Five Inspirational Non-Fiction Books About Horses

After my recent post about the five pastoral books about birds of prey that I love reading, I thought I’d introduce my readers to five incredible books about horses.

Throughout the 2020 lockdown, I bought a lot of books about horses and their behaviour, because I adore these stunning animals. When I was younger, and I lived in Dorset, I spent a lot of time watching horses in the fields, and I also took some horse riding lessons.

Now seems like a great time to talk about books regarding horses. As a new movie showcases the remarkable story of a horse born and raised on a Welsh allotment that goes on to become a world-renowned racehorse, I felt now was the time to share some of my favourite non-fiction books about these majestic creatures.

I’ve always loved horses, even though I’ve spent very little time in their company. I think it’s the way they’re portrayed and the fact that they have such a prominent place in literature.

Also, they’re incredibly beautiful animals, with complex personalities and amazing intellect.

If you’ve never really read a lot of pastoral, non-fiction books about horses, then here’s a list to get you started.

5. In Harmony With Your Horse: How to Build a Lasting Relationship: If you either own a horse or spend a lot of time with one, then you might want to consider reading this book to find out more about their behaviour and mind-set. Experienced horse rider and enthusiast Clare Albinson has founded a riding club and spent many years honing her skills at riding horses. In this book, she discusses how to strengthen your bond with your horse and understand their behaviour. Even if you don’t have a horse, it’s still worth a read. Albinson makes animal behaviour accessible and understandable, so it’s a great book to check out if you’re looking to understand animals and their motivations.

4. Chosen by a Horse: This unique memoir by Susan Richards reminds me of Helen Macdonald’s H Is For Hawk, in that they’re both stories about how animals changed the lives of broken and damaged women. In Chosen By A Horse, Richards shares the story of how, when she arrived to adopt a horse from an emaciated herd found by an animal shelter. While trying to catch another horse and take it, an emaciated mare and her foal get into her trailer, leaving Richards to take them instead of the horse she’d intended to adopt. The mare, named Lay Me Down, helps Richards to face her feelings and changes her life for the better, all while teaching her a lot about the relationship between people and horses. 

3. Wild Ride: The Rise and Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America’s Premier Racing Dynasty: If you’re searching for a book that’s part thriller, part non-fiction insight into working horses, and all true, then this could be the perfect read for you. Ann Hagedorn Auerbach takes an in-depth look into the rise and calamitous fall of one of America’s premier Thoroughbred racehorse breeders, Calumet Farm. For generations the farm bred and trained superstar racehorses that won some of the sport’s most prestigious awards and races. However, behind the scenes, financial skulduggery and dodgy dealings became the stable’s downfall and ultimately led to its destruction. The story’s almost too fantastic to be true, but if you’re a fan of horse racing then this is a great book that you should definitely check out.

2. Bill the Bastard: The Story of Australia’s Greatest War Horse: Frankly, I only really took any notice of this book because it has a swear word in the title, and that’s refreshing. I’m bloody glad I did pick it up and give it a read, because it’s an intriguing and unique portrait of an intriguing and unique horse. The book tells the story of Major Michael Shanahan, the only man who could ride a huge war horse sent from Australia to the Middle East to help fight in the light horse force. A combination of historical fact and fictionalised portrayal of how a huge, impressive but aloof horse was tamed and became a legend. By sharing the details of both the way that horses get treated during war and the relationship they have with their riders, this book is a great read for anyone who wants to learn and enjoy an unforgettable story about how man and horse can come together to do good.

1. The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion: Wendy William’s unique book combines her personal experiences caring for these beautiful animals and her extensive studies on their history. By travelling the world and interviewing a range of archaeologists and horse experts, Williams is able to present a complete overview of how horses came to partner with humans and why they’re still such a feature of our lives, even today, after technology has reduced our need to ride horses for transport. For anyone who wants a complete overview of the history of horses, from their initial descendants to their modern roles in sport and as working pets, this is an unforgettable read that you’ll struggle to put down.

Five Awe-Inspiring Pastoral Books About Birds Of Prey

While my passion is for crime fiction, I also love reading a host of other books from a variety of genres. Whether it’s autobiographies or even classics, I love a lot of different books.

Another genre that I love is pastoral books about nature. One of the topics that I enjoy is birds of prey. Birds of prey have a unique bond with humans: they can’t be domesticated like other animals, but instead they collaborate with us to give themselves security and improve their hunting prowess.

Whether its hawks, falcons or even owls, I’ve read many books about different birds of prey and how they affect the people who fly them.

If you want to find an amazing book about birds of prey to help you to learn more about these majestic birds, then this is the ideal list for you.

5. Wesley: The Story of a Remarkable Owl: Written by biologist and bird expert Stacey O’Brien, this true story discusses her bond with Wesley, a young barn owl with damage to his wing. With the bird unable to return to the wild or behave like a normal owl, he stands little chance of survival. O’Brien decides that she wants to help the little bird to flourish, and so she takes him into her home. Over the proceeding 19 years, she and Wesley form a beautiful bond. As well as her insight into the lives of barn owls, the book also discusses a variety of other birds and shares a lot of interesting facts about wildlife which are often unknown or unconsidered by modern people with busy lives. After all, while most of love nature and find it interesting, we don’t often connect with it on a deep level. Thanks to O’Brien and this intriguing book, we’re able to learn more about the secret lives of birds, including owls like Wesley. He’s a funny and personable little guy, and his relationship with the writer is heartbreakingly wonderful and helps to save both of their lives and improve them for the better.

4. A Rage for Falcons: An Alliance Between Man and Bird: Introduced by Helen MacDonald and beautifully illustrated by Jonathan Wilde, Stephen Bodio’s book is an incredible and deeply passionate insight into the lives of those who fly and hunt with birds of prey. Drawing on the history of flying these majestic birds, as well as anecdotes from Bodio’s long experience with birds of prey, the writer creates a unique insight into the complex and diverse world of falconry. The book is both insightful and informative, as well as being accessible to even those of us who’ve never owned a bird of prey or had the experience of hunting with it in the wild. Combining this unforgettable prose with Wilde’s stunning images, Bodio offers an unforgettable reading experience and the chance for readers to truly immerse ourselves in the historical and breath taking world of falconry. You’ll learn about a range of falconry traditions and be fascinated by the amazing stories that the writer has to tell if you check out this gripping book.

3. The Hidden Lives of Owls: The Science and Spirit of Nature’s Most Elusive Birds: Combining her passion for nature with her interest in owls, Leigh Calvez takes readers on a tour of the world’s owl population and uncovers unique facts about these elusive birds. As they spend most of the day asleep, and then wake at night, they aren’t often seen by many people, and those who do spot them often see only a fleeting glimpse. By studying owls closely and watching them in both their natural habitat and captivity, Calvez is able to offer a fascinating insight into the lives and personalities of these stunning birds. As well as facts on how owls lives and their natural lives, the writer also offers an insight into the history of our relationships to owls, and how the birds have crept into our mythology and popular cultures. If you’re a fan of birds and want to learn more about owls without spending hours studying their habits in the dead of night, then you should definitely read this bestselling book.

2. Fingers In The Sparkle Jar: Chris Packham is an engaging TV presenter and expert in nature. In this memoir/ pastoral book about training a kestrel, he shares his boyhood experiences training a kestrel that he caught as a young boy. Fingers In The Sparkle Jarshares his connection to the kestrel and how it helped him come to terms with his learning difficulties, his trouble communicating with others and his family’s struggles. The result is a book that is informative and teaches you a lot about nature and birds of prey, as well as mental wellbeing and childhood challenges. If you’re a fan of Packham, then you’ll want to read this book just to find out more about him and his incredible life and unique childhood. Even if you’ve not really heard much about him before, you’ll want to read this book just to get more of an understanding about the incredible bond between humans and animals.

1. H Is For Hawk: Helen Macdonald’s jaw-dropping book about her struggle to tame and hunt with a young Goshawk is a great read for anyone who’s new to reading about birds of prey. If you’re not yet deeply passionate about these magnificent raptors and don’t know much about them, then H Is For Hawk is an amazing introduction. Macdonald uses her personal experiences training Mable, her Goshawk, and her knowledge of the history of taming and flying falcons, to offer an informative book that’s accessible to everyone. By entwining her experiences with poor mental health and grief following her father’s death with her struggle to train her hawk, the writer makes her challenges seem understandable to everyone, even if you’ve never actually had to train a Goshawk with limited experience and few resources. While Macdonald has experience in training some other birds, she’d not worked with a Goshawk before and was determined to make it work, even though the experience was harrowing and challenging. So, even if you’re not a massive pastoral fan and you think birds of prey are pretty but not that interesting, then I urge you to read this phenomenal book.

Vesper Flights Review: A Masterful Book About The Wonders Of The Natural World

A couple of weeks ago, I randomly realised that it’s been a long time since I posted any pastoral content on this blog.

That’s a real shame, because I love the pastoral genre and I read a lot of it, so I thought I’d amend this by reviewing an amazing new pastoral book from one of my favourite writers, Helen Macdonald.

Author of the incredible and evocative H Is For Hawk, Macdonald is back with Vesper Flights, an essay collection that aims to bring together her love of the natural world with her fascination with people. The author is a highly respected bird trainer and natural world expert, so over the years she has amassed a lot of knowledge and tales about nature.

The book is collected essays from Macdonald, and span many years and countries. Macdonald takes the reader on a journey across the world and gives us a glimpse into the habitats and lives of many flora, fauna, animals, birds and, most intriguingly of all, people.

In the introduction, Macdonald compares her book to a Wunderkammern, a traditional German house of curiosities that was less ordered than a modern museum. Her aim is to combine nature with humanity and discuss our fragile relationship with Mother Nature.

That’s why each essay features a different topic; from birds’ nests to wild boar, mushrooms to the effects of climate change. In each essay the author discusses both her own personal feelings and the wider way that people interact with wildlife, plants and the environment.

By incorporating literature, history and the opinions of renowned naturalists, Macdonald showcases her passion for nature and brings together many different views and ideas. She also makes amazing points on the ways that people have interacted with the wild in Britain and around the world for centuries.

So, if you love nature and want to learn more about it, then Vesper Flights is the book for you. Macdonald has heavily researched her work, and she incorporates many intriguing facts into her book. For example, I bet you didn’t know that in the early 2000s around 60 captive wild boar were released into the wild in the South of the UK, and that since then, they have blossomed into a hoard of potentially thousands of boar that roam the woods, according to studies.

That and many other facts are sprinkled throughout the book, so you’re always learning and picking up exciting new information. Macdonald has researched heavily and has read a lot of books on the topic of the natural world, so you’ll learn some really intriguing facts and insights. She also delivers her information in an accessible and memorable way, so you’ll find yourself remembering loads of useful nature facts. These are particularly useful when you consider them in the context of the world’s environmental crisis.

The book isn’t exclusively about wildlife and nature; there’s a truly glorious tale about Macdonald’s pet parrot and a young autistic boy whose parents are considering renting her home. There are personal stories, anecdotes, academic-style essays and teachable moments in the book, so there’s something for all readers and every mood. You’ll laugh, cry and learn, all in one, which is pretty cool for one medium sized book.

At the end of the day, if your New Year’s resolution was to learn more about nature or to read more non-fiction books, then Vesper Flights is your ideal read. Even if you didn’t make a New Year’s resolution, or it wasn’t about reading, then you should still check this engaging and beautifully written book. Whether you’re a novice naturalist or you’re already knowledgeable about the world around us, you’ll find this book a creative and heart warming read.

Wildwood Review: The Perfect Pastoral Escape From The Harshness Of Reality

wildwood

Over the past few months, while I’ve been trapped in the house, I’ve been searching for escapism in the form of beautifully written books.

While the majority of the books I’ve been reading are mystery and crime fiction, I’ve also been searching for nature books that take me out of myself.

One book that I found buried under a pile of other books on my bookshelf, which I picked up months ago in a charity shop, was Wildwood. I chose it simply for the gorgeous front cover and the fact that it’s about trees.

I adore trees; they’re beautiful and majestic, and I feel like they’re under appreciated. They remind me of the power and symbolism in the natural world, so I was intrigued by the book and, as it was about 50p, I picked it up and threw it on my shelf.

With so many other books to read, and so much drama going on with the pandemic, I clean forgot about Wildwood until a few weeks ago, when I was searching for an easy, relaxing read to comfort me.

At first, I wasn’t sure about this book, but I’m glad that I carried on and read more of it, because this is a glorious read that will make you see nature, and trees in particular, in a whole new light. 

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees, is part tree book, part autobiography, and all love affair with the great outdoors. Roger Deakin takes his readers on a journey around the world, starting from his home in the Suffolk woods.

From there, we travel alongside him as he visits Spanish horse festivals, the wilds of the Australian outback and more. Deakin paints an intimate portrait of every new landscape that he visits, making you feel like you’re actually there with him.

Thanks to his knowledge of trees, wood and the way the material works, Deakin is able to paint an evocative picture and show the reader his passion for trees and the natural world.

When he’s talking to artists and sculptures that work with wood, Deakin makes an amazing case for handmade, artisan crafts over mass-produced junk, if you ever needed one.

Between the beauty of the natural world and the majesty of the trees in it, not to mention the delicious fruit that he eats, Deakin manages to transport the reader out of their lockdown blues and into a world full of sumptuous smells, tasty treats and atmospheric landscapes.

So, while I was moping around indoors and whiling away the days, Roger Deakin was able to take me out of myself and give me a sense of belonging in a natural world that I’ve either not been to in years or, in many cases, never even experienced.

As well as talking about trees and walking readers through some of the world’s most magnificent forests, Deakin also weaves in quotes from amazing poetry and cute illustrations, which create a visual representation of each of chapter.

All in all, this isn’t just a book- Wildwood is an escape from reality into a world of nature and wonder: it’s an innovative combination of autobiography, retrospective and much more. It is rich with the author’s passion for nature, so it’s the perfect read for anyone who wants to feel calm and informed.

Wilding Review: An Impassioned Rumination On A Return To A Rural Idyll

wilding_isabellatree

I promised it last year when I reviewed The Peregrine, but I’ve been busy since then so apologise that this review is a little late.

Better late than never, I’ve finally had the chance to read and review Isabella Tree’s phenomenal book Wilding: The Return Of Nature To A British Farm.

The author is married to the owner of Knepp castle and estate, in Sussex, where this incredible pastoral experiment took place. She and her husband decided to stop using the land for farming, and instead return it to a more natural state and allowing free-roaming animals to graze on natural plants, shrubs and bushes.

Trees were allowed to die and remain as havens for animals, birds, flora and fauna, with minimal human intervention to keep the space as naturally wild as possible.

The author delves into the history of Knepp, European wild animals and how we came to achieve the ‘closed canopy’ theory, which says that the UK and most of mainland Europe was covered in dense trees before humans cultivated it.

Isabella Tree disagrees with this theory, and sites a lot of evidence to highlight why she believes that the landscape was in fact covered in a diverse range of plants cultivated by grazing herbivores.

She tells the story of how she and her husband learned, through trial and hilarious error, the means by which they could rewild Knepp and turn it into a natural British paradise.

Funny, intelligent and enlightening by turns, Wilding is a perfect pastoral book for anyone who wants to educate themselves on British wildlife and the history of man’s long and strained battle against nature.

At a time when the world is, ridiculously slowly, opening its eyes to the realities of climate change and man’s impact on our planet, this is a very timely reminder that there are things that can, and are being, done to help restore our land to its former glory. The book also shows how science is often very out of touch when it comes to the mysteries ways of Mother Nature.

In short, if you’re looking for a book to read that will take you on an eventful journey through British, and international, natural history, and end with you wanting to explore everything that nature has to offer, then I’d thoroughly recommend Wilding. Isabella Tree is passionate about bringing biodiversity back into the world and proving that every avenue is worth exploring as we journey towards a greater understanding of how the earth was before we started taking it over.

 

 

 

The Peregrine Review: A Pastoral Classic That Remains Relevant To This Very Day

the peregrine

It’s come to my attention that I’ve neglected the pastoral section of my blog since I started it, so I thought I’d rectify this by including a review of a seminal book from the genre.

J. A. Baker’s classic book, detailing his frantic following of a pair of peregrines through the forests around his home in Essex, is a tour de force of epic proportions.

It spans a full year and reads much like the diary of a rabid wildlife enthusiast. Baker is an insightful, voracious follower of birds of prey and gives minute details of every aspect of the lives of the birds and animals in the forest.

His book is deeply emotional and raw, with Baker shown chasing peregrines throughout the English countryside in a bid to understand their hunting methods and mentalities.

Unlike many books about birds of prey, Baker isn’t seeking to possess or tame these birds. He wants to become one. He’s looking to achieve their level of concentration and hunting prowess.

Throughout the book he surveys the birds and tentatively tries to get closer and see the world through their eyes. His pursuit of this hawk-like state sees him go into a trance as he follows the birds across the English countryside and gets to know their habits, prey, preferences and hunting styles.

Baker is a master at creating atmosphere and describing his natural surroundings, and as a result The Peregrine is deeply atmospheric and hauntingly beautiful. Also, as the book depicts a changing landscape being reshaped by manmade pollution, making it a very topical read even today.

At the end of the day, Baker’s book was published in 1967, and written even earlier, so it’s not exactly a recent publication, but I’d recommend any pastoral literature fan, amateur ornithologist or nature lover reads this book. I’ll be doing a review of Wilding in the New Year, once I’ve got all my Christmas reading and celebrating out of the way, so stay tuned for that!

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar Review: Much More Than Just A Boy and His Bird

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar

Chris Packham’s inventive and unique memoir is much more than a story about a young boy and his kestrel; it’s about the challenges that he faced in a time when people did not understand him. The book touches beautifully on a number of tough topics including mental illness, attempted suicide, family breakdowns and desperation.

These sensitive issues are handled with exquisite care, as Packham navigates through his life, sharing his passion for nature and how this kept him going through even the darkest of times.

Although the memoir is primarily about Packham’s relationship with a kestrel he raised as a boy, it touches on many aspects of his life. Packham creates a suburban jungle through his narrative, and shares his experiences exploring this; from sneaking out late at night to catch a glimpse of a fox and her cubs to the eponymous ‘sparkle jar’, a jar of small, shiny fish that is tragically smashed by bullies.

All of these small tragedies and small triumphs, such as the neighbour who takes an interest in Packham’s kestrel and his ecstatic experiences at the cinema watching Ring of Bright Water, which led to him falling in love with otters, are told from varying viewpoints and in different tenses to create a unique narrative that is both memorable and engaging.

Each section of the memoir ends with a chapter in which we hear Packham talking to a counsellor of some description about his life and where he believes certain habits or emotions began. Such a personal account of Packham’s life is incredibly moving, and by the end I was practically crying, which is a no mean feat. The beauty Packham invokes through his stunning depictions of the natural world works hand in hand with his varied writing styles to create a book which is both emotive and intellectually stimulating.

Thanks to the vast array of different experiences that Packham manages to pack into this extraordinary memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is both universally understandable and simultaneously extraordinary, and I personally believe that it is a genuine must-read.

The Goshawk: Review

The Goshawk

T H White’s The Goshawk is renowned as a classic of the English pastoral genre- a terrifying tale of man’s eternal struggle to tame nature, interspersed with White’s account of his own personal struggles at the time.

Much like Helen Macdonald’s stunning memoir H is for Hawk (you can read my review of that excellent book HERE), which draws inspiration from The Goshawk, White’s book is about more than just the training of a bird. Filled with historical titbits, hawking trivia as well as passages of great personal sentiment, the book is an excellent reminder tha toyu are not alone in the struggle to find your place in the world.

White’s hawk, whom he names Gos in an uninspired attempt to distance the animal from becoming a pet, is lively and spirited, and White, who at the time was struggling through a quagmire of personal suffering, was completely inexperienced in hawk training, having gained much of his knowledge from books on the subject.

The result is as catastrophic as you would expect, and documented beautifully in White’s terse prose. The book is a triumph of writing versus subject- whilst it may sound dull to read 150 odd pages of a man trying (and failing) to tame a goshawk, the books depiction of this battle is what makes it so readable.

H is For Hawk: Review

H is for Hawk

I have promised before, so here you go: my thoughts on Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, which is one of my all-time favourite books and one which I would throughly recommend.

This beautiful memoir offers an emotive insight into Macdonald’s struggle as she searched for a meaning and a purpose to her life following the death of her father. This is the real focus of the book, with the Hawk, Mabel, and the struggle Macdonald had in training her, highlighting the depth of the sorrow and depression she felt at that time.

The inspiration for the text came from T.H White’s The Goshawk, a book which Macdonald frequently references. This books tells a similar story: White, a former school master turned author, decided to train a goshawk, a pursuit which later turned into an obsession.

In the same fashion Macdonald becomes increasingly fixated on training the hawk: it is as she reaches success and begins to hunt properly with the bird, learning its patterns and following its thoughts, that she sees that she is becoming less of herself.

This touching chapter of Macdonald’s life is written into this fascinating book with true skill: the author clearly has a strong knowledge of the history of hunting with hawks and a number of other rural pursuits, which she showcases with ease.

There are also some areas of near perfect description which highlight Macdonald’s passion and love for birds of prey. The very best example, and the one which has stayed with me ever since I first read this book over a year ago, is the depiction of Macdonald collecting her hawk on a Scottish quay. The breeder is meeting someone else, and has bought both Macdonald’s hawk and the other buyer’s with him. Macdonald describes the hawk she is supposed to take in the most glorious fashion:

“She came out like a Victorian melodrama: a sort of madwoman in the attack. She was smokier, and darker, and much, much bigger, and instead of twittering, she wailed; great, awful gouts of sound like a thing in pain, and the sound was unbearable.”

This stunning, passionate recount of meeting the hawk (which the breeder swapped for the younger bird at Macdonald’s request) is an excellent example of the skilled, sumptuously descriptive use of language that pervades throughout H is for Hawk.

To conclude then, my suggestion is this: READ THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY. Get a copy in any way you can. There are some pretty covers available for those who judge books by their cover, but whether you fancy the flowery one or are happy with the beige, please read the words within, as they make for a fascinating insight into topics including humanity, history and goshawks. Which are frankly the only three topics one should ever take any interest in.