You might have known one. You might have been one. Or you might only have heard about them as yet another mythic creature on the internet: the girls (and boys, and nonbinary folks) who were obsessed with all things equine. Highly imaginative and yet necessarily down to earth, these special individuals might have been a bit odd, but who wasn’t? Let’s embrace them and the horse obsession with these ten books that will make you feel like part of the herd.
Across the Green Grass Fields (Seanan McGuire) – The Hooflands are behind a magic woodland door in this portal fantasy from the Wayward Children series, and only one human at a time gets to visit. Regan is that human, and she soon escapes a world full of bullies and hard choices to find unicorns—and centaurs, and many more hooved beings who are glad to meet her. She’s welcomed into the fold, but not everyone is thrilled by her presence. The realm may like humans, but what does it need them for, exactly? What will Regan really have to do to earn her place among the herd?
Wild Magic (Tamora Pierce) – The original cover for this book makes it very, very clear that this is for Horse Girls first and everybody else second. Daine, an orphan with a tragic past, has a knack for horses. Her own horse Cloud is her last link to her past, but their bond means more than either of them realize—to Daine, and to the nation of Tortall.
The Name of All Things (Jenn Lyons) – This is a book for the grown-up Horse Girl, as it features an entire culture based obsessively around horses but also delves into complexities of empire, colonialism, and gender and sexuality. (It’s like Tolkien’s Rohan except horny and progressive.) In Jorat, there are omnivorous, magic-manipulating horses who can talk, as well as endless plains and endless herds. The humans who tend the herds arrange their hair and clothes like horses, and also socialize as much like horses as possible, acting in a complex set of dominant and submissive roles that do not depend on male or female sex, but as chosen “mare” or “stallion” status. They also describe their sexuality in terms of “running with the mares,” “running with the stallions,” or “running with the herd,” or even “not running” with no stigmas for any designation. Also, the hairstyles sound wicked cool. NB: you really do have to read the first book in the trilogy, The Ruin of Kings, for this book to make any sense, but I promise it’s worth it.
Wake of Vultures (Lila Bowen) – Nettie Lonesome is an enslaved child in the Weird Old West who yearns for more. When she kills her first monster—a vampire stalking her homestead—she’s well on her way to finding her destiny. But all she truly wants is to join the local ranch and break horses with her heroes. Whether she’ll be left in peace to do just that is a question that takes four kick-ass books to resolve. Though the horses don’t talk, there are plenty of them, and also some incredible unicorns too.
The Arrows Trilogy (Mercedes Lackey) – The Heralds of Valdemar are unique protectors of their country who are bonded to magical sentient horses, with whom they have a telepathic connection. This is the original trilogy, but there are dozens more trilogies that feature or at least mention the magical horse duos. But for a first taste, try this first book, Arrows of the Queen, in which runaway-turned-Herald Talia and her horse Companion Rolan are tasked with battling a conspiracy and defeating assassins to protect Valdemar’s queen.
The Last Unicorn (Peter S. Beagle) – A classic that hardly needs introduction, this book has touched millions of hearts with its tender, tragic love story, its gorgeous drama, and its profound sense of wonder. The unicorn, who wants only to be among her kind again, quests from her lonely wood to a castle by the sea filled with terrible and subtle evil.
The Black Unicorn (Tanith Lee) – The first in a unicorn-related trilogy that features Tanaquil, the daughter of a great sorceress who has no magic of her own. Or so she thinks—but the awe-full black unicorn seeks only her, and she follows it into great and terrible places in order to find her destiny. Lee’s writing is always grand and mythic, but this trilogy in particular has some images and scenes of searing loveliness that I’ve remembered for years and years.
The Firebringer Trilogy (Meredith Ann Pierce) – The other Pierce (not Tamora) also has a bit of a Horse Girl streak, although there aren’t any girls. The unicorns are the sole main characters here, living in a land along with other magical beasts like griffins and dragons. The main character, a young stallion named Aljan, is a prince with a hidden past and a secret destiny, both of which he will need to discover in defiance of his parents and his herd if he wants to lead his people.
Pegasus (Robin McKinley) – Princess Sylvi and the pegasus Ebon are meant to bind their nations together in a formal political relationship—but when they find they can actually communicate with one another directly, they form a friendship that threatens the delicate peace between their peoples. This isn’t one of McKinley’s better-known works, but it’s worth it for fans and new readers alike.
Unicorn Mountain (Michael Bishop) – Winner of the Mythopoetic Award for Best Novel, this is an odd book that spans a great many subjects and themes, including the movement of unicorns across dimensions. This isn’t typical Horse Girl fodder (sorry not sorry), but worth a shot if you’re looking for something different.
Bonus: The Unicorn Anthology(edited by Peter S. Beagle) – It feels unfair to have Beagle on here twice, but I can’t resist adding this anthology featuring some truly stellar short stories. Standouts include “The Lion and the Unicorn” by A. C. Wise, “The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlin R. Kiernan, and obviously Beagle’s own contribution, “My Son Heydari and the Karkadann.”