I'm going to be honest with you, Internet, because this feels like a safe place to share my darkest and most shameful secrets:
I was a horse girl growing up. Now you might be thinking, "Oh, so you liked horses." No. Horses were my top priority at any given time. I had horse toys and horse jewelry. I had a horse journal, in which I wrote exclusively about horses. I was a horse girl. My friend Gabby and I would whinny softly while running laps in gym class, and we spent the rest of our time concocting fanfiction. For all intents and purposes, I Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron was a horse. And for a period of time, I read almost exclusively horse books. So here are some of the greatest horse books that all us horse girls (of every gender) read as kids, for a hooved journey down memory lane.
Horse books were my lifeline back in the day, because I didn't get to interact with that many
actual horses. I lived in Midtown Manhattan, where you could see the occasional rabid police horse or maybe a sad-eyed carriage horse, and that was it. These were the books I read when I wanted to feel like a wild stallion, running free across the plains, as well as the brave little girl who tames him:
'Black Beauty' by Anna Sewell
is the gateway drug of horse books. Sure, that 1877 writing can be a little tough for some kids and yes, the plot mostly involves beautiful, noble horses being mangled and put to death. But every horse kid muscled their way through this classic at one point or another, and Black Beauty's tortured whinnies still haunt our dreams. Black Beauty Click here to buy.
'Misty of Chincoteague' by Marguerite Henry
Marguerite Henry ruled the 20th Century YA horse book world with an iron fist, and
was her crowning glory. It's all about two orphans who buy a wild pony named Phantom and then kidnap her colt, Misty, to raise as their own. It's honestly a pretty harrowing read if you're a wild pony, but it was Misty of Chincoteague the dream for every horse kid out there. Click here to buy.
'The Black Stallion' by Walter Farley
is the ultimate stranded-on-a-deserted-island-with-a-wild-and-majestic-horse story. Young Alex and the horse both survive a shipwreck and then spend the whole novel building a magical relationship of wonder and delight. Also there's some very corny slang from the '40s, because I guess kids in the '40s also loved horses. The Black Stallion Click here to buy.
'King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian' by Marguerite Henry
All the other horse books can go home, because
was hands down the best one. A horse and stable boy travel together from the sweeping Sahara to the French court to the fields of England, getting into scrapes and fighting various forms of animal abuse. Was it historically accurate? Who cares, there was a King of the Wind horse and a boy and they had adventures in different countries. I don't know what more you could ask of a novel. Click here to buy.
'National Velvet' by Enid Bagnold
Every night, 14-year-old Velvet Brown chants, "Oh, God, give me horses, give me horses!" before bed. Same, Velvet. Same. Velvet Brown from
was the National Velvet original horse girl. And of course her wishes come true, in the form of a piebald horse with jumping superpowers. I didn't understand what "steeplechase" meant as a kid, but I did like that there was a girl who had a horse in the book. That part was good. Click here to buy.
'My Friend Flicka' by Mary O'Hara
is maybe the original "one magical summer" book about horses. Ken is a waste of space kid who flunks tests and generally sucks at being alive. Flicka is a beautiful and wild young filly with a spirit that cannot be broken. Basically it's a manic pixie dream girl romance except that the girl is a horse. My Friend Flicka Click here to buy.
'A Horse Called Wonder' by Joanna Campbell
The Thoroughbred Series was a horse girl staple, just a notch under Saddle Club and the Marguerite Henry-verse. A Horse Called Wonder, the first novel, is notable because it starts off with a burned horse girl: Ashleigh Griffen's beloved horse is DEAD and she has sworn off horses forever... but then she meets a new horse and everything is fine. Click here to buy.
'The Red Pony' by John Steinbeck
I swear that every single boy in every boy-and-animal book I read growing up was named Jody, and the kid in
is no exception. Jody is a rancher boy who thinks he's seen it all when it comes to horses. But the hot-headed pony Gabilan will change all that! And then the pony gets sick and it's sad. Not my favorite as a kid. Bad pony name and too sad (sorry, Steinbeck). The Red Pony Click here to buy.
'Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague' by Marguerite Henry
has it all. Orphan kids? Check. Orphan horse? Check. A beautiful friendship based on the indomitable spirit of a young colt? Of course. Kind of weird that this is called the "Misty" series when Misty isn't the main pony in any of the books, but no kid can resist a story of lovable orphan children rescuing a lil' baby horse. Sea Star Click here to buy.
'Justin Morgan Had a Horse' by Marguerite Henry
Marguerite Henry book, I promise. I just need everyone to remember that the name of the horse in this book is Little Bub. Little Bub. I guess he became the first Morgan horse, which was my favorite horse breed growing up for some unknowable reason. Click here to buy.
'Horse Crazy' by Bonnie Bryant
THE SADDLE CLUB. This was the Baby-Sitter's Club of horse series. The first book is even called so you know that Bonnie Bryant isn't pulling any punches. Carole and Stevie spend all their time riding horses, talking about horses, and being real shady to Lisa because they don't think she has what it takes to be part of their horse clique (spoiler: she does). Horse Crazy, Click here to buy.
'The Wild One' by Terri Farley
is not about a ghost horse. It's about another burned horse girl: Samantha left her family's ranch two years ago, after a bad fall off of a horse. Will she ever be able to get back on a horse now?? I mean... yes. But first she'll spend a lot of time thinking she's imagining a beautiful *phantom stallion* who is maybe her old horse The Wild One gone rogue. Click here to buy.
'Horse in the House' by Ben M. Baglio
The Animal Ark books were all about solving very simple animal mysteries. I was addicted to them.
is one of several of the horse-based books in series, in which Mandy and James tackle the mystery of "is this horse a ghost?" (Spoiler: no.) Horse in the House Click here to buy.
'Coming Home' by Lauren Brooke
I didn't read too many of the
Heartland books growing up, but I can respect that someone out there wanted to read more serious, moody horse content. The series follows Amy Fleming through the loss of her mother and her job at the abused horse shelter and yes, there was a Canadian TV show. Click here to buy.
'I Want a Pony' by Jeanne Betancourt
Pony Pals as being like the younger, more chaotic sister of The Saddle Club series. The Saddle Club felt like a formal, chartered organization of young horse-enthusiasts. The Pony Pals were more of a rogue band of pony lovers who hung out at diners and solved pony-based problems, like "Lulu wants a pony" or "Will Anna get to keep her pony?" or "Pam loves her pony very much." Click here to buy.