7 horsey books to curl up with this January

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  • Whether you’re in the market for a coffee-table picture book that you can flick through once you’ve flopped on the sofa post-riding, or fancy a good autobiography that you can get your teeth into — H&H has picked seven recent releases which are sure to perk up the dark January evenings.

    1. If Horses could Talk
    Gary Witheford
    Author: Gary Witheford
    Published by: Racing Post Books
    Price: £20
    ISBN: 9781909471696
    If Horses Could Talk tells the story of world-renowned natural horseman Gary Witheford in his own words. The autobiography gives an honest account of his remarkable life, from his troubled childhood shadowed by abuse to the salvation he finds through horses.
    Although most famous for his work in the racing world, Gary has transformed problem horses across the disciplines. I was left in awe of Gary’s work, from “starting” — a term he prefers to breaking — a young horse within 30min, to putting zebras through their paces. This captivating and moving book is punctuated with colourful photographs and will resonate with any animal lover, with a helpful “Tack Room” glossary to assist those less acquainted with equestrian terms.

    2. Focused: My Life in Pictures
    Andrew Nicholson
    Author: Andrew Nicholson (with Catherine Austen)
    Published by:  Racing Post Books
    Price: £20
    ISBN: 9781909471580
    Andrew Nicholson’s latest dabble into literature takes the reader on a fascinating personal journey of hard graft and true horsemanship, illustrated with many unseen photographs cleverly documenting his rise to the top and his life with horses. We discover the horses — and ponies — who played pivotal roles in making him the rider we know today, from his first pony to the wonderful Avebury. The kind of “autobiography” I prefer — plenty to look at and short, interesting snippets of text, peppered with Andrew’s witty anecdotes. There are some great one-liners, one of my favourites being, “No-one told me not to gallop to an upright gate — I learnt by doing it.” I think this sums up Andrew’s early years very well.

    3. Walking Home: My Family and Other Rambles
    Clare Balding
    Author: Clare Balding
    Published by: Viking
    Price: £20
    ISBN: 9780670921478
    Two years after her bestselling My Animals and Other Family comes Clare Balding’s Walking Home, a book that will delight fans of her BBC Radio 4 series Ramblings. It all began in 1999 with a phone call from radio producer Lucy Lunt. Would Clare present a new series during which she would interview walkers while following various scenic footpaths around the UK? “I had no idea there were people who walked for the sake of it,” she writes. Happily for us, she accepted, and Walking Home is an account of some of the more hilarious and moving episodes, with anecdotes and personal asides woven in. Along the way we learn how in 2006 she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer; that while working with Willie Carson — with whom she had a 14-year on-air partnership — he had to stand on a box (Balding at 5ft 7in towered over the 5ft Carson). She is brilliant at conjuring imagery — “The seahorses were jumping imaginary fences, landing in a bath of North Sea foam”. This is a funny, warm and entertaining read.

    4. Little Book of Cheltenham
    Little Book of Cheltenham
    Author: Catherine Austen, with a foreword by Nicky Henderson
    Published by: G2 Entertainment Limited
    Price: £9.99
    ISBN: 9781782812517
    Any Cheltenham-fanatic should find space for this pocket-sized book in their downstairs loo — it will prove a handy source of trivia to impress other racing fans or fill an awkward silence. To give you a taste: did you know that Arkle’s daily feed contained six eggs and two bottles of Guinness? If you have longer to enjoy the book from cover to cover, H&H’s former racing editor Catherine Austen takes you from the very first race meeting held in 1815, to the modern masters, amateurs, women, a look behind the scenes and much more.

    5. McCoy in the Frame
    McCoy In The Frame
    Author: Edward Whitaker
    Published by: Racing Post Books
    Price: £20
    ISBN: 9781909471702
    Racing photographer Edward Whitaker captures the 19-times Champion jockey in a variety of environments, giving a behind the scenes look into his life. McCoy In The Frame is split into different eras of his career, starting off as the fresh-faced young jockey in the 1990s and culminating with a champagne-soaked 39-year-old celebrating a record 4,000th winner. The photos show his fierce determination during a race, pain and anguish during and after falls, sharing a joke with trainers and friends and more tender moments with his family. A fantastic range of striking photographs that will interest any racing fan.

    6. Courtney’s Quest
    Courtney King Dye
    Author: Courtney King Dye
    Published by: Words In The Works
    Price: $17.50 (£10.80)
    ISBN: 9780991036448
    In 2010 American dressage rider Courtney King Dye suffered a serious head injury in a schooling fall. She was in a coma for a month, and her accident led to global promotion for safety headwear. Now competing in paradressage, this book tells Courtney’s story of life before and after her accident in an open and honest manner, and conveys her fierce determination. It recounts her life — growing up fighting with parents that didn’t believe she should focus on a career in horses, meeting her husband Jaso competing at the 2008 Olympics and her life-changing accident. Courtney writes in an engaging and moving way — aspects of the book are described in heartbreaking detail, though there are moments of humour. The book includes extracts from her journal through the years, which adds personality. It gives a revealing insight into the world of an athlete at the highest level — and how she coped when life changed.

    7. Making it Happen: The Autobiography
    Carl Hester
    Author:Carl Hester
    Published by: Orion
    Price: £20
    ISBN: 1409147673
    A rip-roaring trip through Olympic rider Carl Hester’s early days on the car-free island of Sark and his rise up the global dressage ladder, culminating in team gold at London 2012. Packed full of vibrant stories, this 288-page book catalogues Carl’s life in dressage’s fast lane in his usual irreverent, impudent style. The book is revealing, insightful and witty and a must for any dressage fanatic. However, some passages are confusing as they chop and change between real names and nicknames of the huge cast involved. As one Amazon reviewer put it: “Truly wonderful story, but was there ever an editor involved?”

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