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What Is Horse Fiction?

By Elizabeth West
Updated Jan 26, 2024
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Horse fiction is a writing genre that emphasizes stories about horses and their owners. Some famous books include Black Beauty, The Horse Whisperer, and King of the Wind. These narratives are mostly regarded as children’s fiction, although there are adult books in this category as well. Authors interested in writing horse fiction need to make sure they do their research, as readers of the genre may know more about the animals than they do.

Typical elements of children’s horse fiction include the horse as one of the main characters, and a viewpoint may come from the animal itself. The narrative is usually plot-driven, with an adventure such as a race or a mystery. Adult stories like The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans, about a cowboy who heals both a traumatized animal and its family, have more serious themes and tend to revolve around human characters. Westerns and fantasy novels may incorporate horses as part of the setting rather than as protagonists themselves.

One of the most famous examples of horse fiction is Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. The book is written in first person from the point of view of the horse, and tells of his early life on the farm and through a succession of owners, some of them cruel. Beauty’s tale has been used as an object lesson for children in the humane treatment of horses. Depictions of the London horse-drawn taxicabs and an abusive bearing rein used at the time sparked the abolishment of unfair licensing fees and the rein as well.

Marguerite Henry wrote 59 books about horses, including Misty of Chincoteague and King of the Wind, a 1949 winner of the Newbery Award for excellence in children’s literature. King of the Wind is a fictionalized account of the Godolphin Arabian, the ancestor of modern thoroughbred horses. The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley, starting with the original book in 1941, has been wildly popular for many years. It is the story of a boy who tames a wild stallion and rides him to victory in a match race, and has enchanted countless readers and inspired at least three films.

Writers interested in producing horse fiction should know something about the animals. Since most readers of the genre are quite interested in horses, they may be more familiar with tack and behavior than the average person, and will not hesitate to point out mistakes. Good research can help get the details right when putting horses in Westerns, fantasy, and contemporary novels. Horses have a long history of both usefulness and companionship, and are rich sources of fictional sentimentality.

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Discussion Comments

By KoiwiGal — On Apr 19, 2012

@bythewell - Another good series of horse fiction books is the Silver Brumby series. It's by an Australian author I believe and follows some wild horses living in the Outback.

I loved them when I was a kid, but I think they are well written enough that you could probably get teenagers to read them as well, or even adults. I haven't read them in years though, so I'm not sure about that.

I guess there are thousands of books to choose from really, but that's a really good series and it contains a lot of information about Australia as well. Really made me want to visit there.

By bythewell — On Apr 18, 2012

@indigomoth - I always loved Black Beauty, and I think it was the book that started me off on my horse mad phase when I was a kid. I guess most girls go through that kind of period, when they are interested in everything to do with horses.

The books I liked the most at that time, although I wouldn't exactly call them good fiction, were the Saddle Club books.

I know kids still read them today, because I recently gave my whole collection to my young cousin and she was delighted to get them.

I'm glad I kept them, although to be honest I don't think I could ever have thrown them away, I loved them so much once.

I tried to read one before I gave them to her and the story was really simple, but I still enjoyed all the facts about horses and horse care that they included in the books.

By indigomoth — On Apr 18, 2012

My favorite horse book of all time has to be Black Beauty and the author, Anna Sewell was a bit of a hero to me when I was a kid. She had injured her ankles when she was a girl and so she had to ride in carriages her whole life.

She was a huge advocate for horses and towards the end of her life, she decided to write a book trying to illustrate how awful the conditions they often faced at the time were for them.

So, she wrote the book from the perspective of the horse and included all the awful things people used to do to them, as they would treat them like any other possession, and do whatever they wanted. Including things like whipping and overworking them and then sending them to the knackers when they were too old.

She was so sick when she wrote it she had to dictate the last few bits to her mother and she died a few months after it was published, living just long enough to see it become a success.

I hope she knows now that it is now considered a classic book of fiction for children and for anyone really and probably did contribute to making the lives of horses better.

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