Exactly What I Wanted: Favorite Horse Books

xenophonAnd 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 This is a wonderful historical document as well as a seminal text for the educated horse trainer from the Renaissance onward.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. podhajsky_bvc (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?

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Exactly What I Wanted: Favorite Horse Books — 11 Comments

  1. Is there any doubt? I first read The Black Stallion Returns in second grade, before The Black Stallion, and I’ve been following The Black ever since–even now, in middle age. Marguerite Henry, yes, but The Black…

    Smoky the Cowhorse and other horse memoirs by Will James. James is an interesting and somewhat unreliable character when writing of himself; his true life story is also fascinating.

    A local, small press memoir, How High the Bounty about a woman in southern Oregon who married for the love of horses, and her story about homesteading on the upper Umpqua river in the early 20th century. She and her husband bred their own horses, selecting not just for color but for surefootedness, good minds, and smooth gaits. Horses were their primary transportation well into the 1950s.

    The Oregon Desert by Reub Long and (?) Jackman. Mostly about the central Oregon desert, but Reub has some pithy tidbits about being a cowboy there during the Great Depression, and making a living off of the then thick wild herds in that area. Reading Reub makes you realize that natural horsemanship ain’t that new a thing.

    The Western Horseman Legends series, now up to seven books. While I read them for the history of my well-bred mare’s ancestors, it’s also just downright fascinating–seven volumes now, with details on the outstanding characters of the Quarter Horse breed.

    Margaret Cabell Self. Those of us of a certain age remember her horsemanship books.

    C.W. Anderson. I have some of his exquisite nonfiction books as well as a short story collection.

    Ed Connell. A must-have for anyone seeking the roots of Californio reined horsemanship.

    And various books by Shawn Flarida, Bob Loomis, Al Dunning, and other reining/reined cowhorse greats. Must haves if you’re thinking about performance Western riding.

    Finally, John Robert Young.

    That doesn’t even begin to touch upon the dressage and hunt seat collection. Sylvia Loch, Jean-Claude Racinet, Oliviera, Podhajsky, and others.

    And, finally, for any horsey writer–Anthony Trollope, not just his Hunting Sketches but his autobiography. I envy Trollope his ability to use his day job to exercise his hunters (which he did while laying out the British postal routes)

  2. Okay, these are ones that only German readers can read, I guess (so maybe Sherwood?) but the Austrian author Arthur Heinz Lehmann wrote some marvellous novels about various Lippizzan horses and his life with them during and before and after World War 2 – Hengst Maestoso Austria is probably the most famous one as it’s also the love story of how he wooed his wife, if I remember correctly. He worked as a rider in the Spanish Riding School of Vienna at the time as far as I remember. Most of these have pictures of the horses and people mentioned included.

    But he also wrote quite a few more in that vein, about the Lipizzans in Vienna and various other animals – most semi-autobiographical but also some full novels : http://www.librarything.com/author/lehmannarthurheinz

    Hey, you actually had Maestoso Austria translated here:
    The Noble Stallion. You might enjoy that, Ms. Tarr.

    Recently I read Toby Bishop‘s Flying Riding School fantasy trilogy and quite liked it. Although I didn’t like the idea that the women had to give up either the horses or physical love ;P

    And I used to cry my heart out for Black Beauty. And loved the shetland pony Zottel in Tina Caspari’s Bille & Zottel… only available in German. Etc, etc.

  3. All the mentioned books are wonderful, and the few I haven’t read are going on my to do list. Some of these are hard to find but they’ve stayed with me.

    Frog: The Horse That Knew No Master, Colonel S.P. Meek

    Sky Rocket: The Story of a Little Bay Horse, Margret Self

    Those I remember because the training was different from anything I’d read in some of the volumes of horse books I read as a child. There were so many available through Scholastic and my school library had a fantastic selection of Jim Kjelgaard books that included some stories he wrote with horses and dogs.

    There are many very good historical books out now on the horse in history. I have Horse in the Middle Ages by Ann Hyland, and several of her other works where she presents some archeological finds and some of her own testing and theories with pictures.

    I’d have to go upstairs with a pen and paper and peruse the bookcase of horse books to try and pick out some of my other favorites. One last one that is worth reading just for the Thewell-esque fun is Happy Horsemanship – Dorothy Pinch. It’s full of horsey cartoons, and fairly solid information that is perfect for horsey kids!

  4. I just got all mushy and teary-eyed here at work, lol.

    Ahhh pony books. <3

    Agreed about King of the Wind! Loved that one. Also on my list from childhood:

    The Most Beautiful Horse In The World by Diane Redmond. I just googled it, it's very hard to find on the interwebs! Published in '94 it's about a teen girl who can't afford a horse of her own but is a talented rider so she finds her way into showing a beautiful talented jumper (arabian x irish draught). A writer who obviously knows her way around the equine world.

    All the books by C.W. Anderson starting with Billy & Blaze: A Boy and His Horse. I was addicted to those in elementary school. I also have an old copy of The Crooked Colt. I LOVE the illustrations.

    Of course, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. My original version was a picture book illustrated by Susan Jeffers and it came with a book on tape.

    Susan Jeffers also illustrated a version of "If WIshes Were Horses" and that was well loved as well.

    Oh, and there was an old novel about a colt in the midst of a war in Russia… the book is called Jumper and I can't remember the author and google is not helping. It's really old, it was my grandfathers… so… 1930's?

    As an adult I love Robert Vavra's books of photography. Absolutely gorgeous. Also the novels Riding Lessons and Flying Changes by Sara Gruen who later wrote the popular Water For Elephants.

  5. Judith,

    When I was but a child, and Lipizzan crazy at age 7 or so, my Mother put “Airs Above the Ground” in my hands – somehow she put together the kind of horses I was enamored with, with the story. She’s still not sure what a horse really is, but she did lunge Bianca for me for awhile when I was away to college… At about the same age I read “Complete Training…” and I’ve read it several times. You should read it through and through, not just to where you are – when you get there, you’ll recognize what you’ve read! And when you get to it on your own, you feel so ‘smart’.

    Of course, if you’ve read Black Stallion books, you must have read “Black Stallion and the Ghost” which is where The Black ‘falls in love’ with a circus Lipizzan mare…. at some point when I was 7 or 8, I decided that rather than breed black Arabians when I grew up, that I must breed Lipizzans – and here I am, living the dream.

    However, my favorite non-fiction horse book is General Decarpentry’s “Piaffer and Passage”….

  6. I loved the Walter Farley books, all of them. But when I was a kid I read any book with a horse on the cover, and I loved them all. I read and reread “The Horsemasters” by Don Stanford–oh, how I wanted to be one of the girls in that book! Other grade school favorites were “A Horse Called Mystery” and another one whose title I no longer remember—it was about a girl whose family bought a house with some outbuildings, and in one of them was a gray horse, apparently included in the house sale. She learned to take care of him and ride him. I wanted to be her, too.

    Then in high school I discovered Dick Francis’ wonderful racing mysteries, and the lovely, semi-trashy romance, “Show Gypsies,” a book that made the rounds at the hunter-jumper barn I boarded at. Serious books? Not so much, I prefer the novels as long as the author gets it right.

  7. Thomas C. Hinkle wrote a great many horse and dog books set in the Old West. I devoured each one of these books (one in particular, “Tornado Boy,” I remember because the horse was blue!) This particular book is now going for two hundred sixty-eight dollars on Amazon.

    The Australian Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell, if you can get past the fact that the horses talk.

    My two favorite modern horse books are Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand, and Secretariat: the Making of a Champion, by William Nack. Both these books will bring you to tears.

  8. Thanks to everyone for the recs! I’m planning to pick up a few. If only Show Gypsies were (considerably) less than $99.95…

    @ JIll: could your book have been by Nicholas Kalashnikoff? Jane Badger summarized, “Jumper is the life story of a Siberian colt who became a Russian Cavalry horse, having been requisitioned for the First World War. He is then mixed up in the Russian Revolution.”

  9. Ok, I could go on for a while here. And there is a certain White Magic series that definitely merits mention ;). Miss Caitlin Brennan seems to know her stuff, for some reason.

    There was one book, I think the title was Storm, about a showy and troubled Arab mare, and a teenaged girl who helped her and was healed by her (ah, cliches are lovely, eh) which I constantly had out from the school library so I could reread it. I found a used copy a few years back, and it makes me smile, though I am stunned now at the strongly Christian storyline.

    But the books which recur and recur from my childhood (aside from Marguerite Henry, of course, in all forms), are the Gypsy books by Sharon Wagner. I bought Gypsy from Nowhere in a (for the times!) huge bookstore when we were on a family vacation in LA. The store had the whole trilogy, but Mom suggested I make sure I liked the book before spending my money on all 3.

    After DEVOURING Gypsy during the balance of the motorhome trip north, I found the second book, Gypsy and Nimblefoot when we visited Seattle == but they didn’t have the third book, much to my chagrin.

    I read and reread both books over the years, and tried desperately to find the third, but I never did. And then, lo, the interwebs, and abebooks.com, and a dear friend sent me Gypsy and the Moonstone Stallion for Christmas. And it held up to time — as a 30something woman, the book held all the mystery and magic that it’s predecessors had for the 10 year old me.

  10. Hi Judith!
    I have looked everywhere for the Complete Training of Horse and Rider written in the Spanish language. I have a friend where I live here in Nicaragua (on the island of Ometepe) who is a talented young rider and this would be a wonderful foundation book for him to read and to own—if only I could find a copy in Spanish! Any thoughts? Do you know if it has it been translated into Spanish?
    Thanks!
    John Tansey