Did you know cows are good at babysitting and hide and seek?

Cows: Is there more to them than grazing - such as blackberry-picking? Picture: Mark Affleck

Cows: Is there more to them than grazing - such as blackberry-picking? Picture: Mark Affleck - Credit: Mark Affleck

Stuck for Christmas gift ideas? Here’s a dozen delights for family and friends who might enjoy reading about horses, rural life or food


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Long Rider to Rome: 1,400 Miles by Pilgrim Horse from Canterbury, Mefo Phillips, Signal Books, £12.99

Haven’t we all wanted to saddle up and ride off, metaphorically, into the sunset? Mefo Phillips, with a ride to Spain already under her belt, sets off from Kent to Rome – on horse Leo, and with husband Peter in charge of Bessie the Bedford horsebox.

She takes a pilgrim route… and finds it challenging. Tricky maps, wild mountain weather and even a tumble down a ravine. Do they reach St Peter’s Square intact?

Underpinning it all is the fact Mefo rode in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society – her horse-riding mother having died from the disease.

The Secret Life of Cows, Rosamund Young, Faber & Faber, £7.99


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Is it just me who quite likes cows but gets a bit wary of their size and intentions when they wander over en masse to see what’s going on? (My wife still talks of her university days, when a gang of cows ate her carefully-assembled soil samples.)

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Rosamund encourages us to look beyond the bulk, arguing that cattle are as varied as humans. Some are highly intelligent, others a bit slow on the uptake. We can also find bovines vain, considerate, proud, shy and inventive, apparently.

And get this: although they spend much of the day munching, they also do things such as babysitting, playing hide and seek, blackberry-picking and even fighting a tree. Who’d have thought?

Ghost Riders: Operation Cowboy, the World War Two Mission to Save the World’s Finest Horses, Mark Felton, Icon Books, £20

In the spring of 1945, things look dicey for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna’s collection of unique white Lipizzaner stallions. They’ve been scattered across Czechoslovakia and Austria – to lands that will soon be dominated by Soviet troops. In desperate times, will they be slaughtered for food?


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Mark Felton tells the bizarre story of how American troops, freed prisoners of war and Nazi soldiers who had surrendered combined in the last days of the conflict to save these fine horses from the Nazi SS and the Soviet Red Army.

Mud Season: How One Woman’s Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another, Ellen Stimson, Countryman Press, about £13

We’ve all nurtured a similar dream to this. Ish…

Ellen goes from city life to a rickety Vermont farmhouse in the United States. Then she sets her sights on running an old-fashioned village store where the locals don’t much like change... like moving the bread.

Can she win them over? Can she really swap high heels for wellies? Do the skunks, foxes and bears win in the end?


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Bob Langrish’s World of Horses: A Master Photographer’s Lifelong Quest to Capture the Most Magnificent Horses in the World, Storey Publishing, £30.99

We all know horses are graceful – poetry on four legs – and photographer Bob travels to six continents to make that absolutely clear. He seeks some of the most compelling horses in their natural environments: Mongolian steppe, South African desert, urban street and more.

Complementing his images are words from Olympic gold medallist Jane Holderness-Roddam, explaining how those habitats influence equine behaviour… and how Bob’s quest to meet his goals sometimes got a bit… well, scary.

Bread & Butter: History, Culture, Recipes; Richard Snapes, Grant Harrington and Eve Hemingway; Quadrille, £22


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Bread & Butter is a love letter to two products that have graced our tables for centuries. Humble, but important in the history of food.

It also offers more than 50 sweet and savoury concoctions. There are recipes for a variety of breads (flatbreads, brioche, grain loaf) and butters (real butter, ghee, flavoured spreads), as well as recipes that bring the two together – from buttermilk scones or bread puddings to a brioche and brown butter ice-cream and spelt buttermilk pancakes.

National Geographic Kids Readers: Gallop! 100 Fun Facts About Horses, Kitson Jazynka, National Geographic Kids, £3.99

Oh to be a child again. There I was thinking National Geographic published only things that were top-notch and intelligent, yes, but a bit too erudite for my brain. Turns out they really know how to vary their voice and presentation for different “markets” – such as youngsters who are fluent readers. This book is surely a nailed-on Christmas stocking filler. Its 40-something pages are full of intriguing strange-but-true facts and oodles of equestrian information. Bound to keep a young horse-lover engrossed over the festive period.


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The Handbook of Horses and Donkeys: Introduction to Ownership and Care, Chris J Mortensen, 5m Publishing, £24.95

Goodness knows that a small minority of horse owners could do with a book like this. The tragedy is that those who desperately need it are unlikely to seek it out or pick it up.

Still, if you’ve a friend or relative thinking of keeping a donkey or horse, this would be helpful reading for them before they make a final decision – and a useful tome to keep on the shelf should they go ahead. (It’s also good for the experienced owner.)

This is an introductory guide, offering expert advice on equine evolution, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, behaviour, learning, communication, hoof care, first aid, parasitic infection, pregnancy and more.

Also covered are body condition scoring, estimating weight, calculating dietary rations, stabling, pasture advice and dealing with abnormal behaviour.

Equine Behaviour in Mind: Applying Behavioural Science to the Way We Keep, Work and Care for Horses, Suzanne Rogers, 5m Publishing, £24.95

Good physical health is vital, of course, but it’s only one side of the coin. The brain is important, too. Another offering from 5m Publishing is aimed at those working with horses, and owners who’d like to know more about what makes their animal tick.

Suzanne Rogers takes a “mindful” approach that seeks to show us how to think in a horse-centric way, with ideas we can put into practice to improve horses’ lives.

The book looks at aspects such as breeding, training, competing, the teaching of riding, medical and dental check-ups, and rehabilitation.

Ponies and Horses Sticker Activity Book, Erica Green, National Geographic Kids, £5.99

If behavioural science is a bit heavy for the youngsters in your orbit, and you need another nice stocking-filler, this could fit the bill. Cute ponies, more than 1,000 stickers, 50-plus pages, mazes, spelling and pattern games, drawing activities… What’s not to love? (Apart, maybe, from prising ground-in stickers from the carpet on December 28.)

Together – Our Community Cookbook, The Hubb Community Kitchen, Ebury Press, £9.99

Anyone who hasn’t heard of this must have spent the past few months locked in their kitchen. The foreword is by The Duchess of Sussex, who went along and was pictured helping prepare food.

It’s a collection celebrating the power of cooking to connect people, and showcases more than 50 recipes from folk whose lives were affected by the Grenfell Tower fire in London.

The recipes tell the story of women who gathered in a community kitchen to cook fresh meals for their families and neighbours… and started to “heal” and look forward.

All proceeds from sales of the book will help the Hubb Community Kitchen do its work.

Winners: The Horses, The Memories, The Defining Moments; Hugh Cahill, Hachette Books Ireland, £25.99

Ah. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? – the sport of kings and the thrill of the turf. After a tough winter’s day, what better than to sit by a warm fire and savour moments that got the heart pumping?

That’s what Hugh Cahill presents, having mined a host of memories from some of the famous names in Irish racing – folk such as Ruby Walsh, AP McCoy and JP McManus.

Between them, they recall 80 of the horses that have played major roles in their lives. Think Arkle, Frankel, Papillon, Sea the Stars and more.

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