As a child, I was fascinated with horses and dreamed of befriending one of these magical beings. I spent too many evenings to count reading about fictional horses that could talk, rocking horses that came to life, and found myself drawn to epic, fantastical adventures where the hero went on a great adventure with their trusty steed. From Artax in the Neverending Story to Rainbow Brite’s talking horse Starlite, I wasn’t able to befriend a real horse, but I found lots of fictional horses to fall in love with.
For National Horse Day this 13 December, what better way to celebrate than spotlighting some of the best fictional horses from books? These are seven of our picks for the best stories that feature horses, from the realistic to the magical and everything in between.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Image by Faber & Faber, 2015
Black Beauty, originally published in 1877, was originally written for adults, but has since become better known as a children’s story. It’s also possibly one of the most iconic and well-known books about a horse. Narrated by the titular Black Beauty herself, a black horse who lives a life that is sometimes happy and sometimes cruel, this novel a testament to the human-animal bond and a fierce story against animal mistreatment. This is a book that might make you cry, but is also likely to fill your heart with joy.
National Velvet by Enid Bagnold
A list of books featuring horses wouldn’t be complete without a racehorse, and National Velvet, originally published in 1935, is about one of the most iconic fictional racehorses: The Piebald. His owner, a fourteen-year-old girl called Velvet Brown, dreams of winning a horse in a local raffle and riding him to victory at the Grand National Steeplechase. After actually winning The Piebald in a raffle, she tries to make her dream come true. As well as being a heartwarming story about a horse, it’s a novel that looks at how ordinary people, in this case an ordinary woman, can achieve great things.
Image by Dover Publications, 2013
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
Image by Yearling, 1991
The bond between human and animals is magnificent, and is the pinnacle of The Black Stallion, where The Black Stallion is rescued from a sinking ship by a boy called Alec Ramsey. They develop a friendship on a deserted island, following which they’re eventually rescued. The book follows their friendship from the ship to the island to horse racing. This book is now over 80 years old, and Majorie Burger, writing for the New York Times, called it is “The most famous fictional horse of the century”. A bold claim, indeed.
Horse Girl by Carrie Seim
Described by the publisher as “Black Beauty meets Mean Girls,” Horse Girl–published in 2021–jumps straight into the equestrian world with Willis and her rescue horse Clyde at her side, navigating the prestigious Oakwood Riding Academy, while attempting to avoid the mean girls and navigate the horse boys at her school. This is a wonderful book for younger readers who are horse lovers, or anyonewho wished they were a horse girl with a rescue horse for a friend in their school.
Image by Penguin Workshop, 2021
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Image by Penguin, UK, 2008
If you prefer animal companionship to humans, Animal Farm, first published in 1945, might not seem like the most appealing read, with animals personifying human traits. But these animals also embody positive traits, the wonderful things that make us human. The horses in Animal Farm, Boxer and Clover are hardworking and loyal, but to a fault. Their willingness to contribute and be part of the team and animal family is overshadowed and abused by the pigs who eventually take over the human’s farmhouse, and it makes us feel for the poor horses.
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill. published in 2018, is a middle-grade book that deserves a spot on the list because it transforms horses into mysterious, winged creatures and breathes life into the mysteriousness of these gorgeous animals. It’s an escapist read that will take you on a magical journey, which is perfect when you’re trying to take a break from a tough day or you’re looking for a book to read with a younger one in your family.
Image by Yearling, 2018
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
Image by Egmont Books (UK), 2008
If there’s something that makes me cry in books or movies, it’s when a horse dies. I rarely watch war films or read war books because the horses always fare badly. War Horse, published in 2008, is no happier than those tales, but in this story, the horse is front and centre, and we witness the experience of war from a horse’s perspective. It makes it even more harrowing and is truly an eye-opener to the battlefield from the perspective of four legs instead of two. A perfect read if you’re looking for a tale that is more historical than fantastical, one that is more rooted in truth than fiction.
And there you have it! Our top picks for fictional stories featuring fictional horses. Did we include your favourites? Let us know the ones we missed in the comments!
Rebecca Holland is a writer from the UK. She’s an animal lover with a soft spot for purring cats, especially when she’s reading, and loves nothing more than a good book with animal companions. Check out some of Rebecca’s other work at VelvetOpus.com and connect with her on Instagram and Twitter. Read more about companion animals in fiction by Rebecca here.