Ok, so in elementary and middle school my nickname was “Pony Girl.” No it wasn’t a shout out to The Outsiders but rather an acknowledgment of the fact that I was a horse freak. Now I wasn’t one of those “My Little Ponies” and Barbie horse girls- I held those in the upmost contention. I was all about the real horses- no literally, I started riding when I was three and my pony Fairway was my main childhood companion. Therefore it’s highly unsurprising that my favorite books growing up were all about, you guessed it, horses! I was definitely a one track minded child, so most of my literature revolved around my favorite animal and favorite activity, but I liked to vary it somewhat by reading about different kinds of riding and horses. So instead of focusing on just one book, I have to discuss a few of my go-to, read-a-thousand-times, Pony Books.
My first chapter book that I read entirely on my own waAnna Sewell’s 1877 unabridged novel, Black Beauty, in second grade. I would have nothing to do with the kid’s version, and instead I had one of the classic designed hardbacks with thick parchment. It took me quite some time, and more than a few tears, but conquering that book while my classmates were on the Boxcar Children gave me a lot of satisfaction. The story is narrated by a black horse who goes by a number of names (Darkie/Black Beauty/Black Auster/Jack) from his birth to his retirement and all the ups and downs of his life. And let me tell you, there are a lot of downs. He has countless owners, some unbearably cruel and some desperately kind, and through it all he remains a steadfast and loyal horse. Along the way he meets a number of horse friends, some who despite his own misfortunes, end up suffering far more than he did. At the heart of this novel is a social commentary on the welfare of animals in the Victorian period and the hardships they faced. It’s also an ongoing lesson that kindness must be extended to all creatures, great and small. Black Beauty was not intended to be a children’s novel, and frankly some of the scenes weren’t at all appropriate for my seven year old psyche, but it affirmed my love of animals and made me absurdly overprotective of them. It’s hard to ever think of an animal as a lesser being after reading this novel.
The Saddle Club by Bonnie Bryant while less impactful, was still one of my favorite series growing up. It followed a group of girls and their ponies on their adventures. They’d deal with the day-to-day drama of the horse world, learning to ride, taking care of their animals, juggling school and riding and staying friends through it all. What was so great about these books was that it was kind of this pony club utopia, where girls who also loved horses and riding could hang out and relate, and not be weird for having a pony or for spending more time with her than with her classmates. I wanted to live in those books, with ponies and bffs all co-existing.
The Thoroughbred series by Joanna Campbell was kind of like the Sweet Valley Twins for the horse kid. They were more young adult, but I read them between third and sixth grade, and while they continued on to to have 72 books in the series, I stopped reading around book 20 or so. The beginning of the series followed a young girl named Ashleigh and a race horse named Wonder. While she didn’t own her, she became an integral part in her training, eventually became her jockey, and toward the end of Wonder’s career, the owners gave Ashleigh the horse. Now while I knew nothing about the racing scene, and having since learned more I know how naively it was painted in these books, it was a great way to learn about a new avenue of the equestrian world that I would never be able to experience for myself. It was also very much “girls can do anything,” since a young girl became a jockey who rode a mare into the winner’s circle of some of the biggest horse races in the world. Even better, she did it without a crop and the horse ran because she loved and trusted Ashleigh and not because she was beat to a pulp. I loved this series dearly, but I found that when it switched away from being about Ashleigh and Wonder and onto new characters I lost interest. In my heart the books will always be about them.
Now if you know anything about horse books, you know the ultimate writer is Marguerite Henry, most well renowned for Misty of Chincoteague, a true story of a wild pony in the 1940s. I loved this book and probably read it 50 times when I was little. It follows the Beebe kids on a small island in Virginia (my home state) on the coast of the Chesapeake Bay. The island is renowned for its annual Pony Penning every summer in which they round up the wild herd of ponies on nearby Assateague Island, swim them across the bay, and auction them off. In the novel, Paul Beebe finally got to ride in the round-up and he managed to capture the elusive Phantom, one of the wildest ponies on the island. The story continues as Paul and Maureen tame and train Phantom and welcome her filly, Misty, into the world. It’s fantastic look at small town island life in the 1940s and even more so a look at kids and their ponies. Despite the fact that the book is called Misty the bulk of the novel is more about her mother Phantom who eventually is released back to Assateague- too wild to ever be tamed. Her memory lives on with Misty who rapidly became one of the most famous horses in the world because of Marguerite Henry. I won’t lie though, I wanted a Chincoteague pony in the worst way after reading this book, but instead I settled for visiting the island and seeing her history. Though a bit of a word to the wise, do NOT, and I repeat do NOT visit the Misty of Chincoteague museum. Misty and her son Stormy (who also has a book about him) were stuffed for prosperity. I still have nightmares. That said, Misty of Chincoteague, Stormy, Misty’s Foal, Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, and Misty’s Twilight are all fantastic books and I highly recommend them to any Pony Girls or Boys.
So if there are any pony girls or boys out there, what are you favorite horse books?