My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara (1941)

My Friend Flicka, the 1941 novel by Mary O’Hara, is this author’s most enduring work. The ranch living and rugged Wyoming landscape of her personal experience inspired the novel.

A classic that’s for “children of all ages,” My Friend Flicka is the story of Ken McLaughlin, a rancher’s son, and his untamed horse.

Ken’s father, a practical Scotsman, had no patience for his son’s dreaminess, so out of place in the harsh realities of the family’s horse-breeding farm. Ken becomes smitten with a wild colt, who he names Flicka, meaning “little filly.”

His devotion to the horse and to taming her grows along with his acceptance of responsibility as a young man. My Friend Flicka was the first volume in a trilogy, followed by Thunderhead (1943) and Green Grass of Wyoming (1946).

The novel quickly became a bestselling classic and was the basis of a successful 1943 film starring Roddy MacDowall. It was also adapted as a television show, airing from 1956 to 1957, and reran throughout the 1960s.


A synopsis of My Friend Flicka

From the 1941 edition: Ken McLaughlin was only eleven years old, but for as long as he could remember he had wished for nothing more than his very own colt. He had tried to do his chores well around his father’s horse ranch, but whenever he was alone, he found his thoughts drifting off to that one wish …

And as a result, he usually made some mistakes like forgetting to be on time for dinner or leaving the cinch strap too loose on the horse he was riding. Then his father would get angry, and Ken felt he would never have his own colt.

One morning at the breakfast table, though, Ken heard his father say something that almost made him fall off his chair. “Ken, I’m giving you one week to look over all the new yearlings and choose one for yourself.”

What a wonderful surprise! He was to have his very own colt to train and care for and ride to his heart’s content.

By the end of the week, Ken had made his choice of a golden-brown filly with a flowing white mane and tail. But what about a name for his horse? Then Ken remembered what Gus, the hired hand, had said when the filly was a newborn colt.

“Gee whiz! Look at the little Flicka.”
“What does Flicka mean, Gus?” Ken asked.
“Why, it’s Swedish for a little girl.”

And now Ken had a name for his colt. “I’m going to call her Flicka!” he announced proudly at dinner that night.

This is the beginning of the exciting, heartwarming adventure of a boy and his horse, and how they grew up together — a story that in a few short years has become one of the most popular classics for young readers.

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Story of a Boy and His Colt is a Modern Classic

From the original review in the Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), September 20, 1941: This is the story of a friendship between a boy and a horse written by Mary O’Hara, who in all her childhood has never realized her wish for a colt. She has called this tale “My Friend Flicka” because it is about a filly of that name who lived on a mountain ranch of Wyoming.

Flicka was the granddaughter of an English thoroughbred mare and her mother’s sire was a hellion mustang and this meant that she had bad blood in her veins.

Eleven-year-old Kenneth McLaughlin who had been told by his father that he could select any spring colt or yearling from the entire herd for his own had chosen Flicka for a special reason aside from her beauty and speed, and nothing in his short life had given him so much pleasure as his possession of this wild little pony.

A sense of responsibility, building trust

Bob McLaughlin, Kenneth’s father, gave the boy a colt because he had hopes that by this means he could arouse in him a sense of responsibility. For it was evident to Rob that Kenneth had definite shortcomings. The boy was too much of a dreamer. He was dumb. He was not reliable. And not even fear of punishment had caused Kenneth to mend his ways.

It was a great disappointment to Rob when Ken chose Flicka for his own, because of the wild strain in the pony. Rob himself had had enough of that breed. Flicka, he was sure, was loco like her mother, Rocket, and like her mother, she would come to a bad end.

But Kenneth did not believe that Flicka was loco. What did loco mean? Loco meant unpredictable. Loco meant crazy. Loco was the way a lone wolf was savage and untamable.

Kenneth had to worship Flicka from afar. She would not let him come near her. She had no trust in him or any human.

And if Flicka, revolting at being penned in, had not all but killed herself in a jump over a high barbed wire fence, Kenneth may never have known the truth about Flicka’s nature — that she was not loco, only scared; that she was capable of great affection and devotion, and that the blood of her great sire, the stallion, Banner, was triumphant over the mustang strain.

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A stricken animal and a devoted boy

If the reader’s heart was touched at Ken’s longing for a horse before his father decided to give him one, he will be beside himself now as the boy yearns over a stricken and dying pet. How well does Mary O’Hara understand the human heart and how instinctive is your response to all this because you are Ken, and Flicka is your home, and Flicka is marked for doom.

Yet miracles can happen, can’t they? When one loves so much, it is necessary that the loved one must be taken away? Or did Flicka permit Kenneth to touch her merely because she was lame and could not prevent it?

Flicka’s wounds were healing nicely when an infection set in, first on the leg and then all through her body. But she had seemed to get better from these new complications and now she was following Kenneth about everywhere like a faithful dog.

But the days passed and Flicka was having a setback again. She was losing flesh every day and she looked like a scarecrow. Ken’s father had not been paying much attention because he was so busy with the harvest but one day he saw Flicka and asked:

“What is that?” Ken knew the law of the ranch-that an animal that could not be cured must not be allowed to suffer pain. He knew that Flicka would be shot, and though his father had ordered the Swedish foreman to do it when Ken was not around, Ken sensed that the command had been given.

The Swede promised Ken that he would wait one more day. The boy say goodbye to his pet but in the night he heard a whinny and he found the feverish.

Flicka bogged in the stream of the pasture where she had gone in relief from her pain. All night he stayed with her, and it seemed to him many times that she was gone, but morning came, and the boy was unconscious and Flicka was better.

Ken’s turn to be at death’s door

Now it was Ken’s turn to be sick and to lie near death’s door. His mother tells him that Flicka is better but he cannot be greatly hopeful and besides there is that order of his father’s. His ears strain to hear a shot and finally, he hears it in between the crashes of thunder.

For a long time, Ken hovers between life and death and when he does get better he is apathetic. His mother and the doctor think that he is too weak to bear the shock of hearing that Flicka is alive, that she is getting well, and that the shot he heard once had been directed at a mountain lion.

The ultimate bond between a boy and his horse

Now as the last chapter is being related, Kenneth is just beginning to show a little interest in things. He had known that Flicka was alive, but he had not sought her out. He was almost afraid to see her and to be caught up with life again.

Then one day his fear left him and quite strong now and with joy in his heart he went alone to the pasture. Flicka saw him and came running to meet him and her whinny was like none he had heard from her before-a nicker of delight and recognition and the expression of the ultimate bond between them.

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My friend Flicka TV series

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Media adaptations of My Friend Flicka 


My Friend Flicka (1943), starring Roddy McDowall as Kenneth McLaughlin. It was followed by sequels based on the two books in the Flicka trilogy by Mary O’Hara’s subsequent novels, Thunderhead, Son of Flicka (1945), and Green Grass of Wyoming (1948). 

Flicka (2006), a 20th Century Fox film loosely adapted the story to contemporary times, starring Alison Lohman as Katy McLaughlin (replacing the original male protagonist, Kenneth). Flicka 2 (2010) and Flicka: Country Pride (2012) followed in this series.

My Friend Flicka (June 7, 1943), radio adaption on Lux Radio Theatre, starring Roddy McDowall and Rita Johnson reprising their 1943 film roles as Ken McLaughlin and Nell McLaughlin.

My Friend Flicka was a 20th Century Fox television series on CBS that ran from 1956 to 1957.

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