Noelle’s Must-Read Horse Books

If you’re looking for your next read while you’re social distancing, take a look at these recommendations.

With COVID-19 restrictions, everyone is spending more time at home. If, like me, you’re a certified book junkie and horse nerd (I am totally taking this extra time to finally read all 1,300 pages of Stephen King’s “The Stand” and Tik Maynard’s “In The Middle Are The Horsemen” is on my to-read list), you’re probably using this time to pick up that book you’ve always meant to read or dust off that familiar favorite you’ve not read in a while.

Here’s a list of my favorites to help you pick your next read – feel free to sound off with recommendations in the comments.

Non-fiction, biography:

  • Seasbiscuit” by Laura Hillenbrand: So, this is one of my top picks in biographies for sentimental reasons – it’s the book that introduced me to horse biographies. I picked it up as a bored teenager in high school and eventually went on to read it so many times that I once had it on my lunch tray and my friends asked me if I was really reading that book again.
  • “Horses Came First, Second and Last: My Unapologetic Road to Eventing Gold,” by Jack LeGoff (with Jo Whitehouse): If you’re an eventer, or have any interest in it, this is a must-read. It’s a biography, sure, but it’s also a walk through eventing history narrated by one of the sport’s biggest legends.
  • “Battleship” by Dorothy Ours: Ours is probably more known for “Man O’ War: A Legend Like Lighting” but her book about 1930s steeplechaser, Battleship, is very good.
  • “American Pharoah: The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner’s Legendary Rise” by Joe Drape: Okay, so I read this not long after it released and haven’t read it since so my memory of it is a little hazy and I’m not sure what to say about it now. But it’s about American Pharoah’s Triple Crown journey and it was a good book, so it’s on here.

  • “Better Lucky Than Good: Tall Tales and Straight Talk from the Backside of the Track,” Louisville Story Program: If you haven’t read this book yet, I don’t care if you’re a racing fan or not, READ IT, it is that good! It shows so many facets of the racing industry that most of us don’t see every day. In fact, if there’s one racing book on this list that I would label a must-read it’s this one. Read my review of it here.
  • “The Girl on the Dancing Horse,” by Charlotte Dujardin & “Courtney’s Quest” by Courtney King-Dye: For the dressage enthusiasts these are the only two dressage oriented biographies I could think of – if you know of any others, feel free to mention them! “The Girl on the Dancing Horse” covers Charlotte Dujardin’s rise to fame aboard Valegro. “Courtney’s Quest” covers Courtney King-Dye’s own rise to success but it also discusses the aftermath of her accident and recovery.

Non-fiction, training:

  • “Reflections on Riding and Jumping,” by Bill Steinkraus: If you can only read one classic show jumping book, read this one! If you haven’t yet read it, it is a must-read. One caveat is that parts of the book are slightly dated. Most notably, despite being revised in the mid-to-late 1990s, it had some discussion of “poling” as a training technique, though it was made abundantly clear that the practice was not good horsemanship or legal at competition (other classics by other riders of the same era also discuss poling so it’s not at all unique to this book, I chalk that up to those riders/authors being products of their time). That aside, Steinkraus was a show jumping legend and the man knew how to write (that’s not something I say lightly) – this book, for me at least, has never been nearly as slow a read as so many other training-oriented books can be. It blends practical advice but also can get a bit philosophical in places.

  • “Dressage For No Country,” by Paul Belasik: This is, ostensibly, a dressage book but I’ve said it before and will say it again – it’s topic-transcending and almost as much a guide to life as a guide to dressage. It’s not easy to decide where to categorize this as it’s equal parts biography and training book – I’m putting it in the “training” category but it’s also a biography and a walk through dressage history. This is an excellent, must-read book, probably one of the best books I’ve had the privilege of reviewing. Read my review of it here.
  • “Centered Riding,” by Sally Swift: This is another classic that we’ve probably all heard of – I’ve read it once, still have my copy sitting on the shelf and will probably re-read down the line when I have a need to. It’s well-written and explains everything clearly, but it was also a somewhat slow read. It’s good – I just struggle to think of what to say as it’s been a while since I read it and it’s not a title I’ve reviewed so I don’t have something on hand to refer to. It’s definitely a classic and with good reason, though.
  • “The De Nemethy Method,” by Bert De Nemethy: I have a copy of this, but I believe it’s out of print and not available in ebook form – used copies are generally affordable and easily found. This is a show jumping book, obviously, but it does discuss a lot of dressage as a basis for training and it’s an interesting read both from a training perspective and an equestrian sports history perspective. I’m not sure how easy it is to find copies, but if you can find a copy (or already own one) pick it up and give it a read (or re-read)!

So, you’ve maybe noticed my training books are a little light on eventing books – actually they’re non-existent – I don’t personally have a large collection of eventing books  (five-ish including Maynard’s book).

Fiction, adult:

  • “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse,” by Charlie Mackesy: This book is for all ages and frankly with everything going on in the world, this book is more needed now than ever. I said it in my review and will say it again: if there were a course on how to be a good person, this would be the textbook. The book is now on the best-seller list – check it out if you haven’t already!
  • Literally any Dick Francis book: I personally like books pre-Felix-as-co-writer better, though the ones co-written by his son Felix and now, Felix’s own books are solid entertainment, they’re just not quite as good. My all-time favorite Dick Francis book is probably “Forfeit,” which is one of the earlier ones from the late ‘60s. “Forfeit” is about a racing journalist who solves a murder and brings down some kind of illegal gambling ring all while also writing articles exposing the crooks.
  • Literally any of Rita Mae Brown’s “Sister Jane” series: These are fairly light, fast-paced books, they’re solid albeit a bit formulaic (granted most mystery books are formulaic) but always a fun read!

There’s really not a ton of horse-related fiction out there – feel free to sound off with recommendations!