Within the riding community, The Saddle Club has Babysitters Club-level appeal; if pressed, I could likely still name the first fifteen titles in the series in chronological order. Hell, I could probably draw you a family tree for each of the fictional horses stabled at Pine Hollow.
I polled some (now adult) Pony Girls on what book they would give to a young horse lover today and, judging from the immediacy and intensity of each of the responses, it’s clear that these are keepers: A few years ago, my neighborhood bar decided to start showing simulcast horse racing.
The math geek in me ate it up (and since I don’t actually gamble, it was an easy way to amuse myself without going broke.) After a while, in addition to the total nursery, there was another attachment happening, a memory that was tugging my eyes up to the screen every time the horses ran.
Still, every time the horses would come out of the last turn, I would think about the moral dilemma of the series’ young jockey: To use the crop? So now I sit here, thumbing through the racing program, googling jockey records, assessing the horses during the parade, pretending I know something about this beautiful sport.
All because Walter Farley shared his enduring wisdom with me back when I was young enough to believe I too could rescue a thoroughbred from a shipwreck and train him to be the greatest racehorse there ever was. Chandra Reilly is a Construction Project Director in Phoenix who is lucky enough to have been befriended by a lot of fellow book needs and equine enthusiasts.
All these years later, I still have it on my shelf: the same battered copy of Misty of Chincoteague that I first read as a kid. Every so often, I pull it down and leaf through the yellowed pages, and I’m suddenly nine-years-old again, horse-crazy and drunk on books, awestruck by the story of this coastal island and ragingly jealous of Paul and Maureen Beebe, who were lucky enough to have a pony like Misty.
When I first found out the book was based on a true story, it was like I’d been told Narnia was a real place. Somewhere on the east coast, there was an actual island populated by wild ponies, and once a year, just like in the book, they were rounded up to swim the channel, and then the foals were auctioned off, sometimes even to kids like me.
Jennifer E Smith (@JenESmith) is the author of several YA novels including The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, This is What Happy Looks Like, and the forthcoming Hello, Goodbye and Everything In Between. When I think back on the fantasy series I adored above all else when I was a kid, three very specific images come to mind: a girl with red hair and purple eyes, a very sassy magical cat, and the best mare in the entire world–Moonlight.
The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamara Pierce is about a Lady Knight, Alana of Tor tall, who almost always feels alone in her world. Moonlight has a personality that perfectly complements my beloved heroine’s, but more than that she sticks with Alana through everything–every trial and victory, and through every exile, battle, and quest.
Moonlight is the one friend that never leaves Alana throughout the course of the series, and she becomes an essential aspect of the Lioness’s image and legend. Trial Price is the Children’s Specialist at indie bookstore Great Lakes Book & Supply.
There isn’t a shortage of amazing horse books to recommend to young readers who share a love of the big, beautiful creatures. However, there is a series, or a book to be more specific, that encouraged me to write about horses and it is a story I’ll never forget.
As my place in Horse World slipped in reality, I got to live a fantasy of riding and training Thoroughbred’s through Ashleigh’s eyes. Pretending to chase Ashleigh’s dream to become a jockey in a male dominated sport prepared me to fight for my own goal later when I wanted to publish my first book.
I was always horse-crazy, carrying around my stuffed, bedraggled pony everywhere, but then I began to read, and I discovered a new form of horse craziness. I devoured every book in the series, and so was understandably crushed when I reached first grade (back in the old days reading was not encouraged in kindergarten) and was handed a book of stories about Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot.
I had a weekly lesson on a school horse and competed in the local Sunday show circuit. The Blue Ribbon series, on the other hand, was my daydream: single-minded devotion to a sport and the chance to make it to the Olympics on my gorgeous, gifted horse.
But Danny Ryan, the fictional groom in Walter Farley’s Man o’War, desperately wished to be a jockey on his favorite horse. So Danny settles for slavish devotion to the horse calls Big Red, working as his groom while developing a frankly unhealthy attachment to the racehorse.
It’s hard to work up much emotion for Man o’ War himself, the overdo who won all but one race in his life, most by about a gazillion lengths. Farley tries so hard to gin up drama in the horse’s parade of wins that he turns a yearling auction into a multipart saga.
But as an awkward, insecure girl, I understood Danny’s selfish claim on Big Red, his jealousy toward the jockeys who got to ride him and his barely concealed anxiety that the object of his obsession would probably notice a change in his feed-bucket before he noticed if Danny was missing. Danny wanted to be a part of something big, something that transcended the grubby realities of horse racing and adulthood.
The world might have preferred Farley’s more famous The Black Stallion, but loving Man o’War made it feel more wholly my own. Allison Williams is a senior editor at Seattle Met magazine, guidebook author, and journalist.
I like it because it’s written simplistically enough for a Junior/Amateur to understand and has accompanying hand drawn pictures for those of use that need and/or learn best through visual references. I like that it covers the “soup to nuts” of riding, from grooming, to basic horse care, different riding tack and clothing, riders positions through the various gaits, progressing to the fundamentals jumping, and finishing with advanced horsemanship techniques.
None of them made me yearn to be around horses as much as Black Beauty by Anna Sewell; it’s still in my top five favorite books of all time. I so longed to ride Beauty, the spunky pony Merry legs, or even poor, misunderstood and misused Ginger.
Now, years later, I had to work hard to remember the name of the boy in The Black Stallion. For a week each summer, I went to a YMCA camp, mumbling my way through morning songs, bumbling through crafts, just waiting to get back to the barn.
The Black wasn’t just a horse; he was a source of adventure, free on a beach, coveted by basically everyone. If a plane wasn’t crashing with the Black aboard, some adult with nefarious plans was creeping up on the plot line.
Molly Templeton is the events' coordinator at Word Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. In second grade, I was still two years shy of the minimum age to start taking lessons at the stable where military kids in my town went to learn to ride.
My bedroom shelves contained only two things: Breyer model horses and books about ponies. The story features Chip, a colt who is beloved by his farm family, until a new foal is born, and he has to share the spotlight.
Chip has to learn a tough lesson about there being enough room (and love) for everyone, and being a good role model for the new little guy. The story is based on Henry’s observations of real herd dynamics, so there are tidbits of horsey information woven throughout.
The breathtaking illustrations in this picture book are the reason I spent countless hours (and colored pencils) sitting on the floor of my bedroom as I filled notebooks with attempts to recreate Rich Radish’s life-like portrayals of Chip and his family. Katie Squibb loves ponies, small people, books, and keeping it simple.