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Ten of the Best Horse and Pony Books


‘It’s easy to dismiss horse and pony books as full of what John Birks called “little self-conscious misses in jodhpurs”*’, says Jane Badger. ‘The genre has always been prone to repetitive wish fulfilment, and publishers have not always resisted the desire to put out books whose only merit is that they contain a pony. And if the reader doesn’t like ponies, of course even that merit is denied them. Putting aside the more formulaic examples which still appear (which nowadays might just as easily include a unicorn or a pony with magic powers as the earthy sort that kicks), there are still excellent horse and pony books being published.’ Jane Badger chooses her top ten horse and pony books.


Sugaring


Jessie Haas, ill. Jos A. Smith, William Morrow, 24pp, 978 0 6881 4200 1, £10.99 hbk


Jessie Haas has the gift of being able to write for all ages and her picture books are particularly strong. Set on a Vermont farm in spring, Nora and her grandfather are collecting sap from maple trees to make maple syrup. They are helped by the horses, Bonnie and Stella, who pull the sap tank around the trees. The lack of mechanisation gives a slow, measured pace to the whole which makes it ideal for a quiet, shared read. Sugaring is beautifully illustrated and Haas’ text paints in family relationships with a sure touch. I wish the book had been around when I was attempting (unsuccessfully) to persuade my daughter to appreciate horse. (5-8)


Nobody’s Horse


Jane Smiley, Faber, 272pp, 978 0 5712 5354 8, £6.99 pbk


Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley’s Nobody’s Horse is a triumph. Abby is a distant child, an outsider at school. Her soul is elsewhere; partly with her devout Christian family, and partly with


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horses. Abby does not rage at her lot, but she does make small and determined moves to assert herself. The pace of the writing is calm and unhurried; the tone unjudgemental. There is a lot of technical horse content, but the characters are strong enough to intrigue even the non-devotee. (Originally published as The Georges and the Jewels.) (8+)


The Word on the Yard


Janet Rising, Hodder, 256pp, 978 0 3409 8841 1, £5.99 pbk


The horse world can be over-serious at times. It is a rare equine writer who manages to combine humour with pony fiction, but Janet Rising has managed it with her ‘The Pony Whisperer’ series. After she finds a tiny statue of the goddess Epona, heroine of the series Pia is able to hear ponies talking to each other. The ponies have a robust view of their humans: there’s no twinkly sentiment here. The humans are equally well done. Janet Rising has a sympathetic but wry view of the modern teenager. (9+)


For Love of a Horse


Patricia Leitch, Catnip, 176pp, 978 1 8464 7106 3, £5.99 pbk


Patricia Leitch’s ‘Jinny of Finmory’ series, of which For Love of a Horse is the first, was originally published in the 1970s. The ‘Jinny’ books are an at times lyrical exploration of the nature of possession and belief. Jinny has a wild Arab mare, Shantih, but the series is not a triumphant trot through success in the show ring: Jinny is a thoroughly believable teenager: stubborn, listening only to herself and at times plain wrong. (9+)


For Sale or Swap


Alyssa Brugman, Random House, 232pp, 978 0 7593 2098 7, £6.39 pbk


Alyssa Brugman is known for her writing for teenagers (Being Bindy et al) but she has also written a fine series of horse stories, ‘Shelby and Blue’. For Sale or Swap, the first in this five part series, captures the stresses and strains of being a teenager keeping a pony on a shoestring. Money is tight; Shelby’s pony is not the one she dreams of, and so she swaps him in a deal which seems too good to be true. Too late, Shelby


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