Why we loved horse books when we were kids. And still cherish them today.
I wish that I had all of my old horse books. But I found one of my very favorites a few weeks ago, looking for something else of course. I read My Friend Flicka countless times, starting when I was nine. The book was first published in 1941, my copy was 60-cents back in 1967. I may have saved up for it, foregoing penny candy or saving for a new Monkees album. (Okay, I had all of the Monkees albums.) Or my parents bought it for me? They always encouraged reading, although I didn't need much encouragement to open a book, especially if it had horses, children on adventures, or non-fiction about famous horses like Man O' War. I also devoured books about horsemanship, riding, or managing stables.
How I adored Mary O'Hara's books! I lived vicariously, reading about the ranch in Wyoming, owned by the McLaughlin family. Son Ken is given a sorrel filly, and I wanted a pony or horse of my own so very badly when I was nine. I'd tasted that joy of having horses, only to have that life yanked out from under me. Ken McLaughlin would say, "If I only had a colt..." My sentiments exactly from the time I was seven until I was twelve.
I had the extreme good fortune to be born into a family which owned over a hundred acres of land and an old dairy barn, silo, corn crib, milk house, and bull barn. I vaguely remember the cows, but in the early 60's we sold our Holsteins and filled those stanchions with Shetland ponies. There were always fifty or sixty ponies, more in the spring when the mares foaled.
We had a small tack shop, and gave pony rides on weekends. I was too young to lead a pony around in the circle, but my sisters and other kids led ponies with paying customers astride in circles for hours. Sometimes, if there was a spare pony, I actually got to ride. Mostly, I remember sitting and pouting, glaring at all those lucky kids whose parents had stopped on their way North on Route 96. They were on MY ponies instead of me! The idea of a 'customer' was explained. And rejected. I wanted to ride! As the legend goes, Rod Serling used to stop by on his way to the family's home in Interlaken. I wish I remembered that...do do do do....(Twilight Zone theme song!)
My life changed drastically on one dreary March day. My sister, Julie, who had graduated and had a job, drove to school to get me and bring me home, crying the whole time. I'll never forget her driving toward home. I don't think she explained what was going on. If she did, I put it out of my mind, as one does with terrible news. But as we got closer, there was smoke billowing, fire trucks, confusion, and rubble. They made me stay in the house, but the barn was destroyed. The five foals being weaned inside were dead.
My father, being a Jack-Of-All-Trades, like most who'd survived the Great Depression, was also an auctioneer. I begged, cried, pleaded, to keep just one pony, my little dapple gray mare, Cinderella. We had acres of pasture, other buildings to keep 'just one pony' in. I'd take care of her, really I would. I was seven, almost eight. I could do it. But my parents wouldn't budge, and all the adorable shaggy Shetlands were gone. SOLD! I still harbor some resentment over that whole episode. For five years I begged, pleaded, and cried for a pony. Horses are an integral part of my being, as they are for so many others, and I'm not really myself unless I am caring for my equine friends.
Books were my escape to worlds where children had ponies or horses. They went to the barn and did chores, rode off into the woods on adventures, went to shows, rodeos, or the race track. They nursed their horses back to good health, found stray animals to bring home, practiced for competitions, and worked hard at being great horse owners.
I was just interviewing Roz Morris, author, ghostwriter, writing coach, and horsewoman, for Successful Women Have Grit, and the subject of books came up. In England, Roz grew up with ponies in a field next door. She is still just as enamored with horses as she was when she was young, and also cherishes her 'pony books'.
"I was a pony-mad girl," says Morris. "I was addicted to these stories, and still have a great affection for them. They are quite charming, and even the simplest ride into the woods could hold great drama because of the interaction with the animals."
We also agreed that we loved stories where the young protagonists had to find ways to get a horse; buying one cheap, working off the cost, or finding a rescue and feeding it up.
"I especially loved Ruby Ferguson's books with Jill, who was quite spunky," says Morris. "She made these classic mistakes and then had to fix them. Like spending the grocery money on a pair of jodhpurs she noticed at the dry cleaners. All of these books hold such nostalgia for us to this day. It was simple fun with a bit of mayhem from the domestic adventures of these kids with their ponies."
I wish I had my copies of Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming, the other two in that series by Mary O'Hara. I recently discovered another book by her, Wyoming Summer, a chronicle of her life on the Goose Bar Ranch in Wyoming. Other favorite childhood books include:
King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry, the story of the Godolphin Arabian
Misty of Chincoteague, also by Henry, about the wild ponies of Chincoteague
The Horsemasters, by Don Stanford, which is quite expensive now, but one of my very favorites. How I wished I was at a horsemanship school in England!
The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley. And what a gorgeous movie it was made into.
National Velvet, by Enid Bagnold. Who wouldn't want to masquerade as a jockey and ride in the Grand National? Elizabeth Taylor starred in the movie. :)
What were your favorite horse books? What about them made an impression on you? Did you long for country life? Did you have a pony but wanted to show?
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