Thursday, 27 February 2014

PBOTD: 27th February, Denise Hill - Coco the Gift Horse

Denise Hill isn't one of the best known of pony book authors. She wrote two other pony books: The Castle Grey Pony (1976), for the younger reader, and A Pony for Two (1965), the precursor to Coco the Gift Horse (1966).

The hero and heroine of A Pony for Two, Jane and Jeremy, see their dream come true. They get a pony. With Falla, however, they get mystery and adventure as well. Falla has some unusual talents, and not only that, she appears to be causing other people to take notice of her. Falla disappears.

A much more mundane fate overtakes Falla in the sequel, Coco the Gift Horse. She is outgrown: at least by Jeremy. Jeremy is convinced Coco is going to be a worthy successor. Coco however, is one of those horses who is quite spectacularly inept, which leads to an amusing read as Coco, for whom Jeremy treasures a dream as a show jumper, kicks his way through every fence he comes across. I must admit it did come as something of a disappointment to me when Coco is transformed into a show jumper, albeit with the assistance of aniseed balls. Until that point, he is so much the antithesis of the pony book dream.

Collins Seagull Library, first edition, 1966
Coco the Gift Horse was first published as a Seagull Library edition. The Seagull Library was published by Collins, and consisted of both new titles and reprints of existing ones. Coco was one presumably specially commissioned for the library. It was reprinted many times in the same edition.

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For more on the author (there's not a lot, but there is something) see her page on my website.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

PBOTD: 26th February, Michael Maguire - Mylor, the Most Powerful Horse in the World

Michael Maguire has a solid set of adult racing novels to his name, but he also has a couple of books written with a sort of lunatic invention that makes them stick in the mind of everyone who read them. The pony book world has its share of wildly imaginative books which take off into fantasy, but they're rare. Such books don't chime with the girl plus pony plus gymkhana blueprint, although winning the bending each and every time not because of your immaculate riding, but because of your finely engineered horse, has a certain attraction as an idea.

Because the Mylor books featured a horse alright, but Mylor was a robot. Despite that, Mylor has character - bucketfuls of it, in fact. 

WH Allen, 1976, first edition
I rather like the chestnut horse on the front cover of the original hardback (the later paperback had an identical illustration). Michael Maguire has republished the book himself, and Mylor now appears still as a chestnut with a white blaze, but he's become an Arab. Quite Shantih like in fact. The thought of Patricia Leitch's Jinny and a robotic chestnut Arabian is certainly one to give one pause for thought.

Authorhouse, 2012

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For more on Michael Maguire, see his page on my website.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

PBOTD: 25th February, Allen Seaby - Skewbald the New Forest Pony

Allen W Seaby wrote pony stories which carried on the grand tradition of the pony telling its own story. Where he differed from his predecessors was in his focus on native breeds (beside the New Forest, he also covered the Dartmoor, Welsh Pony, Shetland and Exmoor), and his concentration on the wild pony and how it related to its environment. Not for him the brushing over of the inconvenient nasties of equine life: In his Dinah the Dartmoor (1935), he describes an account of a fight between two ponies as "kicking and biting, ...strands of hair torn away.. bruises and blood-spots." It was, as he acknowledged, daring of him to include such a scene.

His first work of fiction, Skewbald, the New Forest Pony, (1923) was republished many times, and it's quite likely you'll have seen it in its later incarnations, with the sweetly domestic mare and foal scene on the front cover.

A and C Black, 1940s reprint
That is not, however, how the book's dustjacket started off. The illustration below shows the first edition with its dustjacket. Mothers and aunts expecting pretty ponies in a book aimed at their little chicks were appalled by the original, with two ponies fighting.

A and C Black, 1923 1st edition

Booksellers protested. Seaby said:
"Mothers and aunts (especially aunts), loth to put before their youthful charges such a bad example, had turned the book down, so I had to draw another illustration less inciting to evil."

A and C Black, early edition

Seaby would have no doubt been saddened by the new status of the New Forest pony: it has now been added to the Rare Breed Survival Trust's endangered list. It's listed as the least dreadful of the categories, Minority, meaning breeding mares are down to 1500-3000, but it's desperately sad that the New Forest, like nearly all other British native breeds, is now on the endangered list.

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More about the work of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust
For more on Allen Seaby, and illustrations of the covers of all his books, see his page on my website.

Monday, 24 February 2014

PBOTD: 24th February, Diana Pullein-Thompson - Three Ponies and Shannan

A lot of the things I was very fond of as a child: Cadbury's chocolate, Enid Blyton, Walter Farley's Black Stallion; I have rather gone off. I still love Diana Pullein-Thompson's Three Ponies and Shannan (1947). I had the creamy 1960s Armada with the cover by Peter Archer. What I liked about Three Ponies was the heroine, Christina. If this had been a pony book which trotted obediently down party lines, this is how the plot would have gone. Poor girls Heather and Pat have to move out of their ancestral home after their family lose their money, and their friend Charlie Dewhurst is thoroughly on their side. Rich girl Christina moves in; her family destroy everything wonderful about the house, and Christina swanks around with her three ponies and her groom, until poor but noble Charlie shows Christina the error of her spoiled, moneyed ways and the value of honest toil. And wins at the gymkhana at the end of the book.

Collins first edition, 1947, illus Anne Bullen
But it's not Christina who's the spoiled and vindictive witch: it's Charlie. Christina can't help the fact her parents have bought the house. She appreciates just how lucky she is to have three wonderful ponies, and her wolf hound Shannan, but we see just how hard it is for her to overcome the sterotype all the pony owning children in the district are sure she represents. It's a sterotypical picture Charlie does all she can to promote, and when she acts with her friends Heather and Pat, we have a thoroughly believable picture of bullying and victimisation. They treat Christina as a cipher, and it's to her credit she doesn't act like one.

Armada pb, 1968, cover Peter Archer
I sympathised with Christina because I lived in a house that although not a mansion with tennis courts wasn't like everyone else's. I didn't have one pony, let alone three, but I knew how it felt to come into a room full of people who had made up their mind about you before they'd even met you. I think it's one reason I loved life at the riding school so much. No one knew, or cared, where I lived. I was judged for what I was like, and that, in combination with horses, was an intoxicating combination.

Collins Pony Library, 1974, cover Geoffrey Whittam
Diana Pullein-Thompson made a deliberate decision to write a character who was wealthy, but who was still a decent and thoughtful character. When I interviewed her, she said:
"I saw all around me how richer children were scorned, especially if they had grooms, so I deliberately decided to see life a little bit from their point of view. We had scores of pupils. And from my own experience there could be pleasant rich children and horrid poor ones, so yes, it was a deliberate decision."
Armada pb, 1970s
The point is, of course, that ponies like any other animal, could not care less what class you are. What matters to them is how you treat them.

Three Ponies and Shannan was one of Diana Pullein-Thompson's most popular books. It was originally printed in 1947 by Collins, with illustrations by Anne Bullen (and an oddly colourless cover illustration), and was reprinted in that format several times. Armada, the paperback arm of Collins, reprinted the book in 1968 with a cover illustration by Peter Archer, and again with a photographic cover in the 1970s. (I do wonder if those are horses or ponies on the front cover). The book was given yet another new cover illustration in 1974, when it was issued as part of the Collins Pony Library with a cover by Geoffrey Whittam.

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For all of Diana Pullein-Thompson's books in glorious colour (is anything in black and white these days?) she has a page on my website.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

PBOTD: 23rd February, Christine Pullein-Thompson - The First Rosette

There can't be many pony book fans from the 1970s who don't have a copy of The First Rosette. It was one of those books I seemed to see everywhere in my own obsessive hunt for a book with a pony in it. Whatever else the book shops of Northamptonshire lacked in the pony book department, they would always have a copy of The First Rosette, with its vivid blue backed Mary Gernat cover.

The First Rosette (1956) is one of the earliest (if not the earliest) pony books to feature a working class character. David Smith is the youngest son of a family who really struggle for money. Unlike his brother, he's not going to find his way out of his situation through education. David does it through sheer hard work.

Burke, 1956, 1st edition, illus Sheila Rose
He has his share of luck: after he catches the pony of the Master's daughter, he's invited to tea and rewarded with the chance to borrow a pony. Sinbad, the hunt pony, is not an unmixed blessing. He's of uncertain temper, but David sticks with it. He works at the Hunt kennels to cover the pony's keep, and does a paper round too.
Dragon pb, 1967, cover Mary Gernat
David's struggle is contrasted with the existence of the Master's daughter, Pat. She has everything she wants, but she and David become friends, and eventually they start a riding school together, and go on, in The Second Mount (1957) and Three to Ride (1958) to survive the demise of the riding school, and Pat's stay in London as a debutante.

Dragon pb, date and illustrator unknown
The First Rosette was published first by Burke in 1956. It was republished several times in the same form, before Dragon published it as a paperback with a new cover by Mary Gernat. Dragon re-issued the book with a different cover illustration, whose creator I have not been able to find out.

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For a full listing of Christine Pullein-Thompson's remarkable oeuvre, see my website.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

PBOTD: 22nd February, Patricia Leitch - For Love of a Horse

The chestnut Arab mare Shantih is such a vivid presence in Patricia Leitch's Jinny books it comes as a shock to learn that the only place she ever existed was in her author's mind. Patricia wrote in a letter to me:
"[Shantih] was all dream. In fact, I used to dream about the chestnut Arab mare long before I wrote about her. Perhaps this letter will bring her back, and Bramble who was real flesh and blood, my own Kirsty*. I still feel, if I could walk out onto the moor and call her she would hear and come galloping over the skyline to me. But then what is imagination for if not to call up the past?"
When Collins asked Patricia Leitch to write a three book series about a girl and her horse, it was the chestnut Arab mare who careened into being, along with Jinny, the extraordinarily vivid, spiky teenage girl who loves her. Jinny is difficult to like at times, and impossible to admire at others, but she has a compelling presence. She is worlds away from the sensible, focused girls of much pony literature, good role models all. Patricia Leitch has an almost uncanny ability to describe what it is like to be an obsessive, passionate girl who does not fit in. Jinny is never completely bowed down by her position as outsider. She has a fiery spirit, and for many readers, she fought their battles for them. One fan who wrote to me described how the books were "responsible for getting me through teenagerdom."

Armada Original, 1976
The horse, Shantih is as real as Jinny. There are many chestnut Arab horses out there who have Shantih to thank for the fact they are owned by people fulfilling a childhood dream and obsession. She is all fire and danger, and not a safe love at all. She is all experience, all speed and feeling. 

Armada, 1993
And yet the plot of the book is conventional enough: Jinny and her family are making the well-worn journey from the town to the country. On the way to the highlands of Scotland, they stop off and visit a circus, and there Jinny sees Shantih, wild and abused. Fortunately for Jinny, they are there when the circus travelling wagon decants Shantih on to the moors and Jinny begins her obsessive pursuit of the horse.

Armada, 1984
It takes her the entire book before she gets there, and when she does, Shantih is sick almost to death. The pursuit nearly costs Jinny her life too. It is a grand passion in the trail of Enid Bagnold's National Velvet: it's not just being pony-mad with its connotations of juvenility and jollity: this is the sort of passion that can kill you. For Love of a Horse was a spectacular start to a series that retains its hold today.

Catnip, 2010
For Love of a Horse was first published by Armada as a paperback in 1976. There was a hardback edition which appeared in 1979: printed by Severn House. It was reprinted with the white horseshoe style cover in 1984, and with the golden horseshoe cover style in 1993. The book was out of print until 2010, when Catnip reprinted it. They are working their way through the series, which thankfully will be there to encapsulate the dreams of another generation.

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*  Kirsty was a Highland pony who appeared in A Pony of Our Own (1960).

For more on Patricia Leitch, including my interview with her, visit her page on my website

Friday, 21 February 2014

PBOTD: 21st February, Glenda Spooner - The Silk Purse

Glenda Spooner was a formidable woman, of decided opinions, strongly expressed. Here she is writing in the preface to her The Earth Sings (1950), her second book, smacking down the critics of her first, Royal Crusader (1948):
"When I wrote Royal Crusader I was told that I had "attributed to a horse knowledge of everyday human activities that a horse could not possibly have." This was confusing, because both those horse heroes, the High Mettle Racer and Black Beauty, have an astonishing knowledge of human beings. But as the book was written in an honest endeavour to help my greatest friends - horses and ponies - I considered their case was best stated by a horse. The success of the book proves I was justified."
So there. 

The Silk Purse (1963), her last children's novel, is a warts and all description of the showing world, a world Glenda Spooner knew very well. Most of the book is a look at the showing world from the jaundiced but still affectionate point of view of the teenage heroine, Gillian, but it takes a frankly bizarre detour into fantasy half way through. I haven't yet tracked down any contemporary critical opinion of the book, or Mrs Spooner's response to it, but I will keep looking because both would be well worth reading.

Cassell, 1963, 1st edition, illus Anne Bullen
 Most of the book is horribly realistic: this is not the innocent sunny world of children’s pony showing classes seen in so many pony books. The thoroughly nasty dodges of the showing world are all displayed. Ponies who do not carry their tails properly have wintergreen applied under them; ponies overheight are shod “with ballet slippers” and the judges’ shenanigans are legion.  The showing world is full of sharks waiting to gobble the unwary, and the heroine Gillian’s mother is unwary.  The pony she buys, Tommy, will never, ever win a showing class. He is always relegated to the back line where the no-hopers stand. Gillian, however, likes him as he is.

The Silk Purse appeared as a short story
She is eventually persuaded by her mother to trade Tommy in for a thousand pound proven show pony, Perle, and it is at this point the book takes off into strange territory, oddly so for a book so grounded in reality. If you, like me, remember Bobby Ewing waking up in Dallas to find the previous series had been all a dream, the Dallas script writers weren't the first to think of it. Gillian, we think, wakes up, and spirits Tommy off on an early morning ride so he is not there when the dread horsebox arrives to take him away. She goes to a blacksmith, who transforms Tommy by magic into a staggeringly beautiful chestnut pony called The Silk Purse. This fantasy lasts for a chapter or so before returning to the normal world of showing: the blacksmith has all been a dream.  In reality, Tommy is traded in for Perle, who alas, turns out to be another pup. 

Once back in the familiar territory of the showing world, the book picks up. When on ground with which she is familiar, Glenda Spooner’s acute observation and often acerbic style make her, at her best, very readable indeed.

And if you're wondering, the author Glenda Spooner banned from the Ponies of Britain show was Caroline Akrill.


The Silk Purse was first published by Cassell in 1953, with illustrations by Anne Bullen. It made at least two later appearances as a short story: the first as The Sow’s Ear in the Ponies of Britian Magazine, vol 3, Autumn 1960, which was edited (and in large part, written), by Glenda Spooner. Part of the story later appeared in the Horse-Lover's Leisure Book in 1968, though just the conventional showing bit. I loved the story, and was delighted to find the full length book, though slightly taken aback, as I imagine are most readers, by the fantasy section in the middle.

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For more on Glenda Spooner, she has a page on my website.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

PBOTD: 20th February, Mary Treadgold - The Heron Ride

Mary Treadgold was the editor of children's books at Heinemann during the first part of the WWII. She received pony book after pony book, the majority, she said, equally badly written. (In passing, I would love to know what she rejected.) She thought she could do better herself, and so in the autumn and winter of 1940, as London was pounded by German bombs, she wrote We Couldn't Leave Dinah (1941) in an air raid shelter. (It will feature in a later PBOTD).

Jonathan Cape, 1962, first edition
The Heron Ride (1962) was one of her later books, and was part of a three book series, Return to the Heron (1963) being a sequel, and Journey from the Heron (1981) a prequel.  In The Heron Ride, Sandra and Adam's parents have been killed in an accident, and they now live with their uncle and his family; none of whom either like or want them. It is worst for Sandra, because she lives there all the time. Adam at least is away at school. It's relentless, and it grinds Sandra down, to live in that loveless, noisy, household. For the summer, they have been sent to stay with Miss Vaughan, and life takes on a charmed tint: Miss Vaughan understands them, does not smother, and there are horses, though the vicar's pony, whom Sandra rides, is not exactly a dream of equine bliss.

Children's Book Club, 1962
Although Sandra and Adam have made the classic move out to the country, and it does indeed represent another, and a better life, for them the escape is only temporary in The Heron Ride. Sandra still has to go back to her bleak Bayswater existence, but she goes back with the experience of the summer within her.

Knight, pb, 1967
They have also met one of the most charming figures in pony literature: Onkel Anton, a Hungarian refugee who once worked at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, as understanding as Miss Vaughan.

Knight, pb, 1970s
When Sandra and Adam are contemplating their return from the summer holiday, he says:
”Nobody expects that you should like it,” answered Onkel Anton. “Why should you? You have not much in common with your Uncle Arthur, I think. Why should one like to be with people with whom one does not share? Why should one think that one will fit there? And already look what you have done—you have begun to make your own way out—“

Knight, pg, 1970s
And so she had.

The Heron Ride was first published by Jonathan Cape in 1962, with a cover and illustrations by Victor Ambrus. The Children's Book Club edition has a more striking, and effective cover than their usual efforts. After this, Knight published three paperback editions. I don't know who the cover artist is for either of the pictorial editions. All I know is that it's not Victor Ambrus, because I asked him.

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For more on Mary Treadgold and her books, see her page on my website.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

PBOTD: 19th February - Vian Smith, Martin Rides the Moor

Vian Smith is not the author to go to if you want comfortable and predictable pony adventure. His characters have difficult challenges to face. Today's pony book, Martin Rides the Moor has a hero who has gone deaf after an accident. His parents are worried about him, naturally enough, as he struggles to adapt to a new existence with only minimal sound. They buy him a Dartmoor pony, Tuppence, in the hope that giving him something to care for will help him.

Constable Young Books, 1964, 1st edition
At first, Martin wants nothing to do with the pony, and he remains closed in and determined in his resistance until he has to fight through the snow to rescue Tuppence. It isn't all plain sailing after that: Vian Smith has much more for his characters to go through, but the book is, ultimately, hopeful.

Doubleday, New York, 1965
Martin Rides the Moor was first published by Constable Young Books in 1964. I don't usually put American printings in the bibliographies in the PBOTDs, but I have here because the American edition is so much nicer than the English original. Vian Smith had much more critical and commercial success in America than he did in the UK. Perhaps it was the fact that his books were about horses, but still involved difficult themes that led to his lack of success in the UK. His books are not comfortable, girl-gets-pony, fiction, and not easy to pigeonhole. The horse book in America didn't suffer the same backlash from librarians that it did in the UK, which again perhaps helped this author's popularity. 

Constable, pb, 1974
Martin Rides the Moor, being about a younger child than Vian Smith's usual protagonists, and therefore easier to pigeonhole, was published more frequently. It had two paperback printings by Carousel in 1974 and 1981.

Constable, pb, 1981

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For more on Vian Smith and his books, see his page on my website.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

PBOTD: 18th February - Kathleen Mackenzie, Jumping Jan

Kathleen Mackenzie was part of the explosion of pony books which happened in the 1950s, but when you read her books, you can't help but feel her heart was elsewhere. Like Mary Gervaise, she preferred families and what happened within them to long and loving descriptions of pony care and gymkhanas.

Jumping Jan is one of her most pony-orientated books, and even here, the focus is really on the family heroine Jan is going to work for. It's not the horses that you remember after reading this book, but the family, who are splendidly vile. They are dominated by the mother, Mrs Jervis, a great beauty and a minor actress, who has married well. She no longer acts, but prefers to devote herself to creating emotional storms in the family. Mr Jervis stays well out of the way, but their children are not so lucky. The son is a liar and a cheat, who tries to pass someone else's play off as his own, and the youngest son is prone to hysteria. Eldest daughter Ellie has her own ambitions, and this she expresses in a frankly odd episode. After coming across an injured mother and baby, once the mother's been packed off to hospital, Ellie smuggles the baby back into the house and looks after it.

Jan of course, with her straightforward and sensible approach to life, is just what this family needs. Mrs Jervis' dramatics will probably never stop, but Jan leaves the rest of the family in a rather better state than when she found them. The family and their dramatics rather swamp the horse element: in fact the cover is probably the most thoroughly horsey thing about it.

The cover illustration is by Maurice Tulloch, though he didn't do the internal illustrations. They were done by Violet Morgan, who illustrated most of Kathleen Mackenzie's books (and was in fact her sister). Jumping Jan was published by Evans in 1955, and reprinted in 1960 with the same cover. It never appeared in paperback. 

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For more on Kathleen Mackenzie, she has a page on my website.
If you're interested in the illustrators, you can find more on Maurice Tulloch and Violet Morgan on my website.

Monday, 17 February 2014

PBOTD: 17th February, J Ivester Lloyd - Joey

John Ivester Lloyd's Joey (1939) was the author's first book. It's the life story of a pony, who is brought up on a farm, sold to a girl called Susan, and then hunts. The 1930s was a decade which saw a transition from the pony biography story of which Joey is an example to stories where the interest was centred on the human element. John Ivester-Lloyd adapted what he did: his later stories saw him leaving the pony biography well behind him as he switched to adventure stories. 

Joey, Country Life, 1939

Two of his adventure stories are particularly interesting as they appeared in the form of booklets printed for Moss Bros, then a well-known provider of riding kit. Presumably these short adventure stories were given out to children waiting to be measured for their riding clothes to still the agony of the wait. Come on, Young Riders! was illustrated by Peter Biegel; Adventure of Two Young Riders by John Ivester-Lloyd's father, Tom Ivester-Lloyd, a well known sporting artist.

Moss Bros story pamphlet, illus T Ivester Lloyd

Moss Bros story pamphlet, illus Peter Biegel
Tom Ivester Lloyd was not the only family member to illustrate John's books: his uncle was Stanley Lloyd, best known for his illustrations for Primrose Cumming's Silver Snaffles and Enid Blyton's Malory Towers series. The People of the Valley (1943) was illustrated by both father and uncle, as Tom Ivester-Lloyd died in 1942 before he could complete the illustrations.

John Ivester-Lloyd's daughter, Delphine Ratcliff, carried on the family tradition by writing pony books. She contributed two titles to Lutterworth's Crown Pony series: The Golden Pony (1966) and Clear Round for Katy (1967). 
Clear Round for Katy (1967)

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For more on John Ivester Lloyd, he has a page on my website.  You can also see more of the work of the rest of the family:

Tom Ivester-Lloyd (1873-1942)
Stanley Lloyd
Delphine Ratcliff

Sunday, 16 February 2014

PBOTD: 16th February, Jill Maughan - The Deceivers

I've moved to the 1990s for today's pony book. By that time, there were fewer pony books being published than in previous decades, and The Deceivers (1990) was one of an increasingly rare breed. Armada did publish some books as first editions (Patricia Leitch's Jinny series was a particularly notable example), and The Deceivers was an Armada original.

It's not the usual tale of girl gets pony. Girl does get the pony, but it's totally unsuitable, and is in fact a horse - a thoroughbred, the sort of horse of which a horse mad girl dreams that she, only she, will be the one to find the key to poor, spoiled, dangerous him. Unfortunately for heroine Lucy, she doesn't have the backing and advice of a practical, sensible, and yes, moral, Mrs Darcy. Lucy has Janey Squires, who owns the riding school at which Lucy's going to keep her horse.

Janey has a vicious rivalry (from her side at least) with rival riding school owner Angelica Kent. Janey knows full well Lucy's horse Dance is unsuitable, but she encourages Lucy in the hope that she'll show Angelica what's what by winning a competition, and, for once, trouncing Angelica.

Janey is one of those who likes to draw all those around her into her wars, and she does that with the girls at the riding school. The book's really about that: the dangers of obsession, and the inability to see the truth when it's under your nose. Lucy, in the end, starts to realise that just because an adult says something, it isn't necessarily so, and she starts to make up her own mind. She's helped here by the fact that Angelica's a much better horsewoman than Janey, and it's that, in the end, that changes her mind. She chooses the welfare of her horse.

Sadly, there were no other horse books from Jill Maughan, but the one she did write is well worth seeking out. The Deceivers was published by Armada in 1990, and was an Armada original. As far as I'm aware, it had no further editions.

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For more on Jill Maughan (there's not much, but you might enjoy the page), see my website.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

PBOTD: 15th February, Irene Makin - Ponies in the Attic

Today's book is Irene Makin's Ponies in the Attic. This is quite a timely book for me, as it's about having to move away from a house you love. Heroine Debbie is fulfilling the moving to the country dream, but she's lonely, as she finds her cousins and her aunt, with whom she lives, difficult to get on with. The house is in the New Forest, and in the attic Debbie finds someone's drawn pictures of the ponies on the walls. They were drawn by Dan, who used to live in the house, and who misses it desperately.

Hutchinson first edition, 1970, illus Elisabeth Grant
About this time last year, we moved from our much loved, money-draining, stone millstone to a house as different as could be: a seventies palace in the middle of town. It was a wrench to sell the house, because we loved it. The new owners have thrown sackloads of cash at it (which it did need) and it's odd to drive past and see it shrouded in scaffolding. Odd, because there's a sense of regret that we never managed to sort out the chimneys and the pointing, but I'm also pleased that someone is doing it at last, and I'm even more pleased that I don't have to pay for it, and wake night after night in a cold sweat of dread at the parlous state of my bank account.

As a child, you don't have quite the same view, if you move. To you, it may be the only house you've ever known: the one where all your memories are centred, and to move is like wrenching your life out by the roots, and that's what it's like for Dan in Ponies in the Attic.

Puffin paperback, 1973
Dan resents Debbie for living in his house: it must feel almost as if she's stolen his life. They do overcome this obstacle, and become real friends. The book is a satisfying read, and is one of the few pony books Puffin editor Kaye Webb picked up. Although she was, reportedly, very dismissive of the pony book, that didn't stop her picking up some of the better examples in the genre, more of which will appear in later PBOTDs.

Ponies in the Attic was first published by Hutchinson in 1970, and was illustrated by Elisabeth Grant. Puffin published the book in 1973, when it appeared in paperback with a slightly different cover illustration.

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For more on Irene Makin, see her page on my website.

Friday, 14 February 2014

PBOTD: 14th February, Josephine Pullein-Thompson - Pony Club Camp

To celebrate Valentine's Day, here is one of the few British pony books to feature romance. It doesn't happen for Jill, (was she fonder of John in Jill's Riding Club than she was of James Bush? We will never know), Jackie  or Jinny, and if Collins had had their way, it wouldn't have happened with Noel and Henry either.

Collins first edition, 1957, illus Sheila Rose
Noel Kettering first appears in Six Ponies, published in 1946, and Josephine's first solo novel. In it Noel is really rather hopeless at first, and lacks all confidence in her abilities. She is more capable than she thinks, though, and succeeds rather better than the rest of the Pony Club at breaking in a New Forest pony. Henry Thornton saves his first appearance for Pony Club Team (1950), when he visits his uncle, Major Holbrooke's, the guiding star of the Pony Club. Henry is irritatingly superior, and thinks he's rather above the Pony Club and all their ways. Noel doesn't mind him, but he and Pony Club member John wind each other up so much they come to blows. Fortunately after this start, Henry thaws out and admits he is actually human, and he then becomes a mainstay of the series; able to recognise his faults, and keen on improving his riding. 

Collins Pony Library, 1973
Henry and Noel have always got on, but by the time the last book, Pony Club Camp (1957) comes along, the astute can see there's a bit more to their relationship than there was. And at the end, there is The Kiss - at least we think there is: here's the relevant bit:
"Henry spoke again into the silence that followed. 'I'll give you a kiss if you like,' he said.
'That's jolly nice of you,' answered Noel.
Yes, it is, isn't it?' said Henry, laughing."
Well, I like to think they did.
Armada, 1974
Pony Club Camp was Josephine Pullein-Thompson's most popular book. She said "I had the most fan mail ever after 'the kiss', with people begging please, please can they get married!", but Collins were not having it. They wanted characters who didn't really age, but who would go on and on, having adventure after adventure with no regard to the inconvenience of growing up at all. Josephine Pullein-Thompson didn't see it like that, and so the series ended. 

Josephine did answer those many letters, and in them she explained what happened next:
"Henry went into the Army. He joined a cavalry regiment and was stationed in Germany. There he rode in dressage competitions and fell in love with a German dressage rider. When Noel heard about it she was very shaken. Then, his miitary service over, he came back. By this time Noel had had several boy friends, but they got together again and eventually married.”
 So there you are. It did all work out. 

Armada, 1980
Pony Club Camp was first published in 1950 by Collins, with internal illustrations and cover by Sheila Rose. It was reprinted in that format, but the first major change came in 1973 when Collins reissued the book as part of its Collins Pony Library series, with a completely new cover. The paperback division of Collins, Armada, then printed the book twice: once with a pictorial illustration, and then in the format that has swept all before it: the photographic cover. The last reprint I know of was done by Swift, also, I believe, part of Collins, as a hardback with laminated boards.

Swift, 1987
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For much more on Josephine Pullein-Thompson, including my interview with her, try my website.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

PBOTD: 13th February, Mary Oldham - A Dream of Horses

Did you dream of a life with horses once you were finally free of the shackles of school? I did. I read those stories where children took over the running of the riding school after an accident or illness conveniently carried the owner off, and I was absolutely sure I could do just as well as they could. If that failed to happen, and I was realistic enough to work out that the convenient illness didn't actually happen that often, and even if it did, there wasn't a huge likelihood I'd be on the scene to help out, well then I'd go on and ride for someone - my dreams were a bit vague on exactly who this would be, but I would show jump my way round the country.

Harrap first edition,1968, illus Robert Hodgson
My parents were beyond appalled by this plan, and put their foot down firmly. We had careers interviews at school, at which we were supposed to turn up complete with a plan for our future. Without horses, of course, I had none, so in desperation, announced (to the intense surprise of both school and my mother) that I would be a bookbinder. Well, I became a bookseller, and I earn my living by writing and editing, so I suppose I was in the right general field.

I never did work with horses, and from my advanced age now, I don't think I really mind. It's the dream of course, when you're a pony obsessed child, and there are books around that will feed that dream, and also provide a bit of balance. Mary Oldham's A Dream of Horses is about just that thing. Heroine Diana Lynch has saved and saved for a horse, and finally buys one, who's both sick, and it turns out, in foal. Besides her horse obsession, Diana has the rather more achievable ambition to be a librarian, and at the end of the book, she's faced with the choice of whether to go for a horsey career with Felix de Vries, the owner of the stables where she keeps her mare, or train as a librarian.

Diana made the choice so many of us must have made. I didn't read this book as a child, but I wonder what I'd have thought of it if I had. I expect I'd have been bitterly disappointed, love the library with a passion though I did, but reading it as an adult I felt a jolt of recognition for Diana and her dilemma.

The book was published just the once in the UK, by Harrap in 1969. It was republished in America in 1969, with the less than harmonious title A Horse for Her.

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There's more on Mary Oldham and her books on my website.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

PBOTD: 12th February, Golden Gorse - Moorland Mousie

Golden Gorse was the pen name of Muriel Wace. Her own early experiences of ponies were a world away from the sensible, ordered process she recommended in her first book, The Young Rider's Picture Book (1928). Muriel was the youngest of five sisters, whose mother died when she was eight. Her father, Ashley Maude, was a keen rider, but not particularly keen on serious tuition for his family. He bought the girls two unbroken Welsh ponies. One was so wild it was sold in pretty short order. Knowing what the one left was like, I do rather wonder just what depths that pony plumbed.

Moorland Mousie as a foal
Ashley Maude attempted to break the remaining pony in, but found long reining dull, and passed the pony over to his daughters. The pony was more than up to anything the five of them could think of, and amused itself by scraping them off on whatever was handy - overhanging branch, or park railings. Ashley Maude was unimpressed by what he saw as his daughters' inefficiencies until he rode the pony himself. After it tried its tricks on him, it was sold. Muriel was, fortunately, undaunted, and she and her sisters went on to ride the local cattle, filling the cows' heads with dreams of jumping, which unfortunately they fulfilled by jumping out of their field, which did not go down well with the farmer.

Muriel Wace saw the increasing interest in ponies and riding after the First World War, and no doubt from her own experiences, knew how important it was to start both children and ponies off in the right way. Moorland Mousie, which was her first work of fiction, published in 1929, was one of the best of those stories where the pony tells its own tale: pretty much the only model for a horse story until the 1930s. 

Moorland Mousie in his pomp
In it, the author stresses how important it was for a child's pony to be well behaved: it's Mousie's bad behaviour that leads to him being sold. Mousie then goes through what had become the traditional pattern of children's pony literature: he's sold, and then begins a progression downwards until at last he's discovered, poor and broken down, by his original owners and rescued. What makes the book stand out from other books with a virtually identical plot is its portrait of Mousie. We see not only what the pony thinks, but what others think of him; and it's this focus on the human rather than the pony which marked the beginnings of the transference of plot interest from equine to human.

The classic Exmoor head - Moorland Mousie
The book has remained tremendously popular. Sadly I can't show pictures of it because of copyright restrictions. It was originally published by Country Life in 1929, and was reprinted many times, with the last Country Life edition I'm aware of appearing in 1958. The book has now been reprinted by the Moorland Mousie Trust. 

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For more on Golden Gorse, see her page on my website.
You can read more on the Moorland Mousie Trust, and their republication of Moorland Mousie here. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Review: M Garzon - Blaze of Glory

Contains spoilers. And spleen. 

I don't often struggle to finish a book, but I did Blaze of Glory. Let me set the scene. Feisty girl Tea (I've always wondered how this was pronounced if you're not English, and the author helpfully tells us it's Tay-a), lives at a stables, brilliant rider, tricky family background, needs to raise money so she can get to the Royal horse show, and does so by riding exercise at the racetrack. This she is strictly forbidden by her stepfather, Declan, to do, because it's dangerous. Declan's glamorous, polo playing nephew Jaden finds out, and disapproves. First he yanks her off a rearing horse, and then:
"Jaden turned to me and grabbed my arm.
"Let's go," he said, his voice hard.
"No, wait...! I struggled to free myself and he tightened his grip, digging his fingers painfully into my fresh bruise."
He fails to get Tea to leave, so he grabs her, throws her over his shoulder and carts her out.

I don't like this. I don't like it when as your honeyed words of persuasion have failed, as has your ordering Tea to do what you want, you resort to manhandling her. Tea describes him as "self-righteous, interfering and arrogant," and you know what? I wish she'd stuck with that view, stuck two fingers up to him and her ghastly stepfather, and found a way of getting her and her horse to the Royal without the lot of them.

This being a romance, and a romance in the Twilight mould, that doesn't happen. Tea is, entirely justifiably in my opinion, seething at this treatment, but of course it doesn't last.

There's an unsettling undercurrent of violence in this book. Tea's stepfather Declan is a piece of work. He runs the stables, and his family, as a military operation. Any defiance is swiftly, and brutally punished. After Jaden dobs Tea in over the exercising (he doesn't know about Declan's brutalities), she's whipped for her disobedience with Declan's belt. The bit where Tea and her twin brother Seth discuss the fact they know this will happen, but know that the stiller they are and the less they protest, the sooner it's over, is chilling. They are victims of abuse. And then Declan bans her from riding at the Royal, which she's been working towards for two whole years.

The abuse is explored, a bit, in the rest of the book. Eventually Declan sees the error of his ways, and realises he's way too strict on Tea and Seth, but no one ever seems to say "This must stop. You cannot treat people like this. The fact you love them does not even begin to excuse it."

More than this, I find the portrayal of Seth disturbing: that it's the romantic ideal to have someone who's prepared to sling you over his shoulder if you don't do as he thinks you ought. Even if he's right, and you are being daft, it is still not excusable. If you can get over that, then you are in for over 100 rather turgid pages on how he and the heroine get together, despite the fact they shouldn't because someone in the family will disapprove most frightfully. My goodness, it's a long drawn out process. We know they will get together, because it's that sort of book, but boy, do they string out their eventual getting together. And once they have, do they leap into bed and put us out of our misery? No. They do not. Not for another 100 pages or so anyway. It's interminable - the will they - won't they - will noble Jaden stop leading the wretched girl on before nobly saying no.... I didn't find this even remotely erotic, though I guess I was supposed to, in the Twilight tradition of vampire who doesn't want to hurt you but is quite happy to lead you on, and actually be a bit of a git as well. The whole thing drags on for so long without really getting anywhere that in the end I no longer cared.

And what of the horses, you ask, as this was at least some of the reason for my reading the book. I liked the horse bits, because I do like horse stories where I learn how they do things elsewhere. The Blaze of the title doesn't actually survive the book long, so be warned if horses dying upsets you. Tea of course does find another tricksy horse. She also gets to do polo; not a common subject for a horse book.

I actually think that if it hadn't been for Jaden, I'd have liked this book much more. After her horse dies, Tea sinks into depression, and she does stuff. Stuff that teenagers do - parties not wisely but too well; takes drugs, antagonises everyone around her. And who is there, the big strong man, the one who can lift Tea out of all this, put her feet on the right path, and yet love her? You've guessed it. Because she can't do it on her own, poor little muffin.

I guess that's what infuriated me so much about this novel. I'm absolutely sure Jaden is a lot of people's dream of romantic bliss: look at that stalkerish Edward Cullen in the Twilight books, for goodness' sake, but he's certainly not mine. I find the undercurrent of violence in the book frankly disturbing. This book is not a portrayal of a healthy relationship.

Blaze of Glory is the first of a series. If you like horses and teenage romance and are not particular about gittish, over-entitled men, this is the book for you. If you're really lucky, they'll bring the television series over here too. Dear God, no.

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M Garzon: Blaze of Glory
Paperback, £9.00
Kindle, £3.88

Age of main character: 16
Themes: sex, drugs but unfortunately no rock and roll. A horse dies.

M Garzon's website

PBOTD: 11th February, Shirley Faulkner-Horne - Pat and Her Polo Pony

Shirley Faulkner-Horne's Pat and Her Polo Pony - The Power of a Charm is today's Pony Book of the Day. The heroine, Pat, was one of those children who cropped up fairly often in inter-war books: the child of parents living in India who was shipped back to the mother country for the sake either of their health, or their education. Pat's father, it must be said, only serves in India because he can't afford to hunt and play polo in England.

Country Life, first edition, 1939
Pat is sent off to stay with cousins she's never ever met, dreading it as they are horse mad and she is petrified of ponies, after she broke her arm in a fall. In another sign of the times, her uncle is a vicar who is able to keep several ponies, something very difficult to achieve on a vicar's salary these days. 

This book has a strong moral bias, though at times it does seem conveniently to forget it. It's hard work, politeness and grit that gets you somewhere, and that's what comes to Pat's aid (as well as the charm her ayah gave her) when it comes to looking after her cousin's New Forest, Star, when she's ill. Pat, once she gets down to it, is a phenomenal achiever, getting the Pony Club B with 84% after riding for only six months. Her father's so impressed by this feat he says she can buy a pony, and Pat decides to buy a pony and train it to play polo at the local club. 

Pat gets this pony, Nala, by deliberately turning on the tears when she's at the dealer's. This grates, but not as much as the episode where she persuades a regimental groom to lie that the pony her father wants to ride in a polo match is lame, so he'll be forced to choose Nala. It's not incredibly impressive to get what you want by being manipulative, but making someone else lie, when you're in a position of power over them because your father is their superior officer, really irks. 

Pat and her Polo Pony is, however, the first, and so far one of the few, books to feature polo. Polo, with its need to have more than one pony, is generally beyond most pony owners, and it's remained a minority sport in the pony book field. 
Junior Country Life Library edition
Pat and Her Polo Pony was published by Country Life in 1939. At that time, Country Life produced considerably more than just the Country Life magazine. They published Riding magazine, and had their own publishing arm too. Country Life reprinted many of their children's books as part of the Junior Country Life Library, usually with the cover illustration from the original, with a coloured band surrounding it, and Pat made an appearance as a Junioir Country Life Library title. As far as I know, it wasn't republished after that.

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For more on Shirley Faulkner-Horne and her works, she has a page on my website.
If you'd like to see the Junior Country  Life in most of its glory (I don't have pictures of all the titles, by any means), you can see that here.

Monday, 10 February 2014

PBOTD: 10th February, Brian Fairfax-Lucy - Ponies in the Valley

I was very tempted, when writing Heroines on Horseback, to use the original cover for Horses in the Valley as the cover illustration for my book, but that didn't quite happen. It's a classic of its type, and to me it expresses all the important elements of a pony book: you've got the girl feeding the ponies, and a focusing of the attention just on the girl and the horse and pony. The whole world is focused on them. 

OUP, 1941, illustrated Stanley Lloyd

I have to admit it is a while since I've read the story, so I'm not going to give an elaborate summary and analysis of it, because I can't. The book is, however, one of a type that became increasingly rare from the 1940s onwards: the story's told from the point of view of the horses. There are three horses in the story, Bear the black Shetland, Colonel the bay hunter, and a chestnut filly called Katharina. The house where they live is being rented out to Mrs Grantoun and her daughter Ann, who fortunately are horsey people. The tension comes from the horses' original owners' decision to sell the horses. Will Mrs Grantoun buy them? When she misses out on buying one, what will happen then?

Transworld (Scottie) reprint, paperback, 1955
The author, Brian Fairfax-Lucy, also wrote other children's books, including the excellent The Children of the House  which was set in his childhood home, Charlecote Parknow, incidentally, owned by the National Trust. Fairfax-Lucy was on firmer, and more successful ground, when writing historical stories, but The Horses in the Valley is still an interesting read.

The first edition appeared during World War II in 1941. It was reprinted by Scottie, an early paperback imprint of Collins, in 1955. These copies do not tend to survive well.

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For a bit more on the author, see his page on my website.