This formula is pretty easy. It’s a bit like macaroni and cheese: delicious no matter whatever the variation, fills you up and makes you feel good.
[I made my first infographic! For the visually impaired: Girl (or Boy) + Horse + Competition = An Amazing Horse Story!]
The first ingredient is the main character.
Usually it’s a girl, but there are a lot of horse books with a boy. I’d say it’s something like a 60/40 split. There are a few characteristics this main character always has:
- They’re poor. They might be more middle class than poor, but most of the time they are not as wealthy as the other riders.
- Their parents are not supportive. Usually the parents don’t want their child to ride for some reason, or they just don’t understand why their child is so obsessed with horses. Sometimes they are even orphans.
- They often have to work at the barn. Riding is expensive! Working at the barn is how they are able to earn their way to riding time. Although they do sometimes work in the barn just because they are horse crazy.
In the Black Stallion books, Alec is stranded on a desert island with Black. He isn’t poor or an orphan, but essentially ends up without parents or any money, food, or shelter for half the book. In the Thoroughbred series, Ashleigh’s family works for Townsend Acres, a racing farm. Ashleigh isn’t a hired hand like her parents, but she’s treated like one by Brad Townsend, and she has to work hard to earn a spot as an exercise rider and often works hard with the horses because she loves it.
The second ingredient is the horse.
- The horse is ill-tempered. I should amend this by saying the horse could also be just ill, but most of the time the horse is considered dangerous, wild, and untrainable. It’s our main character’s job to tame the horse! (or nurse it back to health)
- Everyone else has given up on the horse. They all see the main character’s actions as a waste of time.
- The horse is about to be sold or killed. This creates a deadline for the main character, and a real consequence if they should fail.
The Black Stallion was notoriously wild, even before the shipwreck. No one thought a young boy could tame him, but a long time alone on a desert island formed a bond between Alec and the Black. Flicka (from My Friend Flicka) was also wild, in addition to becoming injured.
Wonder wasn’t expected to live, but Ashleigh nurses her back to health. Likewise, in The Blind Connemara, no one thinks a blind horse is worth keeping alive, but Rhonda takes the time to teach the pony how to navigate the world blind.
The final ingredient is a competition.
Whether it’s a riding competition or a horse race, this is the last chance for our wild horse and our young protagonist to prove that the horse is worth saving. And of course, our underdog wins the day!
Both the Black Stallion and Wonder compete in horse races. The Blind Connemara competes in a horse show.
For a little extra flavor, add the following:
- a crusty old trainer who helps the main character (see: Henry Dailey, the trainer who helps Alec train the Black to race)
- a snotty rich rider with little regard for the horse’s well-being (see: Veronica diAngelo from The Saddle Club series)
- horse training with more natural methods, which are looked down upon by trainers using traditional, harsh methods (see: the Heartland series, which uses homeopathic treatments and the training techniques made popular by The Horse Whisperer)
Let’s face it: any book with horses is going to be great! This formula is well-loved and never fails to please. I actually can’t think of a single horse book that breaks this formula!
What’s your favorite horse book? Does it follow the formula?