How Horse Fiction Leaves an Indelible Mark—Top Riders, Trainers, and Judges Weigh in on The Favorite Titles from Their Childhood

Some of the horse books from my childhood remaining in my collection.

My “grownup” bookshelf still holds the tattered remnants of what once were my favorite books. I was a voracious reader as a child, and though the topics of interest were many and varied, you could always sell me a horse book. The story lines were usually familiar—there was often a young boy or girl with a dream of a horse of his or her own; a plot that highlighted ambition in the show ring or on the racetrack; there might also be a challenge to conquer a jealous rival or a need to overcome an injury that threatened tragic loss.

One of my all-time favorite horse books.

Whatever the formula, horse fiction was a winner, and I especially liked the books that rang true to my young equestrian ear. An old favorite of mine was called The Horsemasters by Don Stanford—there’s a scene where the main character has to ride through a grid with no reins and no stirrups, and my heart still speeds up as I think about facing the daunting exercise! When I first started at Trafalgar Square Books, Managing Director Martha Cook and I bonded over a common love of this particular book.

As TSB now releases an all-new fiction series for young horse lovers, beginning with CROWN PRINCE and its exciting followup CROWN PRINCE CHALLENGED, it seems a good moment to ask the other horse people in my life which books they remember reading as horse-crazy kids.

“That’s easy for me,” responded TSB Promotions Director Julie Beaulieu. “I loved the ‘Billy and Blaze’ books [by CW Anderson] and a book named Moorland Mousie [by Golden Gorse].”

FEI and USEF dressage judge Janet Foy, author of the bestselling DRESSAGE FOR THE NOT-SO-PERFECT HORSE, was also prompt in her reply.

“I had two favorites that I read over and over,” she said. “Afraid to Ride by C.W. Anderson was a great story about a girl who had a horse accident and was afraid to ride, until she found the perfect horse, and then King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry.”

Janet wasn’t the only one to give Henry’s book about Arabians the nod.

“My favorite book growing up was King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry,” said Cindy Meehl, director of the award-winning documentary BUCK and the new instructional series 7 CLINICS WITH BUCK BRANNAMAN. “I loved it, and it made me cry.”

I also asked Denny Emerson, USEA Hall-of-Fame Inductee and author of the phenomenal HOW GOOD RIDERS GET GOOD, his thoughts on the subject.

“Early on, the whole Black Stallion series,” replied Denny. “Then the Mary O`Hara trilogy: My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming.”

“When I was 10 I read My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara and became addicted!” agreed Vanessa Bee, Founder of the International Horse Agility Club and author of THE HORSE AGILITY HANDBOOK. “I now read the trilogy at least once a year; they are my soul food. Although I must have read My Friend Flicka a hundred times, I still hope that Flicka survives, and I cry at the end when she calls to Ken as he runs to her in the pasture! (I’m welling up now…) This deep love that Ken found in his relationship with Flicka, it’s what I look for every time I reach out to a horse.”

Flicka was a horse that left an indelible mark on many of us. Melinda Folse, author of THE SMART WOMAN’S GUIDE TO MIDLIFE HORSES counts herself as one of them. When I asked her which books meant the most to her in her early years, she replied, “Well, My Friend Flicka, of course…and The Black Stallion, of course…and the rest of each series. And there was a kind of obscure one that I read so many times it fell apart…” Melinda went on. “It was called A Horse Called Bonnie, and its sequel, The Sweet Running Filly [by Barbara van Tuyl and Pat Johnson].” 

Well wouldn’t you know it, I loved both those books, too. The “Bonnie Books,” as we used to call them, were rereleased in 2010.

 

There’s a whole generation of young readers out there who deserve stories about horses, good horsemanship, the value of hard work, and dreams that come true. We hope the characters from THE BROOKMEADE YOUNG RIDERS SERIES by Linda Snow McLoon—beginning with CROWN PRINCE and its followup CROWN PRINCE CHALLENGED—both entertain and teach lessons, with a healthy dose of “horse” along the way.

CROWN PRINCE and CROWN PRINCE CHALLENGED are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.

—Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor

Why the Black Stallion Lives On–The Horse as Totem, Rite of Passage, and Friend

I cannot explain it. My three-year-old son loves a rusted tow truck called “Mater” who backfires when he wakes up and thinks “tractor tippin’s fuuuun.”

My son can sing that brain-worm song about Thomas being the “cheeky one,” and he knows the tune to Dinosaur Train well enough to drown out the DVD when it is playing.

My son has far more toy trucks, planes, and engines than stuffed animals or model livestock. He’s a machinehead with a toy tool box, a bike, a scooter, and an interest in checking their wheels every block or so.

But that boy loves The Black Stallion.

Granted, there is a scene where the Black and Alec travel on a train (one reason Seabiscuit is pulled from its shelf every now and again is the lengthy train tour the horse takes about mid-film). This may have been how my son was hooked to begin. But now, his favorite scene is quite the opposite end of the spectrum from the rattle of the tracks and the Black cross-tied securely in a boxstall on wheels. He loves the part when, after days on the island, watching, waiting, and surviving, Alec finds a way to make friends with the wild black horse with whom he’s found himself stranded.

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If it has been a while since you’ve viewed Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece (and it is one), find some way to make time to see this film again. The patience with which the island scenes are filmed is remarkable, particularly in this day and age. The poignancy of the relationship that develops between the young boy, Alec, and the horse that he calls “the Black” is so vibrant, so in the space that you inhabit, it will break your heart at the same time it sets you free.

As an adult, as a horse lover, as an appreciator of fine arts, I can easily pinpoint why it is that I find The Black Stallion so moving—why it is a film I can watch over and over again and still smile and cry at the same parts.

But my son…my son laughs at bad jokes cracked by animated characters. What is it about this movie that makes HIM choose it again and again?

Understandably, we speak less of “a boy and his horse” in today’s society than we did in the days of My Friend Flicka and The Red Pony. We speak less of “a boy and his dog.” We don’t live in the same kind of world we once did. But just because our world doesn’t make the same demands of our young men doesn’t mean that the young men don’t feel residual awareness and responsibility from “harder” times gone by. It doesn’t mean that the way a boy needed a horse or dog fifty years ago doesn’t still live somewhere deep down inside every male child who breathes air on this earth.

I feel I can draw some conclusions from how my son chooses to view The Black Stallion for the hundredth time. We always fast-forward to the moment Alec awakens on the shore of the island, the ocean water lapping at his torn pajamas, the rope from the Black’s halter cut on one end and tied round his waist on the other (the raw violence of the ship scenes is too real and too scary for a child my son’s age). Then, we watch, enraptured, as the camera spools out across beach and rock-face, as Alec and the Black meet, “break bread,” and then “play tag.” My son loves the moment where we in the audience can hear the Black’s lips reaching and missing the piece of seaweed Alec extends as offer of friendship. He wants to know why the horse backs away at first, why he is tentative, perhaps afraid, and even fierce in his insecurity. Then, my son marvels at the way boy and horse become one as the sun sets, rarely touching, and yet one moving with the other as a shell might move across the shore with the gentle swell of the tide.

Of course, that first riding scene adds excitement, anticipation, and then finally, speed, as Alec swings aboard and takes flight through the shallows along the island’s coast. My son always sits very erect during this part of the movie, and he laughs a little when Alec falls with a splash, remarking, “Here comes the Black, he’s turning around to come back and get Alec.”

What does this tell me about my son? That perhaps there is hope that one day he will ride horses alongside his mother? Maybe. Honestly, I don’t know that the Black is so much a “horse” to him…I think my son is enamored of Alec, a young boy he can identify with, who seeks and finds this powerful creature, and determines a way to share in some of that power. Alec is still small, relatively weak, but with the Black on his side, he has strong legs to tow him to shore, sharp hooves to strike down venomous creatures, and speed to outrun the worst of all enemies—loneliness and fear of being left behind for eternity.

The Black is an emblem, a totem, of the will to survive that is no doubt inherent in most humans at birth, or not long after. The Black is a rite of passage, a challenge to the young man to control with forces other than might, and to understand how those skills can be applied elsewhere in life. The Black is a friend, trusting and true, and present beside you even when you’re not sure if anyone else is aware of, or cares about, your struggles.

My son loves The Black Stallion because it makes him feel fast, strong, smart, tenacious, and kind. For an hour or so, he becomes that freckled young boy so at home leaning against the Black’s side or riding on his back. My son grows up, and likes it, a little more every time we see the film.

Fiction that becomes a bit more real and gains just a little more life as the years go by and more people come to appreciate it—it is so worth it. It’s just so worth it.

Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor