And now for something slightly different: instead of me writing about horses, I’d like to share some of my favorite horse books. This is a completely idiosyncratic, totally me-centered, this is what I like sort of list. It has a definite and obvious slant. Please feel free to share your own favorites in comments; we have a wide variety of readers and equestrian enthusiasms here.
I’ll start my list with one of the earliest of all the horse books, the source for much of modern thinking about horse training: The Art of Horsemanship by the ancient Greek author Xenophon. This is a wonderful historical document as well as a seminal text for the educated horse trainer from the Renaissance onward. Amid the machismo (no man would ever ride anything but a stallion) and the hints of the relationship between men and horses at the time (men forceful, horses aggressive–but Xenophon begged to differ) are bits of training wisdom that still apply today.
One of the great heirs of Xenophon is the celebrated director of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Colonel Alois Podhajsky. His Complete Training of Horse and Rider in the Principles of Classical Horsemanship is the ultimate grimoire of the craft. Like a grimoire, it contains the distillation of all magical knowledge, and I find I can only read as far as I’ve gone as a rider. I’ll skim the parts past that, but they point to workings and incantations that I’m not yet ready for, or that I may have tried with a master’s guidance but haven’t performed on my own yet. (The horse on the cover, I’ll note, is the ancestor of my own stallion. Family!) I keep coming back to it as I go, and the further I progress, the more “Aha!” moments I have as I read.
I also dearly love one of the good Colonel’s memoirs, My Horses, My Teachers. These are stories of and tributes to his horses, and they show the real love of the species that marks a genuine horseman.
Since this is a blog about horses for writers, I can’t leave out writers who Get It Right. There are quite a few horsepeople in fantasy and science fiction, including Anne McCaffrey (whose dragons and riders are based on the bond between the Lipizzaners and their riders at the Spanish Riding School), Elizabeth Moon, Doranna Durgin, R.A. McAvoy, and many, many others. But even before those, and somewhat before I discovered f and sf, I read every single book Marguerite Henry ever wrote. My very most favorite was her book about the Godolphin Arabian, King of the Wind. I read the covers right off the book, and can still remember individual scenes, complete with illustrations.
I think this book was why I read and reread the rather controversial but incontestably fascinating book by Carl Raswan, Drinkers of the Wind, the story of Raswan’s search through Arabia for the perfect horse. It was like Lawrence of Arabia, but with fewer explosions. Never mind the human element; I read it for the horses.
Later as I moved from the middle-grade section of the library to the YA’s and adult books, I found Mary Stewart–and fell in love with her thriller, Airs Above the Ground. I’ll never forget the scene with the old horse in the moonlight, which I read years before I got to watch my own white horses dance in that same light. She wasn’t a horse person as such; the book’s protagonist is afraid of them and doesn’t like them much. But the magic of that scene has stayed with me since the first time I read it. She really got it about that particular kind of horse, how he thinks and what he does when he’s by himself. That’s the mark of a good writer.
What about you? What are your favorite horse books?