around, from different riders to different sides of the war.
Morpurgo had been inspired to write this book after meeting a World War I veteran. He wanted to tell the story of the universal suffering of the war through the eyes of a horse. He met with a cavalry officer and a villager who remembers the army coming through his village to buy horses. He thanked these three men in the dedication of his book.
War Horse was first made into a play in 2007 in London, with life sized puppets of horses. It won numerous awards and was critically acclaimed.
In 2011, it was released as a movie.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
A non-fiction account of the thoroughbred racehorse Seabiscuit. Active in the 1930’s, he was one of the world’s most popular sports figures and received more coverage than the budding war in Europe. Seabiscuit is the tale of a horse and three unlikely men who brought him to greatness.
Hillenbrand did meticulous research on this topic, creating a biography that is both factual and entertaining. This received near universal acclaim, praised for the compelling nature of the story. It won numerous awards.
In 2003, it was adapted into the movie Seabiscuit.
Lots of great horse books exist, but these books are all iconic, beloved by horse lovers everywhere. I love horses in literature, and I can’t wait to see what else comes out.
How many of these books have you read?