Summer Isn’t Over Yet: Four Horse Biographies to Read Right Now

by Matt

Yes, summer is almost over. Kids are going back to school, the locusts are singing their good-bye song, and shop windows are full of scarves and sweaters.

But don’t give up the end of your summer! There are still a few more weeks before Labor Day. You still have time for a little summer reading.

Get you to the beach or the lake, and pack your beach-bag with horsey reads. Here are four horse biographies to help you savor the last days of summer.

The Eighty-Dollar Champion By Elizabeth Letts

You’ve been meaning to read this book forever, I know. What are you waiting for? Do it now. Elizabeth Letts artfully tells the story of the quintessential Cinderella horse, and Snowman’s story is almost too good to be true: A gifted horseman displaced by war, slogging as an unappreciated riding instructor in a strict girl’s school. A condemned plow horse with some indefinable something special about him. And a partnership that would take them both to impossible heights. Is The Eighty-Dollar Champion the best feel-good horse book of all time? I think it might be.

Falling for Eli By Nancy Shulins

When Associated Press reporter Nancy Shulins started hanging out at a stable with her friend, she probably didn’t expect it would lead down a road involving dressage, barn drama, and purchasing a chestnut off-track Thoroughbred. After all, she was just doing it because her husband, worried about her emotions after it was determined they’d have no children, suggested it as a distraction. But getting back into the presence of horses would be a life-changing act. In this beautiful memoir, Shulins explores the utter unpredictability of life and love, and the healing power of horses.

Renegade Champion: The Unlikely Rise of Fitzrada By Richard R. Rust

Much like The Eighty Dollar Champion, Richard R. Rust’s biography of a great horse is as much about a great rider. In this case, the rider is his own mother, the horse-mad and insanely talented Jane Pohl, who, as a teenager, took a Thoroughbred deemed dangerous by the nation’s top riders and turned him into one of the sport’s great champions. Fitzrada was the pride of the U.S. Cavalry, on his way to the 1940 Olympics, when his temper went south. After the war was over, Jane Pohl would take him to the National Horse Show. They were a dynamic, eccentric, inspiring team.

A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck By Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley’s epic work Horse Heaven is required reading for most horse-lovers; a real door-stop of a book, it follows an assortment of racehorses, riders, owners, and trainers making it (or not making it) in a business that is not for the faint of heart. The non-fiction version is a little smaller — and a little easier to carry in a beach bag — but at its core, A Year at the Races is just as loving a tribute to a life with horses as Smiley’s enormous novel. And readers of Horse Heaven will recognize certain horses and stories as their real-life counterparts are brought to life. It’s also an exploration of equine psychology, how they manifest their brilliantly defined personalities in every day encounters, how they tell their riders and handlers and fellow horses what they are thinking through reactions, movements, and vocalizations. And if the stories of Hornblower and Waterwheel, Smiley’s babies at the track during this particular “year at the races,” are neat little bookends and good for anecdotes, the real power of the story is in the explorations of who horses really are.

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