Book clubs and top reading lists seldom list books with animal characters. For those who love dogs, horses, country living and such and aren’t apt to pick up the latest Danielle Steele or other popular author here’s a list of perhaps lesser known books that are still a good summer read!
1. Secretariat: The Making Of A Champion – by William Nack – A great horse, a great story and this book goes beyond statistics of his racing days. It digs below the surface to the horses in his pedigree and the awe with which they were held in their time. The focus of the book of course is on “Big Red” – Triple Crown winner. Factual book but reads like a novel – for the casual horse lover, racing fan or animal lover there’s a lot of information here. Not overlooked is Riva Ridge, a horse who may have been a standout any other time except for being stablemate to a horse some call the horse of the century.
2. Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men – Donald McCaig. More famous for his fictional tale “Nop’s Trials” (also a good read) it’s this book that is based on fact that brings a special look into historical border collies, legendary breeders and trial competitors in Scotland and England. An interesting look at a world few know exist and fewer get to take part in. I enjoyed this book enough that I named my border collie Gael – and although she’s since gone this book still whispers memories of her and other great dogs.
3. Three Strides Before The Wire – Elizabeth Mitchell. A real life look at the good the bad and the sometimes ugly world of horse racing. This book doesn’t gloss over tragedy happens, touching on the tragic loss of Chris Antley and highlights of his bid for the Triple Crown with Charismatic. Well written and for those who remember the misstep at the wire of the Belmont it delves into Chris’ desperate attempts to look after Charismatic in the moments before anyone else could get to them. With both now gone it’s a chance to memorialize them both in a way.
4. Great Horse Racing Mysteries – John McEvoy. With facts laid out and sometimes unsolved mysteries this book goes into the horsenapping of the great Shergar, the theft of Franfreluche and other mysteries of the horse world that have been in the news in years past. If you like true life stories this book is a winner!
5. Gold Buckle Dreams – David G Brown – an autobiography of rodeo champion and country singer Chris LeDoux before he became a country singer. This book offers a new insight and appreciations for the people and the horses themselves that appear in rodeo arenas from little local rodeos to the PRCA finals. Another true story.
6. Dark Horse – Muriel Lennox – this one can be a little tougher to find but is a tale of Nearctic, a Thoroughbred in many pedigrees today but that not a lot is known about. The events in history not just in racing but the world – and moving prized horses out of Europe due to the war – brings up things we often don’t think about.
7. The Power of Horses – Lisa Wysocky – if you like country music and horses this is your book!! An easy read with stories from the likes of Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, Chris LeDoux and many more.
8. Native Dancer – The Grey Ghost Hero of a Golden Age – John Eisenberg. One of the first real life equine stars of television was a beautiful colt that became a major part of Thoroughbred history, Native Dancer. This is a glimpse not only of his performances on the track but a look at the colt that in 1953 TV Guide named one of the most popular figures along with Arthur Godfrey and Ed Sullivan.
9. Horse of A Different Color – Jim Squires – This one is a bit dry in spots but a good read nevertheless. The story of a small breeder of Thoroughbreds that foaled an overlooked grey colt that was supposed to die. The colt not only didn’t die and overcame his problems but he won the Kentucky Derby in a time just off that of the great Secretariat.
10.The Unsettling Of America – Culture & Agriculture – by Wendell Berry. Truly a man ahead of his time this book was written in 1977 and many things in these pages have come to pass since then. Indirect in animals, it’s a look at farming – where it’s been, where it’s headed and in some cases where it is now. Worth the read and an eye opener about our food supply.
11. Seabiscuit – Laura Hillenbrand. Made into a movie of the same name that gathered much attention – if you haven’t read the book pick it up and do so. The book captures so much information and details that the movie simply couldn’t. Fascinating look at a horse discounted, overlooked then with the right handling by a group of people some would say do everything wrong he becomes a champion. Another true story that couldn’t be made up in the way it really happened for it’d be said it’s too unbelievable.
12.Lad of SunnyBank – Albert Payson Terhune. If you’ve never read the books of Lad, Grey Dawn and the other collies of SunnyBank hunt these down and do so. Although older books they are glorious stories of collies before “Lassie” and great tales of wonderful dogs.
13. Big Red/Irish Red/Outlaw Red – Jim Kjelgaard – a trio of books that are classics. What Lassie is to collies Big Red and his sons are to Irish Setters. Good stories, one of which was made into a Disney movie many years ago.
14. Where The Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls – A classic that some haven’t heard of. A tale of coonhounds and devotion of a dog that we are lucky to get once in a lifetime. Don’t watch the movie – the book captures many things film can’t.
15. Lassie Come Home – Eric Knight – what would a list of new and classic books be without this tale of a stubborn collie who treks through near impossible conditions to get where she wants to be – home with her owner.
It’s true some of these books are older and some probably read them as a child. Pick them up – read them again with a dog at your feet. Escape from daily life with a ride on a Thoroughbred. Smell the heavy air of a night while hounds bay on the scent of a coon. Watch in your mind a red colt with blue and white blinkers drawing away from the best colts in America for the sheer joy of running. Taste the disappointment and uncertainty watching a rider cradling the foot of a colt that stumbled ever so slightly costing him a chance in history. Take a ride with some of the greatest stories and get to know the animals behind these books.