Horse lovers are born, not made, or so it would seem given how many youngsters become horse- and pony-mad. And one easy way that kids (of all ages) get their horse fix is by reading books about the adventures of their favourite animal.

A new program, Kids Summer Reading Program hosted by Horse Book Authors, is in its second year and has grown to include titles from over 25 international authors participating representing the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.

A woman holding horse books, standing with a white horse.

Program creator Rae Rankin with her daughter’s Arabian Honeys Diva. (courtesy Rae Rankin)

“As a horse lover and author of illustrated horse books for children, I saw an opportunity to bring together authors with the kids who love reading books about horses,” says the program’s creator, Rae Rankin, an American author who has penned several books including Cowgirl and the Ghost Horse. “I also loved the summer reading program from my local library, I wanted to create a program that was accessible anywhere in the world.”

The program is free and straightforward: children obtain a reading log from a participating author or download one from the website. The goal is to complete the fun suggested reading activities between June 1st and September 1st and keep track on their log, which can then be turned in either via email, uploaded to the website, or shared on social media, tagging the program (with parental permission). “We encourage kids of all ages to participate and have authors that represent different levels of reading from picture books, early readers, middle-grade, young adult, as well as nonfiction,” Rankin explains.

Authors don’t pay a fee to participate; they only have to donate a book or other prize for a random drawing among kids who complete their logs and turn them in. It doesn’t matter if the books kids read are from the library, borrowed from a friend or relative, found at a garage sale, purchased at a bookstore or downloaded as ebooks. They can check out the participating authors here to discover exciting new horse book titles they may not have been aware of.

“Summer reading is critical for our children,” Rankin says. “Over the summer months, kids can lose valuable skills and knowledge. Studies show participating in a summer reading program increases reading skills, motivation, confidence, and enjoyment.”

Rankin says there is a plan to host several virtual “Meet the Author” events this year to connect the authors and the children (again, with parental permission of course). Kids are also encouraged to write letters to their favourite authors. New this year is a book review form with plans to develop social media campaigns to encourage children to review some of the participating author’s books.

Other authors who are involved in the Kids Summer Reading Program also feel strongly about the program. “I’ve always loved reading horse books. As a child, I devoured Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, checking them out from the library multiple times while dreaming of a horse of my own,” says Laura Holt-Haslam, the award-winning author of Sofia’s Surprise and Emily Edwards, Equestrian Extraordinaire, among other titles.

“I’m passionate about sharing my love of horses with young readers and hope to inspire them through my books, as well as encourage them to create their own stories and artwork. I’m also excited to participate because it connects me with so many other horse book authors!”

Three 'Pocket Pegasus' novels.

Horse-Canada’s own web editor Susan Stafford-Pooley is a participating author this year!

Holt-Haslam’s sentiments are echoed by Australian author Christine Meunier, who writes horse-themed fiction and nonfiction for children and adults including the Free Rein series. “I live and breathe horse books, so was keen to share one of my books as a prize and be connected with other readers who love horses.” Meunier says her daughter took part in the program last summer and won a horse book. This year her son has also signed up. She adds, “[The program] draws horse book authors together where they can help feed imaginations, improve literacy and educate about horses.”

As to why horse books resonate with children so much, Rankin has a theory. “The beauty of horse books is they offer kids adventure, escape, and experience they may not have otherwise,” she surmises. “When I was young, my access to horses was limited; however, with horse books I could be anyone – I could race across the sand on the back of the Black, I could go back in time with Candlelight, or make friends with a wild horse named Flicka.”

As all of us bookworms know, there are few activities as escapist and transformative as reading a great book, and when that story stars a horse, that’s a perfect combination.