Hands up if you’re female and you were horse mad as a kid? Uh-huh, just what I thought—98.2% of you. Nothing to be ashamed of. I was and still am a little horsey.
Living on a typical quarter-acre slice of suburbia, we couldn’t possibly keep a horse. (I still maintain I could get a minature horse that’s about the size of my biggest cat.) I had relatives who let me ride their horses on weekends, but this habit was curbed when I fell off and knocked myself out for a few hours. When we were 16, my BFF and I used to hire local hacks whose top speed was 1km per hour and could find their way on the trail with their eyes closed. Not very exciting but at least we could be around horses and plait their manes as we rode.
So I had to satisfy my desire for prime horseflesh with the help of books like National Velvet and The Black Stallion. I bought a beautifully illustrated, faux-leather-bound copy of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty on September 15, 1984. No, I don’t have an amazing memory. Weird child that I was, I often inscribed purchase dates on the flyleaf. Anyway, in case you didn’t know, the story was first published in 1877 and it’s told in the horse’s point of view. When I saw a movie version, I cried because it had none of the book’s charm. It was as depressing as a knackery. Plus, the horse didn’t narrate and I found that deplorable. Hey, I was only a kid when I saw it.
The cover of Meg Rosoff’s latest YA, The Bride’s Farewell, features a stocky grey horse galloping away in full stride, heading off into the dark unknown. In the book, stoic heroine Pell Ridley runs away on her wedding day to see if the chaff on the other side of the fence is greener. It’s England in the 1800s. Pell won’t stand for life as a virtual brood mare for a boy she grew up with but doesn’t love. She feels overburdened by poverty and is determined to break free of farm drudgery. If she’s to work, she’ll do it on her own terms.
In the darkness before dawn, she escapes with her beloved horse, Jack. Her mute little brother, Bean, trails her whether she likes it or not. On the road, Pell endures a new set of hardships, including falling victim to a horse thief. Bean disappears in the chaos. That grass on the other side of the fence? It’s tough, dry and bitter. But Pell accepts responsibility. Surviving on her wits, she grows stronger and even finds love on the quest to reunite with Jack and her brother.
If you’d like to win a copy of Meg Rosoff’s mesmerising new novel, all you have to do is comment. Are you one of the 1.8% of girls who wasn’t horse crazy? Do you have a favourite horse tale?