Raja - Story of a Racehorse, by Anne Hambleton. Illustrations by Margaret Kauffman

Cheryl’s Review:

After too many years of school and too many hours of work, I try to remind myself to read books for pleasure. It’s not always easy to find the time or desire but Anne Hambleton’s Raja, Story of a Racehorse is one of those books I’d highly recommend as a pleasure read.

The detailed life story of Raja, a thoroughbred horse breed for greatness, is told by the horse himself and other horse he encounters on his journey.

The story starts with Raja as a young colt and moves through a series of unfortunate events that change his life as fast and as often as a thunderstorm changes a day.

This is a well-written book and the author has a wonderful talent for using words to wake the senses and create a mood for the reader. Her attention to accuracy and detail in explaining the inside worlds of Thoroughbred breeding and racing as well as other equestrian careers was informative without weighing down the enjoyment of the story.

On a personal note, I was a young girl raised by an OTTB. We knew very little about his life before he came to me. I often wondered and even use to create stories to tell to myself as we trotted through farm fields on sunny days. Did he like to race? Did he know love? Was he happy?

Reading the story told by Raja, I found myself slipping back to my youth. Questions I was too young to ask were answered. I always suspected my horse had experienced lots hurt and pain. But in the end I knew my horse was loved and happy, as all horses should be.

This book can bring a full range of emotions to the reader, I laughed, I cried and in the end I truly enjoyed the read.


Amy’s Review:

As a horse-crazed kid that read every horse book available at the my local bookseller’s and library, I can tell you that this is a book that would have had a treasured place in my bookshelf, probably right next to my oft-read copies of all the Walter Farley books and Marguerite Henry books.

Heck, I’m an adult now, and I will still pick up and read any book that has a horse on the cover or in the title. ( Sad but true. You should have seen the look on my husband’s face when he saw me reading A Cowboy for Christmas.)

Raja’s story comes to you straight from the horse himself. Raja is a Thoroughbred, bred to the nines and expected to by his owners to grow up and win the Kentucky Derby. Typical of the breed, Raja is charming and bright, highly intuitive and curious, and born with a desire to be the best at whatever he does.

Sadly, due to the vagaries of fate, Raja’s career as a racehorse is cut short, and we see Raja’s life change as drastically as his jobs and homes change. For a while he’s a show jumper, then a part-time trail horse. At one point he’s sent to an auction and narrowly misses being sent to slaughter, then gets another lease on life when a rescue operation saves him and eventually finds a new home for him.

While that might sound like enough action for one story, it’s not even half of Raja’s. Author Anne Hambleton, a former Somerset Hills New Jersey Pony Clubber (my neck of the woods!) eventer, and amateur steeplechase jockey does an amazing job of educating the reader to the reality the Thoroughbred faces today. She shows how these magnificent animals are bred and born with such promise and hope, and through Raja’s tale, how so many of them endure tragedy rather than triumph.

Anne does an amazing job of imbuing the horse’s personalities’ and places with authenticity. As someone who grew up in the same area Anne did I’ve been to many of the same places and events. Her description of them was so spot on it brought back so many memories. The scene at the New Holland auction was so vivid that at one point I forgot I was reading fiction and wondered if Raja was one of the horses I’d seen there.

As I read Raja’s story I found myself rooting for him, worrying for him, laughing at him, and crying for him. Raja is a shining example of the versatile wonder that is the Thoroughbred. While the book is aimed at the horse crazy 10-13 year old, it can easily translate to the older Horse Junkie as well. Give RAJA: Story of a Racehorse a read — you can find a copy here.