The reason I began reading books was that I was a city kid who loved horses. I started with the Billy and Blaze books by C. W. Anderson when I was in first grade and continued with Black Beauty and the Black Stallion series by the time I was in second. These books gave me the joy of being someone else, somewhere else and the empowering feeling of being able to do things in my imagination I could never do in real life.
The first fantasy I ever read was Year of the Unicorn by Andre Norton. There weren’t a lot of horses in it, and I was very disappointed (at age ten or eleven) that there wasn’t even a unicorn, given the title, but it was a great book nevertheless. Andre Norton also wrote the first science fiction novel I read, Beast Master, with a main character who communicates with animals—including a horse. So I went from riding in steeplechases to traveling in star ships, but I still have a weakness for fantasy novels with horses that function as characters in their own right.
The Hero and the Crown—Robin McKinley
Ms McKinley uses horses as characters in a lot of her books and I love them all. But Talat, the crippled and stubborn old warhorse who is brought back to fitness by the equally stubborn and unfit Aerin is still my favorite.
Sword-Dancer (Tiger and Del series)—Jennifer Roberson
Maybe Tiger is the only one who can ride the Stud in this terrific fantasy series by Jennifer Roberson, but the horse is not the gorgeous and untamable Black any more than the decidedly non-PC Tiger is Alec Ramsey. Grumpy, nasty and unbreakable, the Stud is a three dimensional character whom I adore—even if I never want to own a horse like him.
Grimbold’s Other World—Nicholas Stuart Gray
I adore Nicholas Stuart Gray. I know he wrote this book for children, but I love it today as much as I did when I first read it. Any list of my favorite anything book has to include Nicholas Stuart Gray. The two mundane plow horses who, in the Night World, become noble creatures of flight who still retain their sweetness, justify this classic’s place upon this list. Gray’s works are difficult to find in the US, mostly long out of print, but this one is probably the easiest.
A Wind in Cairo—Judith Tarr
When I get together with horse nuts who also read fantasy, this book always comes up. I think I have five copies. This story which is, as many of Ms. Tarr’s wonderful fantasies are, set in a middle east as it almost was, is the story of a spoiled prince who commits a great crime against the daughter of a great mage and is transformed into a horse that he might redeem himself. How he discovers the grace of servitude is a tale that works on a number of levels.
You probably have noticed that all the books I’m mentioning were published decades ago. It isn’t that there are no fantasies with good horse characters being published today, but because these are my favorites. But here’s a recent book with great horse characters—who never speak a word because they don’t have to.
Written in Red—Anne Bishop
Who would have thought that in a book filled with scary creatures (vampires, werewolves, and wicked bad men), the scariest creatures would be little fuzzy ponies? This is a terrific urban fantasy novel that, as is usual for Anne Bishop, doesn’t read quite like anything else. There are a host of great characters in this book, but for me, the cherry on top was the ponies.
Patricia Briggs is the author of the Mercy Thompson novels, including Night Broken and Frost Burned, and the Alpha and Omega novels, including the recently published Dead Heat. She lives in Washington State with her husband, children, and a small herd of horses.