Horse Lover’s Guide to Staying Inside, Part 2: Books

Pop Culture
WikiMedia Commons/Abhi Sharma

Hi again! When I put together part one of this series, I made a glaring oversight. I cannot believe I forgot to put books in the first installment of this series. The shame! So here’s the list of amazing equine books for you to dive into if you’re practicing social distancing. And holy moly, do I owe a huge thank you to everyone on Twitter who helped with the recommendations!

I believe I credited everyone correctly, but if I didn’t, I’m so sorry. Note: I’m putting all of the links to the Kindle editions of these books where I can, since I figure that e-readers are the way to go during a pandemic. Remember to wipe down your phones, everyone!


Every book written by Natalie Keller Reinert – This is one of my favorite fiction authors out there. She writes about the horse life from racing to the show ring, and she knows what she’s talking about. Everything I’ve read of hers is accurate, informative, and by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. My favorites are "Other People’s Horses" and "Ambition," but literally everything is wonderful.

Horse Heaven, by Jane Smiley – Hat tip to @dsilver88 and @ponyace for this one! This novel, told from the perspective of everyone from a jockey to a Jack Russell Terrier, is a careful balance of reverence for horses; a study of human perversity; and a look inside the anachronistic, glorious, strange world of horse racing.

Rita Mae Brown’s Sister Jane series – Thanks, @NancyDickens5 for the recommendation! These fun mysteries center around “Sister” Jane Arnold, master of the prestigious Jefferson Hunt Club in Virginia. These novels are a ton of fun and are the perfect page-turners for these trying times! (I should note that this link leads you to a 13-book package. Feel free to start at book one and go from there!)

The Horse Dancer, by Jojo Moyes – I haven’t read this yet, so thank you to @BmoreJocelyn for letting me know about it! This is (I think; I mean, I’m getting this from the synopsis) the story of a young girl named Sarah, her horse Boo, her ailing grandfather, and her mentor, Natasha. It sounds way better than I’m describing it, I promise!

Missionville, by Alex Brown – Thank you, @stormkittycat! This novel centers around Pete, his love of horses, and the dark side of a racetrack called Missionville. Pete travels from Harrisburg, Pa., to Quebec, Canada to try to restore humanity to a racing world that’s lost its way.

Any and all Dick Francis novels – Thank you, @ButlerLes! If you love mysteries, Dick Francis is going to be right up your alley. I grew up reading these books with my dad, most of which center around the horse racing world in the U.K. They’re fast, gripping reads, which is the perfect thing for these times.

The Dressage Chronicles, by Karen McGoldrick – Thanks, @nrusso! When Lizzie’s boyfriend says, “It’s me or the horse!” the decision is easy. She embarks on a journey to being a working student at an elite dressage barn, where she gets an education about more than just horse sports.


The Eighty Dollar Champion, by Elizabeth Letts – Thanks, @BmoreJocelyn for the recommendations for the next two books! “The Eighty Dollar Champion” is the unbelievable true story of Snowman, a horse purchased off of a truck bound for the slaughterhouse who became one of the best show jumpers in the world.

Rough Magic, by Lara Prior-Palmer – Riding in the Mongolian Derby has been a dream of mine since I first heard about it, so I am definitely going to read this autobiography about a 19-year-old who rode in the world’s longest horse race!

My Guy Barbaro, by Edgar Prado – Thanks to @littlesixx6! Grab your tissues before you read this book about the triumph and heartbreak surrounding the life and death of Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner, as told by his Hall of Fame jockey, Edgar Prado.  

American Pharoah: Triple Crown Champion, by Joe Drape – Thank you, @littlesixx6! He was finally the one: go inside the incredible story of American Pharoah, the horse that broke the 37-year Triple Crown drought.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand – Thank you, @reainusa@sczen, and @Joe_Nevills! A true classic, "Seabiscuit" is the story of a little racehorse who overcame the odds to uplift American during the Great Depression.

Out of the Clouds, by Linda Carroll and David Rosner – Thanks, @mbauerherzog and @TheSirBarton! This is the story of Stymie, an unwanted racehorse, and Hirsch Jacobs, the trainer who overcame poverty to develop Stymie into the most popular horse of his time.

From the Desert to the Derby, by Jason Levin – Thank you, @RealKennyWoo! This sounds so good: step inside the ruling family of Dubai’s quest to win Kentucky Derby glory though the billions of dollars spent and the power and ego struggles underlying the journey.

Book signing with author Jennifer Kelly. (Julie June Stewart photo)

Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown, by Jennifer Kelly – Thank you, @theSirBarton! The very first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton had royal breeding but a troubled start to life, including a winless 2-year-old season and a near-fatal illness. This is the incredible story of the horse who began the greatest quest in horse racing.

Kelso: The Horse of Gold, by Linda Kennedy – Thank you, @MarginMaine! Small and unassuming, Kelso would become one of the greatest racehorses of his generation. He beat Triple Crown winners, ran on turf and dirt, and is considered by some to be the greatest racehorse of all time.  

Justify: 111 Days to Triple Crown Glory, by Lenny Shulman – Thanks, @theSirBarton! In 2018, Justify broke the “Curse of Apollo” to become the first horse to not run as a 2-year-old to win the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882. Five weeks later, he became the 13th Triple Crown champion. This is his story.

Rascals and Racehorses: A Sporting Man's Life, by Cot Campbell – Thank you, @nrusso! Cot Campbell was the pioneer of syndicated ownership in horse racing, and he was also one of the great characters in the sport of kings. You’ll love his memoir about his life and times around the track.

Keeneland's Ted Bassett: My Life, by Ted Bassett and Bill Mooney – Thank you, @AHughesNTRA! Ted Bassett was the powerhouse who took Keeneland from a small racetrack to the elite racing venue and auction house of modern times. One of the greats of the game, Bassett’s story is captivating, motivating, and uplifting.

Country Life Diary, by Josh Pons – Thanks to @MarginMaine, @nrusso, and @Maggie_Kimmett! This book about the daily life of a racehorse breeding farm is only available in paperback, but it sounds incredible and very representative of real life.

The Inside Track, by Donna Barton Brothers – Thanks, @chloesmom28! If you’re new to horse racing, this is the ultimate insider’s guide on how to have the best day at the races. And you can trust Donna – not only is she a former jockey, she’s also the person who interviews riders from horseback after huge races like the Kentucky Derby!

The Lucky Thirteen, by Edward L. Bowen – Thanks, @theSirBarton! Ed Bowen is one of horse racing’s greatest historians, and you’ll love this rich look at the 13 horses who have captured the Triple Crown.

The Sure Thing: the Greatest Coup in Horse Racing, by Nick Townsend – Thank you, @RealKennyWoo! This description from reader @RealKennyWoo is enough to get me to read this book: “An amazing and hilarious tale about a betting coup in England pulled off by a priest-turned-trainer (seriously).”

The Ghost Horse, by Joe Layden – Thank you, @MarginMaine and @littlesixx6! This is the true story of Lisa’s Booby Trap, a club-footed, one-eyed filly and her owner-trainer who had recently lost his wife to cancer.

Battleship, by Dorothy Ours – Thanks, @amotion1 for the book rec! This one’s definitely going on my list: it’s the incredible story of a teenage jockey, an unconventional heiress, and the horse that was known as “the American pony” for his tiny stature. GIMME.

Three Strides Before the Wire, by Elizabeth Mitchell – Thanks, @RoxanneCam1012 and @Maggie_Kimmett! Available in paperback and hardcover, this book is focused on the dark, yet beautiful story of Charismatic and his jockey Chris Antley. I know I’m both going to love this and cry a lot reading it.

Not by a Long Shot, by TD Thornton – Thanks, @jmpaquette! Get an insider’s look at Suffolk Downs, the Boston racetrack that fell on hard times. A realistic look at the triumphs and tragedies of a small racetrack, this is one I definitely want to read.

Tarnished Crown, by Carol Flake – Thanks, @ponyace and @nrusso! Available in hardcover, this is the story of a year in the life of racehorse Chief’s Crown from his 2-year-old season at Saratoga to his Triple Crown bid.

The Horse God Built: The Untold Story of Secretariat, the World's Greatest Racehorse, by Lawrence Scanlan – Thank you, @terrivkeith and @nrusso! You may think you know the story of Secretariat, but this book looks at Big Red through the eyes of his groom, Eddie Sweat. This is an incredible story of the bond between horse and human from the perspective of the man who cared for the one and only Secretariat.

Falling for Eli, by Nancy Shulins – Thanks, @nrusso! All Nancy Shulins wanted was a family of her own; but when fertility struggles quashed that dream, she turned to a horse named Eli to heal and build a new future.

Chosen by a Horse, by Susan Richards – Thank you, @MarginMaine! This memoir chronicles the author’s life caring for horses rescued by the ASPCA and her special bond with a starving mare called Lay Me Down.

Sham: Great Was Second Best, by Phil Dandrea – Thank you, @theSirBarton! Everyone knows Secretariat, but his rival Sham is a fascinating story in his own right. This is the biography of the horse that would have been remembered as one of the greats had he been born any other year.

Horse of a Different Color, by Jim Squires – Thank you, @terrivkeith! This is the incredible story of the Chicago newspaper editor who bred Monarchos, the 2001 Kentucky Derby winner.

Ouija Board: A Mare in a Million, by Lord Derby – Thank you, @terrivkeith! If you love a globetrotting mare who beat the boys, you’ll adore this book about Ouija Board as told by her owner, the Earl of Derby.

Secretariat, by William Nack – Thank you, @RealKennyWoo@nrusso, and @TedMcClelland! One of the best books about one of the best horses in history, “Secretariat” is a deep dive into the heroic racehorse and the people who believed in him. Available in paperback and audiobook.

Wild Ride: The Rise and Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach – Thank you,@RealKennyWoo! This is the story of the farm founded in 1924 and the incredible highs and lows of one of horse racing’s great dynasties.

Duel for the Crown, by Linda Carroll and David Rosner – Thank you, @TheSirBarton! This is the story of Affirmed, Alydar, and racing’s greatest rivalry.

Spectacular Bid: the Last Superhorse of the Twentieth Century, by Peter Lee  – Thank you, @TheSirBarton! “The Bid” was called “the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle.” See why in this moving biography of one of the best Thoroughbreds of all time.

Mr. Darley’s Arabian, by Christopher McGrath – Thank you, @poloshot! This traces the lineage of the Darley Arabian, an unraced stallion who became one of the foundations of the Thoroughbred breed, through 25 generations of progeny.

The Great Sweepstakes of 1877: A True Story of Southern Grit, Gilded Age Tycoons, and a Race That Galvanized the Nation, by Mark Shrager – Thank you, @poloshot!  In 1877, the United States Senate suspended all business so that they could watch a horse race. Why? Because this race embodied the North vs. South in the era directly following the Civil War. Sounds like a good read to me!

Here Comes Exterminator!, by Eliza McGraw – Thank you, @TheSirBarton! This is a compelling book about a gangly, longshot colt who became a Kentucky Derby winner and an American hero during the Great War. (@TheSirBarton recommends all of McGraw’s books, but I’ve read this one and it’s wonderful!)

Ruffian: Burning from the Start, by Jane Schwartz – Thank you, @MichelleYu@jeremybalan@zenyattamafia, and @nrusso! This is the heart-wrenching true story of Ruffian, the filly that captured the world’s attention with her incredible grit on the racetrack before her untimely death. Bring your tissues. This one will make you cry.

Horse Profiling: The Secret to Motivating Equine Athletes, by Kerry Thomas – Thank you, @SkimTheRail! How can you help your horse preform their very best while living a happy life? Kerry Thomas studied wild horses to help owners get the most from their equine companions.  

Picture-perfect racing at Saratoga. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Saratoga Days, by Sean Clancy – Thanks, @Maggie_Kimmett and @nrusso! Step inside the storied world of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., from the perspective of former steeplechase jockey and current journalist Sean Clancy. If you love horses and history, this is your book.

Merryland: Two Years In The Life of a Racing Stable, by Josh Pons – Thanks, @Maggie_Kimmett! What’s it like to be the fifth-generation owner and operator of a small training farm in Maryland? This book takes you inside the daily routine on the farm and all of the highs and lows that come with a life dedicated to horses.

My Turf, by Bill Nack – Thank you, @nrusso! This is an anthology of Bill Nack’s best turf writing – and as one of the greatest journalists to ever write about horse racing, that’s saying a lot. Kick back, relax, and enjoy a master at work.

They Call the Horses, by Edie Dickenson – Thank you, @DickensonEdie! This looks amazing – the book includes profiles on some of the most legendary track announcers in the game, like Tom Durkin, Kurt Becker, Robert Geller, Michael Wrona, and Trevor Denman.

Man o’ War - A Legend Like Lightning, by Dorothy Ours – Thanks, @Maggie_Kimmett@sczen, and @TheSirBarton! Perhaps the greatest horse the world will ever see, Man o’ War’s story is one of equine and human triumph as well as a tale shrouded in rumor and mystery.

Racing My Father, by Patrick Smithwick – Thank you, @HorseyGort and @fynmere! Being a professional steeplechase jockey is a daunting career in and of itself; it’s that much harder when your father is considered to be one of the best that ever was. Patrick Smithwick shares his memoir of trying to carve his own path while following in his father’s footsteps.

Flying Change, by Patrick Smithwick – Thank you, @HorseyGort and @fynmere! This is a chronicle of a year in the life of a steeplechase jockey as he juggles fatherhood, married life, and his drive to ride a horse in one of the most dangerous races in the world. A follow-up to the above “Racing My Father.”

Finished Lines edited, by Frank Scatoni – Thank you, @Joe_Nevills! This anthology is a collection of some of the greatest articles ever written about horse racing. If you love journalism and horses, buy this hardcover.

Breeding the Racehorse, by Federico Tesio – Thank you, @RealKennyWoo! Perhaps the greatest Thoroughbred breeder of all time, Federico Tesio’s book is essential for anyone interested in equine pedigrees and racehorse breeding. It’s unparalleled in its wisdom.

Stud: Adventures in Breeding, by Kevin Conley – Thank you, @MichelleYu (and a huge hat tip to @ovals, who saved me from having to Google that name on my work computer!) Step inside the world of horse breeding with an up-close look at some of the best stallions of the late 20th century: Seattle Slew, Storm Cat, and more.

The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes: A Comprehensive History, by Richard Sowers – Thank you, @sczen! This book is billed as the comprehensive history on America’s three biggest races and tells not just the story of the races but the horses, men, and women who participated. Available in paperback.

Beautiful Jim Key, by Mim Eichler Rivas – Thank you, @mozartmag! This is the lost history of the world’s smartest horse. Said to be able to read, spell, count, and more, Beautiful Jim Key deserves to be remembered to history.

Man o’ War and Will Harbut, by Ann S. Reilly – Thanks, @sczen! No one was closer to the legendary Man o’ War than his groom, Will Harbut, and this book tells their story from Harbut’s perspective.

Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National’s Biggest Upset, by David Owen – Thanks, @HorseyGort! In 1967, a 100-1 shot took home the most famous steeplechase race in the world, making Foinavon and his BFF, a white goat named Susie, instant celebrities.

Horseplayers, by Ted McClelland – Thanks, @Joe_Nevills and @RealKennyWoo! Ted McLelland spent more than a year at racetracks and off-track gambling establishment to bring you this insider's look at the world of horse bettors.

Betting On Myself, by Steven Crist – Thanks, @Joe_Nevills! In this memoir, journalist and horseplayer Steve Crist recounts his incredible experiences covering everything from the Kentucky Derby to politics.

Horse Trader: Robert Sangster and the Rise and Fall of the Sport of Kings, by Patrick Robinson and Nick Robinson – Thanks, @DonnaBBrothers! This book chronicles the wild ride of the 1980s in horse racing, when billionaires and kings waged financial war to acquire the best and most expensive Thoroughbreds in the world. I need to read this book!


Betting Thoroughbreds for the 21st Century, by Steve Davidowitz – Thanks to @papocore1 for this and the next four recommendations! Revised and updated, this is a great guide to the cherished handicapping book released 30 years ago. Available in hardcover.

Money Secrets at the Racetrack, by Barry Meadow – Looking for the perfect money-management manual for Thoroughbred, harness, and Quarter Horse races? Look no further! Available in paperback.

Modern Pace Handicapping, by Tom Brohamer – How do you calculate comparative pace and speed in a race? Tom Brohamer explains for fun and profit.

Exotic Betting, by Steven Crist – Exotic bets – that is, multi-race and multi-horse wagers – can be intimidating but very profitable. Steve Crist explains everything you need to know.

Picking Winners: A Horseplayer’s Guide, by Andrew Beyer – (@TedMcClelland recommends this, too!) Speed figures have completely revolutionized the art of betting on horse racing, and those started with Andrew Beyer. Learn from the master in this cherished handicapping guide.

The Skeptical Handicapper, by Barry Meadow – Thank you to @ovals for the recommendation! Author Barry Meadow made his living by playing horse races, so he knows what he’s talking about. Read here for advice on how to use both data and your brain to find winners.

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell – This isn’t technically a horse betting book, but @BeychokRacing recommended it … and he won $1 million in the 2012 National Horseplayers Championship, so that’s good enough for me!

Recreational Handicapping, by James Quinn – Thank you, @trackfacts! Picking winners at the racetrack is part art and part science. If you’re new to the craft, this book is a perfect way to start your handicapping career with confidence.

Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies, by Richard Eng – Thank you to @ovals for this rec! If you’re new to horse racing and want to dip your toe in the betting waters, this is a great first stop. Richard Eng has all the tips and tricks first-timers need to have fun and win some money on the ponies.

Beyer On Speed, by Andyrew Beyer – Thanks,  @J_Keelerman! As noted above, the Daily Racing Form’s Andy Beyer is horse racing’s authority on speed. Pick this up for everything you need to know about the importance of speed in horse racing and evaluating horses’ ability to win.

The Odds Must Be Crazy, by Len Ragozin – Thank you, @darren_sipes! If the title isn’t enough to hook your attention, the author should: Ragozin sheets are considered by many to be one of the best handicapping tools out there. In this book, Len Ragozin explains his system.

Value Handicapping, by Mark Cramer – Thank you, @trackfacts! How can horseplayers turn a consistent profit? In this book, Mark Cramer explains how to beat the odds by being careful about what races to bet and how to make your own morning-line odds to identify an overlooked probable winner.

Children’s Books

J Is for Justify: Famous Horses Through the Alphabet, by Lesley A. Baumann – Thank you, @TheSirBarton! How great is this? What a great way to teach children reading while also imbuing them with a love of the horse. I’m so getting this for my nephew!

The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn't, by Artie Bennett – Thank you, @TheSirBarton! Zippy Chippy loves cupcakes, sticking his tongue out, and stopping to smell the roses. But racing? Not really his thing. This is an adorable take on the horse who captured the love of a nation through his losing streak.

Old Bones the Wonder Horse Kentucky Derby Champion, by Mildred Mastin Pace – Thanks,@Barn63Forever! This children’s book tells the story of Exterminator, affectionately known as Old Bones.  

Misty of Chincoteague, by Marguerite Henry – This is a beautiful story of two children who tame a wild mare and her little foal.  

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley – Thanks, @Stan_BostonT@nrusso@nataliegallops, and @sczen! This classic follows Alec, a young boy who’s marooned on a deserted island with a beautiful horse following a shipwreck. It’s so good. Please get this for your kids. Other great books in this series include "The Black Stallion’s Filly" and "The Black Stallion’s Courage."

Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell – Thank you, @stormkittycat! Credited with beginning England’s animal welfare movement, this story tells the highs and lows of the life of a 19th century horse from his perspective.

The Thoroughbred series, by Joanna Campbell – Thank you, @ponyace and @nrusso! These books were such a big part of my childhood. Ashleigh’s family lost their farm and her dad is now managing a Thoroughbred breeding and training facility. When a sickly foal is born, Ashleigh forms an unbreakable bond as the pair of underdogs grows and heals together.   

Black Gold, by Marguerite Henry – Thanks, @nrusso! Black Gold came from humble beginnings, but with the help of his trainer and jockey he’s aiming for Kentucky Derby glory. This is a lovely, sad, beautiful look at the short but incredible life of Black Gold.

My Friend Flicka, by Mary O’Hara – When Ken sees Flicka on his Wyoming ranch, he knows that she’s the horse he’s always dreamed of. But Flicka is a wild one, and soon Ken realizes that his dream is going to be much harder to achieve than he ever imagined.

The Saddle Club series, by Bonnie Bryant – This is another book series perfect for horse-crazy kids. Carol, Lisa, and Stevie are three riders at Pine Hollow farm who get into adventures, hijinks, and a lifelong friendship that revolves around their love of horses. I was obsessed with this series when I was a little girl!

Other lists: 

Diana Hurlburt has curated a great list of horse racing e-books right here!

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