Horse Books for Young Adults
January 10, 2017 10:06 AM   Subscribe

My turning-thirteen-year-old nephew loves riding horses, and I'd like to get him a book for his upcoming birthday.

I loved horses when I was his age too, but I loved fantasy novels, so Mercedes Lackey Herald Mage series was totally for me. Nephew isn't interested in fantasy, so I'm looking for some recommendations for him.

- He's starting to get into Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and he likes horror in general
- He loves superhero comics, so I'm not opposed to a graphic novel for his gift
- He likes post-apocalyptic adventure themes
- I'm not sure if I can get him to read a book where the main character is a young woman. I hate that, but I also don't want to give him a gift that he doesn't read.

He's riding horses as part of grief therapy and has developed good relationships at the barn, but there's no competitive aspect to his riding. My ideal story would be something like Hiccup and Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon, but more realistic and adult. I want to avoid horse death if possible, or at the very least the main horse character does not die. No parental death either if possible.
posted by gladly to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Walter Farley Black Stallion books are pretty classic, but there are also other books he wrote apart from the Black Stallion series, like one on the racehorse Man O' War. I also loved the Marguerite Henry Misty books, which may be too young, but she also wrote standalones like King of the Wind, Born To Trot, and Brighty of the Grand Canyon. I also absolutely loved a book by Don Stanford called The Horsemasters, about an English riding school with male and female students - it was absolutely a deep dive into riding, understanding horses and what it takes to care for them, etc. (In fact, I think I should buy another copy as mine is lost.) Oh, and a book I loved as a kid was A Horse Called Mystery, which you'd have to find used. The themes and main character seem like they'd match up with your ideal story the best, but as I read it so long ago I'm not sure if the age works.
posted by PussKillian at 10:17 AM on January 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

I wonder if King of the Wind might fit the bill. It was an early Newberry winner (1949). It might be an interesting story for your nephew, because it's about a boy who bonds very closely with his horse and travels with him from country to country. There is a horse death right at the beginning, but it's not the main horse character. There's a plot summary here.
posted by holborne at 10:20 AM on January 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The My Friend Flicka series is pretty good, as are Jane Smiley's middle grade books about horses.

But The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater may be more up his alley.
posted by BibiRose at 10:25 AM on January 10, 2017

Best answer: Slightly creepy paranormal comic: Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel; the horse in question is skeletal and it takes place partially in the underworld and the main character has a terminal illness, so not without death, but the horse's death isn't part of the book.

Might not quite fit the bill:
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: death of horse + parent (early in the book), fantasy. Why it might be awesome anyway: the horses are mostly carnivorous water horses; the narrative is split between a male main character and a female main character; the mythical horses are the only fantasy element
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:27 AM on January 10, 2017

It's been forever since I read any of them - and they may be hopelessly dated at this point, since they were mostly written in the 1940s - but here are two of the books I remember fondly in the boy-and-his-horse genre:

Marguerite Henry's King of the Wind. Her Misty of Chincoteague series was also good, as was Born to Trot, but aren't quite what you're looking for.

Walter Farley's The Island Stallion - from the author of The Black Stallion, which I remember much less fondly. I also particularly liked his book The Horse Tamer, but that's not as close to what you describe.

(On preview - what Pusskillian and holborn said)

I don't have any recommendations written within the last half century, though.
posted by verschollen at 10:29 AM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I never really liked the Billy and Blaze books (and I think they'd be too young for your nephew at his age) but some of the other C. W. Anderson books may be just the thing--that is if he can enjoy old/non-modern stories. The ones I'd be tempted to suggest feature girls, so maybe try The Outlaw (although it's been a long, long, long time and I can't guarantee there are no human/animal deaths in that one.)

Anderson is a fabulous illustrator, so if you can find a book with illustrations, that might appeal to the comic-loving side of your nephew. Maybe something like Heads Up, Heels down or The Complete Book of Horses and Horsemanship could be interesting. Of course he'd have to read them keeping in mind some of the advice has been rethought in modern times. (Avoid Twenty Gallant Horses as there are real life stories about horse deaths in racing.)

Sorry I can't provide more up-to-date suggestions. I'm an old without any young, horse-lovers in the family.
posted by sardonyx at 11:09 AM on January 10, 2017

Best answer: The Eighty-Dollar Champion isn't specifically a YA book but it's well (and simply) written. It's the true story of Snowman, a horse who was saved from the knacker's truck (think: glue factory) and trained up to be a champion show jumper. It's an inspiring story, not tragic at all.
posted by workerant at 11:09 AM on January 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Difficult without fantasy! Judith Tarr is very horsy although almost all SFF. The White Mare's Daughter is more history than fantasy I believe.

The Elyne Mitchell Brumby books? (Silver Brumby etc) I remember loving them when I was a horse-mad kid, although as I recall they're about wild horses not human/horse partnerships.

Black Beauty is likely too harrowing...
posted by Ilira at 11:21 AM on January 10, 2017

I'm sure every horse-loving girl (and really-into-horses boy) has read the popular books listed above, especially the Farley books. If you're not sure exactly how deep the actual horse bug has bitten, how about a nice illustrated hard-copy of Will James' classic story Smokey, the CowHorse? The other author well loved by boys (and really-into-western horses girls) is Glenn Balch. These are books I re-read every decade or so.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:03 PM on January 10, 2017

Among the Marguerite Henry books, maybe also White Stallion of Lipizza.

Kids that age also love nonfiction books. Something about the history of horsemanship, breeds of horses, etc., might be well received.
posted by BibiRose at 12:20 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Back when I was young and horse mad, the thing I loved best was lushly photographed breed encyclopedias. There was something so wonderful about knowing of the existence of all of the horse kinds, knowing that the Akhal-Teke broke ALL the good conformation rules but was totally amazing in endurance and had special metallic coat colors. Looks like some current options on that would be this or this. This one looks comprehensive but not well illustrated, if you want something more text heavy.

Here's a photographer's horse book that looks promising and the description on this illustrated history is also appealing.

I also really loved drawing horses and had this classic how to book, so if you think your nephew has any kind of artistic bent don't discount that.
posted by foxfirefey at 12:30 PM on January 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

A lot of these (Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry) are too young for a typical 13 year old, especially if he's already reading Dean Koontz. You'd do much better to look at engaging books written for adults.

The first book I thought of was Lonesome Dove. It's long, so it might be above his level, but is fun and engaging (I read it in 7th grade myself). While horses aren't specifically the primary plot point they are certainly essential to the story (as a horse-crazy kid myself, it was a draw).

Another good way to go would be travel/aventure accounts. I haven't read either of these, but they might be perfect:
Tschiffely's Ride: Ten Thousand Miles in the Saddle from Southern Cross to Pole Star
On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads
posted by veery at 12:32 PM on January 10, 2017

Even as a preteen I could tell that the Billy and Blaze books, written in the 30s, were dated. Avoid Black Beauty If your nephew is in grief therapy, because Beauty suffers a lot of abuse. (It's not exactly escapist fiction.) It's going to be pretty hard to find horsey fiction that doesn't have a female protagonist. I think foxfirefey's suggestion is the best: a gigantic, hardcover, full-color breed encyclopedia. I pored over those until they were ragged when I was your nephew's age.
posted by scratch at 3:38 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Or what about a magazine subscription? Horse Illustrated, Horse & Rider, Practical Horseman, Western Horseman (if he's riding Western style--it's not targeted to the western US or anything), Equus.
posted by scratch at 3:42 PM on January 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

At that age I'd already read most of Walter Farley (Man O'War!!!) and Marguerite Henry (though they are awesome books).

I love foxfirefey's suggestion of encyclopedias with great photos - I remember being obsessed with this one though it may be very out of date these days.

If he's into photography, this book also looks amazing.

I didn't get this till I was in college, but I think I would have loved parts of the Davis Book of Horses then. Some of it may have been too obscure (and it is a veterinary-focused book, so will have discussion of illnesses and injuries, including fatal ones) but I would have loved that kind of detail at the time.

What kind of riding does he do? At that age, I'd have been totally into books like 101 Arena Exercises for Horse and Rider (especially if he can ride outside of lessons - at a certain point it gets more fun if you have a goal other than "ride around in circles") or Rider Fitness (things I could do to improve my riding while I wasn't riding were awesome!).

I also loved everything about the Lipizzaner stallions at some point around there, so something like this book about the rescue of the Lipizzaners in WWII (though I haven't read it and it might be scary/involve horse deaths) or this Nature channel special on them if you're interested in a DVD (just watched it recently and it was *awesome*) might be cool too.

On preview, I like the suggestion for a horse magazine too!
posted by bananacabana at 3:51 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dick Francis? He seems to be the perfect age for what are simple old-fashioned mysteries with a manly hero. I devoured them at that age. There is some sex/ love interests but as I recall it's all implied and PG-13 and likely nothing a 13 year old hasn't seen before. The horse racing parts are beautifully written and while there are deaths aplenty they generally have it coming. Midsomer murders set in the racing industry.

There are a ton of English authors that wrote horse oriented teen fiction. The Pullein-Thompson sisters books skew a bit younger but there are some where the protagonists are older teens solving mysteries, going on adventures etc. They are usually a mix of boys and girls and set in what I like to call "Harry Potter times".

Most of the other suggestions here strike me as too young for a 13 year old horror fan except My Friend Flicka series, Man O War, the Black Stallion and the Island Stallion, which are all pretty good old-fashioned adventure yarns. Man O War is surprisingly life-lessony The Silver Brumby is a fantastic book, I read that a million times as a kid, but it is about wild animals and does have a Lion King esque death in it. And he might be a tiny bit old for it. But it's great, completely different than any other books here, it's kind of a mystical rumination on freedom.
posted by fshgrl at 11:13 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also came in to mention The Silver Brumby.
posted by corvine at 2:16 AM on January 11, 2017

Though actually on reminding myself of the story, the main horse character's father is killed in a fight with another stallion, so perhaps that's too near the bone.
posted by corvine at 2:20 AM on January 11, 2017

Yeah, the Dick Francis books are a good idea. I should have thought of them because I love them a bunch - they're good rereads. However, maybe not Bolt, which has a lot of horse death in it.
posted by PussKillian at 1:47 PM on January 11, 2017

Sweet Cheesezus, NOT Dick Francis!! There's nearly always a human murder in one of them, often someone close to the protagonist dies. There are horse deaths over fences, or by murderous human agency via a captive bolt, broken legs and selenium poisoning; horse torture via a flamethrower and whips. Sid Hailey is threatened with having his hand cut off. In 'Shattered' kids almost die in an explosion at a race track.

I love Francis, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone with triggers.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:16 PM on January 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

If the kid is reading Dean Koontz and Stephen King, I can't imagine Dick Francis is going to be more than he can handle. They're murder mysteries but not gory or obsessed with True Evil like Koontz.
posted by fshgrl at 7:18 AM on January 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Perhaps fshgrl has a point about the other books he is reading. I don't read Koontz, and my take on Stephen King is that it's not as possible to get involved with his characters as much as it is to like or identify with the ones in the Francis books. YMMV My focus was on the grief therapy, and was thinking you wouldn't want to introduce books with death as an aspect.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:23 PM on January 13, 2017

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