Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand is hands-down my favorite horse book of all time. I can’t remember how I got it, but I’m forever grateful that I did. A racehorse in the 1920s and 30s, Seabiscuit was a heavy underdog with a rough start to his racing career but ended up transcending everyone’s expectations of him. Seabiscuit changed my perspectives on horses, horse training, and showed me that the love between horses and humans can heal both. This book is well-written, well-researched, moving, and well worth the read.
Laura Hillenbrand wrote this book brilliantly. The tone is personal yet not so personal that you’re led away from the plot. It’s like hearing a story from a friend. You can also tell that Hillenbrand really did her research and put it all together in a way that makes the story shine and draws the reader in. She provides excellent background on each person (and horse) and manages to make every part of this book more interesting than the last—although the story itself certainly helps with that. Hillenbrand even writes in a way that makes it fun to read about a horse race, live-action style. Her detailed and well-written accounts of Seabiscuit and the people around him make this book an absolute pleasure to read.
One of the other main reasons that I love this book is the story itself. Seabiscuit and his long-time jockey, Red Pollard, were both very much underdogs, as were many of the other people around them. Their teamwork, love for each other, and success show that a little bit of patience, consistency, and compassion can lead to greatness. As a young horsewoman reading this book, I was immediately inspired by the trainer’s gentle and consistent ways (which I won’t spoil), and this became a large part of my training philosophy. Seabiscuit himself showed me that horses can truly enjoy being competitive at an event they like doing, and even excel at the highest level. The match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral was all I needed to see that. You can watch the video of it here, but I highly recommend reading the book before watching as it will provide all of the emotional contexts to make that video as moving to you as it was to me the first time I watched it. It still gives me chills, even just to read about it.
Not only is Seabiscuit’s story moving in and of itself, the lives of the people he loved—and hated—are emotional and impactful. Some came from nothing and ended up with everything, and vice versa. His jockey grew up dirt poor and ended up blind in one eye; his owner started out with just a few cents in his pocket to start a bicycle shop; his trainer seemed to materialize out of nowhere. His team built themselves into superstars during a time when the country was in an economic crisis; people even went out and bought their first radios to listen to the races. The people who didn’t believe in him because of his odd conformation and his laziness in the barn ended up seriously regretting their opinions and the fact that they didn’t take enough time to figure out what would make this horse want to run. I won’t go into too much detail because the book is too good to spoil.
I’ve read this book many times; it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s the kind of book that you keep learning from each time you read it. In fact, a movie was made based on it, but I will say that it’s not nearly as good as the book. Hillenbrand’s recounting of Seabiscuit’s life and the lives of those that knew him is masterful and vastly entertaining. I recommend this book to horse people and non-horse people alike!