I assume that EquiSearch readers grew up reading horse books. In my case, it was classics such as Walter Farley's Black Stallion series, Marguerite Henry's Misty of Chincoteague, Mary O'Hara's My Friend Flicka, and many others that are still popular today. I still peruse the children's and young adults' sections in book stores and libraries, curious about literature for this market (How about that Harry Potter?), and hoping that today's "horse crazy" youngsters are finding good reading on their favorite subject. Here's my opinion of a couple of popular series you may be tempted to buy for your kids - or yourselves.
Golden Filly Series - (fair)
Lauraine Snelling is the award-winning author of more than 40 books of fiction and non-fiction. Her "Golden Filly Series" (10 books and counting) is about 16-year-old Tricia Evanston's life on her family's Thoroughbred breeding and training farm. When her father becomes ill, Tricia (helped by her brother and friends) works hard at exercising the racing stock, keeping the farm running as her father would wish, and satisfying her mother's wishes that she not let her school work slide.
I find Tricia a likeable character with a strong sense of determination. In fact, all the characters in the book are good, honest people. There is no villain other than the father's illness, which places an insurmountable amount of work and worry on a young girl's shoulders.
I also admire Lauraine Snelling's success as an obviously popular writer of fiction for children. As a youngster I devoured every horse book I could get my hands on - good or bad - and I would have approached this series with relish.
Snelling spins a good tale about adversity and courage. Unfortunately, I found many distracting inaccuracies in the first two books in the "Golden Filly Series" - errors in the way things are done on the training farm and the track, and improbable happenings in the story.
Having spent many years on the backstretch of New York's Belmont Park as a groom, exercise rider and pony rider escorting race horses to the post, I feel qualified (and obliged as a book reviewer) to make the following observations. My purpose is not to discourage any youngster from reading these books, but to add a grain of salt.
For instance, I find it unbelievable that a 16-year-old girl can win her very first race - even at a small racetrack - and continue winning, even on strange horses, almost every time out of the gate. After a while, even the most naive young reader would have doubts. It takes a while for apprentice jockeys to learn the ropes - and to earn rides on good horses.
The author did not do her homework. For instance: Races start with a bell, not a gunshot. Horse are usually held by a groom - not tied - while being saddled for a race. Win photos are taken before the jockey dismounts and weighs in. When a horse starts to rear, smacking him on the nose will likely exacerbate the rearing rather than discourage it.
There are also careless mistakes that any young reader with horse experience will catch: On page 25 of The Race, book one in the series, Snelling writes that Tricia's friend Rhonda had given up aspirations of being a jockey to show gaited horses. But on page 83 Tricia says ". . .those are nearly professional jumping classes she's [Rhonda] entered."
Gaited horses are not shown over fences.
High Hurdles Series -- (good to excellent)
I found the two books I read in this series (#1Olympic Dreams and #10 Class Act) much more accurate and enjoyable and must assume Snelling has more experience in the world of hunters and jumpers than Thoroughbred racing. There are some iffy references, such as calling eventing the "long course," but minor flaws do nothing to detract from the power and realism of the story.
DJ Randall is a complex character, a 13-year-old with Olympic aspirations who isn't always in control of her emotions. (What 13-year-old is?) She works at the stable in return for lessons and is constantly in search of ways to earn money for a horse of her own.
Changes happen in her life that DJ is not ready for, and her reactions get her in deep trouble with almost everyone. She is devoted to her grandmother (another great character, by the way) and becomes distraught when she thinks she may no longer have access to her. Everything DJ does seems to make matters worse, but in the process of working things out she learns some valuable life lessons.
Class Act, book 10 in the series, is aptly named because the maturing DJ is recovering from serious burns on her hands, the result of rescuing horses from a burning barn. Her biggest fear is that she will not be able to ride, and she fights discouragement during the painful treatments to remove dead tissue from her hands. This is a powerful book, and one that should be riveting reading for any young girl.
Both of these series are intended for ages 12 years and up. Since today's young readers are very savvy, I think the books are suitable for much younger children - say 8-year-olds. I hope boys will read them, too. Even though the main characters are girls, there are strong male characters in all of them.
A final word of caution: these books are strongly Christian in language and tone, with constant references to prayer and asking God's guidance. It's possible that children (or parents) of other faiths will be offended by this.
The "High Hurdles" and "Golden Filly" series by Lauraine Snelling are published by Bethany House Press.
Dale Leatherman is a former professional horsewoman who showed and trained hunters and jumpers, coached young riders, and lived out her own youthful fantasies on the backstretch of Belmont Park in New York. She grew too big to be a jockey, too, but she was privileged to pony for some of the best.
To read Dale Leatherman's reviews of Nikki Tate's "StableMates" series and Jo's Truimph, a children's novel about the Pony Express, click here.
Visit The Equine Collection to order great horse books for all ages.