Always read stuff that will make you look good
if you die in the middle of it.

P. J. O'Rourke

The Horse Lover's Library
The Four-Foot Shelf of Horse Books

Here's a four foot shelf of horse books (well, maybe not exactly four feet but we're working on it) to help you in your search.
Most of these we own, some were borrowed from friends or from the library. Doesn't matter - all have been read, enjoyed, and reviewed. In the reviews you'll see a little about the book and in certain cases whom it might be best intended for.

There's a search box at the bottom of the page if you wish to find out more about a book, order a book, or look up another book.

You'll find reviews for-

  • Biography and Fiction
  • Coffee Table Books
  • Books about Horses and Horsemanship
  • Books on Horse Care
  • Books on Riding and Driving
  • and a book or two in the "Misc" Category

Biography and Fiction:

  • All the Pretty Horses An adventure on horseback into old Mexico with a bittersweet ending. The movie was good, the book far better.

  • The Horse Whisperer The horse is definitely the star of the show. The movie is as good as the book, almost. The book has a different ending.

  • Seabiscuit We have not read the book but enjoyed the movie immensely. Movies are generally not made from poor books, so expect a good read. (A friend of ours, a racing fan, told us the book is far better than the movie.


The Coffee Table Books

  • The New Encyclopedia of the Horse by E.H. Edwards on many favorites lists, is our favorite horse book and one we highly recommend.

      This very attractive book begins with a chapter on the origins and evolution of the horse, moves to a discussion of early uses of the animal, describes Eastern and Islamic influence on equine history, the origins of the various breeds, and the horses introduction to America. The by-breed desciptions, while brief, are very informative. Besides its elegant appearance, The Encyclopedia of the Horse is jam-packed with information.

    • Horses of the Sun by Robert Vavra is a marvel of photographic work.

      When you first browse through this book you will feel a sensation that there is something different about the photographs, they are something more than just great photographs. What occurred to us is that Vavra had captured the personality of each of the horses; you could see it in their eyes. Although the horses were running "free", you sensed they knew you were watching. You may also feel a slight tinge of sadness, the kind we sometimes feel when we see something very beautiful that is right there but if we reach out we can't quite touch it or claim it as out own.

      Robert Vavra has photographed six breeds in this work. The Arabian, Andalusian, Morgan, American Saddlebred, Peruvian Paso, and argueably the most photogenic of all, the Freisian. The photographs of Frans, the Fresian are, well, "magical".

      The photographs are accompanied by fine verse and at the end of the book you will read about each of the subjects that were photographed. These are preceded by fine narrative on the History of the Andalusian, the "steed of warriors and kings" by Valerie Hemingway.

      This is a fine, fine coffee table book which we can highly recommend.

    • In The Performance Horse: A Photographic Tribute David Stoecklein takes us inside the world of performance horses, turning his lens upon the superathletes of equestrian sport. The major disciplines are all featured: reining, cutting, barrel racing, and roping; hunter/jumper, three-day eventing, dressage, and driving, racing and polo. The Performance Horse is a visually stunning tribute to man's equine companions.

    • The Art of the Horse 1995 by John Fairley: With over 120 wonderful illustrations of classic paintings, drawings, statues and figures (primarily paintings) We believe The Art of the Horse would be a wonderful gift for the art lover with a passion for horses or the horse lover with an appreciation of fine art. Because of the many attractive illustrations this could make a fine coffee table book but the informative text on various aspects of horse art make this book a fine cover-to-cover read. The author covers quite a bit of ground but does not go into excruciating detail making this book an easy read yet informative and pleasing to the eye. Any owner of this book will likely read it more than once.

      After highlighting major contributions of the portrayal of horse in drawings and paintings by George Stubbs (anatomy) and Eadweard Muybridge (photographs of the horse in motion) the author delves into major works of ancient equine art, then develops four themes; The Sporting Horse, the Western Horse, The Hunter, and the War Horse depicting famous works of art in each theme.

      A recurring theme in the amply illustrated book is the devotion that the artists had for the animal, treating it as a companion and comrade rather than an object. These feelings are often very evident in the works portrayed.

      George Stubbs' "Whistlejacket" graces the jacket; truly one of the more beautiful horse paintings. Plates of other famous works of art include the prehistoric cave art of France, Rome's statue of Marcus Aurelius, The Four Horses of St Mark's in Venice, works by Rubens,Degas, Manet, Eakins, Remington, J F Herring's wonderful Horses Feeding in the Snow, and, near the end, Bev Doolittle's Woodland Encounter .

      (Note: Not certain that this book is in print - it may take some looking but well worth the effort if you can locate a copy).


    Books about Horses and Horsemanship

    • In Harmony With Your Horse by Clare Albinson

      A good choice for the individual just getting acquainted with the horse world, about to acquire a horse, or taking riding lessons for the first time. Albinson discusses the nature of horses, why they act the way they do, their temperament, and how best to ensure proper control over them.

      Emphasis is placed on kindness and patience coupled with appropriate discipline as the occasion demands. The final chapters address the issue of proper balance for both horse and rider. The text is easy to follow (pre-teen to adult. The author does not go into great detail but keeps the discussion at the beginners level. While we would not consider this a book for the seasoned horse owner, however the photography is excellent (coffee table quality) and would be enjoyed by any horse lover.

    • Ultimate Horse * A great reference book and useful for the new horse owner, by E. H. Edwards.

    • The Complete Book of Bits and Bitting *

      Every thing you ever wanted to know about bits and bitting. Elwyn Hartley Edwards combines a passion for horses with a scholarly approach to the subject. Great illustrations and interesting reading.

      We really enjoy this book. If the content doesn't place this book in the "coffee table" category, the layout certainly does. A good book for the horse lover with an inquiring mind.

      The title might suggest rather dry reading but it certainly is not. After an interesting and fact-filled history of bitting, Hartley goes into great detail regarding the mechanics and basic principles of bitting, describing the four categories of bits with numerous illustrations ( including a few very odd looking inventions). A section is devoted to fitting the bit, and worth noting, the bit is never treated as an independent entity but as part of a bit-bridle-rein-hands system.

      The maker of bits (and stirrups and spurs) by the way, is a Loriner.

      This book may not be necessary for the occasional rider but is a very good addition to the library of the serious horse person.

    • The Whole Horse Catalog has been on the scene for 25 years or more. While the book has undergone several editions, the material is essentially timeless. This book covers a wide range of topics and would be a very good choice as a "First Horse" book. There is valuable and detailed information on selecting a horse, horse care, apparel, tack, and equestrian activities. There are interesting sections on the history of tack, saddles, spurs, and attire which tell how we got to where we are today.

    • Dancing With Horses by Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling is a classic. The author lays out basic groundwork for training a horse with the initial focus on the horses point of view, its natural equlibrium, and means of communicating. An interesting and informative chapter suggests bareback riding sessions as the means of getting a true feeling of balance and unity with the horse. The foundations are well established before specific training exercises are introduced. The focus of Hempflings approach is that of achieving equilibrium with the horse. There is a companion video. This we believe is one of the best horse books out there.

    • Natural Horse-Man-Ship by Pat Parelli is not a horse-training book. It's a people-training book , a blend of concepts and exercises emphasizing a form of horse-human communication in which the human learns to speak "horse" to the horse. Parelli is internationally known and respected as a horseman and clinician.

      Parelli breaks down working with the horse into six themes, focusing in turn on atttitude, knowledge, tools, techniques, time, and imagination, applying these themes both on the ground and in the saddle.

    • "TRUE UNITY"- Tom Dorrance Talks About Horses ISBN 1-844995-09-8

      Tom Dorrance - a friend and mentor to many horse owners and contemporary trainers. He admits to having a problem putting his knowledge of horses into words, simply stating "What I know about the horse, I've learned from the horse". Many of his students admit that it sometimes took them awhile to catch on to exactly what Dorrance was trying to communicate.

      The book itself can be difficult to read in places, especially if you are looking for a "how-to" book, which this is not. Dorrance's specialty was problem horses and he notes that as each horse is a little different from the next and each rider is a litle different from the next, you can't use a cookie-cutter approach to working with a horse. True Unity needs to be studied, reread and thought about rather than read through one time only.

      True Unity contains both words of Tom Dorrance and words of many of his students, and friends. The reader is made aware of what Dorrance means by True Unity - the oneness of horse and rider achieved through understanding feeling, timing, and balance - not only from a physical standpoint but from the mental and spiritual facets of the horse as well. You start off with the basic concept that most of a horse's actions are rooted in it's powerful instinct for self-preservation.

      This isn't a book for the beginner but can help someone who has worked with horses a bit or who has taken lessons and are at the point where they are doing many things right but are beginning to encounter problems and not understanding why. Reading this book can bring one closer to the horse and become aware of what to be looking for. This is where the value of the book lies.

      One of the final segments summarizes a number of vital concepts, each one of significant value. This is as close to "how-to" as the book gets. This is a good book for one who has a true passion for horses and wishes to understand horses better.

      Tom Dorrance passed away in 2003. There is a Tom Dorrance website where you find out more about this amazing man.

    • BELIEVE - A Horsemans' Journey by Buck Brannaman and William Reynolds ISBN 1-59228-433-7

      BELIEVE consists of twelve stories by twelve indivuduals with each story being introduced by Buck Brannaman. The common themes running through the stories are how working with Brannaman and attending his clinics have helped these people with their horses and even more importantly how these people's lives have been affected by getting to better know their own horses.

      The stories address Overcoming the Past, Working Through Fear, Making the Right Thing Easy, The Spiritual PArt - and more.

      The book is an easy read, a page-turner than can be read through in two or three evenings. What it will do for you is make you want to spend more time with your horse and more time getting to understand your horse. This book together with Tom Dorrance's True unity would make nice bookend pieces to a collection of books on horsemanship. In fact Brannaman dedicated this book to Tom and Bill Dorrance, two of his mentors.

      Sometimes it can be helpful to learn the experience with others who have had trouble with their horses and for that matter their lives. It is in one sense a book about healing. This would be a wonderful book for the beginner. It is not a "How-To" book but neither is it so deep in horsemanship theory that a beginner would find it difficult.

      Three quotes from BELIEVE -

      About horses and people: "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care".

      "Horses don't lie. There are no hidden agendas. Just the pure truth".

      In the round pen: "There is no greater feeling than that experienced when a horse, it's head held low, slowly and silently from behind." I can vouch for that one.

    • First Horse * by Fran Devereux Smith
      (ISBN 0-911647-35-X)
      This is a fine introductory book for the new or prospective horse owner. The author covers the basics of good horsemanship and animal husbandry, steps in buying a horse (who to talk to and what to look for), handling of the new horse, both in the saddle and afoot, and the ongoing care of the horse. One of the more detailed chapters explains conformation and the "parts" of the horse. The book does not go into great detail on any particular subject but covers the fundamentals nicely. As one might expect from a magazine editor, the writing is clear and to the point. The description of the (Western) saddle is also fairly comprehesive and the reader gets a good understanding of the purpose of the various items of tack. The 20 chapters are short, averaging just over 8 pages a chapter with ample illustrations.

      The latter half of the book covers riding basics explaining the various cues used and emphasizes some basic training strategies; make it easier for the horse to do the right thing than the wrong thing, desensitization, repetition and reward. The basics of nutrition, grooming technique, hoof care, and the content of a beginning first aid kit round out the book.

      In most instances, the basics are provided and could be augmented with other books, trainers, or videos. The reading level of this book is roughly 6th grade and above.

      Story's Horse-Lover's Encyclopedia Edited by Deborah Burns 470pp - softbound

      This relatively recent book (2001), would make a fine gift for the novice horseman or horsewoman. You'll discover a wealth in information, covering the horse world in alphabetical order, ranging from one or two sentence definitons to discussions of a page or more on subjects such as horse care, foaling and foal care, conformation, poisonous plants, and more. This book literally provides a basic equine education from A to Z.

      You'll find facts and useful information on subjects ranging from Alfalfa Hay, Andalusian and Astrohippus to Conformation, Cribbing and Cutting, from Foal Care, Foot Care and Foxtrot to Lameness, Latches and Locks, and Leg Usage, from Parasites, Paso Fino and Pegasus to Xenophon, Yorkshire Trotter and Zebras.

      The sidebars are sprinkled with snippets of poetry, prose, and equine-related quotes, plus numerous useful illustrations (poisonous plants to name an example).

      At the end of the book is a listing of equine organizations, both general and by-breed with addresses and web site addresses.

    • Western Horsemanship *
      This book by Richard Shrake is part of the excellent Western Horseman series. Excellent narrative combined with many illustrations make this a helpful aid for the begining rider.

    Books on Horse Care

    • UC Davis Book of Horses

      One of the largest equine health programs in the country is found at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. The goal of the UC Davis Book of Horses is to provide basic information to horse owners seeking a better understanding of their horse's health, well-being, and performance. Nearly 40 experts have collaborated to produce ths book which contains among other subjects, diseases and disorders affecting the various body systems of the horse , e.g.

      • cardiovascular
      • digestive
      • nervous
      • respiratory
      • musculoskeletal

      infectious diseases, and special considerations for the aged horse.

      There is a chapter on emergency procedures to take before the vet arrives, a chapter on breeding and reproduction and a very comprehensive glossary of terms. The book begins with the history of the horse, and moves to characteristics of some of the major breeds and issues of conformation before delving into the medical issues. There are relatively few illustrations save for several showing the anatomy of the horse.

      This is a book that would be of value to any horse owner. In spite of the technical content it is directed towards the horse owner and lay person rather than to the veterinary practitioner. Prevention of disease and disorders is given the same emphasis as diagnosis and treatemnt. The book would be especially of value to the horse owner who lives more than a stones throw from the nearest veterinary clinic.

    • Emergency! The Active Horseman's Book of Emergency Care by Karen E.N. Hayes. Written for experienced horse people who know how to handle minor first aid and know when to call the vet, but the basic premise is what to do when you can't call the vet. We haven't seen a copy ourselves but it is highly recommended by others.

    • Horse Owner's Veterinary Handbook: Second Edition by James M. Giffen, MD and Tom Gore, DVM At over 500 pages this is not a book to be read cover to cover but is an excellent reference book for serious owners and breeders. Emergency! above, might be a better choice for the new horse owner.

    • Colin Vogel's Complete Horse Care Manual would be a good gift idea as a first book on horse care. An attractive book, with excellent graphics, this book covers all major aspects of caring for a horse. Topics discussed include basic care, daily routines, stabling, grooming, feeding, health, first aid, and types of tack and care.

      The author is an English veterinarian and, published in Great Britain, the illustrations reflect the english style. The book is not about riding or training however, so this is of no consequence to the western rider. It is about horse care, and the English know more than a bit about horses. This is one of the horse books that we do not hesitate to recommend, having a copy ourselves.

    • The Revised Horsemans Scrapbook*
      (ISBN 0-911647-07-4)
      One of the Western Horseman series of books, this is a fun book for someone with a few acres and fences, gates, and outbuildings to maintain. Many if not most of the ideas in this book are contributed by readers, and there are some very clever ideas indeed.

      Need to put in some fencing? temporary or permanent, and, if the latter, do you want it to last awhile? A variety of gates and gate latch ideas to go along with your fence are described.

      There's a section on ropes and knots; make an emergency bridle, a rope halter, or a decorative Alamar knot. A host of things to make from horseshoes, barrels, and wagon wheels. Useful ideas for tack and uses for leather remnants. Build a saddletree, make a hatband, block a hat, even truck and trailering tips will be found in this book. Lots and lots of information crammed into about 140 pages.

      Not a horse book, but a companion to The Horseman's Scrapbook, is Building Small Barns, Sheds, and Shelters by Monte Burch (ISBN 0-88266-245-7).
      A simple horse shelter is about a simple a structure as there is, still it's nice to know the best way to do it so it won't fall over! Even if the barn, shed or shelter is to be done by a contractor, its good to be knowledgable about what is going on. In that sense, this how-to book is a good and inexpensive investment.


    Books on Riding and Driving

    • The Art of Driving * This may be the premier book on the subject, covering all aspects of driving in great detail.

    • Breaking and Training the Driving Horse by Doris Ganton. If one is planning to take up driving, and train a horse to do so in the process, this is a nice book. Not to lengthy (80 pages) but packed full of all the right information.

    • Carriage Driving: A Logical Approach Through Dressage Training by Heike Bean and Sarah Blanchard Another book we have not yet seen but is highly recommended by others. Addresses driving from the perspectives of horses psyche and mechanics, choosing proper bit and harness, and preparation of the horse (as well as the driver> through ground training.

    • Dressage from A to X A bestseller in this category, a guide to both riding and competing.

    • Dressage Essentials by Jane Kidd As the title indicates this is a book which explains the essentials of dressage rather than delving into advanced dressage riding or training.

    More to come - we may even hit five feet!

    As Promised, here's the Search Box if you wish to explore a little further.

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