Georgia Fisher and Travis enjoy a good read together. Photo: Janis Herd.
I’ll never forget the day my husband discovered my little secret.
“Why is Amazon giving me recommendations for books for 13-year-old girls?”
Like many families, we share an Amazon account, but the main contact is his email address. As he tilted his laptop toward me and I spied the book cover photos hovering in a neat row across the screen I cringed a bit.
There they were. Some of my favorite titles and others that I had on my secret wish list.
Young adult horse books. And I was reading them like a fiend.
Growing up with Horse Books
As a kid, if I wasn’t riding a horse, grooming a horse, showing a horse, or mucking stalls I was reading books about horses. I devoured everything our local library had on offer, and I had mastered the art of the stack scan as I dipped and dodged through the rows, looking for that all-important horsehead sticker on the spines of the books. Christmas gifts were The Black Stallion series, Marguerite Henry hardcovers, and The Saddle Club books. By the time I was 18, these books were tattered and worn, but despite the turmoil that comes with the teen years, my horses and my books were my safe place.
Then adulthood happened. While I still read my childhood favorites, I began looking for books that still fell within the equestrian genre, but for a more grown-up audience. My searches were largely fruitless. Were horse books strictly for a youthful audience?
Jessica Burkhart, author of the Canterwood Crest series
When e-readers changed the way the world reads, my decade-long dry spell came to an end. I discovered the Canterwood Crest series and found myself immersed in the world of Sasha Silver and Charm, and I knew I couldn’t be the only adult woman falling head over boots into this series.
About the Authors
Jessica Burkhart wrote the first novel in the series, “Take the Reins” when she was 19. When asked about her adult readership Jessica said, ”I am aware that adults read Canterwood. Many parents come up to me at events such as BreyerFest and say, ‘I’m kind of embarrassed, but I was reading this to my kid and now I’m reading these books for myself’, and I’m always flattered by that. Juvenile literature is NOT a dumbed-down version of adult literature. The situations and characters are just different.
“I also get emails from adults who tell me they can’t find a lot of adult horse fiction so they picked up Take the Reins and before they knew it they’d blown through all 20 books,” Burkhart continues. “I love that Canterwood can be read by people of all ages. There are over one million Canterwood books in print and I don’t believe they’re only in the hands of tween readers.”
Another very popular series and one of my personal favorites is the Show Jumping Dreams collection by Claire Svendsen. Emily, the main character, is a talented young rider determined to make the U.S. Olympic Team despite the many obstacles thrown in her way.
Claire Svendsen, author of the Show Jumping Dreams collection.
Svendsen, also a lifelong equestrian, believes that well-written horse books appeal to a wide range of readers and that the Amazon publishing platform allows writers like herself the freedom to release books on their own schedule.
“I think the genre is overlooked by writers because you really have to know horses to write about them,” says Svendsen. “The majority of people who read horse books have horses of their own or are involved in the horse world in some way and if you get the terminology wrong then you’ll turn off a lot of readers. Horse people write the best horse books and most of them are off doing horse things. For example, if I hadn’t had a riding accident I would be off pursuing my own dream of riding in the Olympics instead of writing about Emily and her adventures and dreams!
“Thanks to self-publishing and platforms like Amazon and the Kindle, writers can publish whatever they want on whatever schedule they want,” says Svendsen. “I am able to put out a new book in the Show Jumping Dreams series every month, something that traditional publishing wouldn’t even be able to do. This keeps the readers engaged and eager for the next installment.”
Focus on the Horses
As I spent years devouring these series aimed at young adults, I did find equestrian books targeted at adults, but these are few and far between. Sara Gruen, the author of the best-selling novel Water for Elephants, has written two very good horse books, Flying Changes and Riding Lessons. However, most of the other books categorized as equestrian fiction are more romance themed with horse elements added, and this turns some readers away.
So I turned to
the world of Facebook and sent out a survey to see if there were other women
like myself, hopelessly drawn to the world of equestrian fiction. The responses
were overwhelmingly positive.
One woman who replied to my survey under the
name Fire Lizard Farm said, “Most of the adult fiction is really romance novels with a few horse tidbits thrown in. The YA equine fiction is more horse-centered. If I want to read the other, I’ll pull out [the] Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.”
In a similar vein, another reader said she simply prefers the YA stories because they’re “more about the horses and ponies and less about sex.”
Simply put, readers who are knowledgeable about horses want to read about horses. They have no patience for books that put our beloved equine and equestrian characters in the background.
Now, as I eagerly await the upcoming releases in my favorite horse series, I can come out of the Kindle closet with the realization that I’m not alone in my fondness for YA horse books.
But the best part of reading children’s books as an adult? At the end of the day, I get to enjoy my favorite reads with a glass of wine. Or two.
Cate Smith-Brubaker is a freelance writer and lifelong equestrian. She and her husband are embarking on a journey down the Pan-American Highway, where she plans to dive deep into the horse culture of the Latin American countries by visiting as many horse farms, ranches, and riding clubs as possible. You can learn more about her journey at www.thelifenomadic.com.