7 Books That Show a Different Side of Horse Girls

A new breed of horse girls who are dirty, daring, and feminist as hell

Photo by Taylor Brandon on Unsplash

There is a certain kind of horse girl who likes their horses imported, warm-blooded, and tacked by someone else. I am not that woman, and my horse people aren’t, either. When I decided to return to horseback riding as an adult on a freelance writer’s budget, I touched a pitchfork long before a saddle and horse manure became my trademark eau de parfum. Along my journey back to horses, I met the kind of women who could birth a foal and exercise three green polo prospects before they’d even caffeinated; women who take “no” as an annoyance, not an answer.

In my memoir, The Year of the Horses, these women are friends and mentors, but they are also idols: if I still had a school locker, I’d replace my posters of Kirk Cameron and Luke Perry with photos of the ladies who taught me how to polo wrap, rollback, gallop, and believe.  

If you like your horse girls show-ring ready and unfamiliar with a scoop shovel, this list isn’t for you. From Texan barrel racers and rifle-toting horse trainers to a Kentucky princess with leftist leanings that could get her kicked off Daddy’s will, these titles celebrate a new breed of horse girls who are dirty, daring, and feminist as hell.

Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeanette Walls

In the fictionalized follow-up to her mega bestseller, The Glass Castle, readers meet the rough and tumble horse-breaker Lily Casey Smith—a woman who survives disasters both natural and manmade, rages against misogyny, and fights prejudice to become one of the best horsewomen in western Texas.

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

This Pulitzer Prize finalist tracks two influential families fighting to dominate the Kentucky racehorse business. One is local royalty; the other, descendants of enslaved people. Trouble and violence await right out the gate.

The Mare by Mary Gaitskill

When a wealthy white woman takes in a Dominican Fresh Air Fund child named Velvet from Brooklyn for the summer, she introduces her to horseback riding—a privilege that Velvet can’t pursue without deepening the already problematic relationship with her host.

Horse: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks

An enslaved but gifted groom on the eve of the civil war, a gallery owner haunted by a 19th-century equestrian oil painting and two Smithsonian scientists—one of whom is studying the suppressed history of Black horsemen—all come together in this sweeping exploration of racial injustice by Pulitzer Prize-winning Geraldine Brooks.

Horse Crazy: The Story of a Woman and a World in Love With an Animal by Sarah Maslin Nir

Horse Crazy is a love letter to horses and a deeply researched tribute to her fellow equine fans. Nir contrasts her journey from loneliness into belonging on horseback with the careers of everyone from the famed horse whisperer Monty Roberts to the Randall Island-based urban cowboys George and Ann Blair who gave free riding lessons to hundreds of inner-city students previously excluded from the sport because of its high cost. 

Horse Girls: Recovering, Aspiring, and Devoted Riders Redefine the Iconic Bond by Halimah Marcus

You’ll come for the names in this collection—T Kira Madden, Carmen Maria Machado, and Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, just to name a few—but you’ll stay for the kaleidoscopic angles on everything equestrian. Elitism, body shaming, plastic horse conventions, barrel racing as a Black Texan—the ups, the downs, the painful falls; all of it is here. (This anthology is edited by Electric Literature’s own executive director Halimah Marcus, and I have an essay in it as well—but don’t let that keep you from saddling up for this standout collection.)

Favorite Trails of Desert Riders by Doni Hubbard

This 1991 publication is hard to find a copy of, but the payoff is worth it: photograph after photograph of early Palm Springs as an equestrian Valhalla when “The Desert Riders” roamed. Comprised of a surprisingly diverse group for the 1930s, Native people, Mexican immigrants, Hollywood starlets, and politicians rode together weekly to partake in club wagon breakfasts, dicey canyon crossings, and well-deserved shuteye under a massive sky of stars. A touching tribute to the much beloved, alternative form of transportation known as riding horseback.

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