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On a Good Horse

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"Easier to carry the bad when you’re mounted on a good horse."

Alex Nash dreams of being a soccer star. Or a graphic artist. Maybe both. But being a cowboy? Nope and no way. Not if it means being anything like his seldom seen father.

Then, out of nowhere, tragedy shatters Alex’s world, and when he thinks life couldn’t sucker-punch him again, it does. He’s forced to live with Roberto Nash, a man he barely knows. Or wants to know.

Until Alex finds out his dad has bought him a peace offering of a sort, one with a red coat, lightning speed, and a fighting spirit. A spitfire of a horse that just might heal Alex’s heart and reunite father and son.


First published November 10, 2020

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About the author

Darby Karchut

19 books254 followers
Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, former teacher, and compulsive dawn greeter. Her many books include DEL TORO MOON (middle grade fantasy series) and ON A GOOD HORSE (middle grade contemporary). She is the recipient of the Colorado Book Award, the High Plains Book Award, the Will Rogers Medallion Award, the Moonbeam Children’s Book Silver Award, and the IPPY Silver Award. A native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby can be found wrangling words. Visit the author at www.darbykarchut.com and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, and Owl Hollow Press.

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5 stars
23 (67%)
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8 (23%)
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3 (8%)
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Displaying 1 - 26 of 26 reviews
Profile Image for Clare O'Beara.
Author 21 books324 followers
December 27, 2020
This story of a broken family shows how little control young people have over their lives - just about none. A lad is packed off to Colorado where his absent father lives, and a lively horse awaits him as well as a somewhat awkward relationship with his horse shoer dad.

I enjoyed the story and now and then we get to see it from the sorrel horse's point of view, snakes, floods and all. Good for boys and girls from eleven to fifteen, I suggest. Have fun.
I downloaded an e-ARC from Fresh Fiction and Net Galley. This is an unbiased review.
Profile Image for Brenda.
822 reviews36 followers
November 2, 2020
On A Good Horse is told in the dual perspective of Alex mixed in with chapters that feature the internal dialogue of Rio. Rio is sympathetic to Alex's grief and always expresses a desire in wanting to help him overcome his sadness. Rio's also the first to recognize that Alex and his father need to mend their relationship. He's sort of a link between the two where they can share information and Alex can become more "horse savvy." For Rio he just wants to ride fast across the open range and share that feeling with Alex. Karchut wonderfully captures that feeling of what riding a horse feels like for the very first time. The nervousness, anticipation and slight fear. For Alex it's developing a trust between the two. As Alex begins to take over more and more of the daily chores and care of Rio, he starts to learn more about his father, what his job entails, why his parents split apart and just what kind of man his father is. The relationship between Alex and his father and even Rio and Alex grows slowly. At first there are those awkward pauses and silences, even misunderstandings between father and son, and then you start to see these beautiful moments where they begin to connect with one another on a more personal level. This is such a beautiful story, about family and the things that connect us, I just adored the relationship that developed between Alex and his dad. Especially the moments when Alex's dad was teaching him how to shoe a horse, talking him through the steps, teaching him how to do one and then allowing him to take over and do one of his own. On A Good Horse will appeal to readers who love reading books about horses, and is perfect for someone who enjoys the complexity of familial relationships and stories about repairing the relationship between a father and son.

**A huge thank you to Owl Hollow Press and NetGalley for the E-ARC **
Profile Image for Starr.
623 reviews8 followers
November 11, 2020
I was given a copy of this title. All opinions are my own.

This is a middle grade contemporary about a young boy who is grieving for his mom while reconnecting with the father who left them when he was younger.

I'm going to be honest, this is my third attempt at writing this review. I am not sure if I have words that will do this book justice. I cannot even remind people of Karchut's previous works, because this is her first foray into contemporary. And about that, I am not disappointed at all. I mean, there is something magical, warm and comforting about her fantasies. You get similar feeling s in this one, but it's different - and not in a bad way.

I believe Karchut was able to flex her writing muscles in creating a story without the built in magic of talking horses and monster slaying. The staples of Karchut's writing is definitely present -a complicated relationship between father & son. the nuianced bond between horse and rider and the wisdom that is planted indirectly and lived out through the experiences of the characters.

There are so many things that I love about this story, and I don't want to give anything away. I love Roberto Nash in this story, his story I would like to know more of. He is a man of few words. But, even with that, it felt that he truly saw his son. And it's powerful being seen. I think that this is the most complicated father-son relationship in any of Karchut's books, but it also had heart and joy. The bond between horse and rider is also different. While Rio doesn't talk, we do get to hear his thoughts and that was fun and had its own wisdom to share.

"And Good for a Fight knew alive was just one cow-clumsy stride away from dead. Best to live in the here and the now."

Karchut has once again found away to take something broken and complicated and weave a beautiful story that goes straight to the heart. Another story that. I happily recommend to the young and the old.
Profile Image for Kelly Hager.
3,096 reviews129 followers
October 2, 2020
There aren't any words for how much I enjoyed this book. It's really funny, which is good because it also deals with a boy who's lost his mom and who is basically building a relationship with his dad from scratch. It's not like they'd never met, but the divorce was acrimonious and they didn't see each other very often.

This is Darby's contemporary middlegrade debut, and it's amazing. As anyone who reads her books can attest, one of her very real strengths is writing great father-son relationships, but this one is on a whole other level. Alex and his dad (Rob) have no foundation at all (seriously, Rob is the parent who sees his kid maybe once a year and shows up with a picture book for a seven year old. And it's not entirely his fault--again, VERY acrimonious divorce and he lives far away) so seeing the two of them learn to connect is absolutely beyond touching. It doesn't hurt that Rob, bless his heart, is not above bribery (he buys Alex a horse).

Also, a few chapters are from the horse's perspective. This is a dangerous choice, because it could become sappy or weird or break the book's pacing. It's actually fantastic though; Rio is a total smartass and his chapters are wonderful and I laughed through all of them. (He's also a bit of a marshmallow but don't repeat that; he would bite me for it.)

I absolutely adore this book. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Beverly McClure.
Author 17 books453 followers
November 22, 2020
This is not a review, but it sure makes you want to read the novel. At least it did me. Review comeing after I've read it.

“A richly drawn and deeply felt story of familial bonds, and how they change and evolve over time, sometimes with the help of a spirited steed.” —Kurt Kirchmeier, The Absence of Sparrows

A boy and horse could outrun all the sadness of this flat world. If the boy believed, and the horse was swift. The sorrel knew he was fast enough to help the boy. He just needed open grassland and a light hand on the reins. He’d show Ol’ Mr. Grief his heels. Why, he’d run so fast that the wind would peel that sorrow right off the boy. Like a snake shedding its skin. Leaving it caught in the grass and drying up in the sun. Dust to dust. All the horse needed was a chance.

Alex Nash dreams of being a soccer star. Or a graphic artist. Maybe both. But being a cowboy? Nope and no way. Not if it means being anything like his seldom seen father.

Then, out of nowhere, tragedy shatters Alex’s world, and when he thinks life couldn’t sucker-punch him again, it does. He’s forced to live with Roberto Nash, a man he barely knows. Or wants to know.

Until Alex finds out his dad has bought him a peace offering of a sort, one with a red coat, lightning speed, and a fighting spirit. A spitfire of a horse that just might heal Alex’s heart and reunite father and son.

A Middle Grade contemporary novel by

Darby Karchut

Profile Image for Paperback to Hardback.
228 reviews4 followers
January 9, 2021
A heartwarming and emotional story, we follow a young boy who is dealing with a tragic loss and goes to stay with his father for the summer. During this summer the boy builds a connection with a horse that his father gifted to him. I really enjoyed the story itself and found it was quite relatable at parts in regards to the loss. It was interesting to see that one of the POV's which was more of a side POV was in the view of the boy's horse.

It is definitely a middle grade book but I feel like it could be enjoyed by many. I also think that this would be a good book for any middle grade age people who are dealing with loss such as in the book as I think the book portrays and deals with that subject well. I adored this book so much and it will definitely be in my highly recommended list!

Thank you Netgalley and Owl Hollow Press for the advanced copy in exchange for a honest review.
Author 1 book27 followers
May 13, 2020
I had the good fortune of being able to read an advance copy of this book. The emotion and the characterization felt spot-on from beginning to end, and the chapters told from the point of view of a horse named Red were a really nice touch. All in all, a richly drawn and deeply felt story of familial bonds, and how they change and evolve over time, sometimes with the help of a spirited steed.
Profile Image for Rajiv.
957 reviews62 followers
February 20, 2021


In general, this was an emotionally beautiful story about a father-son relationship which I liked a lot.
The author did a beautiful job in writing the story. It is never easy changing your life unexpectedly and adjusting to new situations. To that end, the author nicely writes about how Alex adjusts to his new life with his father and develops a bond with the horses.

Also, the author’s strength is in developing the relationship between Rob and Alex. Altogether, she paces the story in a steady manner where you see both of them slowly breaking barriers to emotionally connect with one another. To be honest, there were times where I didn’t like Alex because of the way he used to lash out at Rob. But later, you slowly start to see them realize their mistakes and adjust themselves. Similarly, I also liked Reece as a nice supporting character. She has her own issues without the horse but keeps blaming Alex at times for not taking care of it properly.

After reading this book, I honestly felt like taking a trip to the ranch and learning to ride a horse. Significantly, there are some interesting terms I learned like the difference between the horseshoer and a farrier. Moreover, I also liked how the chapter squeezes in a chapter here and there from the horses’ perspective, which made it very interesting. On a side note, I loved that the story is set against the gorgeous backdrop of Sierras de Córdoba.
Overall, I thought this was a wonderful middle-grade book, and look forward to reading some of the author’s other novels.
Profile Image for Erin *BookDragon_Library*.
810 reviews9 followers
November 10, 2020
5 enormous stars!
I first discovered Darby Karchut's writing with her fantasy middle grade "Del Toro Moon" which I recommend to absolutely every kid who comes my way in the library looking for adventure, fantasy, a little bit of spookiness, sassy characters, horses, and just plain fun.
"On a Good Horse" is Karchut's debut contemporary middle grade novel and it does not disappoint! She has such a strength at writing father-son relationships (the family dynamic in Del Toro Moon is one of my favorite parts) but in this book, she absolutely exceeded all expectations. The circumstances of an acrimonious divorce is relatable to so many, and the lack of relationship between Alex and his father at the start of the book feels real and true. Amidst the sadness over the recent tragedy, the reader gets to witness the slow but natural growth the father and son go through as they essentially get to know each other from scratch. Each chapter is tinged with humor and touching moments as father and son learn to connect, going from almost strangers to a connected family.
In a somewhat daring move, there are chapters from the perspective of Rio, the horse who is able to form a bridge and bring them together. Using an animal perspective can throw off the pacing of a book and go terribly wrong, but not here. Karchut created the perfect sassy horse "voice" that adds balance, levity and humor to the story. I am not an avid horse rider myself, but her vivid descriptions, both from the horse perspective and Alex's perspective, paint such a clear picture that I can see Rio and almost feel the wind through my own hair. This is the perfect book for anyone who has ever loved a horse, but also perfect for anyone just looking for an amazing, well-written story with captivating, sometimes sassy, characters.
Profile Image for Lisa Nocita.
991 reviews2 followers
November 14, 2020
#OnaGoodHorse #NetGalley
Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy.

On a Good Horse is firmly a middle grade novel about a young boy who suddenly finds himself living with his estranged father after his mother unexpectedly passes away. Forced to relocate for the summer to a small town in Colorado where his father lives, Alex contends with his grief and anger with the help of a spunky horse named Rio. The summer brings tribulations but also celebrations and a mature awareness that life’s unexpected curveballs can have surprising outcomes.

It’s a sweet story about a boy and his father and a boy and his horse. Young horse lovers will no doubt enjoy some of the horsey details, including chapters from Rio’s point of view. The plot feels a bit too saccharine for my taste and there’s no real dramatic tension despite some rather dramatic events. I never for one moment doubted the conclusion. Secondary characters are not well developed but the main characters are. Dialogue is sparse, mostly interior monologues, so there’s a lot of telling versus showing. On the plus side, Alex’s dad is a good man and a good father even if he’s a bit of the gruff, silent cowboy type. It seems that irreconcilable differences between the parents created the biggest obstacle to coparenting rather than a lack of interest or love. When he finally has the chance, Alex’s dad proves without a doubt his ability to love, care, and provide for Alex. Alex learns that grief and healing occur in many phases. He develops responsibility, empathy, and resilience over the course of the summer. Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart would be a strong recommendation for the reader who likes On a Good Horse.
Profile Image for RoloPoloBookBlog.
1,102 reviews29 followers
December 22, 2021
On a Good Horse by Darby Karchut
Source: Author, NetGalley, Purchase, and Owl Hollow Press
Rating: 5 stars


The Bottom Line: Y’all, I truly cannot get enough of these reads! Darby Karchut has a gift for writing characters who are full, beyond interesting, fully developed, and absolutely memorable. Once again, for me, those characters are the TALKING HORSES. In this read, I felt a real connection to the horses as each worked to not only find his place on the ranch but among their humans as well. In this instance, there is a horse for each human, but the smaller of the humans, Alex, has never been around horses and must learn to trust the mount his dad, Roberto has given him as a gift. The true heart of this story is the connection between Alex and his horse. Though they cannot talk to one another, the communicate in a myriad of other ways which is often so kind and so tender. This is the story of trust and friendship, both of which blossom as the connection between a boy and his horse grows.

Finally, I have said it before and I will continue to say it: if you aren’t reading Darby Karchut, get started. Her books are beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived, and full of endearing and wonderfully likeable characters. What’s more, Karchut’s books are appropriate for any age reader and I highly encourage you to encourage your kids to dive into her books. You won’t regret it!
Profile Image for Lori.
1,652 reviews69 followers
November 12, 2020
What a fun, clean and sweet read!
I've never read a horse story quite like this one. I did love it because I love horses and I feel that I've come to know this one very well.
I also can't image falling asleep in the saddle. I think I'd be afraid I'd fall off and get trampled on. But good ol Rio. He's such a sweet horse.
I envied Alex in a way. He had it all and didn't even realize it. Even tho he's a great kid and all.
This new to me author is great! I liked how she pulled me right into Alex and Rio's story. Her style of writing is wonderful!
I didn't feel that this book was hurried in anyway! I loved everything about it!
This would make an awesome heartwarming Hallmark movie.
The cover is a delight! I could feel this horses' delight at running free. It looks like he certainly was enjoying himself lol!
But anyway, great characters, wonderful storyline for horse lovers everywhere in the world!
My thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this book. I was NOT required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Soup.
288 reviews
December 5, 2020
There aren't many contemporary horsey books about boys, making On a Good Horse something of a standout in the genre. Alex Nash is forced to spend the summer with his estranged father following the sudden and unexpected death of his mother while his aunt and uncle, who wish to be Alex's guardians, wrestle with the court system. Alex, who has been raised on stories of his father rooted in his mother and mother's family antipathy for him, expects nothing good to come of the experience. Over time he begins to get to know his father on his own terms, aided to some degree by an unexpected mutual love for horses and vaquero life. While the majority of the book is told from Alex's POV, occasional chapters are included from the POV of Rio, Alex's horse. In my opinion this approach, while unique, does not pay off sufficiently given the invariable confusion these chapters cause when they suddenly appear out of nowhere.
Profile Image for Colette Sewall.
Author 1 book9 followers
November 5, 2020
What a sweet, heartwarming book! I thoroughly enjoyed this emotional story about an estranged father reuniting with his young son, Alex. Years after a difficult divorce, it seems as if nothing can bridge the wide gap between them until the father presents Alex with a horse named Rio. As a big time animal lover, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Rio and the unique chapters written from his perspective.

Sometimes it takes an intuitive, kind animal to help those suffering with emotional pain, and Rio is that and so much more. This one special horse senses Alex’s grief and offers him the unconditional love he so craves, and as Alex’s father teaches him how to care for Rio, their shared love of horses connects them and slowly transforms their broken relationship.

Five stars and highly recommended!
Profile Image for Denise Forrest.
389 reviews4 followers
November 28, 2020
When Alex’s mum dies, he has to go & live with his dad, who he’s rarely seen since they divorced when he was 3 years old. Life for Alex couldn’t be more different, living with Rob Nash, horse shoer. Now in cowboy country, life revolves around horses, including Rio, the half Arab gelding dad has bought for him.

This is a good, but somewhat straightforward story of how Alex grows to love Rio, his dad and life in the wild west. Although the story kept my interest, there was little of the sorrow and anguish that would accompany the death of a parent and the move to a new life. Because of this, the story would be suitable for younger readers.

I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Nick Garlick.
Author 7 books4 followers
November 21, 2020
What a lovely book. This story about a young boy having to live with a father he’s rarely seen and doesn’t like is one of those tales that grow on you. I kept telling myself I’d stop at a particular page, only to find myself deciding to go for just one more chapter. That then turned into two and three and four. It’s *very* easy to read. Favourite chapters: father teaching his son to ride; the flash flood; events seen from the horse’s point of view.

And the ending is just perfect!
Profile Image for Elise Meyer.
48 reviews3 followers
November 17, 2021
Sweet and full of good horses

What an incredibly sweet and thoughtful book. On a Good Horse was full of beautiful southwest imagery and heart. Sending the message that it’s never too late to express love and that hard things are easier to carry on a good horse. It’s a great middle grade read that will give kids insight into what it’s like to go through loss and how important it is to express familial feelings.
Profile Image for Debbie Tanner.
2,050 reviews15 followers
November 8, 2020
This story is about Alex who is coming to terms with the death of his mother. He goes to live with his dad, who he barely knows. His dad shoes horses and expects Alex to help him out. He also buys Alex a horse and hopes that Alex will enjoy the horse as much as he does. The horse also tells part of the story and I loved that part.
Profile Image for Fleur Bradley.
Author 7 books187 followers
December 16, 2020
I've been a fan of Darby Karchut's work for some time now--she just really gets that middle-grade/kid audience in a unique way. On a Good Horse really shows that talent, with the story of a boy, a horse, and how to overcome the toughest loss.

This story isn't all sadness though: Karchut knows how to blend humor, heart, and a little bit of Western flair. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Kelsey Bollinger.
158 reviews7 followers
October 15, 2020
Oh my horse loving heart loved this book so much! While this book may be geared towards a middle grade audience, any age will love this story of a boy and his horse learning to heal. While I loved the chapters from Alex's point of view, I absolutely adored the chapters from Rio's point of view.

Death of a parent is a main theme in this book but is done in such an amazing way. After the death of his mom, Alex is sent to spend the summer with his estranged dad in Colorado. Alex's path to healing is carried out from the back of his new horse Rio.

I highly recommend this book and will be pressing it into the hands of everyone I can find. " Easier to carry the bad when you're mounted on a good horse"

Thank you Netgalley and Owl Hollow Press for the advanced copy in exchange for a honest review.
Profile Image for Darby Karchut.
Author 19 books254 followers
November 16, 2020
My first contemporary MG (I usually write fantasy). I had such a blast with this new sandbox!
541 reviews41 followers
January 19, 2021
Young readers book. Really enjoyed, takes place in Colorado.
18 reviews5 followers
July 20, 2021
Quick read that gets you thinking!
Profile Image for Kaci.
833 reviews
July 17, 2021
On a Good Horse tell the story of Alex, a city kid who visits his estranged dad's ranch after his mother passes away. Alex is resistant from the get-go. Ranch life is foreign to him, and along with the grief of his loss, navigating a relationship with his father is not on the top of his list. As Alex begins to acclimate to the ways of the vaquero, he develops a strong relationship with Rio, the horse his father gifts to him. Rob Nash is definitely a flawed man. He left Alex and his mother when Alex was young. He has many regrets and attempts to atone for his misdeeds against Alex now. Alex's wall is hard to come down (as is his father's) but eventually they grow and strengthen their bond as the summer progresses. Rob teaches Alex how to take care of and ride Rio, as well as help him with his job as a horseshoer. Alex and Rio are alike in that they are both young and a little lost. They can find solidarity and strength in each other. I like Rob's quiet nature, welcoming Alex into his home and teaching him his ranch ways. Understandably Alex is resistant to building a relationship with his dad at first, but I believe that their innate need for each other outweighs the pain and hurt from the past. I will recommend this book to students who have read Darby's other series and enjoy her writing (there are a lot!) and also students who are still looking for a bit of animal magic in their books and learning life lessons through a fantastical narrator.
Profile Image for Ann.
201 reviews3 followers
April 3, 2021
“On a Good Horse” is a beautifully written coming-of-age story about a grieving boy, his estranged father and the magnificent horse that brings them together. After Alex’s mother dies unexpectedly, he is forced to spend the summer with his misunderstood father, whom Alex has little to no relationship with. Alex is heartbroken and angry, but the gift of Rio, a wise and noble Arabian horse, slowly but surely begins to soften Alex’s heart and mend the divide between he and his dad. This book would be a wonderful read-aloud for late-elementary and middle grade students. I will definitely be recommending it to my students. Thank you so much Net Galley for the advanced copy. I thoroughly enjoyed this story.
11 reviews
December 13, 2022
This is a great read, introducing the love of horses to a middle grade boy who never has ridden and barely knows his father. Set in New Mexico it rings true with a heartfelt ending.
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