The best heart-warming and uplifting fiction about horses

The Books I Picked & Why

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man: The Memoirs of George Sherston

By Siegfried Sassoon

Book cover of Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man: The Memoirs of George Sherston

Why this book?

This first of Sassoon’s semi-biographical Sherston trilogy is a nostalgic amble along Edwardian English lanes, across its village greens, and over its hedges, tracing the early years of likeable, witty George Sherston before the Great War. It depicts a bygone era of pearl-clutching maiden aunts, rumbustious village cricket matches, and the rigours of the hunting field, in which enthusiastic recruit George is a terrific observer of the larger-than-life characters he encounters. He is winningly grateful to his horses for being so much better at it than him, from flighty first pony Sheila to trusty hunter Harkaway, and ‘bargain’ point-to-pointer Cockbird who is gifted to the cavalry at the book’s close, just as George accepts his commission to the Flintshire Fusiliers to fight in the Great War, saying farewell to his halcyon childhood. Sassoon, famous for his war poetry, is such a warm and intelligent writer that his affection for charactersboth human and animal – is timeless.


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Flambards

By K.M. Peyton

Book cover of Flambards

Why this book?

The glorious Flambards series, starring gutsy heroine Christina, was a staple for pony-mad teenagers in the 70s and 80s and is still held in great affection by its legions of fans. It’s so full of heart and life that it’s stayed relevant and readable today. Orphaned at the turn of the twentieth century, Christina Parsons is sent to live with tyrannical, hunting-mad Uncle William and his two sons in their impoverished estate. One son, dashing thruster Mark, is thought to be a good match for Christina, but it’s his younger brother, the clever, awkward would-be aviator William who she falls for. Perhaps the most trusting and enduring love she finds, however, is that for horses, starting with the wonderful, kind Sweet Briar in this opening novel. The freedom they discover together, blasting across Flambards’ ancient turf from Uncle William’s angry bellowing, is a tour de force.


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Riders

By Jilly Cooper

Book cover of Riders

Why this book?

Naughty, pun-laden, wise-cracking, and wildly sexy, Riders was the first of Jilly Cooper’s ‘Rutshire Chronicles’ introducing us to the Cotswolds show-jumping set, led by the thoroughly unreconstructed Rupert Campbell-Black whose ruthless bid to win Olympic gold sweeps up all in his wake. The male characters, alternately strutting around in breeches and dinner suits and trailed by adoring Labradors and women, are all a wonderfully undomesticated pack. The feisty heroines who take them on inevitably end up swooning. It’s the horses – a brave bold and talented herd – that are by far the most noble characters and provide many genuinely moving moments. Riders is about as politically correct as a cigar in a maternity ward and unapologetically British from hunting cap to mahogany-topped boot, yet it remains the best ‘grown-up pony book’ in existence, still adored by tens of thousands of fans.


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The Horse Whisperer: A Novel

By Nicholas Evans

Book cover of The Horse Whisperer: A Novel

Why this book?

The story of Pilgrim, brutally traumatised by a road accident, and his no-less emotionally damaged teenage rider Grace, is a tear-jerking masterpiece. When Grace’s mother Annie reads about a ‘horse whisperer’ who can help save her daughter’s horse from being put down, they embark upon a road trip from America’s East Coast to Montana where horseman Tom Booker harnesses his knowledge of equine behaviour to try to rebuild the broken relationship between them. The sweeping scale of the Midwest, its close-knit community, and no-nonsense horse sense come as a shock to these urban sentimentalists, not least the sometimes cruel-seeming method of replicating a horse’s own herd behaviour to ‘join up’ and build a bond. As Grace learns to do so, it seems Pilgrim has a slim chance of turning things round. In the process, Annie and Tom fall for each other, an affair that threatens everything. For those familiar with the film, the book has a very different ending and it’s well worth the reading journey there, tissues and all.


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The Horse Dancer

By Jojo Moyes

Book cover of The Horse Dancer

Why this book?

Before the enormous success of Me Before You, horse-lover Jojo Moyes wrote this gem of a story about London teenager Sarah, whose grandfather Henri once trained with the legendary French cavalry troupe, the Cadre Noir. Taught to ride by Henri and now mastering classical dressage, she’s determined to prove she can perform the difficult ‘capriole’ high kick on her horse Boo. But when Henri’s hospitalised, leaving her unable to pay the keep in Boo’s city yard, Sarah is forced to take drastic steps to hold onto her horse and keep her grandfather’s dreams alive. A roller-coaster of an adventure follows that requires a leap of faith as big as that high-kicking ‘capriole’ and makes for a page-turning read. It’s a story of underdogs and high horses with bags of pace and pathos. 


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