"I STOPPED LOOKING for reasons, even for logic, a long time ago," says T.C., a combat-wise Vietnamese boy in The Absolutely Perfect Horse. "Things will happen as they will, even though science always looks for reasons."

After a year of working, scrounging, and planning for the dream horse that will win her friends and popularity in a new community, T.C.'s adoptive sister Annie has come home from the local auction with a crippled, 35- year-old Indian pony she's rescued from the dogmeat factory. To her parents' bewilderment, her younger brother Petey's scorn, and the ridicule of the girls she'd planned to impress, Annie is unable to explain the peculiar certainty that prompted her purchase. Only T.C. seems to understand, but she resents the generosity of this "brother" she has been unable to accept or like.

Annie's dream of "the absolutely perfect horse" has sustained her during a year of devastating change for her and Petey. After their father is crippled by a war injury in Thailand and retires from the military, the family moves from a comfortable, familiar San Francisco neighborhood to their mother's family farm in east Texas. Adding to the disruption of moving and adjusting to a new life is the arrival of both a new baby and T.C., the boy who had saved their father's life.

In the violent climax of the old horse's last adventure, the Chief--or "Old Dogmeat" as Petey calls him--more than vindicates Annie's outlandish purchase. The Absolutely Perfect Horse is a tight, compelling story, with rich diversity of unique, memorable characters.

Sabrina, the chestnut mare in Valda, is the only visible remnant of her young owner's fantasies of comfort, fine clothes, show ribbons and classy friends. In the great depression that blighted Australia during the 1930s, even to keep the mare is an absurd luxury for Valda Thompson's destitute, fatherless family. Valda's shoes have no soles, her young brother is chronically ill, her baby sister's brain dulled by malnutrition. From the oppression and shame of poverty, Valda retreats more and more to fantasies that her handsome, proud Dadda will return to pay nagging creditors, fill the house with food and laughter again, and outfit Sabrina for the Laradale Horse Show.

Though Dadda returns, extravagantly fulfilling Valda's hopes and heroically rescuing Sabrina, Valda evades reality as things go from bad to worse for her family. When Dadda himself shatters her dream of a father who can do no wrong, Valda clings more fiercely than ever to Sabrina and her horse show fantasies.

"There are many things in life we think we cannot bear," her mother remarks when Valda must consider selling Sabrina to save her brother's life. In a vivid Australian setting of poverty and small town society, Felicia Cotich tells the moving story of a young girl painfully confronting the priorities and responsibilities of the real world.

Horses are more than a fantasy for the 18-year-old narrator of Perdita, an amnesia victim recovering in a convent from a mysterious, brutal accident. The nuns call her Perdita, or "lost." "I discovered that I had lost my memory, which meant that I had lost myself," Perdita says. Gradually, over a seven-month convalescence, she has discovered a few things about herself; that she cannot cook or play the guitar, but can read French, play the piano, ride a bike, and "would not under any circumstances eat green beans." But of her own name or identity, or where she came from she has no clue until she discovers her skill with horses.

Encouraged by sympathetic, understanding nuns, Perdita takes a job at a nearby stable, rapidly becoming entangled in the shady, unscrupulous, even deadly schemes of her employers. As she tries to sort good from bad in the peculiar characters surrounding her, Perdita finds disturbing clues to her identity and wrestles with her unaccountable fear of what the clues will tell. It is the horses who strengthen her resolve and, in the end, unravel the mystery. Jeopardizing herself to protect the animals she loves, she discovers and accepts the dreadful truth of her past.

"Nobody ever said life was fair. It isn't. There's nothing fair about it," says Annie's father in The Absolutely Perfect Horse. Sometimes the hardest lessons are best taught by animals. In these three very different stories, horses are splendid tokens of courage for young people facing the difficult, frightening passage to maturity.