Horses on stamps: Iceland

19 07 2006

Reminiscing about favourite horse books

19 07 2006

I must have been a dream to buy gifts for when I was a kid, because I only wanted two things: books, and anything having to do with horses. Horse books were, of course, the best present of all! As a little girl growing up in Canada, it never seemed odd to me that so many of the books my parents dutifully shoveled at me were British; I loved them all and read them over and over.

I don’t remember much about the authors, strangely; it’s only now, with the help of Google and Amazon, that I’ve been able to put names with titles. The incredibly prolific Pullein-Thompson sisters loom large in the world of horsey lit; I must have read dozens of their books, like Prince Among Ponies and the various Pony Club books. Another favourite was the Jinny of Finmory series by Patricia Leitch, dealing with the adventures of a girl and her Arab mare Shantih; these seemed a bit darker in tone than the Pullein-Thompson books. Most of these books seem to be out of print now but they still crop up on eBay and in secondhand book shops. Another favourite British series for me were the Follyfoot books by Monica Dickens (was the TV series ever shown in North America?). Her memoir Talking of Horses is also a great read, full of her usual warmth and wit. My local library has it and every few months I treat myself and sign it out again.

Moving to American authors now, the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley also looms large, and I was pleased that the 1979 movie version turned out as well as it did (don’t you dread horse movies sometimes?). I think The Black Stallion’s Filly was my favourite, but I do have a soft spot for the Fury books, which were about a fabulous wild red stallion living on a Caribbean island.

The Black Stallion's FillyThe Black StallionThe Island Stallion's Fury

It’s impossible to talk about favourite horse books without coming at last to the lady who towers above them all, Marguerite Henry. She wrote dozens of books, most of them horse-related, and although they have been reissued a few times, for me the definitive covers will always be the classic illustrations by Wesley Dennis.

She didn’t always get her facts straight; unfortunately, her version of Figure’s origins and early life in Justin Morgan Had A Horse (e i e i o) has somehow become received wisdom even in the face of what is actually known about him. Historical truth does not always serve the storyteller’s aims, however, and it is much more dramatically satisfying to root for runty “Little Bub”, pawned off on an unwilling creditor and then growing up to prove his worth in spectacular fashion.

It’s occurred to me that most of the books discussed here were published between 1945 and 1970; was this then a sort of Golden Age for young people’s horse books? What were your favourites authors or fictional horses? What books would you give the horse-crazy kid in your life? As always, your comments are welcome.

Horses on stamps: Jersey

19 07 2006

Isn’t this gorgeous?! This stamp from the Bailiwick of Jersey is one of my favourites.

The farm girl and her $300 horse

19 07 2006

How can you not love a story like this?!

After watching a too-small thoroughbred finish dead last for the sixth straight race, 13-year-old Sara Mittleider convinced her father to buy the washed-up racehorse for $300 to replace the pony she had been riding at their 20-acre Idaho farm.

Seven years later, horse and rider are among 12 finalists competing this week for a spot on the elite U.S. team going to the World Equestrian Games in Germany next month.

Mittleider is one of the country’s rising stars in three-day eventing, an equine triathlon that combines the ballet-like discipline of dressage, the endurance of cross-country steeplechase and the technical athleticism of show jumping.

It made me think of how often the story of the brave underdog and his or her horse plays out in our favourite stories: the Black Stallion books, National Velvet, Seabiscuit, Hidalgo (fiction, my dears, and did you notice the horse still had his shoes on when he was released back to the wild herd?) and many of Marguerite Henry’s classics. I hope Sara and her gelding triumph in Aachen and write their own fairy-tale ending to their story.

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