Tag Archives: Horses

Banjo Tully – Justin D’Ath


Ford St Publishing

September 2021

ISBN: 9781925804904

RRP: $17.95

It was a hair salon day and as usual, I took a book with me – one I’d only unpacked from its box this morning – although I have some others still half-read, because I always love Justin’s writing. And this was no exception – I read it from start to finish with barely any conversation with my stylist. After weeks of scowling in the direction of Year 9 boys, it was so good to read a story about one that is not a complete horror – even if only fictional LOL.

But seriously, in the past week three separate people have asked me for recommendations for teen boys in particular – including those who are either reluctant or not skilful readers – and here is a perfect example of such, and one which excludes no students. There is a significant female character who also happens to be from a different culture, there is some rich unpacking to be done around life in the country (versus life in the suburbs or city), family dramas, surviving crises, support from friends and others and, not least of all, climate change. Coming hot on the heels as it does of our government’s embarrassing presence at COP26 in Glasgow, this will spark intense and profitable discussions with your teens.

Banjo’s parents are doing it tough on their farm because of the ongoing drought, just as many others in their district and beyond are also. Their cattle are already sold off and now it looks like Banjo’s much-loved horse, Milly is next to go. He’s already had to drop out of the basketball team as the petrol costs of running back and forth to town prove difficult, although at least he can still attend Venturers. When Banjo decides to mount a protest against Ride to School Day, in which all the townie kids who ride the bikes will get a free movie pass, he takes Milly almost 30 kms into town to arrive in a different style altogether. However, problems arising from this escalate his statement into more of an escape, until he meets up with teenage conservationist, Mai Le, and suddenly he becomes the youth Eco Warrior riding his faithful horse to Canberra to tell the politicians exactly what he thinks should be happening – before the whole country, indeed the world, goes beyond the point of no return.

This is a well-paced narrative which will appeal across genders and abilities with ease and, given it’s setting and topical focus will also resonate with many. It would as easily make a successful read-aloud as a class novel and will certainly be on the list I am compiling at present for our Head of English. I highly recommend it to you for your readers from around Year 7 upwards. Thanks Justin for another cracking read that will have real impact for our young adult readers.

The Forever Horse – Stacy Gregg


Harper Collins Australia

  • October 2020
  • ISBN: 9780008332358
  • ISBN 10: 0008332355
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – GB
  • List Price: 24.99 AUD

Stacy Gregg’s horse stories have constantly been some of the most popular loans in my libraries, mostly primary but I also have several lower secondary girls who just love these books. This new stand-alone novel introduces readers to talented young artist Maisie, who has always loved horses and drawing them. In fact, her teacher finds it very frustrating that all Maisie seems to do is draw horses and calls the girl’s father in for a discussion. Contrary to the teacher’s intention, Maisie’s dad is pretty indignant that his daughter’s talent is perceived as a problem rather than a talent to be nurtured. Taking matters into his own hands he applies on his daughter’s behalf to a prestigious Parisian art school for a term’s scholarship and soon Maisie finds herself in the City of Lights staying with her very kind and welcoming patron.

What seems to be a golden opportunity is soon a terrible disappointment to Maisie when she finds her tutor to be both scornful and supremely critical of her art. She has no idea how she is going to find the heart to finish the scholarship until she discovers in a secret cache the long-lost diary of her patron’s ancestor – the famous horse artist Rose Bonifait. As the separate stories of the two young girls, both passionate about their art and horses, unfolds secrets, tragedies but also hope and warmth are revealed.

Maisie takes her courage and determination from Rose’s history and gradually her artwork finally begins to please her tutor technically but it is her attachment to a horse name Claude that breathes the life and emotion into her painting.

Like her other books, this will appeal to both the ‘horsey’ girls but also the ones who love adventure and mystery stories. Recommended highly for readers from around 8 years upwards.

Bring on the Empty Horses, so the old saying goes…….


…though these are far from ’empty………..


As my village knows Miss Small has now been riding for about 18 months and is about to compete in her second show tomorrow (last show she got a first in her class of Beginner Rider!) so despite a lifetime in almost total ignorance of riding, except for some childhood excursions with my horse-mad cousin, I am now plunged into a new world.


As a teacher-librarian I am well aware that the love of ‘horsey’ books never diminishes and as it happens I’ve acquired quite a few over the past few months – all of them delightful!

First up, the continuation of Starlight Stables:

Starlight Stables: Brumby Rescue (Book 5) – Soraya Nicholas




January 2, 2018


RRP: $12.99

This delightful and engaging series continues with young Poppy bidding on an extremely beautiful brumby at auction, fully convinced she can tame him. Everyone else thinks she’s crazy!  The task proves more difficult than Poppy could imagine but this series is about determination and passion and Poppy is not about to give up on her dream. And as usual, Aunt Sophie is ever helpful. After a few contretemps, she suggests a camp out at the Barmah Muster and thinks it’s possible that Storm could be up for it, given enough training. After all, it will allow Poppy to take Storm to his own stamping grounds and maybe give her the edge she needs to truly win his confidence with her.

While Poppy works with Storm when she can, Sophie also trains him while Pops is at school. Together they make a formidable team of rider and horse. Even though Poppy adores her pony Crystal, there is something so special about wild Storm that excites her so much that she is determined to make him just as awesome as the other horses in the stables.  When Storm begins to respond, Poppy and Sophie both know they have a very special horse on their hands. Roll on the Barmah Muster!

Starlight Stables: Barmah Brumbies (Book 6) – Soraya Nicholas




January 2, 2018


RRP: $12.99


What could possibly be more exciting for three horse-mad girls than a five day trail ride through a national park camping out and spotting wild brumbies? Well of course, not much!  Not only do the girls get to experience a fabulous adventure but they also learn much about the origins and history of the brumby population and also, why some locals would rather those wild horses be gone from the bush. In the process there is also much to be learned about other introduced species such as the fox and while measures to contain these seem cruel to the girls, there is much sense in what is being done to preserve the native wildlife. For sensitive animal-loving children this can be a very fraught issue indeed and this book will do much to balance the argument.

Of course, adventures abound during the trail ride and the girls are up for almost anything – whether it’s ‘allowed’ or not.

Children who love horses will adore these books because they are not only necessarily ‘horsey’ but chockfull of horsiness, friendship, challenges and the Australian setting.


Competing for the Cup: (Ride: Book 2) – Bobbi JG Weiss


Walker Books

ISBN: 9780763698553
Imprint: Candlewick Entertainment

May 2018

RRP: $14.99

Apparently this is derived from a show on Nickelodeon, of which I plead ignorance, but feel that it’s possible I will be searching out DVDs before Christmas. I’ve not read the first in the series but it seems that young Kit Bridges has relocated to England (from USA) with her father Rudy, following her mother’s death. Rudy has taken on a position at an elite equestrian boarding school and Kit is now a pupil there. All in all, it’s been difficult for them both but there are positives, one of which is Kit’s favoured horse TK. However, TK is a tad problematic and while Kit is keen to overcome any difficulties, there is a great deal of pressure from the Head of School due to the need to keep the school’s standing right up in the higher echelons of riding. Needless to say, as a boarding school and a new girl therein, there are also other more personal problems with which to deal.


All in all, this is a pleasant but not demanding read and somewhat lacks the overall excitement and energy of other similar series. Despite that, it goes without saying that the horsey kids will still love it and there are plenty of both boy and girl characters with whom to become engaged.


The Promise Horse – Jackie Merchant


Walker Books

ISBN: 9781760650568
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Release Date: July 1, 2018

RRP: $16.99


I really loved this book. It’s not just horsey but explores many nuances of family life and relationships. Harry is pretty upset when she and her parents move from the city to the country to be nearer her grandparents. This is  not because she doesn’t love her grandparents nor because she doesn’t want the promised horse as ‘recompense’ for the move but moreso because she hates being the new kid in school – especially the overly tall, gawky red-headed kid with the dead sister. Harry still hears Sissy constantly – a problem for her parents and clearly the counsellors but Harry knows that she is not ready to let Sissy go.

The ‘promised horse’ appears in the form of a borrowed ex-show horse called Marksman who is as out-of-place as Harry due to his huge size. Accustomed only to the school ponies in the city, Harry has her work cut out for her as she learns to gain confidence with Marksman and override the helicopter concerns of her mother. She also has to deal with a school bully who also rides but when she sees Billy’s problems with his father, she develops real insight into his attitude.

Harry’s progress working out issues with bullying while making new friends, her mother’s grief and her own reluctance to let go of Sissy makes for compelling reading for both boys and girls. The horsey readers will also really appreciate the details of Harry’s training and first gymkhana.

Fabulous read for kidlets from around 8 years upwards.


Horses Wild & Tame – Iris Volant/Jarom Vogel


Flying Eye Books

ISBN 9781911171324

January 2018

RRP : $27.99


I just LOVE the Flying Eye non-fiction books that come my way and naturally this one was extremely well-received by both myself and Miss Small. Always elegant and a visual treat, these books are the kind to be pored over at length. This one traces the origins of the horse and then explores the many variations, legendary incarnations, domesticity, uses and evolution of this superb animal. It includes interesting information such as the formation of the hoof and famous or iconic horses and will beguile a horse lover for hours.  This is Jarom Vogel’s first foray into illustration and is both striking and engaging and a wonderful match for the text.

This is one that will not make its way to the library shelves but remain firmly on our own so that Miss Small can continue to revel in its beauty and revelations.


The Thunderbolt Pony –Stacey Gregg



Harper Collins Australia

  • ISBN:9780008257019
  • ISBN 10: 0008257019
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – GB

September 2017

RRP $26.99


Stacey Gregg’s series of which this is the fifth has been a stellar hit with my ‘horsey girls’. And though I’m not particularly horsey myself (aside from paying for Miss Small’s passion) I have thoroughly enjoyed them as well as each weaves some excellent factual and historical information into the narratives.

In this newest book it is not only the devastating impact of the Christchurch earthquakes which form a dramatic part of the plot but the little-explored incidence of mental illness in children. Although society is becoming more open about such illnesses, rarely I have seen references or certainly novels which take on such concepts.

Evie is 12, her father is gravely ill with cancer and she and her mother are dealing with this trauma as best they can. For Evie, her anxiety over her father has manifested into OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) which is having significant impact on her everyday life. When her tiny town of Parnassus is evacuated due to the severity of earthquakes, Evie refuses to leave without her beloved pony. Her mother has been injured so does not know that Evie has rejected the evacuation plan and has, instead, set out cross country with Gus, her pony, plus Moxy the cat and Jack the dog. Facing many situations which require initiative and daring, Evie’s mental health is tested to its limits.

This is a thrilling adventure for girls and one which will offer them real insight into the acuity that mental pressures/ill-health can impose on children just like themselves.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.


Teaching Guide here

The Diamond Horse – Stacey Gregg


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Harper Collins

          ISBN: 9780008124403

         ISBN 10: 000812440X

         Imprint: HarperCollins – GB


         List Price: 14.99 AUD

I’ve bought two of the previous books in this series for my library but not had the chance to read either so I was very glad to receive this one for review.

Of course the horsey girls will love it (as they have done the others) but the historical facts on which it is based are also quite fascinating.

Two very different Russian girls and two very different special horses are separated by time but linked by a very special diamond necklace.

Anna Orlov lives in a magnificent palace in the often frozen Russian wilds surrounded by a menagerie of animals. They’re not pets exactly although two become so for the girl, rather they are part of the breeding program for which her highly-ranked father is famous throughout the empire. In the late 18th century Count Alexei Orlov was one of the most powerful men at Catherine’s court (not least because he was a conspirator in the overthrow of Tsar Peter III so that his wife, Catherine, could take the throne).  After Anna’s beloved mother dies, life with her cold-hearted father and her cruel older brother becomes almost unbearable as she discovers more and more about the darker side of both. Her only memento of her mother is a beautiful black diamond necklace that is rumoured to have special powers.

Anna’s father is given the credit for breeding the now famous Orlov trotters after he brings home a beautiful Arabian stallion to cross breed with the best of Russian horses but it is really Anna who saves the stallion’s foal and raises him secretly to become the foundation of the breed.


Valentina Romanov is an orphan trapped in a circus where she performs with her unusual looking horse, Sasha. She has however big dreams that go way beyond the tawdry and poor life she has at the mercy of her so-called benefactor, the ringmaster. Valentina has only one precious possession – the same black diamond necklace that once belonged to the Orlovs. [Her character is based on Alexandra Korelova who won Olympic gold with her Orlov trotter Balagur – also a former circus horse!]

The two stories run parallel and refer to many actual people and events fictionalised into this really compelling story.  After reading the novel I just had to go and look up the histories of both girls which proved just as interesting as the book.

I loved this – it was a great read and I can see why the girls in my library took to the others so readily.

Highly recommended for readers from around 8 upwards.

Watch Alexandra and Balagur here to see just how truly beautiful this breed is!


The murderous Count Orlov




Fabish: the Horse that Braved a Bushfire – Neridah McMullin/Andrew McLean



ISBN: 9781925266863

Allen & Unwin

Imprint: A & U Children

August 2016

RRP $24.99


When we read of the most calamitous events in history it is the displays of courage and heroism that lift us up from despair and provide us with hopefulness for the future. In many cases it is the bravery of humans that so inspire us but at times it is an exceptional animal.

Fabish was not a very successful racehorse during his days on the racetracks but he had a big heart and smart sense which he put to the very best of use during the horrific Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.

Following his retirement from racing, Fabish became a ‘mentor’ for yearlings at Tampirr Farm not far from Healesville. He proved perfect for the job as he kept them steady and showed them what was expected of potential champion racehorses.

When the raging bushfires began their deadly encroachment across the district trainer Alan knew he would be hard-pressed to keep the stabled horses safe and decided to risk saving Fabish and the yearlings by releasing them from their paddock.  He had no idea just how ferocious those fires would be and when at last the danger passed and he surveyed the wreckage of the property he despaired of ever seeing Fabish or the yearlings again. Yet miraculously as the smoke cleared and the ash drifted down from the hills came Fabish leading his seven young charges, all of them without even a singed hair.

An amazing true story which has a powerful impact and is so beautifully illustrated by Andrew McLean, whose talent for portraying the Australian landscapes is unsurpassed.

Highly recommended for readers from around seven and up and would certainly earn its place in any learning situation focused on natural disasters or Australian history.

Below is a photo and extract from the Let’s Go Horse Racing website in 2010 when Fabish was honoured before the start of the Healesville Picnic Races.

A year ago this Sunday fire roared through the township of Narbethong, approximately 21 kilometres from Healesville, and across Tarnpirr Farm, a 500 acre horse property owned by trainer Cliff Brown and his father Don.

Amazingly, none of the valuable racing stock on the property was lost, nor injured, thanks to the bravery of trainer and farm manager Alan Evett and the instincts of Fabish.

The 14-year-old grey gelding, who was prepared by premier trainer Mick Price during his racing career, sprung into action to save seven yearlings he was ‘mentoring’ in an outer farm paddock.

famish and the yearlings

Mrs Whitlam – Bruce Pascoe



Magabala Books

Author: Bruce Pascoe

Published: Jun 2016

ISBN: 9781925360240

Ages: Middle primary, Upper primary, Young Adult


I am very quickly becoming very enamoured of Bruce Pascoe’s writing for young people (not to mention for adults). He is really deft at making his young adult characters believable and contemporary without relying on current vernacular or props to make them so.


Marnie is horse mad but from a family that precludes her from owning one of her own. But a woman in her town who has sadly lost her daughter gives Marnie not only the horse but all its tack. Unfortunately, even owning her own horse and being a competent rider doesn’t quite cut it with the other teens at pony club. Their attitude towards an Aboriginal girl in their midst is far from welcoming particularly when she is riding a Clydesdale called Mrs Whitlam.


However Marnie has a strong family and her own inner strength. When she and Maggie (aka Mrs Whitlam) rescue a child from the surf and seals a growing friendship with George Costa, the Golden Boy of the school, she becomes a heroine and her acceptance in a worthy circle of friends is confirmed.


This is an evocative text which illustrates the sometimes sly racist attitudes in Australian towns but is never ‘preachy’ which makes it all the more powerful.

Marnie and Maggie make a formidable duo and not least of all because of their individual strengths and loyalty.
Highly recommended for readers in Upper  Primary to Lower Secondary.