Willow King

( 14 )


When thirteen-year-old Katie Durham learns that the owner of a neighboring thoroughbred farm is going to destroy a newborn colt, she rushes to save him. Although Willow King's legs are badly twisted, Katie fights for his life, begging for the chance to raise and train him.

Thirteen-year-old Katie, who is herself physically challenged, saves a crippled foal from euthanasia and nurses him back to health and eventual championships.

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Willow King

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When thirteen-year-old Katie Durham learns that the owner of a neighboring thoroughbred farm is going to destroy a newborn colt, she rushes to save him. Although Willow King's legs are badly twisted, Katie fights for his life, begging for the chance to raise and train him.

Thirteen-year-old Katie, who is herself physically challenged, saves a crippled foal from euthanasia and nurses him back to health and eventual championships.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-When a foal is born with crooked legs on a nearby thoroughbred farm, its owner orders that the animal be destroyed. To save its life, 13-year-old Katie agrees to lease her beloved show horse, Jester, to the owner's bratty daughter, Cindy. Through Katie's care and guidance, Willow King gradually becomes a strong and talented racehorse. Along the way, the girl works through her own self-consciousness about the fact that she limps because one of her legs is shorter than the other. She is also befriended by handsome Jason. By the end of the story, Katie has won the heart of Jason, gotten Jester back, and watched Willow King finish first in an important race. Most of the characters are fairly one-dimensional. Although Katie is a little more fleshed out, her silence and rationalizations concerning Cindy's poor treatment of Jester are hard to accept when contrasted with her kindness toward Willow King. The scenes showing Cindy's inept riding are accurately described and there is interesting information about raising and racing thoroughbreds. However, the story is predictable and neither the human characters nor the horses are interesting enough to make this a must-buy for equine enthusiasts.-Carol Schene, Taunton Public Schools, MA
Kirkus Reviews
Platt's first novel is a lively girl-and-horse story set in Oregon that is full of fascinating detail about how these animals are trained to be champions. Katie Durham has one leg that is shorter than the other. When a foal is born of a distinguished racing line on a nearby horse farm, his legs are so crooked that his owner, Mr. Ellis, decides to have him euthanized. Katie, seeing in the animal a reflection of her own handicap, begs Mr. Ellis to let Willow King live, and promises that she'll take care of him. With the help and guidance of old John, Mr. Ellis's chief trainer, Katie begins the long and arduous process of first straightening Willow King's twisted legs and then training him to be the champion racer that she knows he can be. At the same time, the horse's courage and perseverance inspire Katie to come to terms with her own physical problems, and become the person she can be, too. Horse-crazy readers will find themselves immersed in the racing world, and will root for Willow King and for Katie all the way. (Fiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781561455492
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, Ltd.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 799,669
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 760L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Willow King

By Chris Platt


Copyright © 2010 Chris Platt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-3892-1


"Destroy him? What do you mean 'destroy him'? He was just born!" Katie stared at the bay colt that lay nestled in the thick bed of straw. Grey Dancer, his dam, nuzzled his still-wet coat and nickered softly to him, encouraging him to stand and nurse.

Katie leaned her forehead against the cold wood of the stall door and listened to the drumming of the Oregon rain on the barn roof. The gloom of the day settled over her like a wet blanket.

Old John, the trainer for Willow Run Thoroughbred Farm, placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I tried, missy, but it's the boss's orders, and what he says goes. There's nothing either of us can do about it. This is a farm for racing stock. With legs like that, this colt will be lucky to stand and nurse, let alone race someday."

Katie looked down at her own legs. Where would she be if her parents had felt the same way about her at her birth? With one leg almost an inch shorter than the other, it wasn't a great handicap—but it was enough to set her apart.

She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes, fighting the burn of tears. She was thirteen now, too old to break down and cry like a baby. But she felt so helpless. She had no claim to the farm. She didn't live here. She was just the neighbor girl who had bugged Mr. Ellis until he had finally given up and let her help with the horses.

She pushed her long brown curls back over her shoulders and turned pleading blue eyes on the old trainer. "But it's not right, John. Look at how big he is. He's the best-looking colt foaled this season. So what if his legs are crooked? The rest of him is perfect."

"You're right about that, Katie girl."

Together they watched the colt struggle to rise. A gentle nudge from his dam sent him scurrying to stand. Legs tangled and buckled, but eventually he got to his feet, teetering as he stretched his neck to suckle.

"Attaboy, Willow King." Katie spoke words of encouragement to the new foal. His ears flickered at the sound of the human voice and he turned his head to stare in her direction, milk dripping from the curly whiskers under his chin. But the effort was too much for him, and his legs collapsed under him like a folding chair snapping shut.

"See? He knows his name already," Katie said as she knelt quietly beside the mare and foal, intent on helping him to stand and nurse again. Fortunately, Grey Dancer was a kind mare. She wouldn't turn on Katie for entering the stall when there was a new foal inside. Many mares would.

"Don't you be namin' that colt now, Katie," John said testily. "No need for you to go gettin' attached to him when Mr. Ellis has ordered him put down."

Katie stood and brushed the straw from her jeans, then limped to the edge of the stall. She had forgotten to wear her orthopedic shoe this morning. Her back would pain her later, but it would be worth it. She wouldn't have missed this birth for anything.

But now it might turn into a funeral. "I'm not going to let him do it," she told John determinedly. "So what if his legs are too crooked to race? He could be a trail horse or a carriage horse, couldn't he?"

John tilted his head and settled his felt hat more firmly into place. "Now, missy, this colt's got some of the finest racing blood this farm has to offer. You think he'll ever be content to be an ordinary cart horse?"

Katie thought of her dream of becoming a ballerina. That dream had vanished when she hadn't outgrown the clumsiness of her disability. She could handle the fact that she would never be a dancer, but how would she feel if someone wanted her dead?

"Being a carriage horse is better than being put to sleep!" Katie exploded. She turned from John and helped the foal to stand. He wobbled and bobbled but soon found the food supply again and resumed sucking greedily.

"That's it, King, drink all you can," Katie urged. "It'll help you to grow up big and healthy." She knew how important it was for the foal to get that first milk from his mother. It contained all the antibodies he would need to survive and grow strong.

Katie surveyed the colt's crooked limbs. "What about leg casts, John?"

Old John took off his hat and scratched his head. "I've seen it done," he admitted. "But it's hard on the little ones. They can't run and play like the other foals when they have those heavy casts on. And the things have to be taken off every couple of weeks and tightened for them to work. Sometimes those casts do more harm than good."

Katie sighed and went back to the foal. King stopped nursing and turned his big brown eyes toward her, seeming to size her up, determining if she might be a worthy playmate once he learned how to work his legs properly. He made a faint attempt at a nicker and took a step toward her, but his legs tangled and he fell in a heap at his dam's feet.

Katie laughed at the surprised look in his inquisitive brown eyes. King floundered for a moment in the bedding, then lay back in the deep straw and closed his eyes. Only the rhythmic chomping of Grey Dancer at her hay and the chickens scratching at the dirt on the barn's floor disturbed the quiet.

"Look at him," Katie said. "He's so trusting, he doesn't even know that death is near. Isn't there anything that can help him?"

"Well," old John began as he forked some hay into the stall. "I tried to tell the boss, but he didn't want to listen. I've seen a few colts born with crooked legs. Of course, none of them were as bad as this little colt's. The best remedy I've seen is good food, plenty of sunshine, and lots of pasture to run in."

"That's it?" Katie's eyes widened in surprise. "No medicines or bandages?" That seemed far too simple to work. She wished the problem with her own legs could be fixed that easily.

"That's it," John repeated. "It's best to let Mother Nature take her course. Those legs will straighten of their own accord. Most of those colts went on to win races."

Hope fluttered in Katie's heart. "But if that's all it takes, then why won't Mr. Ellis give it a try?"

"The final decision rests with the boss, and he thinks the colt's legs are too crooked for it to work."

The sound of tires grinding on the gravel driveway announced the arrival of the veterinarian. Katie's heart sank again and her stomach felt as if a large, cold stone lay inside it.

Dr. Marvin, the stable's vet for as long as Katie could remember, ambled up the shed row, shaking the rain from his hat and coat. "Morning, John. Katie." He tipped his head in their direction. "So where is the little fella?"

Katie stepped aside, and the vet entered the stall, shrugging off his raincoat and throwing it over the door. "Not a, very good day to be born," he noted as he dried his hands before picking up his instruments and beginning his examination of the colt. "But it's also not a very good day to die."

Katie heard the sympathy in Dr. Marvin's voice and pounced on it. "Oh, Doc, you can't put him down. He could be a champion someday!"

The vet paused and turned to Katie. "I wouldn't get my hopes up that high," he cautioned. "He's got some of the worst legs I've seen on a colt.

"But," he added, "I think they might straighten enough for him to be of use somewhere."

"See!" Katie beamed, turning to John. "Now all we've got to do is make Mr. Ellis understand."

"I've already tried that, Katie," Dr. Marvin said. "It's breeding season, and having a bad-legged colt out of your prize stallion's first crop doesn't go over well with buyers or breeders. Mr. Ellis has high hopes for Beau Jest's offspring, and he doesn't want anyone to know this colt of his exists."

Katie shook her head, tossing her brown curls over her shoulder impatiently. "I didn't know Mr. Ellis could be so heartless."

"He's really not being that cruel," Dr. Marvin said, pulling a stethoscope from his bag. "He doesn't expect this colt to be able to stand and nurse. A quick death is preferable to slow starvation."

"But he's already stood and nursed." A note of hope crept back into Katie's voice.

"He has?" Dr. Marvin's brows rose to a point in the middle of his forehead, giving him the appearance of a wise old owl.

"Yes, he nursed for about a minute."

"That's a good sign." The vet put the stethoscope to the colt's chest and listened. King shifted in the straw and Dr. Marvin put a steadying hand on his side. "He's got a strong heartbeat, and his lungs are clear. If he could get enough milk into him to gain some strength, he would make it."

"Do you really think so?" Katie was getting more excited by the minute.

"Too bad his legs are so crooked. This is one of the best-looking colts I've seen come off this farm."

"We've got to convince Mr. Ellis that Willow King is worth saving!" Katie huffed an exasperated breath. So what if the colt had a handicap? He could overcome it.

"Here he comes now," John warned. "If you've got a plan, it's now or never, my girl."

Katie jogged awkwardly down the barn's shed row to greet the owner. Tom Ellis sloshed into the barn through the mud, his wide-brimmed hat set against the rain. Behind him, a splash of yellow daintily picked its way between the puddles, a large umbrella turning back the onslaught of rain.

Only Cindy Ellis would wear her best school dress to the barn, Katie thought sourly. She and Cindy had been neighbors for the past eight years, but they could hardly be called friends. They tolerated each other, and that was about it. What was she doing here? Cindy only came to the barn when her horse was bridled, saddled, and ready to ride. Today was definitely not a day for a gallop over the fields.

"Hello, Katie. What brings you out on such a miserable morning?" Mr. Ellis's voice always sounded so businesslike.

Cindy closed her umbrella and daintily brushed at the water spots that speckled her dress. "Yes, Katie, what are you doing here?"

Ignoring Cindy's curious gaze, Katie managed to get a few words past the lump in her throat. "It's Grey Dancer's foal, sir ..."

"Ah, yes. She's always been your favorite of all my horses, hasn't she? It's too bad about the foal. I had great hopes pinned on that colt."

"He could still be a winner, Mr. Ellis." Suddenly, Katie lost all control of her tongue. "He stood and nursed. Dr. Marvin says he will live if he just gets some milk down him. Old John says he just needs lots of sunshine." The words tumbled out of her mouth like water over a fall.

"Hold on there, Katie. What are you getting at?"

"Please don't put Willow King down," she pleaded, looking to Cindy for help. The two of them didn't see eye to eye on too many things, but surely Cindy wasn't so horrible that she'd want to see the colt die.

"Willow King?" Tom Ellis stared at Katie. "That's a powerful name, but I'm afraid he won't be able to use it. There's no hope for that colt, Katie."

"Nothing is ever hopeless," Katie said.

Cindy stepped forward and pushed her straight blond hair out of her eyes. "Are you sure, Daddy? Maybe he'll outgrow it?"

Katie managed a weak smile for Cindy. She was grateful for the help.

"No, girls. There's no sense getting your hopes up. The colt's too deformed to make it on his own. He'd take a lot of extra work, and even if he did make it, he'd still be worthless. No legs, no racehorse. You two run on up to the house now. I promise you, the colt won't feel any pain." He shooed them toward the barn door.

"Wait!" Katie yelled. She had to make them see that the colt didn't have to be perfect to be of use. "You can't do this! If it's too much work for you, I'll do it. Just let him live. Please!"

Mr. Ellis sighed and put his hand on her shoulder. "Katie, you just don't understand. No matter how much work you put into this colt, he'll never amount to anything."

But she did understand. She saw the same sentiment in her classmates' faces when it came time to choose teams in gym class. Nobody wanted to pick ol' limpalong Katie; she couldn't run as fast as the others or move as easily. She understood all right.

Mr. Ellis continued. "We could save him, but the only thing he would be good for is standing in the pasture. At best, you might be able to do some light riding on him when he's older. But this is a racing farm, not a convalescent home for hopeless horses."

Katie could tell he was at the end of his patience. If she didn't convince him now, King would be gone forever. The rain outside turned to hail and began to beat down furiously on the roof. It echoed the turmoil she felt in her heart. The colt was worth saving. The tears that had threatened earlier now slipped down her cheeks. Cindy was looking at her with sympathy in her eyes. Maybe she wasn't so bad after all.

Mr. Ellis turned to walk away, but Katie reached out for the sleeve of his coat, stopping him in his tracks.

"What if I buy him from you?" It was a desperate attempt, but it was her last hope.

Cindy stepped forward, the look of pity gone from her eyes. Curiosity had taken its place. "Katie Durham, how do you think you can afford to buy one of our racehorses when your mother can't even afford to pay the taxes on your farm? What will you do with a horse if you lose your land?"

Cindy's father gave her a sharp look and the girl retreated behind him, her bright yellow dress disappearing behind his gray overcoat like the sun slipping into a storm cloud.

Lose the farm? Katie wondered what Cindy was talking about. Her mother had never mentioned that they were in financial trouble. Things had been rough since her father died, but Katie hadn't known they were that bad. If that was true, then they needed King worse than ever. If he was raised right, he could become a valuable champion, like his father, Beau Jest.

Katie watched as Mr. Ellis scratched his chin and studied her. She saw his gaze drift to her leg and comprehension dawn in his eyes. He now realized why this colt was so important to her.

"Katie," Mr. Ellis began in a fatherly tone, "you don't have any money to purchase a colt. You already have one horse, and I doubt your mother would let you have another. I could give you the colt, but it's still going to cost for his vet bill."

"I want to pay for the colt. I can work it off. You know I'm a good groom." Katie jammed her hands into her pockets and kicked at the dirt on the ground, willing the tears in her eyes to stop falling.

Cindy stepped out from behind her father. Katie didn't like the look in her eye. When Cindy Ellis wore that sugary-sweet smile on her face, it spelled trouble for somebody.

"I know a way Katie can pay for the colt," she spoke in a cotton-candy voice. "You can trade your show horse, Jester, for him."

Katie sucked in her breath. She felt as if somebody had just punched her in the stomach. Not Jester! Her father had given her Jester for her tenth birthday. Cindy knew how much that horse meant to her. And to think she had been having nice thoughts about the girl!

"That's an idea." Mr. Ellis scratched the stubble on his chin. "Cindy has been bugging me to buy her a new show horse. She always complains about you beating her in the ring. Maybe she would have a chance at some ribbons if she had Jester. I'm sure your mother wouldn't want to part with such a valuable animal, but maybe you'd be willing to lease him to us for a few years? It would certainly make it easier on you and your mother if you only had one mouth to feed. Of course, this whole deal hinges on her approval."

Katie swallowed the lump in her throat. Thoughts of Cindy riding her beloved horse turned her stomach. The girl didn't have a very good seat, and she continually sawed at her horse's mouth. But Mr. Ellis had a point. If her mom was having trouble with the farm, it would be easier to care for only one horse, and once King grew strong enough to run in races, he would eventually pay his way and theirs, too.

Father and daughter stood waiting for her answer—Mr. Ellis with a friendly, helping smile and Cindy with a greedy smirk. She had been trying for years to beat Jester in the show ring. Now it looked as though she would be winning all the blue ribbons on him.

Never in Katie's life had she had to make such a difficult decision. She opened her mouth and forced the words out before she could change her mind. "Okay, Mr. Ellis, you've got yourself a deal." She saw the admiration in his eyes when he reached out to shake her trembling hand. Cindy looked like the cat that ate the canary.

"You've made a good decision," Cindy bubbled as she looped her arm through Katie's and pulled her down the shed row. "I'll let you come visit Jester anytime you want."


Excerpted from Willow King by Chris Platt. Copyright © 2010 Chris Platt. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 8, 2010

    This book rocked!!!!!

    Willow King is about a girl named Katie Durham who is thirteen and has a small handicap. One foot is an inch shorter than the other, so she puts padding in her shoe to make them even. She works at a horseracing farm called Willow Run. One day the offspring of the two best racehorses is born with crooked legs. The owner of Willow Run demands he be put to sleep but Katie steps in saying how his legs will straighten out. Besides where would she be if her parents hadn't been able to accept her leg? After the bratty daughter of Mr. Ellis, the farm owner, hears the story she suggests Katie lease Jester, the horse her father gave her before he died. Katie agrees to save Willow King (the foal) and give up Jester for a few years. Cindy (the brat) wants Jester because he acts perfectly and always wins a ribbon in shows, but Jester is so sensitive and Cindy is so harsh that he goes crazy trying to obey every little command. And little King can't even nurse by himself yet, Katie isn't so sure he can make it. I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it for all ages. I especially liked the character King; he was very courageous and always took on a challenge, even if it was for his life. I think the best part about this book is that it was based on a live horse just like King! And that the author had been a professional jockey and racehorse trainer's assistant. This book was even a Golden Heart Award Winner. I really enjoyed this book and am sure many others will too.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2007

    A reviewer

    This is one of my favorite books....I recommend this book for horse lovers and people who are looking fora good, interesting, and fun book....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2006


    This book is very well writen!! I love this series!! It has action and some romance!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2004


    I love this book! It never gets old! It's the best book I've ever read! This was the first book I ever read and liked! Usally I have to read boring books for school and I didn't like reading. Which explained why I alomst failed forth grade. But when I read this book for a book report I wouuldn't put it down. I skiped my cheer practice because it was so good!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2003

    A true love for this book

    this is a truely inspiring book, with two character who fight through their disabblities to shoot for their dreams. Any person who loves animals will LIKE this book, any person who loves horses will LOVE this book. She (Chris Platt) wrights about the hard parts of raising a colt along with the treasure after it, all through a loving, determined character.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2002

    Willow King

    This book was amazing! It was written about a girl whose leg was a little smaller then the other. One day she went to see if her favorite horse had her baby yet and when she got there she found the baby was going to be put down because he was born with twisted legs. This hearwarming story is full of adventures and you will never want to put the book down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2001

    The best book since the 90's

    The book Willow King the sequel is 1 of the best books out of all the books that Chris Platt has created! Chris Platt is a brillant writer and I enjoyed his books very much! ecspesially the Willow King seires! And to close this article up Ido not know how but what I will say is... Thank god that Chris Platt was born cause without him I would not have found my love for horses! thank you Chris Platt! ~ Jenny Stablein ~

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2001


    I love this book! it is written Lovley and the added excitment that is writen in but a Women Jockey. She was one of only fue women that broke into being a jockey,she has also been and trainer's assistant and worked as a groom and as u know a jockey and a author.I have had a great privleadge of talking to Chris and it iswonderful how she talks and understands kids,adults,or just reader of any age and i wouldnt have gotten this book if chis hadnt sent it to me adn 1 thing i like about the book and it's that she signed The book Willow king. It is a great book and has the touch of a real jockey cause if she wasnt a jockey it wouldnt be interesting or exciting.I Love this book and if you love horses ,racing or hearing about the recovery of horses you need to read this book!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2000

    The Most Outstanding Book I EVER Read (and I read a lot)

    This book is a touching story about a girl with one leg shorter then the other. When she discovers a colt is about to be put to sleep by his owner because he has a twisted leg, she begs for mercy. She raises the colt herself and hopes to put him in the races someday to prove that everyone has a chance.....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2000

    A very touching story

    I found this book to be a very emotional story about a girl who has hopes for a very special horse. If you like a good story which sometimes tugs at your heart, I think this book is for you. Good job, Chris and I can't wait to read Race The Wind. I am sure it will be just as good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2000

    Truly Outrageous!

    Willow King by Chris Platt is the most exciting and entertaining horse book I have yet read. Katie Durham's struggles in raising the crippled Willow King into a quality racehorse teaches the young girl something about herself as well. Gifted with such a strong spirit, King never gives up in the process of straightening his legs; Katie, possibly short on self-confidence in certain areas of her life, learns from her horse that one must never fall in the face of defeat. Dealing with a snobby neighbor girl and a handsome ninth-grader only adds to the excitement of the tale. Will Willow King be able to correct his crooked leg problem, and be able to go on and win such races as the Kentucky Derby as Katie dreams? Willow King is definitely a must-read, far outshining other novels in its class.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2000

    My favorite! A have to read book!

    This book was one of my favorites. All horse lovers out there are gaurenteed to love it. I could read that book over and over and over. It was very exciting, I suggest everyone read the book. I would give it 20 million stars but they didn't have that many.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2000

    Willow King was one of the greatest books I've ever read!!

    This was a excellant book! I never really could let it out of my hands! I read it over and over again I still get heartstrucken from it! It tells a wonderful story about the girl over coming her disablities and learning to work with her great talent as a rider. It was a superb book and I highly recommmaned it to all young horse lovers. It's an great book for all who love horses!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2000

    Willow King Rules!!!!!

    I just couldn't put this book down! It had sone meartstopping moments and characters that you love and hate! If you love horses and racing, then you'll adore Willow King.

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