When I tell people I love horses and that I ride and that I have one, they often ask me I’ve read ___________ ( insert title of classic work of horse literature here). I usually say no. When people go on to tell me why they love/loved it, I usually respond with something like:

“Well, I couldn’t get past the horse dying. Or being injured. Or crippled. Or beaten. Or abused.”

This seems to be a persistent problem in horse literature. I’ve been told other animals fare similarly well. But I’m pretty sure your iconic work of dog literature is not Black Beauty. And the contemporary movie icon The Horse Whisperer.

War Horse came out this past winter. I didn’t see it. All I really needed to know was that it involved a horse and WWII and knew there was no way in hell I was seeing that. Though I’ve been told it has a happy ending or whatever, someone also told me there’s a scene where the horse gets tangled in barbed wire. Barbed Freaking Wire.

While not every book is so bad, there are more than enough of them to make me gun shy.

The horse canon counts among it works such as Equus, Black Beauty, The Horse Whisperer, The Red Pony, The Black Stallion, The Misty of Chincoteague books and others. The film horse canon includes Seabiscuit, National Velvet, War Horse, and Dreamer.

People often ask me why I don’t write more horse stories.

It’s hard guys.

One of the big problems is the amount of jargon that goes into the equestrian vocabulary. When we write, we often try for some sort of authentic voice. It’s really hard to define all the horse stuff and write authentically. Like, stupidly hard.

I discovered this the hard way when I wrote a piece for my non-fiction class about my horse. Mainly I realized this: people knew even less than I thought they did.

So, for years I’ve hung back on really doing anything with my pool of knowledge. I wrote a story called Winter’s Cry which was published by The Copperfield Review. Now, you guys are going to read that story and go, Shannon, you’re a hypocrite. To which I reply, the events of the end were heavily inspired by a true story that was told to me. Heavily.

But I’m changing that. I’m writing a series for middle-grade readers about horses. In the same vein as The Saddle Club and Thoroughbred series, but with much less dying and maiming. Also, I’m not planning to write near that many books. Sheesh.


11 Comments on “In Which I Attempt Not to Kill, Maim, Injure, or Otherwise Inflict Bodily Harm on the Horse

  1. I can’t stand to see horses hurt and that’s why I didn’t go see Warhorse too! I’ve never owned a horse but I really love them. In the fourth grade I read Man O War by Walter Farley and it profoundly affected me. It’s one of the reasons I love to read and write today.

    • I think read part or most of that book at around the same age. I think they are just such awesome animals….even if it’s not my own, I just love being around them.

  2. I love the Horse Whisper… Movie that is… But that scene when it gets hit by the truck, arghh… Impossible… I feel the same about seeing horses get injured… Fortunately it’s all about the Healing of it in “Horse Whisperer”… And the Healing of many characters actually.

    Also, I Love “The Black Stallion” Movie… Great Choreography, Story, and Characters.

    I wasn’t sure I wanted to see “War Horse” either, and I haven’t yet, Lol

    I’ll tell you a Great Film, and the Horse does get injured, but makes an Amazing Comeback, is “Seqbisquit”… I’d definitely Recommend this movie. Toby Maguire is Awesome in it… Actually, so is Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper… It’s just an Awesome Film.

    But I’m not interested in the Stories where the Horse goes down and doesn’t get up again… No thanks, Lol


    • I like Seabiscuit…it’s basically the most palatable one for me…probably because Toby Maguire gets way more hurt than the horse. I also like Dreamer a lot, the horse gets injured, but it’s also really cheesy.

  3. I don’t like sad horse literature, either. 🙂 Though I never read Black Beauty.

    I did not like the Red Pony. We were forced to read that in 7th grade, and our class all referred to this piece of literature as The Dead Pony.

    • I haven’t read the Red Pony either…but it says the horse dies right in the description…pretty bad haha…i like Steinbeck, but i’m not going to touch that one..

  4. I rode horses for 12 years and just stopped a year ago due to lack of time and money, and I agree with you about the gruesomeness of many horse books. I think someone once said that if there’s a horse in a movie, and you learn that horse’s name, there’s a 98% chance that the horse will either die/be maimed or save the day in a horrible act of cheesiness. I think this also applies to literature. However, Thoroughbred and Saddle Club were some of my favorites as a kid! I remember swapping Thoroughbred books with my similarly horse-crazy best friend in fifth grade as we both read the series.

    Good luck with your writing!

    • Yes…I feel like for lots of other animals in literature, the animal is more likely to just die of old age or get a disease (marley and me, old yeller)…not that old yeller isn’t kind of traumatizing itself

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