Those of you who know me in person know that I love ponies. Like, A LOT. Like, I hate to talk, but will not shut up about ponies. I still try to leap out of the car when driving by a pony, even if I’m the one driving. And you wouldn’t know it from my ability, but I’ve been riding pretty much since I was 4. So I’ve been around the pony book block a few times – I love me some Pullein-Thompson sisters books , I grew up wishing for a Mookie of my own thanks to Jean Slaughter-Doty, and am still desperate to see the Assateague pony swim made famous by Marguerite Henry in her Misty of Chincoteague . I’ll stop there, as I could go on and on about the lesser know pony book authors of the past – this isn’t about them. This is about a fantastic current writer whose name belongs with the above greats.
Kate Lattey has been writing pony books for the last few years – I think her first series came out in 2011. She’s in New Zealand, and, as you’d expect, sets her books in NZ, which I adore. Half of what I loved about the British pony books I read as a kid was the fact that they were set in locations so very different from the suburban town I grew up in. And even as an adult, I find the New Zealand setting fascinating and a huge draw – it’s now on my list of countries I’d really love to visit someday.
Lattey’s books are aimed older than, say, Marguerite Henry’s books – they’re definitely YA pony books, which is great. There’s SUCH a dearth of current horsey writing for teens – it seems everything that’s come out since I was a teen is aimed at middle grade or younger, or is a horrible romance for adults that just uses the horse world as a convenient background for shags in the hay. So having GOOD YA books centered on horses? PERFECTION! They’re also a really nice balance of horsey and non-horsey – so, yeah, you get the go along with the characters to horse shows, but you’re also there with them as they try to navigate their first boyfriend, and deal with how their parents no longer seem to be the perfect people they used to be. And they’re also more in-depth reads than, say, the Bittersweet Farm series by Barbara Morgenroth – fine books, but more like the Saddle Club books aimed at older readers. Lattey’s books are real books, with very relatable characters – and very relatable not-perfect horses!
I just finished Nine Lives, the latest installment in her Pony Jumper Series . The series follows a group of friends and their ponies as they compete in the pony jumpers division of local, national, and international horse shows. Each book is told from the point of view of one of the friends – Nine Lives is told by AJ, who happens to be my second fave character in the series. And her pony – Squirrel Nutkin, aka Squib – is totally my favourite pony in the series so far! Unlike some of the other characters, AJ doesn’t come from a super horsey super rich family, so she’s had a lot of struggles, especially as Squib isn’t the easiest pony in the world. Luckily her friend Katy is an excellent rider and her mom Deb an excellent trainer, so in previous books, Squib has been whipped (metaphorically!!)into a semblance of shape. But! The central issue in this installment isn’t Squib, but one of Katy’s horses – the rather frustrating Tori, who gives new meaning the adage that you tell a gelding and ask a mare while on bended knee bearing gifts! AJ has fallen for the tempestuous Tori, but Katy isn’t convinced she’s worth keeping. Don’t worry – this doesn’t turn into AJ becoming Alec Ramsey taming a wild horse on a beach – Lattey is much too realistic to write anything like that, which is another thing I love about her books – yeah, anyone reading these can dream about being these characters, but their achievements are all very realistic and the result of hard work, not of omg-horsey-magic-bond. That’s way less common than you’d expect, and it’s really refreshing, and gives me renewed hope for my riding goals!
And don’t be afraid of giving these a try if you’re not at all horsey – they’re very well written and very fun even if you sometimes confuse a horse with a cow from a distance! I might recommend you start with one of Lattey’s other series – maybe the two book Dare to Dream series, which is slightly less horse-focused, as it’s a bit less horse-show focused and more about family relationships – though, of course, with a ton of horse stuff.
I’m just so pleased that Lattey is around, filling the neglected YA pony book niche. I hope she writes for years to come.