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Writers' week

Collected stories

I'm Laura Kroetsch, Director of Adelaide Writers' Week. Come and journey with me through the marvellous world of literature. If you feel inspired, get involved and leave a comment at the bottom of the stories!

A Horse of Course -- Mr. Ed

10 November 2016

When my sister and I were children we were horse mad. For much of the winter, we transformed the living room into what we called our farm. We built barns, fences, jumping arenas made out of sofa cushions, books, pencils and blocks of wood. With the aid of some very elegant plastic horses, we ran a riding school and a successful stud – I do wish I knew now what we thought that involved then.


Our very favourite books about horses were those by Marguerite Henry, and of the canon, my two most prized possessions were my copies of Misty of Chincoteague and Stormy, Misty’s Foal. Set on an island off the coast of Virginia the books tell the story of two orphans – a brother and a sister – who manage to loose and eventually secure the filly Phantom and her foal, Misty – both wild mustangs.

As with most children I spent many hours considering the advantages of being an orphan, and an orphan with a sibling and wild horses was especially appealing. That, and the fact that the first book ends with Phantom triumphing on Pony Day, and the kids live on into other novels. There simply was no easily identified down-side.

Both my sister and I thought we would be well-suited to island life. We believed this in part because our summers sometimes included a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, also home to wild Spanish mustangs. And after days spent rolling down sand dunes and admiring horses on the beach, we felt that our spiritual home lay here by the waves and not in a suburban neighbourhood in Upstate New York where our herd was, in fact, plastic.


My love of horses waned as I entered puberty, but my love of horse books has been enduring, which brings me to Jane Smiley. I fell in love with Smiley in 1991 after reading her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres, and have been reading her ever since.

Smiley is herself a great horsewoman, and her books about the twilight world of horse racing; Horse Heaven is an absolute classic. So if you lament the passing of the Melbourne Cup, grab a copy of this novel, as it is rich with stories of gamblers, trainers, financial ruin, sexual exploits and of course horses, lots of horses. And if you know a young reader, who loves horses as I once did, seek out The Horses of the Oat Valley Ranch series – on the cusp of puberty bliss.

David Francis is another writer who writes tangentially about horses. Francis is an old friend of Smiley’s and a former equestrian who once rode for Australia. I met David a few years ago now and he explained to me that horse people know the integrity of horse books and I believe him, which makes some of the scenes in his new novel Wedding Bush Road haunting.


Wedding Bush Road is not a horse book; it’s a novel about a young man who comes back to the family farm from the US only to discover an ailing mother, a philandering father and his father’s one-time mistress eking out a life on the edge of the Australian bush.

The novel is in many ways about the obligations the past demands, about regret, the treacheries of memory and idea of home. It is elegant and thoughtful and because it is about the landscape it is unpredictable and often violent. How does this relate to horses, you ask? In a casual aside there is a description of the death of a horse by snakebite – which pulled me up short, stopped me; the way only very good fiction can.

When I cast my eye over the list and the larger festival it occurs to me that horses have rather a rough time – especially in battle. In 2017 we’ll have Richard III utter that most famous horse line – ‘A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!’ in German, and the Irish writer Sebastian Barry sending a cavalry into the American West. And that’s about it – that’s the end of the horse references, which seems a pity.

Which isn’t to say I’m right, perhaps there are more horse stories yet to be revealed… hope so.

For your chance to win a pack of books by David Francis and Jane Smiley, tell us your favourite horse tale, along with your full name and postal address. Entries close 5pm, Thursday 17 November. Winners will be notified via email.