Almost every story has a challenge--a test of courage and endurance for the main character. Perhaps no other characters in the history of stories have been tested as much as horses. It could be their strength and beauty, mixed with vulnerability, that makes for such compelling drama. It is why we always cheer and give a sigh of relief if they triumph over cruel circumstances or owners.
It is hard to choose the best books and movies featuring horses. I decided not to try, and instead picked my choices for the ones I would reach for after a tough day. Although they contain plenty of difficulties, these stories never fail to lift my spirits. Some of them are not well-known, but are very worthwhile to seek out to view or read.
In honor of American Pharoah and the remarkable Triple Crown races of 2015, here is my countdown for the three most enjoyable book and movie pairs about horses. The stories begin with a challenge, have a foundation of compassion and carry on with courage:
Book: Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart
For Older Teens-Adults
Veterinarian Vanessa March discovers a web of secrets and lies surrounding her husband. She leaves her home in England to search for answers in the beautiful countryside of Austria. There, she comes across an old, injured horse about to be put down. Her challenge: to try to rescue the horse while unraveling the mystery concerning her husband. Vanessa finds that the horse she rescues only adds to her danger.
Airs Above the Ground contains several passages about horses that are quite beautiful and evocative. Here is one of my favorites that does not contain spoilers:
At that moment, faint and far-away, I heard the sound of hoofs...It was all the scene needed, I thought, looking up where, on my left, the turrets rose dark and faintly lit against the stars...the silence, the stars pricking out, the charmed hush of the trees, and now the slow sound of the approaching horse...
Movie: Moondance Alexander
Rated: G for All Ages
Fitting in has always been difficult for 15-year-old Moondance Alexander, and her name doesn't help. When she finds a pony, her life takes on a new challenge and a new meaning. The movie features excellent performances by Kay Panabaker, Lori Loughlin (When Calls the Heart) and Don Johnson. Moondance Alexander is a charming movie with warmth, heart and humor.
Books: The Sweet Running Filly and A Horse Called Bonnie by Pat Johnson and Barbara Van Tuyl
For Younger Teens - Adults
I discovered the "Bonnie Books" as a teenager and have always remembered them fondly. The first two books in the series have recently been reissued with new covers. The stories have a depth to them, and are well-written with an interesting mystery.
When 17-year-old Julie Jefferson first sees Bonnie, her heart turns over:
It was a specter, and just the sort of horrid, pitiful ghost that would haunt a place like Spire's Yard. It couldn't be real. She let out a yelp of sympathy and dismay. Of course it was real...
Stumbling up the rise, Julie saw a sight she that she was to witness again and again in her nightmares. The horse was not standing in a little valley, as she'd imagined. It was submerged to the shoulders in a dirty brown river...without a thought to her own safety, [she] slid down the bank...
Movie: Dreamer: Based on a True Story
Rated PG for language
Saving an injured racehorse is just the start of the story. As in Moondance Alexander, the cast lifts this film to excellence. Kurt Russell and a young Dakota Fanning give heartfelt performances about a father and daughter reconnecting while trying to save an injured racehorse.
Book: The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
For Middle Grade readers
I remember that these books were my favorites when I was a child. Every year, I saved up the money I earned doing chores to buy another beautiful hardback copy in this classic series. Growing up in a small town, my mother, sister and I always took a trip to a nearby city to buy back-to-school clothes. I can still see in my mind the lovely bookshop we always visited then with the row of jewel-like covers on the shelf. It made me (almost) look forward to the end of summer just to spend my hard-earned coins and read the next Black Stallion book.
Although the stories may be dated in some ways now, the enjoyment they gave me gives this series first-place on my list.
Movie: National Velvet
For All Ages
Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor) has always dreamed of horses and riding. When the opportunity of a lifetime comes to her, she needs all her courage to overcome obstacles and accomplish something no other girl had ever tried. Anne Revere gives an extraordinary performance as Velvet's mother and earned an Oscar for her role. This is a wonderful classic from the golden age of film.