In which I take a Sentimental Journey, and set my heart at ease

Years ago, a fellow horse-person opined that a person's horse preference was strongly influenced by the first horse book that s/he REALLY connected with as a reader.  She, herself, was a life-long lover of Arabian horses, and as a kid had pretty much read the covers off of The Black Stallion and King of the Wind (much like many readers of this blog, I suspect).

Me, I read anything to do with the Pony Express, the Wild West, and any other excuse that  authors could write about that put a rider in the saddle all day long (and all night, as well).  I read everything by Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry, Sam Savitt, Glen Balch,

as well as some remarkably obscure books and authors. 

This book, in particular, caught my attention and held it for several years:

I have no idea where my copy originated (a garage sale, I suspect), or where it went when I moved away for college (another garage sale seems likely), but I couldn't possibly forget a book that I had read 10 times or more as a kid.  

Recently, I saw a copy of my old friend the book for sale on for super-cheap.  I bought it.

But, could the story possibly be as wonderful as I remembered?

Well, no.   And yet, yes.

The basic plot was implausible to the point of flat-out-impossible: 

A newborn foal is christened a "weak-kneed sister" by the vet, because her legs are too twisted to support her weight and allow the filly to stand and suckle.  Normally, a foal like this would be shot, but the last-second pleading of Jimmy, son of the mare's owner, grants her a reprieve.  Jimmy is a cripple (hey, it was published in 1928; they didn't call polio survivors "handicap-able" then!).  Jimmy pledges to raise the foal himself, and does.  After many weeks of physical therapy administered by Jimmy and the stable hands, the foal finally stands on her own.   

At this point, adult readers are wondering why the foal didn't die of pneumonia in the first three days, or how gut motility was able to function in a long-term recumbency.   Yeah, I know.  But at age 10 when I first read the book, I didn't know about stuff like that.  It just made for a good story!

Within a year, the filly is walking and running on her own, so they break her to harness and let her pull the wagon home.

"Long-term soundness issues resulting from early work on an immature skeletal system!"  I hear you all thinking.   And yet, at age 10, it made perfect sense to me.

There are other difficulties to overcome, and of course there are many exciting races as well.  Eventually, Jimmy, aided by his now-strong, now-fast, and always-beautiful standardbred mare, becomes strong enough to overcome them all...until the penultimate tragic chapter.

I won't give away the ending, just in case you want to read it.  Selected chapters are available through Google Books at the link HERE, and there are usually copies for sale pretty cheaply on   

Suffice to say, however, that although I didn't cry buckets, I did sniffle a bit.

So what about my friend's statement, that the books we read as kids shape our horse-lives as adults?  Well, you could certainly make a case that the fictional harness-racing horse in my favorite childhood book influenced my breed of choice in my adult real life.

What about you, Gentle Readers?  Does your horse life now reflect your favorite books then?

And hey:  does anybody have some good horse stories for adults to recommend?  I need a good one to read!


  1. There seems to be a dearth of legitimate horse fiction for adults... probably because we're all too busy riding to write about it.

    Sara Gruen almost wrote an awesome series, but her main character (and the main character's daughter) are too annoying to be likeable so you can't really fall into the story.

    Have you read "Keeping Barney" by Jessie Haas? Your recent post about kids' horse books reminded me of that one. :)

  2. I remember a book about a crippled tb colt and a crippled girl who help each other. The horse's name was King. Maybe it was called Willow King? Based on a true story. This post reminded me of it. I see lots of interesting books I haven't read in this stack.

  3. Dom: Willow King by Chris Platt: a crippled TB foal + a crippled teenaged girl. Hmmm. Nothing new under the sun! (and I actually have a stack of Chris Platt's books on my table at home for review...I read the endurance one and thought it was boring...)

    Becky: I totally agree w/you about the Sarah Gruen's annoying main character. The stories were okay but the character was just whiney!

    Any other suggestions? I haven't read any of Rita Mae Brown's books lately--any good horse stuff in that stack?


    Loved this book as a kid, and found a copy on line. I pictured me running MY pony, racing everything

  5. The picture of all the Marguerite Henry books takes me straight back to when I was 10 and horse crazy and cantering around the living room jumping the coffee table. Grew up riding hunters, but have a soft spot for spotted Saddlebreds, because when I was ten I adored Harlequin Hullabaloo by Dorothy Lyons I had my own copy as a child, lost it somewhere along the way, and then bought another at a used bookstore in Chapel Hill, NC about 20 years ago.

    And Marjorie Reynolds wrote wonderful books. So did C.W. Anderson...I read Tall and Proud by Vian Smith then, too. It's set in England and is about a girl suffering from polio and the horse that gives her wings.

    Have you read Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown? YA novels and so very good and the horses are all ridden without bridles and both stories have strong, female protagonists who are self rescuing princesses who also love their horses.

  6. Have you read Buck Brannaman's book The Faraway Horses? I really enjoyed that one- but its not really a fiction story, its about his life.
    I recently found a box full of kid's horse books at a garage sale and could not pass them by.
    My favorite so far is Old Bones about legendary TB Exterminator.
    I love the illustrations in that one.

  7. I highly recommend All the Pretty Horses for adults who like horses and like fine literature. Horses are not the main subject, despite the title, but Cormac McCarthy obviously has respect for the animals.

    I'm not sure that the books I read as a child have defined the horses I love or what I do with them, but Black Beauty certainly shaped me as a horse person. Every horse has a story and we, as their partners and caregivers, must remain sensitive to that. Especially those of us inclined to rescue horses from dubious circumstances.

  8. I just found "Annie Oakley" "Sharpshooter" Little Golden Book in an antique store. Copyright 1956. Thought granddaughter Cassidy would enjoy it! My all time childhood favorite author; Mary O'Hara.

    I read every book on horses in the Boulder Library!

  9. I have Game Legs too! My dad picked it up at a library rummage sale ages ago. How funny that you brought it up. I had always suspected that no one else had ever heard of it.

    I know I mentioned this on your facebook too, but the ones that really stick out for me are the Billy and Blaze books. Little boy and his trusty pony have relatively safe and not-too-exciting adventures. Just the way I like it!

    @CG: Old Bones is a really good one too. I love that there is some overlap in it with Seabiscuit, which IMO is one of the best pieces of nonfiction I've ever read, horse or no horse.

    @Becky, regarding "adult" horse books: I picked up a book in the airport last year called The God Of Animals that was pretty good. Very horsey, and no glaring factual errors. And there's always Dick Francis and Jane Smiley.

  10. My favorite was by Margaret Cable Self "Sky Rocket". A great book about a little horse surviving abuse to win. What I loved about it most was it was based on a true story. There was a little horse that won whatever year it was at I believe in New York. I loved it and it definitely started me in helping rescues.

  11. Gotta go with Kathleen re: Robin McKinley. Her horses are remarkably realistic for fantasy horses! If I ever get a grey gelding, I'm totally naming him Talat :)

  12. Growing up I had wallpapered on the back of my door a life-sized image of a brown stallion peering out over a stable door. He was like my very own horse. To this day it's the browns I love most. Maybe chestnut, maybe bay, but never black nor white nor palimino!

  13. My two cents for a book recommendation: Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley

  14. I read every horse book our tiny library had when I was a kid. Marguerite Henry was always my fav. I had read 'Misty of Chincoteaque' all the time and still have my original copy. Anything with wild ponies was just heaven to me. I think your friend is on to something with that theory.

    @Becky! I still have my copy of 'Keeping Barney'! I re-read it many times growing up.

    I read all Marguerite Henry's books, The Saddle Club books, the classics-The Black Stallion, Black Beauty, etc... I also read I think all of a series called 'Thoroughbred'about a girl who lives on a thoroughbred farm. I read 'All the Pretty Horses' in high school. This whole post makes me want to go digging in the attic at my parents house for all my old books. :)

    Most recently I read a book called 'One Good Horse' which is a true story and I enjoyed it.


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