Five of My Favorite Horse Scenes

I’m very excited to welcome author and editor, Tisha Martin, to the blog today to talk to us about horses in fiction. This is the second in a series of posts Tisha is sharing with us. If you missed the first one, you can read it HERE.

Thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us, Tisha! 


This blog post first appeared on Kathleen Denly’s blog, July 17, 2018.

Five of My Favorite Horse Scenes

by Tisha Martin

If a dog is man’s best friend, then a book is a writer’s or reader’s best friend. Do you have a favorite book that you have reread over the years? Maybe you have a few. Throughout my life, a few books have really made a difference in my life, especially books about horses, particularly when the horse has some major role in the story.

I grew up reading The High Hurdles and The Golden Filly series by Lauraine Snelling. When I was at library book sales, I’d sift through the piles and stacks of books for horses on the cover, the easiest way to pick out as many books without having the large chance to completely read the back-cover blurb and assess whether I wanted to drop it into my $1 Book-a-Bag deal. Once, I was at my friends Carla and Jim’s house because they had a computer and I didn’t, and I needed to learn how to type. Carla had a mound of books she was sending to the donation bin, but knowing I loved to read and liked to write, she let me browse through the books. I found a delightful horse book that would later inspire me to write historical fiction in the specific historic subjects listed on my website.

I’d like to share with you five of my favorite scenes from my four best-loved horse books during my early writing days.

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold was published first in 1949 by William Morrow & Co., then in 1953 by Enid Bagnold Jones through Scholastic Book Services.

I had watched the movie (starring Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor) first and didn’t know there was a book. But, nevertheless, that’s what library sales are for!

The blurb: Teenager Violet seems like any other girl who’s horse-crazy. But who else would dare chop off her hair, don jockey’s clothes, and enter the world’s toughest steeplechase? Here’s the story that made Elizabeth Taylor a teenage screen star … a story you’ll laugh over—cry over—and never forget!

My favorite scene:

“The Hullocks were blackening as Velvet cantered down the chalk road to the village. She ran on her own slender legs, making horse-noises and chirrups and occasionally striking her thigh with a switch, holding at the same time something very small before her as she ran. The light on the chalk road was the last thing to gleam and die. The flints slipped and flashed under her feet. Her cotton dress and her cottony hair blew out, and her lips were parted for breath in a sweet metallic smile. She had the look of a sapling-Dante as she ran through the darkness down-hill” (1).

Velvet Brown’s desire and love for horses is seen so vividly in this scene. Didn’t we do things like that at a much younger age, act out the things we enjoyed before we got the real thing?

Another set of books, For Love of a Horse and The Summer Riders, by Patricia Leitch captures the heartwarming story of Jinny Manders, growing up on the moors, where she rescues Shantih, an Arab, from being mistreated as a circus horse. Together, they become inseparable, until two city kids come to stay and threaten to ruin Jinny’s plans.

My favorite scenes:

“Jinny gritted her teeth. She wished that the circus was over and they could go back to the hotel. She was sitting close enough to the ring to be able to see every detail of the horses—their patient, watery eyes, the scarred legs and sunken necks. One of them was broken-winded, and the harsh sound of its breathing tightened Jinny’s throat. She hated the ringmaster, hated his pleated lips and beady, watching eyes. She flinched under the crack of his whip as if it stung against his own skin. . . .

“The horse was pure Arab. She came, bright and dancing, flaunting into the ring, her tail held high over her quarters, her silken mane flowing over the crest of her neck. Her head was fine-boned and delicate, with the concave line of the true Arab horse. Her dark, lustrous eyes were fringed with long lashes and the nostrils wrinkling her velvet muzzle were huge black pits. She moved around the ring like a bright flame, her prickled ears delicate as flower petals. Her legs were clean and unblemished and her small hooves were polished ivory. After the dull ache of the rosinbacks, she was all light and fire” (For Love of a Horse, pp. 23-25).

In these scenes, the pure beauty and intelligence of the horse is like seeing the rocks at the bottom of the ocean. I love the concept of the rescue horse, and I highly recommend these books for any horse lover, regardless of age.

The last book, Tall and Proud by Vian Smith, is a classic and close to my heart for its raw and emotional story and simple, compelling descriptions. It’s the book that inspired me to write.

The Chicago Tribune said of this 1968 title, “Vian Smith’s description of his native Dartmoor country and its people is rich in background for this story of a young polio victim who learned to stand as tall as the horse that helped her overcome the pain of recovery. The Britisher’s tale is a moving one. . . .”

My favorite scene:

“For awhile Sam [the horse] danced, not sure what was expected of him and showing his willingness to gallop. Then he settled to a walk, which was away from Gorse Blossom and up the hill, his head held high and interested because he had not gone this way before” (p. 139).

I like Sam’s attitude and his curious personality, but a little later in the story, he shows his frightened side when he thinks his owner, Gail, is going to mistreat him. And boy does he display a nasty force.

I’ve read these books nearly every year and always find something new to enjoy about them. Great books will do that. And they don’t have to be intricate. Sometimes the simplest story, if executed well, can have such an influence on your thinking, your writing, and hold a special place in your heart.

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