Sunday, June 15, 2014

Enter Britain's Magical School for Kids Enchanted by Horses: The Fetlocks Hall Series - The Unicorn Princess, The Ghostly Blinkers, Curse of the Pony Vampires, and The Enchanted Pony - by Babette Cole

Ten-year-old Penny Simms seems like an ordinary horse-crazy kid. She pores over pony magazines, works at a local stable to earn a weekly riding lesson, and dreams of attending the British equestrian boarding school, Fetlocks Hall. But when Penny wins a scholarship to Fetlocks Hall, she learns two extraordinary secrets: Fetlocks Hall is the gateway to the magical world of Equitopia, and Penny herself is Equitopia's one hundredth Unicorn Princess. Together with her friends and teachers - which include not only kids, adults, and horses but unicorns, centaurs, and ghosts - Princess Penny must protect both Equitopia and the human world from spiteful Devlipeds, treacherous kelpies, and ravenous pony vampires.

Quirky, lively, and utterly delightful, the four-book Fetlocks Hall series is full of enough starlight and rainbows, magical creatures, true horse facts, and glorious riding - from moonlit flights on enchanted ponies to gymkhanapolo, and eventing competitions, from blissful trail rides with unicorns through pink-blossoming apple trees to the Grand National steeplechase - to enchant even the horse-craziest girls ages 6-11. Author and illustrator Babette Cole is a lifelong horsewoman as well as the creator of more than 70 award-winning children's books, and in these books, her talents dovetail, lifting the stories like a unicorn's wings. Every horse-related detail is accurate. Each pen-and-ink illustration has an irresistible charm. (Wait until you see the cuddly, slightly startled-looking pony vampires-turned-Veggipires. I don't think I've giggled since *I* was six, but I collapsed in fits of giggles over them, and I still wish the childlike wish that I could bring one home! :) ) Yet within the madcap escapades, Cole also keeps a gentle but steady emphasis on fairness and friendship, revealing the genuinely magical truths that people, horses, and situations aren't always what they seem, and that trouble can sometimes be turned to triumph with courage, patience, and care.

Published by Bloomsbury, who brought the world Britain's "other" magical school and its young guardian, J.K. Rowling's Hogwarts and Harry Potter, the Fetlocks Hall books shine from the sparkling stars on their covers to their merry and light-hearted ends. Whether your readers are experienced young equestrians or simply play ponies and unicorns at recess, they'll find a fantastic "spell" of adventures at Fetlocks Hall!

Fetlocks Hall #1: The Unicorn Princess. Earning a scholarship to the magical equestrian boarding school Fetlocks Hall and discovering the secret, magical world of Equitopia is only the beginning of Penny Simms' adventure. Penny will have to pass seven tests to be crowned Equitopia's Unicorn Princess, and she must lead her friends to foil the scheme of the wicked Devlipeds, who want to rule both Equitopia and the human world.

Fetlocks Hall #2: The Ghostly Blinkers. Fetlocks Hall is about to close, because the school is out of money. Penny will need to pair common horse-sense with her magical ability to talk with horses to figure out how to save the school - and then convince a few cantankerous and persnickety ghosts to help!

Fetlocks Hall #3: Curse of the Pony Vampires. The Devlipeds strike again, sending a herd of pony vampires to ruin Fetlocks Hall before an official school inspection. Can Penny and her friends turn the pony vampires into Veggipires before the inspectors arrive?

Fetlocks Hall #4: The Enchanted Pony. The parents of Penny's best friend, Pip, disappeared two years ago, and a rebellious young centaur, Princess Sophie, claims to know they are. Is Sophie leading Penny and her friends into greater danger, or will the people, ponies, and magical creatures of Fetlocks Hall be able to save Pip's parents together?

Books like the Fetlocks Hall series can inspire kids to want to learn how to ride. One great equestrian organization mentioned in Fetlocks Hall is Pony Club, an international network of riding clubs whose goal is to teach horse-lovers through age 25 the skills of riding, horse care, and horsemanship while promoting sportsmanship, teamwork, and sound character. Learn more about Pony Club at the United Kingdom Pony Club websitethe United States Pony Club website, and other countries' Pony Club websites and begin your own "magical" horse adventure!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sam Spade's Show Jumper: Hush Money - A Mystery, by Chuck Greaves

     “I shrugged into my suit jacket and set off on foot, following a dirt path that wended northward toward the hills. Songbirds were trilling in the massive oaks, and a red-tail hawk hung silently overhead. Not a bad place, I told myself, to spend your idle hours chasing foxes, or Democrats, or whatever they did around here for sport.
       "And then, as if a soundtrack to that reverie, I heard the rhythmic drum of hoofbeats, and I turned to see a young woman astride a gleaming black horse that grew in its approach to the approximate size of a mastodon. I stepped to one side, but she halted the thundering beast on a dime without so much as a tug on the reins. It was a pretty neat trick…”
     - from Hush Money, by Chuck Greaves

Champion show jumper Hush Puppy was rocketing through a spectacular Olympic campaign - until he turned up dead in his stall at Los Angeles's posh Fieldstone Riding Club. Since the insurance claim should have been routine, the owner's law firm sent disgraced trial lawyer Jack MacTaggart to manage it. But MacTaggart isn't convinced that Hush Puppy's death was an accident. With the Fieldstone Club's annual Grand Prix approaching, MacTaggart must race through a deadly course of heart-stopping secrets, billion-dollar scandal, and cutting-edge scientific research to discover the truth before what happened to Hush Puppy happens to another horse - or to him.

Sardonic, seductive, and masterfully suspenseful, Hush Money reads like a 21st century Sam Spade case of the murdered show jumper. Drawing on his own experience as a trial lawyer and member of the board of directors for LA's real Flintridge Riding Club, author Chuck Greaves has not only put together a debut novel compelling enough to win the SouthWest Writers 2010 award for Best Mystery, but also one accurate enough in its equestrian details to use - believably - the words "getaway horse."

Galloping along at an effervescent clip, nailing each gasp-worthy turn and take-off with perfect timing, Hush Money doesn’t miss a stride or brush a rail – the only shivers are the ones you’ll feel as you’re reading! You can even jump in right now: read the first chapter of Hush Money at Chuck Greaves' website.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What Makes a Cowboy? Ghetto Cowboy, by G. Neri, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson

     "I think about how Harper talked to the horse earlier. I let my hand move up to his neck and keep saying, "Good boy, good boy." He moves his hoof and almost steps on my foot. I can feel his weight when that hoof goes down. That makes me nervous, like maybe he don't know how big he is. But when I look back up at his face, he looking right at me, and then I know he knows that I'm there. And suddenly I don't feel so scared no more."
     - from Ghetto Cowboy, by G. Neri

In 2005, award-winning author and poet G. Neri read an article in Life magazine titled Street Riders, which described the modern-day urban cowboys and horses living in North Philadelphia's Fletcher Street neighborhood.

Inspired by their story, Neri wrote Ghetto CowboyIn this novel for tweens, twelve-year-old Cole has gotten into so much trouble that his mother drives him halfway across the country, hoping that living with his father will help Cole turn his life around. Cole is shocked to discover that his father runs a stable in their downtown Philadelphia neighborhood, and that a group of urban cowboys and local kids care for, train, and ride the horses together.

As he learns about the history of black cowboys and befriends a horse at the stable (whom he names Boo), Cole finds new confidence and strong sense of purpose. When the city officials try to close down the stable to turn the land over to developers, Cole joins his father, the cowboys, and other neighborhood residents in taking action to keep their horses and protect their traditions. It doesn't matter what time or place you live in, Cole comes to understand, it's your choices that make you a cowboy.

A Junior Library Guild Selection and the winner of the 2012 Horace Mann Upstanders Children's Book Award, Ghetto Cowboy is a gripping and powerful story, richly written and glowingly illustrated. It also invites young readers to explore cowboy history and current events - which Neri spotlights in a collection of videos, pictures, and articles on his website - and to gallop on and read Neri's other great books!

G. Neri's "Ghetto Cowboy" book trailer from Greg Neri on Vimeo.

Looking for more books about African American horsemen and horsewomen in history? Check out the post, Celebrate Black History: 20 Books Honoring African American Horsemen and Horsewomen.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Socialite Whisperer: Horseplay, by Judy Reene Singer

Oh. My. Novel. Judy Reene Singer's Horseplay takes the cake. Or, really, the frosting. Of which I ate an entire can while reading the book. (Chocolate fudge. With a fork. Without even a smackerel of guilt.) Yes, the story is that ridiculously freeing and deliciously fun: don't worry about the calories because you'll laugh so hard, you'll burn them all off, and by the end of the book, you won't care anyway.

After her husband cheats on her for the third time, 33-year-old Judy Van Brunt decides to leave him and pursue the one thing she does still love: riding. She quits her job teaching and drives 600 miles to North Carolina to be a working student at a ritzy dressage barn, but she finds that, even there, she hasn't outrun crazy. Her sister, "Saint Ruth of the Perfect Life," badgers her to go back to her husband and medicate herself out of her marriage problems, while the barn's neurotic trainer, the irritable barn manager, and the Queen of Snobby Dressage Riders client goad her to give up on horses. As Judy struggles to make a place for herself at the barn, a mystery unfolds at the property's edge that entangles her, the local super-stud, a caped clinician who is more "socialite whisperer" than horse whisperer, and a pair of Jack Russells who might very well be the masterminds behind it all. And that's only the beginning of the chaos.

Thankfully, Judy finds true, if wacky, new friends in the three women with whom she shares the apartment above the barn. Though the world downstairs may demand perfection - in their riding, in their looks, and in their lives - together, the four women ride passionately, eat fearlessly, and get themselves into - and out of - every kind of imaginable and impossible trouble. Singer's zany characters and madcap plot are a carnival mirror reflection of the sometimes bizarre realities of competitive dressage, but Singer pushes them even further, exaggerating each caricature until you can't help but see the truth: sweetly or maddeningly, sometimes life is just silly, and often it's best to follow your heart and let yourself have fun.

Horseplay is the perfect book whenever you need a belly laugh, a dressage whip, and your very own can of frosting. Silverware is optional. Guilt is forbidden. And you can read the first three chapters for free on Amazon. Honestly, what more are you waiting for?

Have you finished - or did you already love - Horseplay? Then check out Judy Reene Singer's latest novels, both of which include horse-people, horses, and an unusual new kind of four-legged friend: Still Life with Elephant and An Inconvenient Elephant.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Most Prized Horse: Naftali The Storyteller and His Horse, Sus, by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Are horses too silly and sentimental a subject for serious authors to write about? Isaac Bashevis Singer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978, answers that question definitively in his short story for children - and adults! - Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus.

Naftali loves two things: stories and his horse, Sus. When his family, friends, and other neigh-sayers insist that he can't make a life with stories and a horse, Naftali hitches Sus to a wagon, fills the wagon with books, and spends his days traveling, collecting, and sharing tales of the world, which he finds is "full of wonders."

Profoundly kind and wise, Naftali and Sus's story is enchanting not only to children, for whom it was written, but to readers of any age. Singer's storytelling lightly nets the true wonders of adventure and friendship and sings with the symphonic power and imagination that inspired Professor Lars Gyllensten to conclude his speech for the presentation of Singer's Nobel Prize this way:

"Dear Mr. Singer, master and magician! It is my task and my great pleasure to convey to you the heartiest congratulations of the Swedish Academy and to ask you to receive from the hands of His Majesty the King the Nobel Prize for Literature 1978."

For horse lovers, though, the even deeper appeal of the story is that this great author, as he draws Naftali and readers through the marvels of life and the rewards of a life well-lived, does not for a moment forget about the dearest prize of them all: the humble horse, now young, now elderly, who made the whole journey possible. I won't spoil the story's beautiful ending for you, but as it pirouettes to a close, Singer writes:

"At times, when Naftali came into the stable to visit his beloved Sus, he saw him bowing his head against the horse on his left or his right, and it seemed to Naftali that Sus was listening to stories told him by the other horses or silently telling his own horsy story..."

You'll find Naftali and Sus in Singer's volume, Stories for Children, and there is also a lively illustrated version in Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus: and Other Stories, which is out of print but well worth tracking down. To learn the story behind Singer's marvelous stories, read's biography of Isaac Bashevis Singer, and don't miss the info on the Nobel Prize in Literature - who knows, perhaps your horse will carry you there someday!

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Secrets of Horses: The Mindfulness Revolution - Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, edited by Barry Boyce, with a Quote by Dr. George Washington Carver

Reading The Mindfulness Revolution this morning, I came across my new favorite equestrian quote:

Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.

The quote isn't by an equestrian: it's by Dr. George Washington Carver, an African American scientist, inventor, and humanitarian. The book isn't specifically for equestrians either. A collection of essays about compassionate awareness, The Mindfulness Revolution: Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Everyday Life shows how simply being present - that is, paying attention and being kind -  can change your life for the better, no matter what your circumstances and goals are.

Even though neither the quote nor the book were especially meant for equestrians, I think both apply. I've found that the more I've loved my horse - and I don't mean in the kisses and cookies sense, but in the sense of doing my best to listen to him and follow through on what he needs - I've come to understand him better, and I've become a better friend to him. Surprisingly - or, considering Dr. Carver's words and the essays' conclusions, perhaps not surprisingly - while I was busy (or, actually, not busy) being present, becoming a better horsewoman and a better rider seemed to happen all by itself.

Every horse has secrets. Some of the secrets are wonderful - a hidden talent, a hero's grit - and some of them are terrible. Either way, our horses can never speak a word of their secrets to us. But I'm going to tape Dr. Carver's quote to the inside of my tack box, and maybe if I love my horse enough, I'll learn more of the truth hidden in his heart. Even if I don't, maybe I'll just manage to love him a little better, and maybe in that is part of the truth that matters most.

Has a horse ever told you his or her secrets? What mattered most?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Can You Hear Your Horse Talking? "When the animals come to us" by Gary Lawless

When the animals come to us,
Asking for our help,
Will we know what they are saying?
When the plants speak to us
In their delicate, beautiful language,
Will we be able to answer them?
When the planet herself
Sings to us in our dreams,
Will we be able to wake ourselves, and act?
     - by Gary Lawless, quoted in Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach

Spend a moment or two with horses and they'll let you know that they're aware. Their ears swivel forward - or back. They reach their muzzles toward you or whirl and hightail it to some more comfortable spot. They don't speak our language, but, if you know how to listen, they don't have to. Pay attention, and they'll tell you a thousand stories about the world and everything in it. They'll also tell you about yourself and what's already - and potentially - in you.

In her book, Radical Acceptance, clinical psychologist and mindfulness instructor Tara Brach offers ideas and practices for listening more deeply to ourselves and connecting compassionately with all living things. Since horses in particular can spark such strong feelings in us - from love and joy to worry and terror - keeping an open heart can sometimes help us more clearly hear our four-legged friends' true stories, songs, and questions.

Looking for more ways for you and your horse would like to ride more peacefully, live more sustainably, or join - or lead - the charge toward saving the world? Browse the post Celebrate Earth Day Every Day to find stirring and spurring books for kids, teens, and adults who love horses and this hay-mazing planet we share.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Real is a Thing that Happens to You: The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams

History and literature are full of stories of animals and people who have helped each other, healed each other, and become their best and fullest selves through acts of courage and compassion they perform for the sake of love.

Many of these stories feature horses. Perhaps that's because horses have so often been our companions on the battlefield and on the frontier - both those on the Earth and those in our hearts. So perhaps it's fair and even proper that one of the most beloved and enduring of these stories, Margery William's children's tale, The Velveteen Rabbit, has its gentle wisdom spoken by an old horse.

The Velveteen Rabbit himself is a toy bunny who dreams of being real. The old horse, called the Skin Horse, is a toy who became real, and he explains it this way:

     "What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day..."Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
     "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse." It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
     "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
     "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real, you don't mind being hurt."
     "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
     "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. ...Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

You can read The Velveteen Rabbit as an illustrated flip-book at Internet Archive and download the story and illustrations for free at Project Gutenberg. If you're looking for a printed book, check out the edition featuring William Nicholson's original illustrations, which have the sweetly-shabby look of worn toys but well-loved toys, and Donna Green's luminous and lifelike interpretation.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Celebrate Earth Day Every Day: Top Ten Books on Green Riding, Sustainable Living, and How Equestrians Can Save the World

If you and your horse would like to ride greener, live more sustainably, or join - or lead - the charge toward saving the world, check out these ten books that help horse-loving kids, teens, and adults celebrate Earth Day every day!

1. The Green Guide for Horse Owners and Riders: Sustainable Practices for Horse Care, Stable Management, Land Use, and Riding, by Heather Cook: (Teens, Adults) Changing the world has never been so easy. If you care for - or just care about! - horses, you can use the tips and techniques, success stories, ideas, and inspiration that Cook offers in this superbly researched, comprehensive guide to transform your riding, your farm, and your town - and to imagine and gallop into a greener future.

2. Eco-Horsekeeping: Over 100 Budget-Friendly Ways You and Your Horse Can Save the Planet, by Lucinda Dyer: (Teens, Adults) Keep the planet and your wallet full of green. Dyer's clever, quick swaps and innovative longer-term projects show equestrians how to save the Earth - and energy, time, and cash - without compromising on style, convenience, and fun.

3. Pets and the Planet: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Pet Care, by Carol Frischmann: (Teens, Adults) This nose-to-tail handbook on green care for cats, dogs, and other small animal companions will help you ensure that the Earth loves your Jack Russells and barn cats as much as you do.

4. The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth, by John and Sophie Javna: (Kids, Teens, Adults) Now updated for the 21st century, this internationally best-selling classic gives kids pint-sized but powerful tools for exploring, understanding, and protecting the planet. (Pair 50 Simple Things with book #10, Emma Dilemma, The Nanny, and The Best Horse Ever, to show young horse lovers how equestrianism and eco-consciousness can go hand-in-hoof!)

 5. Ecotourists Save the World: The Environmental Volunteer's Guide to More Than 300 International Adventures to Conserve, Preserve, and Rehabilitate Wildlife and Habitats, by Pamela Brodowsky and the National Wildlife Federation: (Kids, Teens, Adults) Why stop saving the world at the pasture fence? With these detailed listings of global volunteer opportunities, internships, and adventure travel, you and your family can make an enduring difference in the world's most endangered places.

6. Living Green: The Missing Manual, by Nancy Conner: (Teens, Adults) Tweak an old habit or overhaul your entire life with the environmentally friendly solutions and suggestions in this omnibus guide to green living, working, and home care. From opening (or closing) a window to building a greener house, business, or investment portfolio, anyone - and everyone - can contribute to a better today, and a more sustainable tomorrow.

7. Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating
, by Jane Goodall: (Teens, Adults) You are what you eat, and so is our planet. Eminent conservationist and United Nations Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall describes the farming, fishing, food production, transport, and eating practices that are damaging our and our planet's health and explains how we can grow, choose, and eat food that helps both people and the planet thrive.

8. Tomorrow's Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening, by Stephen Orr: (Kids, Teens, Adults) Gardeners, don't choose between sustainable and spectacular this season! Let Martha Stewart Living gardening guru Stephen Orr show you how to create magazine-cover-gorgeous gardens that naturally spotlight and support your local environment, whether you're designing an urban oasis, a suburban backyard, or a beautiful and productive addition to a horse farm.

9. How to Save Your Neighborhood, City, or Town, by Maritza Pick: (Teens, Adults) Someone has to take the reins on local change: why not you? Try this Sierra Club text to learn about community organizing and how to start taking action.

10. Emma Dilemma, The Nanny, and the Best Horse Ever by Patricia Hermes (Kids) and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: (Teens, Adults) Wish you had a "trail buddy" to ride the road to greener living? Emma Dilemma and her dream horse, Rooney, pair eco-consciousness and comic chaos for kids, while Barbara Kingsolver's memoir of her and her family's year of local eating provides a friendly, four-season companion for teens and adults.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Beware the Kelpie: Rosemary and Rue, by Seanen McGuire

The creature will be almost irresistible: it will have the shape of a beautiful horse, with eyes as dark and deep as the moonlit water it stands beside, and its back will ripple and dip as invitingly as a seal's. If it sees you, it may toss its head - flourishing a mane that looks suspiciously like tangled, dripping seaweed - and ask you to ride.

Don't. Don't ride. Don't even touch it. The creature isn't a horse at all: it's a kelpie. And if you ride the kelpie, if you so much as brush its silvery skin, you will stick to it, and it will carry you into its river, lake, or sea, and you will never be heard from again.

For more than a thousand years, these mythical monsters have been confined to the waterways of Scotland. But no longer. Author Seanen McGuire has brought kelpies to San Francisco in her recent book, Rosemary and Rue. In this modern-day fantasy thriller, a half-human, half-Faerie private detective named October Daye - Toby to her friends - must investigate the overlapping worlds of Faerie and North Bay to catch a magical killer before the killer catches her. Dodging kelpies is only the beginning: Toby will have to out-maneuver the mad Faerie Queen, navigate a love triangle more sharply pointed than her changeling ears, and survive the general mayhem of a town populated by taxi-driving trolls, fast-talking cats, and at least one rose bush that has plans of its own.

Half riotously funny, half darkly suspenseful, Rosemary and Rue will beguile and enchant older teen and adult fans of Celtic myth and urban mysteries. With at least six more books in print and to come in the October Daye series, hopefully, more kelpies will follow for horse-lovers, too!

Want to learn more about kelpies? Learning and Teaching Scotland offers a brilliant overview of kelpies and the most famous would-be kelpie, the Loch Ness Monster, and the writings of Robert Burns, one of Scotland's great poets, are haunted by truly devilish sea-horses. However, if you're looking for a sweeter, friendly take on kelpies for kids and tweens, check out Dick King-Smith's kids' novel, The Water Horse, and Sony Pictures' movie adaptation of the book, Water Horse: Legend of the Deep.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

How to Kick Fear out of the Saddle: Nerve - Poise under Pressure, Serenity under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool, by Taylor Clark

So you've had a bad fall, or there's so much riding on you - family, work, mortgage - that you're terrified of falling. Maybe there's a jump you can't face, a trail you won't take, or a horse show class you don't dare try. Maybe there's a horse at the barn who makes your stomach churn just looking at him, or maybe your hands start shaking when you pick up any horse's lead rope. Don't worry: you're not alone. Every horse-person - from the greenest newbie to the most decorated champion - has felt fear. And in his friendly (and often funny) new book, Nerve: Poise under Pressure, Serenity under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool, journalist Taylor Clark investigates and explains how each of us can tame our fear, harness anxiety, and turn the craziest stress into calm success.

The ability to be calm and confident in stressful - and even life-threatening - situations isn't a mystery or a rare, special gift, Clark writes. Braiding the science behind "the circuitry of fear" and "grace under fire" with incredible true stories of athletes at the top of their game and soldiers in the darkest depths of battle, air traffic controllers choreographing dozens of planes and astronauts trapped on failing shuttles, this stirring book offers a clear understanding of how we can bridle and direct our reactions, as well as a relaxed (and even playful) way to partner with fear and reclaim our inner cool. Whether you're a rider, a riding instructor, or an on-the-fence dreamer, if you want to kick fear out of the saddle - on your horse or in your life - Nerve is the book for you.

You'll find more resources and articles about Nerve on Taylor Clark's website, and, writers, be sure to check out his article, Nothing to Fear in Fear Itself, which describes how and why he braved his own anxiety to write the book. Reading Nerve as a stand-alone? Try pairing it with Jane Savoie's iconic peak performance handbook for equestrians, It's Not Just About the Ribbons: It's About Enriching Riding (and Life) with a Winning Attitude

Saturday, March 15, 2014

How to Talk with Your Horse: Reaching the Animal Mind - Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us About All Animals, by Karen Pryor

Don't get me wrong: I would love to be a horse whisperer. One of those serene, mysterious men and women who seem to have a mystical connection with horses, one of those desert-eyed sages who merely thinks, "It's a bit warm today," and finds her horse cantering eagerly to her side bearing a silver platter with an iced lemonade.

Unfortunately, I'm not. For the first fifteen years of my life with horses, I spent much of my time chasing ponies as they gleefully galloped away from me across their 25-acre pastures, and watching various lesson horses vanish in clouds of dust while I heaved myself up from the trail or the arena floor and dusted off what was left of my disintegrating dignity. When I first brought Pegasus home, things weren't much better. I felt like I had two titles: "Hay Dispenser" and "You Again?"

Still, I loved my horse's fiery spirit, his quick intelligence, and his kind heart. I wished that I could somehow reach him; I wished there was some way I could talk with him. And no, not just talk to him. Oh, surely I wanted him to understand - and do! - what I asked. But I also had this crazy dream of having a kind of conversation with him, of truly doing things together, having fun, and being friends.

I know: it was impossible. Until it wasn't. The day I discovered clicker training, I began to learn how to talk with my horse.

At its core, clicker training is an all-positive approach to shaping an animal's behavior. You teach the animal that certain behaviors earn him or her an immediate reward, and the animal, figuring out this new "game," works happily and intently to figure out - and do! - what you ask. Over time, you can put the behavior on cue and fade the reward, and you can continually teach the animal new and additional behaviors. Some animals have even learned to invent their own behaviors. Yep - they're offering creativity. 

Yet clicker training opens another kind of communication between a person and an animal. Out the game grows a conversation, out of the conversation, a relationship. I may never be a horse whisperer, but thanks to clicker training, dear Pegasus trots to the gate when he hears my car in the farm driveway, graciously does (most of!) what I ask, and joyfully offers ideas and invitations to visit, to communicate, and to play. We're more than horse and rider - we've become friends.

Now Karen Pryor, the pioneer of clicker training, has released a comprehensive training guide. Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us about All Animals explains the principles and techniques of clicker training and offers moving true stories and video diaries about the bonds people have forged with dogs, cats, and other companion animals, horses, and even exotic animals like macaws, dolphins, and one chimpanzee so smart, he began clicker training his trainer.

If you wish you could talk with your animal, Reaching the Animal Mind is the book you should read. (And if you think I'm plum crazy, well, maybe you're right, but check out NBC News' recent article, Time to Learn to Speak Animal Languages?, a summary of astonishing new research on animal "speech.")

For more information about clicker training, visit Karen Pryor's website, Clicker Training, and check out her other books: the sweeping but practical guide, Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training, and her lyrical autobiography, Lads Before the Wind: Diary of a Dolphin Trainer. Want to focus specifically on horses? Trot on over to Alexandra Kurland's website, The Clicker Center, and browse her horse-centered training books and DVDs.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sweet Dreams for Little Horse Lovers: Hush, Little Horsie, written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson

If you know a horse-loving toddler or preschooler, you also know they're easy to recognize: at bedtime, they're the ones who suddenly seem to grow four legs! Luckily, Jane Yolen and Ruth Sanderson have created a new picture book, Hush, Little Horsie, that will send tots galloping to their beds and into sweet dreams.

"Hush, little horsie / Asleep on the farm. / Your mama is near / And will keep you from harm"  begins Caldecott Medal winning author Jane Yolen's soothing tale of five mares who watch their foals play and watch over them as they sleep - and of a human mother who reads to her daughter and watches over her as the child drifts into dreams of horses. Ruth Sanderson, illustrator of more than 80 children's books, complements the story with a globe-trotting display of luminous and tender portraits. The five equine families include black and white Gypsy Vanners on a lush valley farm, strawberry roan Appaloosas on the American plains (who look a bit like Sanderson's own horse, Thor!), sorrel wild ponies on Chincoteague Island's golden beaches, bay Exmoor Ponies on the moors of southern England, and a grey Thoroughbred mare at a racetrack with her foal, who looks like a huggable baby Black Beauty.

Hush, Little Horsie is the kind of book children will return to again and again. Each painting brims with details that beg to be explored. The rhythmic, rhyming text invites even the youngest to "read" along. And the story itself glows with the comforting assurance that mothers love and watch over their children. As affectionate as a good-night hug, Hush, Little Horsie is sure to become as much of a bedtime standard for horse-loving kids - and horse-loving moms!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

History's Most Subversive Horse: "How 'Black Beauty' Changed The Way We See Horses," by Michele Norris, via NPR

In even the most politically charged atmosphere, it is not violence or hatred, but kindness that is the most subversive agent of social change. Anna Sewell's 1877 novel, Black Beauty, told the story of a 19th century horse with such gentleness, compassion, and dignity that the book launched the first national movement in America championing kind treatment and care for animals.

NPR's Backseat Book Club has made Black Beauty their November Book of the Month, and on NPR, Michele Norris interviews Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize winning equestrian author, about how one of the humblest of literature's horses became one of its most subversive.

Check out the article, How 'Black Beauty' Changed The Way We See Horses, on NPR. If you'd like to revisit Black Beauty, try downloading it for free at Project Gutenberg. And if you'd like to introduce the new generation of horse-lovers to Black Beauty, leap into Sharon Lerner's picture book adaptation, which is brought to life by Susan Jeffers' inspiring and endearing illustrations!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Raising the Bar for AWESOME! The Metropolitan Mounted Police at the London International Horse Show

This exhibition ride by London's Metropolitan Mounted Police might just redefine what you think horses and riders can accomplish. I'm gobsmacked: it's spectacular. It's amazing. THEY TAKE OFF THEIR SADDLES WHILE RIDING, PEOPLE!

Okay, turning off the caps lock. Sorry! But if I could ride with a fraction of one percent of that skill - if I could even get dear Pegasus into that arena - I would be happy forever. Heck, if I could move jumps as quickly as that fantastic ground crew - well, our trainer would be happy forever, too.

That's it, then. Two tickets - or at least a web-side seat! - to this year's Olympia: The London International Horse Show, where the MMP and many of the world's other great riders annually raise the bar for awesome. Until then, it's back to the barn and back to the year's best riding & training books for me ...though I think I hear dear Pegasus already hiding the camp lighter for the flaming jump! :)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Self-Help, with Horses: Going to Pieces without Falling Apart, by Dr. Mark Epstein and The Art of Healing, by Dr. Bernie Siegel

I confess: I'm a self-help book junkie. If a book promises I'll be happier, more productive, wiser, kinder, more creative, or slightly less stressed, I'll pour my hard-wrung droplets of spare time into reading it.

Yet I've noticed something as I've read shelves' worth of these titles. No matter what their subject, many of them include anecdotes about horses and the insights people have had while spending time with them.

Take the best-seller Going to Pieces without Falling Apart: Lessons from Meditation and PsychotherapyAuthor Dr. Mark Epstein describes the principles and benefits of meditation, yoga, and healthy vulnerability. Smack in the middle of the personal anecdotes and historical/cultural/scientific background you'd expect, though, he tells a three-page story about a rider, her horse, and the way the "soft eyes" principle of Sally Swift's Centered Riding connected them to each other and to the essential concepts of awareness and presence.

Then there's The Art of Healing: Discovering Your Inner Wisdom and Potential for Self-Healing. Dr. Bernie Siegel explains how drawing, visualization, and affirmations can help us recognize the root of our suffering and create a personal path to wellness. He also includes a chapter on the positive effects of having pets or animal friends, but he turns the spotlight particularly on hippotherapy, and the profound transformations that horses so often bring about in children and adults.

I wish I could say that I came to the obvious conclusion myself. No such luck. As I was reading The Art of Healing in Pegasus's pasture, I suddenly felt a big, soft muzzle press into the back of my neck. He exhaled what felt like a warm, patient sigh.

Maybe he likes the smell of my shampoo - Eau de Mane'n'Tail - or maybe he was trying to tell me something. Going to Pieces and The Art of Healing are both interesting and useful books; if they call to you, you'll likely enjoy them. That day, though, I took their more implied advice: I put my book down, picked up Peg's lead rope, and had a blissful afternoon.

Looking for a helping hoof? Visit the official Centered Riding website to find a CR instructor in your area and PATH International's portal for certified and accredited centers for therapeutic riding and horse-related activities. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Love Stories and Poetry for Horse People: A Valentine's Day Collection

If you love a horse or a horse-person, celebrate Valentine's Day - or any day! - with these horse-themed stories and poems about love and friendship.

All in Green, by e.e. cummings
* Eros and Equus (collection of poetry and story excerpts), edited by Laura Chester
* Horses and Men in Rain, by Carl Sandburg
* Reverie, by Walter de la Mare
* Say This of Horses (poetry collection), edited by C.E. Greer and Jenny Kander
* Venus and Adonis, by William Shakespeare
* The White Horse, by D.H. Lawrence

* The Blessings of the Animals, by Katrina Kittle
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
* Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel
* The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss
* Horseplay, by Judy Reene Singer
* The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

Horses with a Mission: Extraordinary True Stories of Equine Service, by Allen and Linda Anderson
This is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, by Laura Munson

Stories for Kids
The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley
* Cinderella, by Charles Perrault
* Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa (series), by Erica Silverman
* The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses and Mystic Horse, by Paul Goble
* My Friend Flicka, by Mary O'Hara
* Ponyella, by Laura Numeroff
Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom, by Jennifer Holland

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Gallop through's Greatest Reads: 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime - A Bucket List by Amazon Book Editors's book editors just released 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime, their "bucket list ...[for] a well-read life." Among its inspiring and astonishing titles, it includes this feed-bucket list of essential books for people who love horses and other animals, for dreamers who chase unicorns and thestrals, and for anyone who cares deeply about living well in and with the natural world:

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle
Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brene Brown
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling
Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The House at Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne
The Lightning Thief - Book One of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, by Rick Riordan
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

Sunday, February 2, 2014

There's No Crying in Football, is There? The Budweiser Clydesdale Commercial "Puppy Love" for the 2014 Superbowl, with a Clyde training montage and Passenger's "Let Her Go"

"There's no crying in baseball!" Tom Hanks famously tells his team in the movie, A League of Their Own. Crying seems to have even less of a place in football, except during the Superbowl, when Budweiser airs its annual Clydesdale-centered commercial. This year, the promo tapped a whole new well of Sweet and Sentimental by pairing a huge-hearted Clyde with an adorable - and adoptable - puppy:

The song is UK artist Passenger's Let Her Go. Within an hour of the ad airing, our tiny library had registered more than 300 requests for the song's album, All the Little Lights. If you can't wait - and, honestly, who can? - you can find everything Passenger-related on iTunes, Amazon, and YouTube:

There's only thing that might be sweeter than the polished, finished commercial: this candid Budweiser training montage. The trust, pride, and kindness the horses and their people share certainly wrung a few more tears out me. After twenty years of these iconic moments, it seems like it can't be the Superbowl - it can't even be football - without a Clyde-sized, puppy-warm, goat-stubborn cry...

Friday, January 24, 2014

The First Horse: Ship of the Plains, by James Baldwin, from The Wonder-Book of Horses

According to Greek mythology, the people of ancient Athens were the first to see a horse. When challenged by two gods, Poseidon, the sea-king, and Athena, queen of wisdom, to choose only one of them as their protector, the people asked them each to offer a gift. Poseidon responded first - and in James Baldwin's retelling of the myth, the scene unfolded this way:

"...Poseidon strode haughtily forward and smote the bare rock with his trident. So heavy was his stroke that the entire hill trembled beneath it, and a deep, narrow cleft was opened in the solid limestone. Then out of the fissure there leaped a snow-white horse with flashing eyes and arching neck and impatient feet. It was the most wonderful creature that the people had ever seen, and they were terribly frightened by his sudden appearance.

'Behold the horse!' said Poseidon. 'Behold the noblest of all beasts, man's best friend, the emblem of power and strength and of your own glorious future with me as your patron and protector...'"

Athena offered her gift next, and the people made their choice. Find out what happened by reading the rest of the story, The Ship of the Plains, at The Baldwin Project. On that site, you can also read - and download! - the rest of Baldwin's collection of equine-centered myths, titled The Wonder-Book of Horses, for free.

Interested in learning more about the true history of horses? Explore the International Museum of the Horse's outstanding Web presentation, The Legacy of the Horse, and check out these blue-ribbon horse histories!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Deep in the Soul of a Carrot: In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan

I never expected to be inspired by a carrot. It's not like they're terrific conversationalists or particularly outrageous at parties. Nor am I a stranger to their charms: like any horse-person, I have shaken hands - or, rather, fronds - with thousands of them. Yet one carrot has completely changed my life - one unexpected and soulful carrot that appears in Michael Pollan's astonishing book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.

Let me set the stage. I'm at the barn, standing over the feed bin at 6 am, making Pegasus's breakfast. Peg's "plate" is five pounds of hay - the best I could buy, beg, or barter for. On top of that goes a small scoop of mixed whole grains and  a supplement packet, both of which the vet recommended based on the results of Peg's annual "well horse" physical.

Of course, I haven't forgotten the carrot. I slide it out of my back pocket, along with the protein bar I have for my breakfast. (I won't mention that I *had* forgotten about my own breakfast, found the protein bar in the car's glove compartment, and couldn't quite remember when I put it there. Nope. Won't mention that at all.) Anyhow, standing there, staring bleary-eyed and under-caffeinated at the carrot and the protein bar, this passage from my nightstand reading, In Defense of Food, floats through my head:

     "It's an old story: When Prout and Leibig nailed down the macronutrients, scientists figured that they now understood the nature of food and what the body needed from it. Then when the vitamins were isolated a few decades later, scientists thought, okay, now we really understand food and what the body needs for its health; and today it's the polyphenols and carotenoids that seem to have completed the picture. But who knows what else is going on deep in the soul of a carrot?
     The good news is that, to the carrot eater, it doesn't matter. That's the great thing about eating foods as compared with nutrients: You don't need to fathom a carrot's complexity in order to reap its benefits."

Comparing Peg's breakfast and mine, I suddenly realize that for the past twenty years, I've known more and cared more about what I feed my horses than what I feed myself. Every horse-person who has ever lived is shouting, "Duh!" Still, it struck me that if I cared that much about what I ate, not only would I be healthier, I'd have more energy and presence for my two-legged and four-legged loved ones. Maybe eating real food - good food - would be kinder to these farms and fields I love, and better for the planet, too.

As insights go, that hardly seems shocking, but it was for me. Luckily, Pollan's advice is even simpler: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Backed by the research, history, and how-tos Pollan presents, that advice has been easy enough to follow. These days, I bring two carrots to the barn in the morning: Peg gets one, and one bite of the other. Both of us are healthier and happier, and the ridges on every carrot seem to curve like Mona Lisa smiles.

Read Pollan's original essay, Unhappy Meals, at the New York Times. You can also check out Pollan's companion to In Defense of Food, the barn-friendly pocket guide Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Jack Reacher, with Horses: Echo Burning, by Lee Child

   "Because you sure don't look like a horse rider to me."
   "I don't?"
   Billy shook his head. "Too tall. Too heavy. Center of gravity way up there. No, my guess is you're not much of a horse rider at all."
   - from Echo Burning: A Jack Reacher Novel, by Lee Child

Blah, blah, global bestselling series, New York Times' best thriller writer, 2012 movie with Tom Cruise. To an equestrian reader, the only real test of author Lee Child and his wildly successful Jack Reacher series is whether the man and his character can sit a (literary) horse. Echo Burning delivers that ride: a tale of murder and kidnapping on a Texas horse ranch that's hard-driving, startling, and dead-on accurate in its equine details.

Child does not confuse halters with bridles. Not one horse in the stable has a "liquid eye." Jack Reacher, having never saddled a horse before, asks a six-year-old girl for help - and she tells him how to do it right. Best of all, when the six-foot-five ex-military-cop non-rider gets on the horse, it goes about as well for him as you'd expect it to. If you, like me, have howled at those countless novels in which protagonists are magically gifted with expert riding ability the first time they place their loosey-goosey seats on their noble and guileless glitter-ponies, Reacher's forthright incompetence comes across as both believable and tremendously satisfying.

Horses aren't the focus of Echo Burning, and it isn't like you wonder whether Our Hero Will Ultimately Prevail, but it's still a mane-gripper of a good read. Just one caveat: the violence can be graphic and extreme. If you watch Justified, or read the Elmore Leonard novels on which it's based, though, you'll be all set.

I know: So Where Is the Tom Cruise Movie Link, Vanessa?! Here it is. Jack Reacher doesn't have horses, but it's still another edge-of-your-saddle-seat Lee Child adventure for the end of a horsey - or non-horsey! - day.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fallen Off Your New Year's Resolution? Get a Boost from The Black Stallion, directed by Carroll Ballard

It takes about a week for me to fall off of the back of my New Year's resolutions. But if loving horses has taught me anything, it's that falling off can be part of the process of learning a better, higher, and swifter balance - as long as I get back up and get back on.

Carroll Ballard captured that kind of fierce yet playful freedom in his 1979 movie adaptation of The Black Stallion. Take a moment to watch Alec and The Black learn to ride on their deserted island beach, then see if you don't find yourself trotting out to your library to scoop up the movie, Walter Farley's classic book, and maybe one new resource that could lend you and your resolutions a helping hoof!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

An "Anti-Resolution" for Your Horsey New Year: Kristin Carpenter's "Being Enough," at The Chronicle of the Horse

     "...Because our horses, and in the end most people, will not remember us for what we did but by how we did it. Trance does not know at what level he competed, or how many ribbons we collected, but rather how I managed our partnership. He knows that I trusted him, and I forgave him, and I will love him until the day he dies. And in return he did the same. 
     So this year why not set an anti-resolution? Be enough. Cut yourself a break sometimes. Acknowledge that everyone is doing the best with what he or she has. Step out of the cycle of wanting to be better or more or something else."
     - from Kristin Carpenter's Being Enough, at The Chronicle of the Horse

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holiday Books for Horse Lovers: Top Ten Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Holiday Themed Horse Books

Whether you're looking for a book to give as a gift, a story to share with your children or students, or a tale to curl up with in a quiet moment, these ten titles will be sure to write - and sing! - some horse-drawn happiness into your holidays.

10. Jingle Bells, by Eren Blanquet Unten: (Kids) Teach your young horse-lovers how to sing Jingle Bells with this dazzling pop-up book! The text is simply the first two verses of the song, but the intricate and ingenious pop-up illustrations - most of which star a merry and spirited horse - will whirl young and young-at-heart carolers into the exhilarating fun of the song's sleigh ride.

9. A Horse for Hanukkah, by Myriam Halberstam, illustrated by Nancy Cote: (Kids) Hannah's wish finally comes true: her parents give her a horse for Hanukkah. The horse, Golda, is sweet and curious, lives in their apartment, and even speaks Hebrew. But when Golda starts causing horse-sized trouble during the family's celebration, Hannah wonders if her wish might have brought her more than she bargained for! A delightful romp with dreamlike illustrations, this is a book that belongs on every wish list. Special order A Horse for Hanukkah from its German publisher, Ariella Books, and look for it in US bookstores.

8. A Little House Christmas: Holiday Stories from the Little House Books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder: (Kids) Celebrate Christmas on the prairie with the Ingalls family! This book includes eight heart-warming stories and songs about Christmas on the American frontier, but horse-lovers will be drawn to two stories in particular. In Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus, Laura and Mary learn that Santa sometimes drives a pack mule and wagon - and that he sometimes needs help bringing Christmas to every family, too. In The Christmas Horses, Pa's dream of getting a new team of horses can only come true if, as Ma says, "we all wish for horses, and nothing but horses." Will Laura and Mary set aside their Christmas lists and wish for horses for Pa? This read-aloud edition beautifully unfurls the stories; older children can also read the tales themselves in the chapter book version, Christmas Stories.

7. The Saddle Club #13: Starlight Christmas, by Bonnie Bryant: (Kids) It wouldn't be the holidays for The Saddle Club trio - 12 year old Carole Hanson and Stevie Lake, and 13 year old Lisa Atwood - without a sleigh-full of pratfalls and surprises. In Starlight Christmas, Carole's dad enlists Stevie and Lisa's help in finding the perfect Christmas gift for Carole: a horse of her own. But the girls have to keep the gift a secret, too, which isn't easy, since Carole is working with the local veterinarian at the horse's barn. Meanwhile, the girls aren't the only ones who are planning a surprise: the club's foe, the spoiled Veronica diAngelo, is trying to trick the girls and their friends, Phil and A.J., into missing Pine Hollow Stables' beloved annual holiday event, the Starlight Ride. Starlight Christmas is a merry, lively read that celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah, and if your favorite horse-lover isn't yet a card-carrying, saddle-toting member of The Saddle Club, it's an inviting introduction to the rest of the 100-book series.

6. The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss: (Teens, Adults) Fall in love this holiday season with The Hearts of Horses! Leaving behind her troubled past, nineteen year old Martha Lessen sets out to become a "footloose" gentler and trainer of horses for the ranchers and homesteaders of eastern Oregon, but finds among them a community, a home, and love that lasts. Gloss tells Martha's story with the fierce and sweeping beauty, honesty, and detail of an epic Western, and weaves into it the challenges, changes, and profound losses both people and the nation faced during the World War I era. Poignant without being sentimental, honest without losing hope, reading The Hearts of Horses is the kind of experience that, as one of the characters says, "just [goes] right down into my heart to shake it awake.” Holiday readers may make a timely connection, sharing a holiday season with Martha and the ranchers, and seeing Martha's world from horseback as she "rides the circle" of ranches on Christmas Day.

5.  David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens: (Teens, Adults) Once you've finished reading A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens' story of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge's encounter with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, be sure to pick up another of his masterpieces, David CopperfieldBeginning with the now-famous line, "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show," Dickens' narrator, David "Trot" Copperfield tells the story of the friendships and betrayals, the bright ideals and harsh realities, and the acts of love and vengeance that shaped his life. The book includes lavishly written holiday scenes and takes place in the riotously horsey world of Britain in the early 19th century. Go ahead and "Trot" right into these books any time - A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield are available in print editions and as free downloads at Project Gutenberg.

4. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott: (Kids, Teens, Adults) With their father away serving as a chaplain in the Union Army during the Civil War, the four March family sisters - diligent Meg, feisty Jo, artistic Amy, and gentle Beth - and their mother must struggle against poverty, society's expectations, and, at times, their own changing natures to achieve their dreams. The story opens with the March family's Christmas, and later introduces Alcott's unforgettable horses: Ellen Tree, Laurie the "centaur", and Jo's Arabians, stabled in her castle. A classic since its first publication in 1868, Little Women is available today in print editions for children and adults and as a free download from Project Gutenberg!

3. Snowflake, by Suzanne Weyn: (Kids) In this Breyer Stablemates step-up reader, best friends Emily, Anna, and Mandy welcome a rescued Percheron, whom they name Snowflake, to Fox Creek Farm. The three girls feed, groom, and care for Snowflake, and when they discover that none of the farm's winter blankets will fit him, they decide to raise money to buy the horse a blanket of his own. Finding an old sleigh in the barn and discovering that Snowflake knows how to pull it, the girls, the farm owners, and Snowflake offer one-horse-open-sleigh rides, raising enough money to buy Snowflake's blanket and to build him a run-in shed. Cheerful watercolors illustrate this inspiring story and a closing page with facts about Percherons will encourage readers to continue learning more about horses and horse care.

2. Calico the Wonder Horse, or The Saga of Stewy Stinker, by Virginia Lee Burton: (Kids) When Stewy Stinker and his Badlands gang hold up Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, it's up to Calico the Wonder Horse, "the smartest, fastest horse in all of Cactus County," and her cowboy, Hank, to save Christmas and bring the villains to justice. Caldecott Medal winning author Virginia Lee Burton's witty Western dialogue and captivating comic-book format will make this tall tale a bullseye with any young audience!

1. Ernest's Special Christmas, by Laura Barnes, illustrated by Carol Camburn: (Kids, Teens, Adults) During a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, the miniature donkey, Ernest, notices that all of the animals are in the barn except his friend, the old draft horse, Chester. Ernest goes out to search for Chester and finds the horse lying almost buried in the snow, too weak and too tired to stand. Ernest is neither large enough nor strong enough to help Chester alone, but with the help of all of the animals in the barnyard - the cows, the horses, the donkeys, and even the birds - they are able to raise the big horse onto his feet again. The story, which Barnes closes with the lines, "With love and determination they had helped their friend. ...This was the best gift of all," captures the true spirit of the holiday season: selfless, compassionate, and joyful in fellowship. Camburn's heart-breakingly sweet watercolor illustrations bring such life and expression to the characters that readers of all ages will find themselves reaching out to help the animals - and reaching out to read Ernest's Special Christmas again and again for years to come.

And a bonus book, Pegasus's Pick: Jingle-Jingle by Nicola Smee: Your horse will love this book as much as you and your family will! In Jingle-Jingle, Mr. Horse invites Cat, Dog, Pig, and Duck to ride in his sleigh - but when he jumps in himself, he also discovers how much fun a sleigh ride with friends can be. A hilarious, playful, and friendly story with huggably adorable illustrations, this book is perfect for your young horse-lover's first or second jingle bell season, though it will brighten and cheer the spirits of anyone - human or equine - who reads it.

Looking for more horse-themed books, music, and movies for the holidays? Give these titles a whirl!

* And Winter Came (album), by Enya
* Jingle Bells (books, music, and history), by James Lord Pierpont and various artists
* The Magical Christmas Horse (children's book), by Mary Higgins Clark
* Olive, the Other Reindeer (children's book - about a Jack Russell who thinks she's a reindeer), by Vivian Walsh
* Out Stealing Horses (novel), by Per Petterson
* Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (song), by Robert May
* Sleigh Ride (song), by Leroy Anderson
* Stubby Pringle's Christmas (kids' novel), by Jack Schaefer
* Twas the Night Before Christmas (poem, book, song, and movie), by Clement Moore and various artists
* Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin
* Winter Wonderland (song), by Richard Smith and various artists
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