Review: Phoenix Rising by Nicola Newsome

This Black Beauty tale for the modern age is a galloping good read. Phoenix cover

Phoenix Rising by Nicola Newsome is the story of a horse.

Told in first person, Black Beauty style, it details the rise and fall and rise again of Phoenix, a filly bred to be a racehorse but who nearly dies due to the incompetence and neglect of one of her many owners. 

Newsome is a horsewoman who volunteers at a horse refuge (part of the proceeds of the book go towards the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre, UK), and she’s  filled with righteous anger about the ill-treatment of equines at the hands of humans.

From thoroughbreds created to race and fit for nothing else, to twitching, to hard bits and tough breaking, lack of proper feed and exercise, starvation, neglect and outright cruelty, Phoenix encounters everything that life might throw at a single horse as she is sold from pillar to post and back again and crosses the Channel from England to France – the land where recalcitrant horses are eaten. 

On her journey through life she encounters many other horses, each with their own history, and humans of all kinds – good riders and bad riders, horse-whisperers and drunks, passing farmers and enthusiastic pony-clubbers, with the ever-present threat of the knacker and the butcher awaiting any horse that can’t earn its keep or dares to show resistance to its fate. 

Newsome’s knowledge of riding, training and horse communication lend the book great authenticity and fascinating detail (I, for one, did not know horses can’t vomit), and parts of it are both terrifying and moving. Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger, making it ideal to read to children in bed, or for older children to read a chapter at at time, but be warned – like its great Victorian predecessor, there are real deaths and real cruelty in this book; it is not a Disney version of horse life and Newsome clearly wants us all to think harder about our relationships with and exploitation of animals. 

Phoenix Rising is downloadable from equestrian specialist publisher Lavender & White (lavender& for £3.99.

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