Giddy Up, Readers! The Best Horse Books for Kids Ages 8 – 12
by Laura Lambert
When I was in elementary school, I rode a black, swayback Arabian named Charlie. Later, in middle school, it was a warm, chestnut American Standardbred called Tommy, a retired harness racer turned fat and lazy. And for a short time when I turned 13, it was Teardrop, an uppity Appaloosa who regularly slammed my leg against the rail when we practiced in the arena, just to let me know who, really, was boss.
None of these horses were mine — I never did get the proverbial pony — but I loved them all the same. At 8, 10, and 12 years old, I rarely felt more free and at one with myself than on the back of a horse, galloping alongside one of my best friends. They kept me grounded. They kept me busy. And they kept me more or less out of trouble.
For the horse-loving kid in your life, the next best thing to riding one of these magnificent creatures is reading about them in books. Here are a few well-loved horse books to get them started.
The Black Stallion
The Black Stallion is a classic and for good reason. First published in 1941, the story is timelessly engaging. As a boy, Alec Ramsey is shipwrecked on a deserted island with a wild horse. Alec and the Black Stallion come to build a singular bond that lasts for the ages — and for countless sequels.
Wills is so excited to start her horse riding training at the prestigious Oakwood Riding Academy. But Amara and her friends don’t make it easy for Wills. Luckily with her horse Clyde at her side, she can tackle anything; mean girls, family problems, and even boys.
Another classic, this one written and set in 19th century London and told from the horse's point of view. When I read it, I didn’t fully understand this book as a treatise against animal cruelty — though kids know injustice when they see it (or read about it). While various versions of Black Beauty are out there, strive to find Sewell’s original, which helps teach children the true meaning of kindness.Preorder from:
Stallion by Starlight (Magic Tree House #49)
For horse-loving fans of the Magic Tree House series, Stallion by Starlight is the perfect two-fer. In this book, part of the Magic Tree House Merlin Mission series, Jack and Annie find themselves traveling through time on a quest from Merlin, and find themselves meeting Alexander the Great and a wild black stallion.
Horse Heroes is the nonfiction companion to Stallion by Starlight, featuring stories about famous horses and other facts for the horse-obsessed. Most recommend reading it second.
Riding Lessons (An Ellen & Ned Book)
In this wonderful series from bestselling author Jane Smiley, readers follow spunky Ellen as she begins taking riding lessons and forms an instant bond with a colt named Ned. Occasionally Ellen’s feisty character gets her into trouble, and she isn’t allowed to go to the ranch. But when Ellen’s life gets turned upside down, it's her friend Ned that she needs to turn to the most.
Who Was Seabiscuit?
Every aspiring horse-lover should know by heart the great underdog tale of the Thoroughbred racehorse, Seabiscuit — and his race for the ages against War Admiral. For middle grade readers who aren’t anywhere near ready for the nearly 500 pages of acclaimed adult nonfiction that is Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand, there’s this highly accessible entry in the Who Was… ? series.
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
There is something magical happening up at Briar Hill hospital. Winged horses live in the mirrors, but only Emmaline can see them. While exploring the gardens, she finds Foxfire, a white horse with a broken wing. Only Emmaline can save him from the Black Horse, an evil creature who hunts in darkness. This remarkable book is sure to find its place among the classics.
The Winter Horses
For the more mature middle grade reader, or those 12+, The Winter Horses tackles some heavy topics: namely, Nazis. It’s 1941 in Ukraine, and Kalinka is an orphaned Jewish girl hiding out in a nature preserve, among the rare Przewalski’s horses, who are her only friends.
Pocket Genius: Horses
If fiction isn’t your child’s thing, not to worry — there are plenty of fact-based, encyclopedic guides through the equine world, including this handy (har har) pocket-sized book, which features more than 125 breeds.
The Perfect Horse
This remarkable young readers' adaptation tells the story of a small group of American troops during World War II. Against all odds, these soldiers went behind enemy lines to rescue the world’s finest purebred horses from Hitler's grasp. It's a riveting story of courage and bravery that animal lovers and history buffs will enjoy.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2016 and updated in 2021.