Horses, Hearts, and Healing – Stand-Alone Middle Grade Horse Books That Leave You Smiling or Crying.

Any child who’s been fortunate enough to spend time with a horse knows they are mirrors for our own feelings and emotions. It’s no wonder they are used so often in literature as a metaphor for healing, change, and individual freedom. The following list of non-series, single-title horse books, take us on journeys by horseback. They leave the reader feeling sated, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always with the fullness of having reached the end at a gallop.


Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff (2009)

Wild Girl is a story about a Brazilian girl named Lidie and a racehorse filly called Wild Girl, the same nickname Lidie’s deceased mother used to call her. As Lidie is moving from Brazil to New York to join her horse-trainer father and jockey brother, Wild Girl is leaving her farm in South Carolina to start her life as a race horse. In New York, Lidie and Wild Girl share the feeling of being alone in a new place. Lidie doesn’t understand the language of her new country, Wild Girl doesn’t understand the language of humans. Together, they find the trust needed to adjust to the changes in their lives. This is a sweet story about change, acceptance, and how families grow together after time apart. And about a girl who was born to ride and the thoroughbred who helps her prove it. This is a sweet father, daughter story.


Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri (2011)

Who knew there were urban cowboys in north Philadelphia? And not your John Wayne white cowboys, but black ones, just like Cole. When Cole gets caught tagging the cafeteria at his Detroit middle school, his mom drives him through the night to meet the father he’s never known. Harper, his daddy, is the real McCoy, a real black Cowboy living the Cowboy Way. At first, Cole wants nothing to do with the horses or his father’s way of life in this odd patch of broken down Philadelphia ghetto. But it doesn’t take long before he’s made friends with a scared horse he names Boo. When the city threatens to shut down and bulldoze the stables, Cole proves to everyone that he, too, is a cowboy. Just like his daddy. This book is a warm look into a real-life part of American culture that is not widely known. There are a few minor generic drug references comparing the lives of the kids at the stables to those in the gang-banging neighborhoods beyond their street.


Secret of the Night Ponies by Joan Hiatt Harlow (2009)

On the rocky coast of Newfoundland, ponies helped settlers clear the rugged land. But times are hard, people are moving inland, and the ponies are left on the islands to fend for themselves. Jessie Wheller is like the isolated cliffs she lives on, tough and cagey, and not afraid to do what’s right. After saving the passengers of a shipwrecked boat, Jessie accompanies them to the nearby town to visit her friends. While there, she rescues an orphan girl from an abusive foster home and discovers a mysterious corral of wild island ponies. When she and her friends discover the ponies are headed to the “knackers” for slaughter, they come up with a daring plan to save the ponies. And Jessie enlists her parents in a valiant plan to save Clara, the orphan. This adventure is full of Newfoundland vernacular and a seamless interweaving of plot and characters. Jessie is an amazing girl — strong, caring, and willing to stand up for what she believes in.


The Winter Pony by Iain Lawrence (2012)

James Prigg, as this white Manchurian pony was called by the sailors of Captain’s Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, narrates this heart-breaking story. From his capture in the hills of China, to his abuse at the hands of Mongolian horse-traders, to his eventual journey to the Antarctic, where he is treated kindly by men, but harshly by the environment, we follow this pony from his beginning to his end. Harsh, bitter, and cold is the world of the Pole. Men die, dogs die, and ponies die, but through it all James Prigg hangs onto his heart. This is not a book for a sensitive child, it is real and it is brutal. It does a great job of teaching about a time in history through the animal’s point of view and will most certainly bring up many excellent talking points on the ways in which man has used animals in his service, and the difference between true cruelty and knowing when to let an animal go. This is a beautifully written, impactful story, but prepare for tears.


Paint The Wind by Pam Munoz Ryan(2009)

Maya has lived with her paternal grandmother since the age of five, when her parents were killed. Her grandmother blames Maya’s mother for the accident. So Maya, while following her grandmother’s strict lifestyle, must content herself with the only memory she has of her mother, a collection of toy horses. When Maya’s grandmother has a stroke, the court orders Maya to be sent to Wyoming, to her mother’s family she didn’t know existed. At their rough horse camp, Maya learns she and her mother had more in common than she ever knew. And through the help of a wild tobiano mare named Artemisia, Maya finds her way to understanding herself.  This story alternates between Maya’s voice and passages from the point of view of Artemisia. Like all of Munoz Ryan’s books, the writing is richly evocative and poetic, painting gorgeous images as well as story.


The Fields of Praise by Patricia Leitch (1975)

In a style similar to that of Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks or Hilary McKay’s Saffy’s Angel, we enter the world of Gillian Caridia and her large eccentric family. Her father, a novelist, has moved his wife and seven children into a ramshackle mansion called Hallow’s Noon. Gillian, twelve, is terrified she’ll die before achieving her dream of riding in the Horse of the Year Show at Wembley. When exploring the land surrounding her family’s new home, Gillian stumbles upon a fog-laden field that is home to the perfect dapple grey pony, Perdita. The pony’s owner, Mr. Ramsey, agrees to let Gillian care for Perdita and eventually show her. This novel is about reaching your wildest dream, then having to let it go with grace. Sad but heartwarming with a delightful cast of perfectly quirky British characters and pony girls.


Jaye Robin Brown has been riding horses and reading horse books since the age of five. Now she lives on a small farm in Western North Carolina where horses feature prominently in much of her writing.

  1. Horse books got me through my horse-less but otherwise happy childhood. Ghetto Cowboy is awesome! As a kid, I also loved A Horse Called Bonnie, a series of books based in the horse racing world, The Monday Horses, and A Very Young Rider.

  2. Oh, I absolutely loved PAINT THE WIND. And I love how horse stories always get such beautiful covers.

    • @Marcia, I hadn’t thought about covers, but you’re right. But then, horses are so gorgeous.

  3. Great post! I know so many ten year old girls (friends of my son) who are horse-crazy. My son, on the other hand, is girl-crazy!

    • @Ali B., Ha, my son decided tagging along to horse shows was an okay idea for the same reason. :0)

  4. When I was a kid, I read any book I could find with a horse involved. It was my way of having the horse I never actually got to have.

    • @Barbara Watson, Me too! I did finally get a horse at age 12.

  5. My husband and I love to drive around all the horse farms on the weekend. That is one awesome thing about living in KY–the backdrop of the bluegrass spotted with beautiful horses:) Thanks for the book recommendations!

    • @Deana Barnhart, Kentucky is gorgeous. My mare, Chelsea Rose, was born there. :0)

  6. My daughter is a horse lover – she’s been riding since the tender age of 5. A girl and her horse are inseparable. There really is something special to that relationship.

    Thank you for an insightful post! And some great books to add to our TBR pile!

    • @amie borst, Oh cool! That’s when I started riding – shetland ponies at a local stable.

  7. There seem to be horsey people and non-horsey people. I think for readers as well. I never grew up around horses so I’m not horsey but they are beautiful animals. Still, I loved Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka as a child so maybe books are a way to convert the non-horsey to horsey.

    • @PragmaticMom, I actually went on Youtube after reading Ghetto Cowboy and watched videos of the guys and their stables. And Winter Pony is a fascinating account of Captain Scott’s failed voyage to reach the South Pole. I still read Black Beauty about every other year. It’s the macaroni and cheese of books to me.

  8. A great list to consider for horse lovers of all ages. Thanks for the reviews.

  9. Thanks for the reviews, Jaye. THE FIELDS OF PRAISE sounds like a story I’d really enjoy. ^_^

    • @Angelina C. Hansen, It’s funny, I never read it as a child. A friend gifted it to me, it was her childhood book and I adored it. But then I love those layered family stories.

  10. Lovely post, J Ro!

    • @Michele Weber Hurwitz, Thank you!

  11. Thanks Margo – that’s so neat about your mother – I’m going to check out her book.

  12. Lovely reviews, Jaye Robin! My mom was a horse person (she wrote Scholastic’s A HORSE CALLED HOLIDAY) and was always saying, “Horses are people, too.” She’d have loved to read these. Thank you for sharing these and for expressing the special place in children’s lives that horses can be a part of.