O’Hara, Mary

About the author

Mary O’Hara is one of the very few pony book authors who has remained in print for decades. Some of her books are still available today; she is helped in this by the fact she is American, as horse books in the USA do not seem to have suffered the same lack of publisher enthusiasm as in the UK.

Mary O’Hara was born in 1885 in New Jersey. She travelled widely in Europe with her grandmother, studied harmony and composition in London and went to an English boarding school in Italy. After her first marriage, she moved to California, where she became a screen-writer, and had a son and a daughter. Her daughter sadly died young of cancer. Mary married again in 1922, and this time moved to Wyoming. It was here that she wrote her ranch novels: My Friend Flicka, The Green Grass of Wyoming and Thunderhead. Her biography, Flicka’s Friend, describes her life in Wyoming on the Remount Ranch with her second husband. Alas, he was a philanderer, and nothing like the Rob of the novels. There are other aspects of the novels which did not happen in real life. The real life Flicka died of her barbed wire wounds. Mary always felt that if she had stayed with Flicka in the stream, she might have lived.

The world portrayed in Mary O’Hara’s Wyoming novels is life as she must have wished it could be. Ironically, it was the success of the books, rather than the success of the ranch, that funded their life there, and eventually Mary divorced her second husband, Helge Sture-Vasa, and moved back East. She lived in Maryland until her death on 14 October 1980.

Mary O’Hara was a gifted composer and besides several works for the piano and harp, she wrote a musical called The Catch Colt. This she turned into a novella for Methuen, also writing a book about the musical’s composition, called A Musical in the Making. The Flicka books have also been filmed. In the second version of Flicka, Ken becomes Katie, a rather sad comment on whom the film makers considered their likely audience.

Finding the books
In the UK, her books are very easy to find, as they were printed in paperback by Dragon Books. Each story was split into several different books (perhaps uniquely; I can’t think of another pony book where this happened). The books have also been published as single paperback volumes, and were also published as hardbacks, some with fine illustrators such as Charles Tunnicliffe.

Printings in the UK pale into insignificance beside those in the USA. The first edition of My Friend Flicka, originally published in the USA without illustrations, is immensely difficult to find, but the avalanche of editions which appeared afterwards are easier. If you want the true first editions, published of course in the USA, be prepared to dig deep. They are not cheap.

Links and sources
A more detailed biography from Georgetown University. The University holds typed manuscripts for Flicka’s Friend and The Catch Colt.
The Wikipedia entry on Mary O’Hara

Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau, Hannah Fleetwood and Barbara Harris for all their help with the pictures.

Bibliography (horse books only)

My Friend Flicka

J B Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1941. Not illustrated, cover by Cosgrove
Other USA editions of Flicka
Popular edition (with pink covers, no wraparound illustration)
HarperFestival Charming Classics edition, 2003, 346 pp. Cover Dave Kramer
Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1943, illus Charles Tunnicliffe
Dragon Books, London, 1966, parts 1 and 2
Methuen, 1974,
Isis (Large Print), 1986
Mammoth, pb, 1989, illus Charles Tunnicliffe
Dean, 1994
Egmont, 2004

Ken is a dreamer; he achieves nothing and infuriates his capable and not always understanding father Rob. Nell, Ken’s mother, persuades Rob to give Ken a colt to help him to grow up. Rob allows this, and Ken chooses Flicka, a colt out of one of the hellion mares sired by the Albino, a rogue wild horse. Flicka is terribly injured trying to escape from captivity, and as he nurses her, both Ken and Flicka change. There are many ups and downs, and at the end it seems as though Flicka, lying in a frozen stream, must die.


J B Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1943
Many reprints
Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1945, reprinted 1970s
Dragon, London, 1966, parts 1, 2 and 3
Dragon, London, 1970s, parts 1, 2 and 3
Methuen, 1974
Magnet, 1978
Mammoth, 1986, 1995
Egmont, 2004

Thunderhead is Flicka’s colt, by Appalachian. It is soon obvious that the white colt, with his “scrabbling” action, is a throwback to the Albino. Much more centred on the adults than the children, this story revolves around the relationship between Rob and Nell, which is close to disintegration as the horse business is less and less successful. Rob cannot bear to fail, or be questioned. Ken does succeed in taming Thunderhead, but the horse longs to revert to his wild nature, even though Ken hopes he will save the family fortunes by becoming a successful racehorse.

Green Grass of Wyoming

J B Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1946
Many later reprints

UK editions
Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1947
Redwood Press, 1969
Methuen, London, 1974
Dragon, London, 1966, parts 1, 2 and 3
Dragon, London, 1979, parts 1, 2 and 3

Thunderhead’s future looks very shaky. He might have to be shot. Ken meets a girl (owner of a filly lost in a railroad accident), and at last Thunderhead’s, and Ken’s, futures are decided.

Wyoming Summer

Doubleday, New York, 1963

Based on Mary O’Hara’s diaries.

The Catch Colt

Methuen, London,1979
Magnet, pb, 1980, 1991
and also appeared as a play

Flicka’s friend (autobiography)

Putnam, New York, 1982

Short stories

The Big Book of Favorite Horse Stories

[Ed] P C Braun, Platt & Munk, 1965, illus Sam Savitt

The original short story My Friend Flicka, which was later expanded into the novel, appeared in this book.