Joyce Stranger, who died in 2007, wrote over 70 books. She was brought up in an area
she described as on the “borderline between town and country,” rich in wildlife,
and with “so many birds it was impossible to sleep through the dawn chorus.” Holidays
were spent in the British countryside, where she watched wildlife. Besides being
fascinated by the natural world, she also wanted to write, and eventually succeeded
in publishing an article (on animals) in 1949. Spending all her spare time with farmers
and horse and dog breeders, she continued to learn about animal behaviour, and soon
realised that many books on animals were simply wrong, being written by authors who
did not know enough. She said: “Often dogs and ponies in children’s books are given
the oddest motivations, the reasons for their actions being nothing like those quoted.”
Her first book, The Running Foxes, was a great success, and was followed by her first
horse title, Breed of Giants. This was based on Jim Gould’s Lymm Shires, in Cheshire.
He “gave me his cuttings book to examine, and everything that happened in that book
happened over the years to his horses. I met them; wonderful black animals, that
had triumphed over and over again in the shows.”
Out of the many animal books that followed, eight were horse stories aimed at the
adult market, plus a pair of books about a vet in which horses figure. She also wrote
two children’s pony books, and Stranger than Fiction, a fictionalised account of
the life of Elspeth Bryce Smith, a Welsh girl paralysed by polio, who eventually
recovered enough to ride (disguised as a man) as a jockey. Many of Stranger’s stories
feature heroes and heroines like Bryce Smith, who triumph over disaster, and this
she thought was after her own childhood experience in World War II, when the family
home was destroyed by a landmine in 1942. “The theme of them all has probably come
from my father... So what, we’re alive. It’s the future that counts. We can’t change
In her later years, Joyce worked as a dog behaviourist, after she worked with her
own dog, Chita. “She completely changed my direction, as she was so wild.... A headache
on four legs. I had to learn to change her, and in doing so changed myself.” Her
training was successful. Chita became the hundredth Pets as Therapy dog.
Stranger knew her books were portraying a vanishing way of life, and hoped they would
be “a small history of the men and women who worked so hard with so little financial
Finding the books: Joyce Stranger’s books were (and are) very popular, and so most
titles were reprinted many times. This means the majority of the horse books are
easy to find as hardbacks, and very easy to find as paperbacks. The exceptions are
the children’s book The Wild Ponies, which is very hard to find indeed, and The Stallion,
which can be expensive.
Many thanks to Konstanze Allsopp, Susan Bourgeau, Dawn Harrison, Sue Howes, Fiona
Williiams and Debbie Patrick for the pictures, and to Debbie for the summaries.
Breed of Giants
Hammond, London, 1966, illus David Rook Viking Press, New York, 1967, illus David
Corgi pb, 1968, 1975, 1979
Josh Johnson breeds Shire horses, but then runs into bad luck: his best horse has
an accident, and more disasters follow, including foot and mouth on a nearby far. Once
more though, he builds up his winning strain of horses.
Zara Harvill Press, London, 1970
Corgi, pb, 1972, 1975
Richard Proud cannot afford to buy the Thoroughbred mare Zara, but he does so anyway,
determined that she will restore the fortunes of his stud, despite the best efforts
of the weather and his reckless wife to stop her.
The Wild Ponies Kaye & Ward, London, 1976, illus Robert Rothero
Many thanks to Pam Wakelam for the picture of this children’s story.
Khazan: the Horse that Came out of the Sea Collins/Harvill, 1977 Firecrest (Large Print),
1978 Corgi pg, 1979, 1983
Tree of Life, pb, 2007
Debbie saves Khazan’s life after he is washed up on the Cornish coast. She fights desperately
to keep him, and finds new friends along the way.
The Stallion Michael Joseph, London, 1981 Corgin, pb, 1983 Chivers (Large Print), 1984
After afrtist Rhea’s husband dies, she moves to the country and buys a stallion and
a dog. More a
dog than a horse book, the stallion is kept elsewhere, and the story focuses on Rhea’s
developing relationship with her neighbours, and with her German Shepherd puppy,
Rhea slowly overcomes her grief.
Lakeland Vet Harvill Press, London, 1972 Corgi, pb, 1974
Dai Evans runs his practice single handed, but as pressure of work mounts, he finally
manages to find a partner. The young man has a surprising amount to learn about life
in a country practice, and then there is his very full home life, with his four children,
and the threat to the village from the new reservoir project...
The January Queen Michael Joseph, London, 1975 Corgi, pb, 1980 Chivers (Large Print),
Kate Malone is spoiled and irresponsible. After she is responsible for a disaster
on her parents’ farm, her mother decides she must stand on her own two feet, and she
is sent to live in a cottage nearby. She buys January Queen, an in=foal Shire mare,
and with the help of the January Queen’s former owner, Joe, she learns how to look
after herself and her animals.
Hounds of Hades Michael Joseph, London, 1985
Joel inherits a stud farm from a relative he never met, but it soon becomes clear
that the stud was not founded on honest endeavour. Joel reads his great uncle Joel’s
diaries, which describe his life meticulously. Throughout his life, Great Uncle Joel
was plagued by guilt, and constantly refers to the Hounds of Hades, who signify impending
doom. Joel realises they’re baying for him too, and that he must discover the truth
behind his great uncle’s fortune.
Midnight Magic Lions, London, 1991 (pb)
A children’s story. Mandy Hunt has lost her nerve after a bad fall, but she still
dreams of a fabulous black stallion called Midnight Magic. Then the family move
to Hunt Cottage, and there is a black stallion grazing in the meadow by the river.
Some people call him Midnight Magic...
Stranger than Fiction Michael Joseph, London, 1984 Corgi, pg, 1985 Chivers (Large Print),
Elspeth Bryce Smith, a Welsh girl, was paralysed by polio as a child before World
She eventually recovered enough to ride. She was horse obsessed, and, disguised
man and calling herself John Grey, rode as a jockey - unheard of at the time, and
accepted reluctantly in the 1970s.
The Hound of Darkness
Dent, London, 1983 Corgi, pb, 1987
Raoul comes to the Welsh Mountains with his Arab stallion and a mare. Living in
the highest point in the village, he finds his house becomes a refuge as the floods
come. Micky, the Gipsy boy who works for him, has to ride for help, but will the
mythical Cafell, the hound of darkness whose ghost haunts the mountains, protect him?
Vet Riding High Carousel, pb, 1981, 124 pp.
Severn House, 1983, 124 pp (laminated boards)
The horse content in this story is fairly minimal: the vet fulfils his dream of
starting a stud with a friend, and that’s about it, but it’s still a good read about
life as a country vet.