Running With the Horses, by Alison Lester

Nina closed her eyes and imagined herself and Zelda in the Great Riding Hall. She saw the cheering audience, the glittering chandeliers and the dazzling spotlights. She heard the swelling music of the orchestra carrying them along. Nina was riding like her mother, as light as a summer butterfly. She could hear the soaring violins, the cellos, the drums…

Before the war, Nina lived with her father above the stables of the Royal Academy of Dancing Horses. Now, however, war has come and Nina and her father have to flee with the remaining horses, and Zelda, an aging cab horse. The journey across the mountains is filled with danger, but Nina and Zelda draw strength from each other.

Running with the Horses is a beautiful picture book story based on the true story of Vienna’s Spanish Riding School and the Lipizzaner stallions. Told in gentle prose with each page of text complemented by a black and white illustration and full page coloured illustration on the opposite page, this is both a visual and literary delight, perfect for reading aloud to primary aged children. Young horse lovers will delight in Lester’s art, and all children will be drawn into the excitement of the escape, at the same time learning some of the realities of war.

This is a story of hope which deserves to be shared.

Running with the Horses

Running with the Horses, by Alison Lester
Penguin/Viking, 2009

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Mare's Tale, by Darrel & Sally Odgers

It was a noisy night at Cowfork House. The rain poured and the wind blew. Every so often, a small branch would crack and I’d hear the rustle and crunch as it hit the ground. It was so noisy that I didn’t hear the midnight train go through from Doggeroo Station.

When rough weather hits, Dr Max finds that his arthritis really bothers him. Trump feels sorry for Dr Max, but as she helps Dr Jeanie do her rounds she realises that it’s not just humans who can be affected by arthritis, when she meets an aging dalmatian. Also having trouble in the stormy weather is Helen, a pregnant mare expecting her first foal. Can Trump and Dr Jeanie help Helen and Paris (the Dalmatian) through their ordeals?

The Mare’s Tale is the second in the Pet Vet series from Darrel & Sally Odgers, who are also the creators of the ,I>Jack Russell: Dog Detective series. Trump is a likeable first person (fist canine?) narrator, who takes her new job as an Animal Liaison Officer at the Pet vet Clinic very seriously, even when she’d rather stay in bed out of the storm, or chase the rats she can hear in the stable. Her animal friends each have their own foibles and oddities which make for an appealing cast of characters.

As well as being entertaining, the series is informative, with Trump offering explanations of animal and veterinary terms, and hints for animal care.

The Mare's Tale (Pet Vet)

The Mare’s Tale, by Darrel & Sally Odgers

Scholastic, 2008

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Moonrunner, by Mark Thomason

‘I ain’t goin’ back! I absolutely ain’t!’
No matter how hard I whipped Old Lop Ears up the dirt road, he wouldn’t go faster. My throat ached for swallowing so many tears. ‘You dang-burned mule! Go home by yourself! I don’t care! I ain’t goin’ back ever!’
I yanked the reins. The mule drove his front hooves into the dirt so hard that I flew between his long ears and landed on the ground, still holding the reins. I leaped up, angry. Throwing my book bag against a gum tree, I flipped the reins over the mule’s ears and slapped his flank. ‘Get to the shed, you dang-burned mule! Tell Ma and Pa I ain’t comin’ home! Not tonight. Not ever!’

It’s the last years of the nineteenth century. Twelve year-old Casey has recently moved with his family from Montana to a farm near Omeo. While they were able to bring one horse and Old Lop Ears the mule, they had to leave behind Casey’s horse Arrowhead. The farm used to belong to Casey’s grandfather, a man regarded with some suspicion around the region. There are whispered stories of cheating, but Casey and his family, even his father, know little about the man who followed gold half-way across the world. These half-known stories are causing Casey all sorts of trouble with the school bullies. After a beating, Casey escapes into the bush and discovers a herd of brumbies, lead by a black stallion he names ‘Moonrunner’. From this moment on, although there is much in his life that continues to challenge him, Casey feels he’s found a friend.

There are many contemporary chapter books and novels about girls and horses but not so many featuring a boy as a main character. Moonrunner, an adventure set in the late 1890s, is full of rich historical and geographical detail, including goldrushes, the High Plains cattlemen and much more. It is told in first person, from the point of view of a boy starting to transition to manhood. It’s a difficult time, in a difficult landscape and there are few mod cons or luxuries. There is, however, much more freedom than is experienced by many of today’s children. Casey discovers he is fortunate in his parents, both supportive of him in ways he comes to appreciate as the novel progresses. Much of Casey’s learning is done outside the classroom – his teachers include the bush, his family, the climate, other farmers and their workers and the brumby, Moonrunner. Recommended for middle-upper primary readers.

Moonrunner, by Mark Thomason
Scholastic 2008
ISBN: 9781741691177

Horse Mad Western, by Kathy Helidoniotis

‘It’s on again, people!’ Gary Cho stood on his dusty blue milk crate and beamed at the members of the Shady Creek Riding Club. Gary is the most awesome Riding Club instructor anywhere in the world. ‘The fourteenth annual Pinebark Ridge Western Riding Club Show is on in eight weeks.’
‘Cool!’ I murmured, rubbing my fingers in my gorgeous chestnut mare’s soft copper-coloured mane. I’d never done any Western riding. But I never let details like that stop me. Once I knew there was a show on I wanted in.

Ash, as the title suggests, is mad about horses and riding. In this fifth instalment of the ‘Horse Mad’ series, Ash is learning about ‘Western’ riding. Even for someone who eats, sleeps and breathes horses and riding, there is a lot to learn. And there’s only eight short weeks to learn it before the competition. Ash may be horse mad, but there are plenty of other things going on in her life. Her parents are opening a bed & breakfast business, her best friend’s father has a secret, her employer’s English granddaughters are in town, and Jenna, her moved-to-Italy best friend is not answering emails. As the Western riding competition and her 12th birthday approach, Ash also has to worry about whether she’ll be offered a chance to go to Linley Heights ‘horsey’ boarding school or whether she should stay at home and go to the local high school with her friends.

Horse Mad Western may be No 5 in a series but it also stands alone quite comfortably. There are references to other adventures, but it is not necessary to have read previous offerings to enjoy this one. Horse-lovers will enjoy the detail of different riding experiences, but there’s plenty of action for the general reader. Ash, the main character, is at the end of primary school and much in her life is changing. She’s duelling with her parents, her friends are changing, as are her foes. She’s on the brink of adolescence, swinging between impulse and responsibility. Her determination and devotion to friends and to riding help her find a way through the most testing of times. Recommended for 9-12 yo, particularly horse-lovers.

Horse Mad Western, by Kathy Helidoniotis
Angus & Robertson 2008
ISBN: 9780732284244

Archer's Melbourne Cup, by Vashti Farrer

Tom helps me brush Archer down and he’s standing there like some statue we’re polishing. He knows he’s a beauty. You can tell by the way he holds his head – up high, looking down on the world.

It is 1861 and Robby Jenkins has just found work as a stable hand at Terara. His family needs the money, and Robby has always loved horses, so he’s pleased to have found the job. He is hoping that eventually he’ll be able to become a jockey.

At Terara Robby makes friends, and one special one is the horse, Archer. When a brand new horse race, the Melbourne Cup is announced, Robby’s boss decides to enter Archer. Robby is sure he can win – and he wants to travel with the horse to see it happen.

Archer’s Melbourne Cup is the story of the first Melbourne Cup, told from the perspective of the strapper of the winning horse. The tale focuses on life at the stables, as well as family life and the economic climate of the times. The use of the diary format personalises the story.

Part of Scholastic’s My Australian Story series, Archer’s Melbourne Cup provides an informative yet entertaining look at the birth of the race which continues to stop the nation.

Archer’s Melbourne Cup, by Vashti Farrer
Scholastic, 2007

The Circus Pony, by Alison Lester

Every afternoon after school, Bonnie and Sam took Tricky down to Currawong Creek and practised their trick riding. Bonnie was the star now, and she loved it. Usually Sam was the best at riding.

Bonnie and Sam love horses, even though neither has a horse of her own. Instead, they visit and care for the horses of the residents of Currawong Creek. When the local Fire Brigade runs a talent night, Bonnie and Sam borrow a pony and decide to learn some trick riding. The only problem is that no one has told them no animal acts are allowed.

When a circus comes to town, though, the girls find some consolation. There is a trick riding act in the circus. Maybe they can learn some new tricks from the girl who rides in the circus.

The Circus Pony is the second title in the very cute Bony and Sam series from the talented pairing of author Alison Lester and illustrator Roland Harvey. Perfect for horse mad youngsters, the stories are aged at readers aged 7 to 9. There are full colour illustrations on most pages and a cast of lovable characters, both equine and human.

Very cute.

The Circus Pony (Bonnie and Sam)

Bonnie and Sam: The Circus Pony, by Alison Lester and Roland Harvey
Allen & Unwin, 2007

This book can be purchased from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Shadow Brumby, by Alison Lester

Everywhere Shadow looked, she saw danger. The other wild horses trotted happily through the moonlit bush, but Shadow was afraid.
Shadow had been born on a farm where she felt safe and secure. Then one day her mother pushed open a broken gate and took Shadow into the mountains, following the call of the brumbies. From then on, Shadow was always tense and worried.

Bonnie and Sam are best friends who share a mutual love of horses. Though neither has a horse of her own, they befriend all the local horses, and ride them whenever they can. When Sam’s dad, Bill, is given a horse to use for police work, Sam and Bonnie are excited, but the new horse, Drover, doesn’t let them ride her.

One night, the brumbies visit the town. Shadow, a brumby who looks just like Drover, jumps the fence into Drover’s paddock – and Drover jumps out and flees with the brumbies. The girls like the new Drover better than the old, but will she be able help Bill with the police work?

The Shadow Brumby is the first in a new chapter book series, Bonnie & Sam, for horse mad youngsters. With plenty of horsey action, and full colour illustrations by Roland Harvey, the series is sure to appeal to girls aged 7 to 10, and perhaps a little older.

Bonnie and Sam: The Shadow Brumby, by Alison Lester, illustrated by Roland Harvey
Allen & Unwin, 2007

Team Challenge, by Bernadette Kelly

Annie is learning fast, but is she a good enough rider to join Ridgeview’s Team Challenge?

In this fourth title from the Riding High series, there is a new challenge for Annie. A team is being selected to compete against other Pony Clubs in games. Annie is not sure she’s ready – especially at sack races – but a challenge from Jessica impels her to try out. Competition seems to show different sides of everyone, including her friend Reesa. Annie is selected as emergency and has to train as hard as the others, even when she has little chance of competing.

This series combines the challenges of making new friends with learning a new sport. Annie is a gutsy main character who shows the mixture of bravery and reticence that is a feature of the age group. Horse-riding girls will enjoy the detailed descriptions of the Pony Club events as well as the ups and downs of owning a horse. This fourth adventure sees Annie advancing in skills and confidence. A fifth adventure is scheduled for early 2007 release.

Recommended for mid- upper-primary readers.

Team Challenge by Bernadette Kelly
black dog books 2006
isbn: 1921167260

If Wishes Were Horses, by Bernadette Kelly

Annie loved horses. Any size, any breed. A story for every girl who ever wanted her own horse.

Annie and her parents move from the city to the country town of Ridgeview. For Annie, the only good thing about the move is the possibility of getting a horse. But then Dad tells her he’s ordered some sheep and there’s no way there’s room for a horse as well. Disappointed, Annie spends some time getting to know the area around her new home. Things go from bad to worse when she lets her dog, Jonesy, off his leash and he frightens a neighbour Reesa and her horse. After a rocky start, Annie and Reesa stumble along the path to friendship. Annie also makes friends with a horse in a paddock not far from home and begins to dream again.

If Wishes Were Horses is the first of a new series pitched firmly at mid- to upper-primary aged girls who love horses. Annie is a likeable main character, outgoing and independent. Bernadette Kelly introduces the reader to the world of horses and pony clubs, painting colourful pictures of the personalities to be found there. She also makes clear the challenges and responsibilities that are part of owning and riding a horse.

This is the first of at least four books in the Riding High series. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

If Wishes Were Horses, by Bernadette Kelly
black dog books 2006
ISBN: 1921167033

Horse Mad, by Dianne Wolfer

I’ve got a problem. For two years I’ve been a horse. Every morning I wake up, stretch my legs, roll onto my back and flick my mane. But that isn’t my problem.

When she wakes up on her eighth birthday, Alice discovers something terrible. She is no longer a horse. She can’t whinny or trot and she feels silly drinking out of a bucket. All her friends are horses, and if they discover Alice is no longer one of them, they may stop playing with her.

Alice tries everything to get her horsiness back, but when that fails she looks for other friends. She doesn’t want to be on of the Cool Girls or the Sporty Girls. She really misses her old friends. She might not want to be a horse, but she still likes the other members of the Pony Club.

Horse Mad is a cute, fun book. Author Dianne Wolfer gets across a message about friendship and belonging without being preachy or boring. Suitable for readers aged six to ten, horse mad or otherwise.

Horse Mad, by Dianne Wolfer
FACP, 2005