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Book Review

Horse Gentler in Training by Dandi Daley Mackall has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is a book in the “Winnie: The Early Years" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Winnie Willis, 8, and her mother enjoy taking care of and riding horses on the Willis Wyoming Ranch. Winnie's mother, Emily, gently trains horses, while others break them, sometimes in cruel ways. Winnie's father, Jack, is the owner of Best Bet Insurance. She also has a sister, Lizzy, who likes lizards, not horses. The family's bills are stacking up. Winnie overhears her father and mother talking about selling the ranch to pay the bills.

Mr. Green and his son Austin, 8, are boarding their champion thoroughbred named Royal Princess with Winnie's family. They have paid Emily to train Princess so Austin can ride her. But when they come for a visit, Princess moves away from them.

After the horse almost kicks Austin, Winnie is determined to catch Princess for the Greens. She comes within a hands-length of Princess, before the horse whinnies and trots away. Austin laughs at her.

Emily whistles for the horse, and it comes to her. They walk to the barn together. When Austin demands to ride Princess, Emily lets him know that today's lesson will be about grooming his horse because the horse isn't yet ready for a rider. Having to do the horse's menial work angers Austin and his father.

Winnie leaves the barn. She finds her sister, Lizzy, who is a year younger. Simon, Austin's paternal twin, is with Lizzy. Lizzy has lost her earless lizard, and Simon is helping her search for it.

On Monday at school, Winnie realizes she forgot to write a journal entry about what she did over the weekend. Each child reads from his or her journal. On Austin's turn, he tells how the Willis family was paid to do the menial work for his horse so he can ride Princess and win championships. Because Winnie's family didn't do what they were paid to do, he had to groom his own horse.

Winnie yells at Austin and tells him that what he's saying is not true. When asked what she did that weekend, she said she practiced catching Princess and lies about actually riding the horse. Later that day at home, Winnie takes Princess out of the stall and climbs on her back. At first the horse dances, and then it bucks Winnie off and runs away. Winnie lands on her wrist and sprains it.

Now Winnie has to wear a sling for a few days; her mom has to do her own and Winnie's chores with the horses; and everyone at school knows Winnie hurt herself by trying to ride Princess. At school, Austin threatens to take Princess to another ranch if the horse doesn't let him ride it by the weekend.

The threat scares Winnie. She wants to do something to help. She teaches Princess to nod and shake her head no, using a hidden prompt. When the Greens come to take the horse, Winnie asks questions and prompts Princess to nod and shake its head no so it seems like Princess wants to stay on the Willis ranch. The Greens let Princess stay one more day.

On Saturday, Winnie no longer has to wear the sling for her wrist. She goes to Princess and tries to teach her to lift the bars that keep gates locked. Emily wants to ride Princess before the Greens arrive, but Lizzy has lost another lizard; she and Winnie look for it.

The Greens arrive early. When they all reach the barn, Princess is gone. Winnie realizes that Princess might have learned to unlock the gates. Everyone hurries to search for her.

Winnie finds the horse and her sister's lizard. She brings both back to the corral and confesses that she taught Princess to unlock the gates. Mr. Green is so impressed that he pays for three months of training for Princess. This allows the Willis family to pay their bills and keep the farm.

Christian Beliefs

Emily tells her husband that they shouldn't sell the ranch but hold on to it and pray. She tells Winnie that God created the heavens, earth and horses. When she sees how Mr. Green is treating his horse, she says she thinks God should have stopped with horses.

When Winnie tells Lizzy that it's impossible to catch the same lizard twice, Lizzy says that nothing is impossible with God. This sentiment is repeated a number of times in this story. Landri, a girl in Winnie's class, mentions going to church over the weekend.

Lizzy prays that God will help Winnie feel better, tells her that God can take care of the family's finances and prays for Winnie when she is bucked off Princess. Winnie silently prays for forgiveness for bragging about catching Princess and lying about riding the horse.

Emily thanks God for bringing the Greens' business to them. Winnie sends up a quick prayer that Princess will perform well for Mr. Green. Later, Winnie asks God to help her find Princess.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Emily is kind and gentle with her children. She listens to what they say and allows them to take small risks to achieve their goals. She holds them accountable for their actions and expects them to tell the truth. She is proud of both Winnie and Lizzy.

Jack is concerned about the family's finances and is relieved when they are able to pay their bills. He shows his children he loves them with kind words and physical affection. He often has to work late, arriving home after the children have gone to bed.


Austin calls his horse stupid. Princess kicks at Austin, but Austin dodges away just in time. Winnie tries to ride Princess to show she can and is bucked off. She sprains her wrist.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

7 to 9


Dandi Daley Mackall






Record Label



Tyndale Kids, a division of Tyndale House Publishers Inc.


On Video

Year Published





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