Our Favorite Marguerite Henry Stories
The books that inspired the Equitrekking team to ride may help you remember the equine tales you loved too.
by Karen Braschayko
Many of us horse lovers had our first equine experiences in our imaginations, through the power of books to take us across miles and place us right into thrilling moments. We were horse-crazy kids, reading every book we could get our hands on and fantasizing about the places kinship with horses could take us. Marguerite Henry, one of the most prolific and well-known authors of horse stories for children, was a master at influencing these visions. Her words captured our daydreams, and her historical fiction taught us about real-life horses and equestrians, the hardships they faced and the successes they earned.
Born in 1902, Henry began honing her craft in childhood and wrote until her death in 1997. Her legacy includes over four dozen books and five movies, many of which centered on horses and other animals. Her works earned numerous awards, including the prestigious Newbery Medal. She collaborated with illustrator Wesley Dennis for two decades, and his pictures complemented the vivid tales. Children devoured her books and had a great love for the stories that would become renowned classics.
Often traveling to far-off locations, spending hours in libraries, and interviewing many experts, Henry’s copious research ensured that readers could trust her authorial voice. She even borrowed Misty the Chincoteague Pony from Grandpa Beebe and adopted a burro she named Brighty while completing Brighty of the Grand Canyon.
Marguerite Henry housed Misty in her home stable as she wrote. She was inspired to create the famous book while attending Pony Penning on Chincoteague Island and meeting the real Beebe family.
Henry created brilliant fictional worlds with authentic visuals, scents, tastes, sounds, dynamic dialogue and lively characters, evoking feelings that enhanced our learning about these eras and remained with us long after. Her stories shaped our concept of horses as friends, and she encouraged us to respect the creatures around us for themselves and for their contributions. She gave us insights into the practical history of horses, natural horsemanship and responsible stewardship, taking care to portray horses as horses and not give them human characteristics.
From the journey of the Godolphin Arabian, one of the three founding sires of the Thoroughbred breed, in King of the Wind to Wild Horse Annie’s campaign for protecting American Mustangs in Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West, Henry’s tales deepened our appreciation for horses and their caretakers. Descendent of royal lineage to dogged burro, Lipizzaner to backyard pony, trotter to cart horse, Henry taught us about the many gifts equines are capable of and their many talents that enhance our lives.
Which Marguerite Henry book was your favorite? Here are ours.
Darley Newman, Equitrekking's globe-trotting TV host:
My favorite Marguerite Henry book is Misty of Chincoteague. I've always liked books that transport me to another place and even as a child, I could visualize the wild, coastal Assateague Island. I liked the idea of a place so natural and remote where horses ruled. Marguerite Henry paints the excitement, love and responsibility of getting and keeping a horse well and the heartbreak and strength that it takes to let something you love go, when Phantom is set free again.
Raina Paucar, Equitrekking contributor and former female jockey:
My favorite and most influential children’s book about horses was Black Gold by Marguerite Henry. I loved this story, because it brought me into the world of horse racing. Something in this book sparked an interest that would shape the course of my life.
Black Gold tells the true story of a small Thoroughbred racehorse and a young boy who believed this horse could be a champion if he became his jockey. It’s a beautiful story with a great theme – no matter what obstacles you face in life, if you believe in yourself, dreams can come true. This is a belief I still hold onto as an adult.
Karen Braschayko, Equitrekking contributor:
Justin Morgan Had a Horse was one of my many favorites. I’ve always remembered the story of how singing master Justin Morgan would read while riding Little Bub from school to school, trusting his horse to get him there safely. I wanted to have that kind of relationship with a horse and to be a patient, gentle trainer like Joel Goss. Because of the novel, I gained an appreciation for the Morgan breed and I had a special fondness for the one I tended as a teenage stablehand. It’s a very American story of a remarkably scrappy, versatile horse who came from the melting pot of the era’s breeding and sired a fine lineage that helped owners build their farms and improve their lives.
Caroline Maffry, Equitrekking producer, writer and equestrian traveler:
A favorite childhood memory was being read Marguerite Henry's Five O'Clock Charlie by my mother before bed. This story has all of Henry's storytelling charm, as she is best known for portraying the inner lives of animals. The wonderful illustrations by Wesley Dennis were what initially drew me to the book, since they bring the story to life.
Charlie is a chestnut heavy horse whose job is pulling a cart for his farmer owner, Mr. Spinks. At precisely five o'clock every day for over 20 years, Charlie and Mr. Spinks would be at the pub for apple pie. With a playful and fun ending, Charlie has become more than a horse but a true companion.
Despite being a children's book, Five O'Clock Charlie will appeal to horse lovers of all ages and has a timeless appeal even 50 years after it was written.
Karen Braschayko is a freelance writer and horse lover who lives in Michigan.