My Favorite Horse Book

By Patty Wilber

This past weekend we went to Santa Catalina Island off the California coast (which was a fine adventure!).

I needed a book to read on the way home and I picked up Fifty Shades of Grey.  It  disgusted me so much that I could hardly put it down, devoured the thing in two days and then felt like I’d eaten a really bad meal and should throw up.

In case you are tempted to read it or the series, take the anti-drug slogan to heart:  Just Say No.  Or go read the Amazon reviews by Cupcake, which, for the second and third books anyway, are funny and liken the books to literary crack (and give them 4 stars…).

So that brings me ’round to my actual topic.  My favorite horse stories.  In contrast to the Fifty Shades, my best loved horse books are in the YA (Young Adult) category.

As a kid, of course I was enchanted by Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague books and when we lived on the East Coast, we went to see those ponies.

(I also loved a book called The Mystery of the  Red Tide By Frank Bonham, which featured Garibaldi –the state fish of California.  We got to see Garibaldi when we snorkeled at Catalina!  Bagged another childhood book animal!

Thank goodness, because that time we just happened to be near Mission San Juan Capistrano on St. Joseph’s Day when the swallows were supposed to arrive –according to the Caldecott Medal winning book Song of the Swallows by Leo Politi, first published in 1948  that we read to the kids in the 1990’s– was a bust.  Turns out the swallows no longer arrive at the Mission AT ALL, let alone on a prescribed day, possibly due to changes in habitat utilization–i.e. urbanization. Still bummed.)

swallows return to capistrano

I digressed.

Here are my top two.

1. Dark Sunshine by Dorothy Lyons.  1951.  A sickly girl, a wild horse, a ranch in Arizona.  This one is my favorite.  I also read all D. Lyon’s other books, which, in my memory, are nothing compared to this one!

Dark Sunshine (Voyager Book)

2. Black Gold by Marguerite Henry. 1957.  Based on a true story.  I remembered really liking it as a kid, so when mine were little, we took it as a read-aloud book on some road trip.  I’d totally forgotten it was a tear- jerker.  At the end we actually  had to pull over because all four of us were bawling our eyes out.  (Except Progeny #2, because at that age, he didn’t cry.  His eyes were just “hot”, sweating, we suppose).

(Check it out–Wesley Dennis illustrated both the editions I have!)

I have copies (obviously-just said that) of both books (although Dark Sunshine is falling apart), and a quite few other YA horsey titles because I came across a garage sale in 1989 or so where a girl was selling her horse book collection for 50 cents a title.  Gold mine! Bought them all.  Most of them were old friends and some became new friends–like Fury and the Mustangs By Albert G. Miller…”Fury Fury, From Oregon east to Missouri….”

Re-read them all and then read many of them to the kids (and then they read some of them, themselves).

Of course, I’ve read a gob of adult horse books, too, but somehow Dark Sunshine is still top of my list!

What are your favs?

About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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14 Responses to My Favorite Horse Book

  1. Jim Edmiston says:

    Hi Patty, since I am a guy, I never did read the “horsey books” growing up. However, how about talking about the horse movies next? Sandy and I have them all……

  2. BlogPatty says:

    Hi Jim,
    OOOO! Horse Movies…Definitely NOT the recent rendition of My Friend Flicka…
    Did you read dog books? Big Red made me want an Irish Setter for the longest time, and Bob, Son of Battle set in Scotland and about sheep dogs, come to mind!
    My Dad recommended those to me, if I recall!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Jim, when I was a kid boys read horse books too–they weren’t just for girls and often had boy protagonists. The trend for girls to read horse books was just getting started and hadn’t taken over, and some librarians still divided books by protagonists’ gender…so Henry’s _Born to Trot_ and _Justin Morgan Had a Horse_ were boys’ books, while _Misty of Chincoteague_ was suitable for both because the two children were one of each. All the books by Col. F. P. Meek, including a range of horse and dog books, were considered boys’ books and librarians weren’t happy that I read them so avidly.

    Patti: I liked the books you named as your favs, and Henry and Lyons were (and are) still some of my favorite writers, but if I had to be stuck with just one or two books from each, they’d be different books.

    _Misty of Chincoteague_ a Christmas present when I was in first grade, and the first “real book” I read by myself (by that afternoon, actually, according to my mother.) I convinced my mother that Chincoteague and Pony Penning were real, and on a visit to my uncle in the East, we went there.

    _King of the Wind_, also by Henry (and another male protagonist)

    _The Maltese Cat_ by Kipling

    _Harlequin Hullaballoo_ by Lyons and _Dark Sunshine_ was my second fav. I loved HH because it was also funny and serious at the same time.

    _Red Embers_ by Lyons (the only Lyons I’ve ever owned–found it in a used bookstore as an adult and snapped it up.)

    _Frog: The Horse That Knew No Master_ Meek. (Common then for boys’ stories to have men as protagonists, esp. those by Meek and other military vets. Frog is a cavalry mount in the Panama Canal Zone between WWI and WWII. Meek also wrote about a Border Patrol horse, a Fish & Game warden’s dog, etc.)

    Also loved the original books in the Black Stallion and Island Stallion series. Later ones not so much. Except for Lyons (whose protagonists were mostly girls) I didn’t like many of the horse stories written for girls because they focused too much on girl-social stuff (at which I was lame) and not enough on girls as horsewomen.

    Dog stories: Terhune’s books on collies: _Lad of Sunnybank_, _Lad: A Dog_, _Bruce_, _Wolf_, etc. I got a collie and named him “Lad” and he was an incredible dog. _Big Red_, definitely and other books by Jim Kjelgaard. _Bob, Son of Battle_, which is really as much social commentary as a dog story…sort of like _National Velvet_ in that way. I don’t remember who it was who wrote wonderful hound books (maybe Kjelgaard? As a kid I paid little attention to writers and more to content…and only part of the content) but I remembered the books when–one cold winter night many years later–I was camping up on the Blue Ridge and heard hounds baying after raccoon in the distance.

  4. Marilyn says:

    Horse books! Dog books! Whee! The story of the Godolphin Arabian! Lad, A Dog, and all the rest of the Albert Payson Terhune books! Jim Kjelgaard and the Irish Setters. The Black Stallion series! And I can’t remember the name of the book — story of a gal with a palomino stallion who is apparently turning vicious, but turns out he’s missing his companion. Same book featured a mystery about a rescued mare. Skip the junk — these books live in my heart! (And I wish I could get them all in e-book to carry around with me when I need a pick-me-up!

  5. patty says:

    Elizabeth–Harlequin Hullaballo is the other book by Lyons whose title has always stuck with–Saddlebred I think?
    King of the Wind and Justin Morgan had a Horse (Brighty of the Grand Canyon may have been the only Henry book that didn’t just light me up!)–I used the fact that Morgan horses could jump to remember a freshman bio fact: Thomas Morgan at Cal Tech discovered crossing over of chromosomes during the meiotic process that leads to the production of sperm and eggs..Morgan, crossing over (fences).
    Where the red fern grows–hound story
    Yep, Black Stallion and I agree the earlier ones were more to my liking too.
    Oh and Jack London–Call of the Wild? I still really like YA!

    Another fav in a different genre: A Wrinkle in Time Madeline L’Engle
    Phantom Tollbooth

    Nice memories!
    I might have to get a Meek book! I

  6. patty says:

    Oh and the asst librarian at my elementary school was wonderful to me and would recommend all kinds of books for me to read! I don’t remember her name now.

  7. Doranna says:

    Oh my gosh, ALL of these books that have been mentioned!

    I’m torn about Red Fern, though. I start to cry just thinking about it. Wahhhh!

    (Phantom Tollbooth! Yes! I still have my battered old copy!)

  8. sharon Eastman says:

    Hey, how about all the Will James books? Smokey and all the rest. I have most of his workl. Brighty was OK, recently re-read that. Star, the Story of an Indian Pony by Forrestine Hooker (1922) – got that for Christmas, 1948. All time favorite, though was The Cat and the Kitten, by Hader, 1940. All the afore mentioned dog books, too. Red Pony, OMG!

    • Doranna says:

      Oh, I love the Will James books! I have a batch of originals, and a whole bunch of reprints done by Mountain Press not too long ago.

  9. BlogPatty says:

    Have some of those Will James reprints as well. Star the Indian Pony might have to be ordered–bet we cannot download that onto the Nook, eh?

    The Red Pony just made me mad, it was so sad. Somehow Where the Red Fern Grows, altho I cried, didn’t make me mad.

    The Cat and the Kitten–hmmm!

    I just laughed out loud (LOL!) at Wilma writing OMG! Love it!

  10. Lime says:

    I loved all the Black Stallion books as a kid, and also a series about a racehorse called Bonnie (don’t remember the titles). More recent horse books are A Perfect Distance, it’s a YA about the competitive life of a Hunter-Jumper rider, and an awesome recent read was Blaze of Glory. The latter was romance and family drama and scandal all mixed up with the horse world, but the characters are what made it really memorable.

    Thanks to everyone who listed faves, I just found some new reading material 🙂

  11. Susan says:

    Hi All,

    I’m one of Patty’s teaching buddies. Some years ago I got hooked on the novels of Dick Francis. These are definitely adult books, murder mysteries, set in the realm of horse racing.


  12. Rudy says:

    Does anyone remember “Mountain Pony”? I have no idea who wrote it. I read it when I was about 10 and still think it was the best horse book ever written.

    And did anyone even mention “Black Beauty”?

  13. patty says:

    Hi Rudy! Mountain Pony–have not heard of it. I read Black Beauty and in the short picture book form I really liked it but the whole book was pretty heavy!

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