Saturday, 31 May 2014

PBOTD 31st May: Primrose Cumming - Silver Snaffles

Writing at the dawn of the pony book, Primrose Cumming was lucky. Publishers were not obsessed with series, and were prepared to allow Primrose to experiment with writing pony books that, by the end of her career, included most variations of the genre. Her first three books shot off in completely different directions. Doney (1934) was an experiment with the horse-telling-its story format, and Spider Dog (1936) an adventure more doggy than pony. With her third book, Silver Snaffles (1937), she made a leap into fantasy to produce the ultimate dream-come-true pony story. It is still in print, and has been loved by generations. Before Silver Snaffles, many horses and ponies had told their own stories, but here ponies talk to children directly, though only in a fantastic riding school reached by saying the password “Silver Snaffles”.

Blackie, 1937, 1st edn, illus Stanley Lloyd
Only children who do not have their own ponies can enter this magical world; this “Extraordinary Riding School, ... absolutely different from an ordinary one.” Ponies teach the children. The only pupils allowed are those who have no pony - one of the major attractions of the book. It was for the unfortunate many, not the favoured few, that this world existed; the many, many pony mad children who read pony books but would never have a horse of their own; and who would be lucky if they even had a riding lesson.

Blackie, 1960s, hb
Heroine Jenny has no pony, but spends every spare minute talking to Tattles, who pulls Mr Pymmington’s carrier cart. Tattles is past his best; he is elderly and his hard life has left its mark on him – “his backbone sagged with old age like a chair that has been too much sat in”. Jenny’s father can’t afford riding lessons for her, and if he could, the local riding school is run by Mr Kelley, who has a red face and shouts, and whose ponies are thin and tired-looking. Jenny pours all this out to Tattles:

“...I must ride, soon, Tattles, I must!”
Jenny’s last words rang out in the little stable. When they had died away the stable seemed very quiet for a while.
“Through the Dark Corner, and the password is Silver Snaffles.”
The words had come from Tattles. Jenny stared at him, her surprise making her sit bolt upright on the uncomfortable edge of the manger. Tattles had opened his eyes, but there was a far-away look about them as if he were dreaming. Jenny would have been frightened anywhere else, but you could not feel frightened in Tattles’ stable with Tattles.”

And so Jenny enters the Extraordinary Riding School. It is not a world that is sugar-sweet. Primrose Cumming’s ponies do not exist in a dream world of unfeasible goodness, where every pony thinks only noble thoughts. Cock Robin, Tattles, Dragon and their comrades are distinctly tart at times: they have little time for human stupidity, as Jenny soon finds out. She learns exactly why she should start to think of things from the pony’s point of view and not just her own. Anyone who has learned to ride must have wondered quite what the horse thinks of them: every child must long for the ponies they love to talk to them. In Silver Snaffles, in simple and direct style, they do.

Knight, 1976, abridged
The Hunt is the end of Jenny’s experiences in the world beyond the Dark Corner. She is to have a pony of her own (her father, previously too poor to afford riding lessons, having presumably found money from somewhere), and so can no longer come through the Dark Corner: “it wouldn’t be quite fair to the people who haven’t ponies.”
Fidra, 2007, full text
Were ponies to teach one to ride, it is easy to believe it would happen exactly as Primrose Cumming describes it. As with so many horse stories previously, she does have her points to make: ponies should be treated properly and their feelings considered; an obsession with the car is not healthy. This pill is well-sugared in those parts of the book set in the Extraordinary Riding School and the real world; rather less so in the car-mad land beyond the Lilac Mist, but the enchantment of the speaking ponies, the appeal to the pony-less child, and the wryly observed characterisation of both ponies and people have created a book which will remain iconic.

The text of this piece originally appeared in my book, Heroines on Horseback.

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More on Primrose Cumming

Friday, 30 May 2014

Review: Natalie Keller Reinert - Ambition

Natalie Keller Reinert’s heroines are tricky to like, at least at first. The heroine of Ambition, Jules, has come up the hard way. She was the horse-mad girl without the horse, who earned rides and teaching through slog. “I was child labor and I was proud of it,” she says. All she wanted to do was ride. The barn where she worked was for the children of the rich, who soon worked out Jules’ position in the scheme of things: right at the bottom. And they let her know it, “accidentally” spilling shampoo in the troughs she was filling; dropping tack they knew she had to clean in the mud. Because she was just the help, and they could get away with it. It was enough to sour anyone, and Jules is sour.

She’s determined she’ll succeed on her own, and if sheer, hard, passionate graft could do it, she’d be in the Olympic team already. But as we find out, it’s not enough. Graft, even when allied to talent, isn’t enough to win you the scholarship you need in order to keep your stable afloat. It’s not enough to work out the problems that beset the marvellous new horse you think will be the one to get you up to advanced level. It’s not enough to make you work out the difficult relationship you have with your working student.

However brilliant Jules is with horses, she is blindingly hopeless with people. She’s one of those who, because they’ve been hurt so much in the past, bites first and asks questions later. She treads, wilfully, all over anyone who dares to come near her. You sympathise with Becky, the working pupil. Jules can’t understand why Becky seems to have gone off her, but we can. Oh, we can.

Despite Jules’ desperate, tearing ambition to get somewhere, she seems intent on sabotaging herself. She simply can’t believe that anyone can approach her simply because they like her, and not because they have some sort of ulterior motive. The dreadful irony is that Jules spends her life sorting out problem horses, but she’s the least sorted out person in Florida.

The brilliance of Natalie Keller Reinert is that she makes you stick with this difficult, prickly, downright unlikeable girl. And if you, like me, do need to find at least something to like in a main character, stick with this book. I promise you you will not regret it.

The turning point for Jules is a brilliantly written disaster. Here in the UK we are not prone to tornados or storms which flatten everything in their path. That’s what hits Jules’ stables. I read the description of this with eyes open wide. It is by turns riveting and petrifying. But it’s when Jules has lost everything apart from her horses, and when she has no option but to accept help, that things start to change for her, and her horses.

This is a beautifully written story. In Jules Natalie Keller Reinert has created a barbed wire heroine who still, despite her arrogance, and her pathetic inability to see the good in people, still has something about her that catches at your heart.

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Thanks to Natalie Keller Reinert for sending me a copy of this book.

Natalie Keller Reinert: Ambition
Kindle: £3.06, Kobo £2.87, Nook $4.99
Age range: for adults
Themes: ambition, eventing, mild romance

PBOTD 30th May: Christine Pullein-Thompson - Three to Ride

I've covered a few of Christine Pullein-Thompson's books in this series, but not written much about the author herself. Christine Pullein-Thompson (1925-2005) was the most prolific Pullein-Thompson sister by far, and to date is the British author with most pony books to her name.  If you are wondering who's in line to overtake her, my money's on Jenny Oldfield, who has produced a phenomenal number of books, pony and not. 

Christine's bibliography (which you can see in full on my website) numbers over 100 titles, which range from non-fiction to early readers and children’s adventure stories, and, of course, pony stories.  

Burke, 1959, 1st edn, illus Sheila Rose
Christine's mother was the author Joanna Cannan, and her sisters the pony book authors Diana and Josephine. All three sisters had their own particular take on the pony book. Christine's twin, Diana, wrote mostly about children who were solitary, Josephine went for large families, and Christine had a mixture of both.

Dragon, 1960s, pb, cover Mary Gernat
When the twins were very young, they were welded together, sharing a common language and much else, so much so that they worried their mother. She decided to separate them; Christine remaining in the family house in Wimbledon and Diana being sent to Oxford to stay with their mother and an aunt. Diana “sank into lethargy and silence, while at home Christine uttered not a word.” They were reunited.  The twins suffered when separated, but as they grew older, wanted to be individuals. Christine remembered choosing a small cake instead of the ice cream her sisters wanted, although she wanted an ice cream just as much. She said “I believe it was my first small step in wishing to be an individual rather than just one of the twins. This feeling has never left me.”

Dragon, 1973, pb
Dragon, 1970s, pb
David and Pat, the hero and heroine of the First Rosette series, both have to learn how to make their own way in life. David has to do things on his own. He's stepped outside his working class background, and entered the world of the horse. Pat, with whom he starts a riding school, has had a conventional middle class upbringing, and goes on to do what's expected of her, despite what it does to their riding school business - she becomes a deb.

David, meanwhile, decides to leave his very good job for one in London, and it's a disaster. It's only due to the fantastic coincidence of meeting Pat in London that he and his horse are saved. It's interesting to see the characters learning as they go, and the series is a much more satisfying one than some of Christine's earlier books, which relied on frantic adventure: David and Pat, like Christine, were taking their first small steps in being an individual.

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Thursday, 29 May 2014

PBOTD 29th May 2014: Monica Dickens - Dora at Follyfoot

For quite a few months now I've been able to hide the awful truth: those books I couldn't put my hands on were there, somewhere, on the shelves. It was just that I hadn't yet got round to reorganising them after our two house moves last year.

Heinemann 1972, 1st edn pb
(which appeared simultaneously with the hb)
Well, I have now had to haul my head out of the sand. My copy of Dora at Follyfoot, which I bought when it first came out in 1972 has gone AWOL. It is not there. It is not hiding behind the Pullein-Thompsons, it has not joined the massed ranks of Riding Magazine. It has gone. Sadly it is not alone.

Heinemann 1972, 1st edn hb
 I think it possibly fell victim to the great purge which we did of our books before move number two. We'd got rid of boxes of books - great car loads - before move number one, but we still had 100 boxes of books which came with us. I've never worked out quite how many we'd have had if not for purge number one, and I don't want to. Jamming them all in after move number one was quite hard enough.

Heinemann 1998
The whole experience did spur us on to do another major prune. It's different moving house in your twenties: you have all those years stretching before you in which to read, and of course you'll get round to reading Ulysses, some day. And Balzac. When you're 50, it's a bit different. We went through the books with increasing ruthlessness.

Mammoth 1992
Sadly, we were a little over-enthusiastic. Dora wasn't the only thing to vanish. The second volume of the Game of Thrones series went AWOL as well, and that wasn't even mine, it was my son's. I have since replaced that.

Andersen, 2011

It would be good to report that the shelves are still pristine and beautiful, but they're not. New books are creeping in, one by one, despite my firm resolve to use the library. There is no hope. And I really don't want to have to move house again in order to get the library under control.

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More on Monica Dickens
The Follyfoot site - a brilliant resource for all things Follyfoot

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

PBOTD 28th May 2014: George Rutherford Montgomery - The Capture of the Golden Stallion

There are some series that sum up my childhood for me, and G Rutherford Montgomery's Golden Stallion is one. Like so many of my childhood favourites, I first met them in our local library. The library didn't go in for gaily coloured dustjackets: the children's section was filled with ranks of uniform series, dustjackets long gone, and if I remember any colour, it's blue-grey. The Dr Dolittles were grey, the Chalet School a faded blue. The library was a very far cry from the bright children's libraries of today, but I don't remember being bothered by the lack of colour on the outside of the books. There was plenty inside.

The Golden Stallion series is one of those that manages to combine the wild and the domestic. Hero Charlie lives on the Bar L Ranch with his family, and he catches a beautiful wild stallion, Golden Boy. Although Golden Boy is broken in and ridden, he spends much of his time running wild on the ranch with the Bar L mares, which always struck me as the best of both worlds. Golden Boy is an obliging sort of stallion, and is usually happy to be ridden and leave his mares.

This is one of those series I badly want to collect again, once I've cleared some space. I do like the original dustjackets by George Siguerre, which were the same ones Hutchinson used when they published the series in the UK. They were reprinted in the 1970s with rather pedestrian jackets by Lion.

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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

PBOTD 27th May: Kitty Barne - Rosina Copper

Rosina Copper (1954) is the true story of a pony bought almost too weak to walk, but who blossomed into a new career as a show horse. There is a mystery about her earlier life, and two people in her life who know more than they’re telling, but at last the truth comes out.

Evans, 1954, 1st edn, Alfons Putscher
Mary Gibson, who bought Rosina, won over 100 rosettes with her, and the mare became a well known fixture at shows. For several years, Mary Gibson held birthday parties for Rosina, which were so well attended road signs had to be put up directing people to the party.

 Rosina was a tough pony: she survived a hard life as a polo pony and neglect, and died at the age of 43.

Zebra Paperbacks, 1966, illus Clyde Pearson
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More on Kitty Barne

Monday, 26 May 2014

PBOTD 26th May: Monica Edwards - The Cownappers

The Cownappers (1958) is one of Monica Edwards' Punchbowl Farm stories. Cows aren't the most natural inhabitants of a mystery story: you can't ride them, and they aren't cosy pets.

Collins, 1958, 1st edn, illus Geoffrey Whittam
In The Cownappers, it's human evil prompted by cows that drives the plot. The Punchbowl Family have a paying guest called Jewel (Bijou de la Couronne) - a cow who is almost black. She has been cownapped from France, and the Thorntons end up tracking down her rightful owner and returning her via Westling and Jim Deck’s fishing smack in a strictly illegal cross channel voyage.

Armada, 1964, pb, illus Peter Archer
You wouldn't have thought cows could have been combined with sailing, another of Monica Edwards' fondnesses, but it's a testament to her powers of story telling that none of this seems even remotely implausible.

More on Monica Edwards
The Cownappers will be the next Monica Edwards title to be republished by GGB.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

PBOTD 25th May: Hilda Boden - Pony Boy

Swift gallop round the PBOTD today: it's Hilda Boden's Pony Boy, first published in 1958.

Lutterworth, 1958, 1st edn
It's the story of Colin, and his Welsh pony. He calls the beautiful black pony Merlyn. Colin doesn't have a handy instructor lurking to teach him how to look after the pony: he gets a book out of the library so he can learn to ride from it, and acquires tack by cleaning leather. Then he meets Lucy. Lucy helps him win at the Summer Show, but Lucy has an ulterior motive. She wants a pony like Merlyn herself.

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More on Hilda Boden

Saturday, 24 May 2014

PBOTD 24th May: Ann Stafford - Five Proud Riders

I'm continuing a bit of a theme here: the pony books which Puffin published. Editor Kaye Webb wasn't a fan of the conventional pony book, but she did publish some excellent pony stories. There are links at the end to all the other Puffin pony stories I've featured so far this year. Webb (and her predecessor, Eleanor Graham) published books from around the world, rightly recognising that horse stories do not have to be dependent on a deathless struggle towards the next rosette at the gymkhana.

Puffin, 1953
Ann Stafford's Five Proud Riders is one of those stories which revolve around a group of brave children venturing out on a long ride on their own. This was pretty much standard fare for the children's pony book right up to the 1960s, but I can't see it being published now, particularly when some of the children are so young. You'd never get an unaccompanied 4 day trek past a risk assessment.

So, it's worth making the most of a plot that has probably been killed by changing attitudes. Five Proud Riders (1937) is the story of Jill and Andy Meadows, their cousin Nigel, and their friends Gay and John set off on a trek across the New Forest. This trek is supposed to teach them, and their cousin Nigel in particular, to fend for themselves, which they certainly do. The usual alarums and excursions happen, added and abetted by those ubiquitous villains of the pony story: gypsies.

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More on Ann Stafford

Other Puffin pony books featured on PBOTD:
William Corbin - Horse in the House
Gunnel Linde - Pony in the Luggage
C Northcote Parkinson - Ponies Plot
Monica Edwards - The White Riders
James Aldridge - Ride a Wild Pony
Anna Sewell - Black Beauty
Don Stanford - The Horsemasters
Irene Makin - Ponies in the Attic
Phyllis Ginger- Alexander the Circus Pony (Picture Puffin)
Monica Dickens - Cobbler's Dream

Friday, 23 May 2014

PBOTD 23rd May: Catherine Harris - The Heronsbrook Gymkhana

The Heronsbrook Gymkhana (1964) is Catherine Harris' last pony book (at least as far as I know). She moved away from the family whose madcap adventures had careered through her earlier books, the Marshams. Perhaps she felt, with maturity, that an insistence on dash and headlong adventure were best avoided. The Heronsbrook Gymkhana  is much more domestic in scale, but it is her best book. 

Blackie, 1964, 1st edn, illus Geraldine Spence
It takes a single event; a gymkhana, and a set of characters ranging from the young to the about-to-be-married, and the adult organisers, all of whose fears and hopes are explored within a convincing setting and a short time frame. It's a format which suits her: instead of having to conjure up convoluted plot, the set time frame and events of the gymkhana allow her to explore how her characters behave in a realistic setting.

Knight, pb, 1978
It is, generally, an assured book.  It does have one of those endings where all the ends are neatly tied, and those who are mildly wicked resolve to improve, but the process of getting there is thoroughly enjoyable..

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More on Catherine Harris and her books

Thursday, 22 May 2014

PBOTD 22nd May: Marjorie Mary Oliver - Ponies and Caravans

Today's pony book is the third in the Bunts books: not really a series, the three books (The Ponies of Bunts, Sea Ponies and Ponies and Caravans) are loosely connected, with some of the adult characters appearing in all three books. My copy, as you can see, is a sad and shabby thing. Printed during wartime, the dustjackets for this title do seem to find it hard to make it through the years, and I kept this copy because it was the first I'd found with a dustjacket. Even though I found better ones later, I kept this because it looks so utterly pathetic, and it took on the role of the runt of the litter; the one I kept because I was pretty certain no one else would ever want it.*

Country Life, 1941, 1st edn (with Eva Ducat; photos by Jenefer)
The story's not massively exciting: it's Oliver's mixture as before - the healing power of the countryside, lots of Dartmoor ponies, and a gaggle of children let loose from the town. There is a bit of excitement towards the end, when the caravan has to make it across Dartmoor in time to buy Dartmoor ponies from an important stud that's being sold off, but otherwise this is a classic, sunlit, wander through the English countryside with ponies.

*  In case you're wondering, I did sell the book during my bookselling career when someone turned up who was desperate for a dustjacketed copy. The copy I have is sad and dustjacket-less.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

PBOTD 21st May: Gunnel Linde - Ponies in the Luggage

Gunnel Linde is a Swedish author, born in Stockholm in 1924. Several of her books have been translated into English: only one is a pony book (or at least, a book involving ponies). 

Dent, 1968, 1st UK edition, illus Richard Kennedy
Ponies in the Luggage is a good read: at first I wondered if the author was going to make this a wild and unbelievable romp, but she doesn’t. Aunt Tina invites Nicklas and Anneli for a holiday in Copenhagen. 
Once there, they manage to win a pony in the Zoo’s lottery, and then have to keep the pony in their hotel, and smuggle him back to their home in Stockholm without letting anyone know they have him. 

Puffin, 1972, pb, illus Richard Kennedy
The pony does indeed live in their hotel room, his droppings have to be cleared up, and his noises explained.... It is pretty much a miracle that Aunt Tina doesn’t spot the pony, particularly when they are all sharing their sleeper on the train back to Stockholm, but she doesn’t. Fortunately the children's parents are enchanted rather than horrified when they all eventually make it back to Stockholm.

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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

PBOTD: 20th May 2014, Richard Ball - Broncho

This book had been languishing on my to be read pile for years. It's not the oldest resident, which is rather depressing. Generally I put off reading books because I think they'll bore me, but I've enjoyed Broncho so far. If you've read Michael Morpurgo's War Horse, you'll enjoy this book. It was written in 1930, 12 years after the end of the First World War, and is billed as "the imaginary biography of a horse" - I don't like books in which the horse tells its story, but the narrative in this book is actually told from the third person, so there are none of the uncomfortable anthropomorphisms which usually lurk in equine autobiographies.

Country Life, 1930, illus G D Armour
Broncho is a much abused horse who has ended up at a rather shady dealer's. He's bought by Robert, who, very slowly, gets him round. And then they go off to war.... 

Broncho disembarks in France
I believe the story is loosely based on Colonel Malise Graham and his horse Broncho, which he rode at Olympia. 

Colonel Malise Graham on Broncho
Country Life, 6th July, 1929

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More on Richard Ball

Monday, 19 May 2014

PBOTD 19th May: H M Peel - Jago

H M Peel lived in Australia as a young woman, and so found plenty of background for her Australian horse stories. Three of her books: Fury, Jago and Untamed, are set in Australia. Hazel went to Australia at the age of 21, having worked with horses since she left school. The attraction of working with them had worn off:

“I became fed up with the long hours and slave wages, so went back to London, living in a hostel at King’s Cross.... travelled Europe, and when I was 21 I decided I wanted to see more of the world so applied to go to Australia as a migrant on their two-year scheme.  I went by myself of course, with no money to my name to speak of, and was flabbergasted when on sailing down the Suez Canal on Valentine’s Day I met a man and knew he was the one and only.  We married in Australia."

Harrap, 1966, 1st edition, illus Sheila Rose
Hazel and her husband worked their way around Australia for three and a half years, doing any job they could. While they were there, the wool clip had failed, and unemployment was very high. It was while they were living in Australia that Hazel's first short story, Pit of Fear, was published. 
Armada, pb, 1973
Giete, pb, 2011
Most of the horses Hazel writes about present problems, and some of them are out and out rogues. Jago was definitely one. Under a different regime, and broken in thoughtfully, he would have been what he was intended to be, a champion race horse, but he's broken in with violence. Jago responds with violence, and eventually breaks free, and has to make his own way in the outback.

I think this is probably one of the first books I read which made me think what it was like to be a horse, rather than looking at them from the rider's point of view. It's good the book is available again now: it was, and is, a considerable departure from the usual pony book. 

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Sunday, 18 May 2014

PBOTD 18th May: Patricia Leitch - Afraid to Ride

I loved my copy of this book, which was the Collins Pony Library edition. I loved its matt cover, with its dramatic illustration, and I loved the story of poor, petrified Jill, who manages to help her cousins run the riding school, overcome her fear and save a misunderstood pony at the same time: so many boxes ticked. Having said that, the oldest character is sixteen, so him taking on the running of the stables isn't as unlikely as it might have been.

Afraid to Ride was originally published as part of the Collins Spitfire series - paperback books that would fit in a very small pocket. Patricia Leitch contributed four books to the series under the name Jane Eliot, and most of them were picked up and re-written for the Collins Pony Library in the 1970s. The one exception was Pony Club Camp, possibly because Collins already had Josephine Pullein-Thompson's novel of the same name.

Collins Spitfire, small format pb, 1967
Overcoming fear was something Patricia Leitch addressed in her first book, To Save a Pony. She was always a sympathetic author, and no one in her books has to be fearless. What they must do, though, is understand what is holding them back, and be brave enough to tackle it. The desire to save something that can't save itself is a strong motivating factor. Jane in To Save a Pony enters a jumping competition despite her fear, so that she can buy a neglected pony.  

Jill has to prove to everyone else that Diggory is not dangerous so that he's not put down. She was put off riding by an accident at a bad riding school, but when she goes to stay with her cousins and their Aunt Jo, she is faced with ponies everywhere after Aunt Jo has an accident and the cousins decide to run the stables. She won’t go near the ponies, but then she discovers the Fell Digory in a field.  He has been condemned as dangerous, but Jill likes him, and feels for him, a fellow outcast, and that's enough.

Collins Pony Library 1974
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More on Patricia Leitch

Saturday, 17 May 2014

PBOTD 17th May: Jean Slaughter Doty - Monday Horse

Continuing the showing theme, today's PBOTD is from the other side of the pond. Jean Slaughter Doty's The Monday Horses is the horse world red in tooth and claw. Heroine Cassie's horse Toby is badly cut, and needs to recover at a local stable. Cassie works there in return for Toby's board, and soon discovers (as did Caroline in Caroline Canters Home) that the world of a professional stable is a very different one to that of the hobby rider.

Pocket Books, 1979
She sees the worst: owners who sell on a loved pony because it isn't winning enough, and replace it with an animal their child can't actually ride, and others who aren't above using performance-enhancing drugs on their animals, which leads to tragedy. Horses are often commodities, sold on for stratospheric sums just so that the new owner can win in the show ring.

This does have its good sides: there are wonderful horses for Cassie to ride, and the horses themselves never change, despite the labels humans insist on annointing them with.
Greenwillow, 1984
If you haven't read Jean Slaughter Doty (her books weren't ever published in the UK), I can thoroughly recommend her. Avoid the latest publications of Summer Pony and Winter Pony as these have been adapted for an audience who find reading tricky.

More on Jean Slaughter Doty

Friday, 16 May 2014

PBOTD 16th May: Caroline Akrill - Caroline Canters Home

Yesterday I touched on the one previous showing series there's been, Caroline Akrill's Caroline series.  The series originally started off as a serial in PONY Magazine, for which Caroline wrote. It appeared in 1973, and I read each episode as it came out. Show producer Stuart Hollings and I must be about the same age, because he also read it as it came out, and would read it out to his friends on the school bus. I was never that brave, possibly because I was the lone pony-obsessive on the school bus.

The series is the story of a clash of two cultures: Caroline, who likes riding, and her cousins, the Harrisons, whose job riding and ponies is. Winning is not just something that would be rather nice, and show off your equestrian prowess: it puts food on the table.

In Caroline Canters Home (1977), Caroline goes to stay with her cousins, having decided she wants a career in showing. The Harrisons immediately decide that Caroline is the ideal person to show their hack, Clytie. Caroline is not so sure. But at least Clytie has a lovely character, unlike Becky's pony, Benjamin, who is beautiful but vile. Benjamin is kidnapped by unwary villains, who certainly get everything that is coming to them.

Caroline Canters Home originally appeared in serial form in PONY, and it is pretty much what Stuart Hollings and I read in the early 1970s. Confusingly, it was published after the two showing books Hodder commissioned from Caroline, Caroline Canters Home and I'd Rather Not Gallop, but it is, in terms of the chronology of the story, the first.

The Showing series
Caroline Canters Home

I’d Rather Not Gallop
If I Could Ride

Note: this is the reading order, not the publishing order.
More on Caroline Akrill
The Royal Windsor Horse Show

Thursday, 15 May 2014

PBOTD 15th May - Linda Chapman: Loving Spirit

The focus in the next few days is on showing. There aren't that many pony books which focus exclusively on showing, but author Linda Chapman has written a recent series set at a showing stable. I reviewed this book when it first came out, and what follows is a slightly adapted version of that.

Ellie Carrington, the 14 year old heroine, is from New Zealand. Her parents have been killed in an accident, and her grandmother can no longer care for her, so she's come to England to live with her uncle Len and her cousin Joe. She's had to leave her pony, and the one small flicker of light on the horizon is that Uncle Len runs a showing stable. However, Uncle Len is worlds away from the sympathetic father figure Ellie needs. He is wedded to his work: all that matters is that the stables succeed. Len is impatient, dictatorial: a bully. Cousin Joe, 16, is cowed by his father and shows not a flicker of spirit; his father thinks he's useless, and tells him so.

Ellie clashes badly with her uncle. When she defies him, and rescues some kittens he wanted drowned, he tells her "This is my yard and my house, and I make the decisions. While you're under my roof, you'll do as I say. Tomorrow you'll start riding the ponies." Ellie flatly refuses. It does not go down well.

Puffin Books, 2010
However, Ellie finds she can't maintain her stance for ever after she buys a horse at a local sale. In order to persuade her uncle to let her keep the horse, at least temporarily, she has to promise to ride.

After Ellie starts riding, she finds of course that she enjoys working with her uncle's ponies, and she starts to appreciate that her uncle is extremely good at what he does. This is not just a straightforward showing story though: Ellie's horse, Spirit, talks to her. It's a moot point as to whether this means the book is fantasy or in the horse-whispering camp: there are people out there who say horses talk to them. They may very well do. Ellie is fully aware that people might well think she's mad if she tells them Spirit talks to her. The horse talking sections of the story are believable: after Ellie tells Joe she can communicate with Spirit (which Joe doesn't believe) they move smartly on to tidying the muck heap. There's not an over-concentration on the mystical at the expense of the practical stuff that has to go on around horses. There's a slightly different dynamic in this series than in Heartland, in which healing was the be all and end all: here the stable has to succeed to survive, and that's what the communication with horses helps. I think the book is the stronger for it: it's more rooted in reality than Heartland, though I shall be interested to see if school becomes more than a passing mention. There is a tension, particularly if Ellie's about to start her GCSE courses, between the amount of school work that needs to be done and the need to take days off for shows.

Ellie herself is an attractive character: I like feisty heroines, and I like her stubborn determination. She doesn't, unlike the heroine of Heartland, Amy, give way to storms of emotion. This is not a girl who feels sorry for herself, even though life has dealt her a rough hand. She gets up and gets on with things. There's an interesting range of characters: the book is, unusually for a pony book, quite male-dominated. Apart from Uncle Len, there's Luke, who helps run the stables, and Joe of course. Ellie's grandmother is a very distant figure, in New Zealand. Sasha, a groom, is a very intermittent romantic interest for Luke. Spirit, the major equine character, is male as well. So far, Ellie survives in this male world.

I liked the setting of the book in a showing yard. It's been a very long while since Caroline Akrill's showing series, and it's good to have something different. I find myself increasingly fascinating by showing as I get older - the showing pages are the one bit of Horse and Hound I always read - maybe my inner Becky is coming to the fore as I get older, and I will end up touting a hack of bewitching beauty but appalling character around shows, as she does Benjamin in Caroline Canters Home. Yes, I know Benjamin's a pony, but you know what I mean.

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More on Linda Chapman

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Review: Maggie Dana - Turning on a Dime

I’ve been a bit quiet on the review front in the past week because I’ve been attempting to do quick reviews of some of the self-published ebooks out there. This has all come to a horrible, grinding halt because I haven’t been able to finish any of them. When I found myself replying to an author offering to send me a copy of their self published book, featuring their heartbreakingly beautiful but terribly vulnerable heroine, saying a whole load of things I fortunately didn’t actually send, I knew it was time to stop.

Maggie Dana also self-publishes, but she’s good. I like her Timber Ridge Riders series (book nine is on my hideously long to be read list), and I was intrigued by Turning on a Dime, which is a departure from the modern day girls and barn books that are Timber Ridge Riders. Turning on a Dime also features a pair of girls, but with a difference. The book opens with Samantha, of Dutch/African American parentage who lives in present day Connecticut. She and her father are on the way to Mississippi so she can try out some horses. When they get to the house, which has survived from the 1860s, she finds an old dime between the floorboards of her room and goes to sleep. When she wakes up, she’s in the same room, and in the same house, just not the same time. She’s gone back to the Mississippi of 1863: the time of the American Civil War.

The other heroine of the book, Caroline, is privileged. She has everything she could want, including a horse, but she’s rebellious. She isn’t at all impressed by the fact her parents want her to ride like a lady, and not astride. Although she’s rebellious, she’s not particularly worried by the fact her family have slaves: that’s just how things are. And the Civil War seems a world away, even though Vicksburg has just fallen. Then Caroline’s brother, Theo, tells her that one thing both armies will need is fresh horses, and those they have in abundance, because they’re horse breeders. And then something else happens that rips apart Caroline’s conception of her world: she finds Sam asleep on her bed.

The narrative switches between each girl, which works well. It gives an immediacy to the way they see the enormous differences between them. Fortunately both girls share a willingness to see someone else’s point of view, something they’re both going to need. It’s interesting to see Caroline’s viewpoint change: that it’s not enough simply to treat people well; that people are far more than just slaves. Sam’s viewpoint changes too. She’s been brought up in a privileged world where she’s a minor celebrity because her father was an Olympic rider. She’s never taken much notice of her mother’s history lessons. The reality of being a slave in mid century America is a terrible, terrible shock.

Two things make this book work: the relationship between two very different girls, both of whom are struggling with the dramatic differences in each other’s worlds, and the way Maggie Dana handles the intrusion of the modern world into 1860s America. Sam still has her iPhone – not that she can use it to contact anybody, but everything else still works, and the torch app comes in amazingly useful. There’s plenty of humour in the book: Sam really appreciates that crucial modern day invention, the bra. There’s tension too: Sam doesn’t know how she time travelled, and so she doesn’t know how to get back. And before she can even do that, they have to escape from the clutches of slave catchers.

Some things though are still much the same: girls still bond over a shared love of horses. 

I did wonder about the end of the book, where Sam tells her parents what's happened to her, and then her brother, and then she's planning to tell her best friend.... I wonder if you'd keep quiet, because someone would tell. They always do. And then you'd become a freak show - but perhaps that's something Maggie Dana's keeping up her sleeve.
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Maggie Dana: Turning on a Dime
Paperback - £6.99

Themes: slavery, racism

Age of main characters: 15

Thank to Maggie Dana for sending me a copy of this book.

PBOTD 14th May - Patience McElwee: The Dark Horse

Today's book, and the next few are all to do with showing, to celebrate the fact that it's the Royal Windsor Horse Show now.

Patience McElwee (1910-1963) wasn't a rider, but her daughter Harriet Hall was. She said “My father and I both hunted most weeks and my mother would come to the meets, but she was terrified of horses and never willingly had direct contact with one. She did, however, know a lot about the racing world and could talk horse brilliantly.” It was Harriet’s experience of the Pony Club and shows that Patience McElwee drew on.

Hodder & Stoughton, 1958, 1st edn
Uncredited cover, but it must be Caney
Patience McElwee's world is sternly realistic. Jane buys her way into favour in Match Pair at Pony Club Camp by giving people sweets. The poor Merry children, of The Merrythoughts (1960) have a similarly bleak experience of human nature. Adults are more interested in their own concerns.

In Dark Horse (1958), the children  have to contend with the selfish manoeuvrings of the adult world. Mrs Aston Pringle, the impeccably drawn grandmother, is concerned with keeping up appearances, marrying off her eldest granddaughter to someone “suitable” and scoring points off her “friends.” Her grandchildren long for a more scruffy and bohemian existence, as lived by Shamus and Tim O’Brien, blissfully unconcerned with the finer things of life. They live in a crumbling, vast house and earn their living through horse dealing. Mrs Aston Pringle is determined her grandchildren will beat the Pinkneys at showing; marry well, and that no one will have anything to do with the O’Briens. The children, however, have other ideas.

They understand that the adult world is not one necessarily peopled by the kind and wise. There's plenty of the other sort, and in Patience McElwee's world, you have to deal with that and come to terms with it as best you can. In Patience McElwee, Hodder and Stoughton perhaps hoped they had a second Jill (whom they also published). They did not. Jill exists in an Arcadian Britain, albeit one peopled with humour. Patience McElwee’s Britain is very different.

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More on Patience McElwee

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

PBOTD May 13th - Ruby Ferguson: Jill Enjoys Her Ponies/Jill and the Runaway

It's been a while since I did a Jill book, but I do aim to get them all in before the year is out! PBOTD for today is the fourth in the Jill series, Jill Enjoys Her Ponies (1954).  By the less innocent 1980s, the double entendre of the title was too much for Hodder, who changed the title to Jill and the Runaway, which is how it remained until Fidra Books' recent republication.

Hodder & Stoughton, 1954, illus Caney
The series from the fourth book on sees Jill having pony-related adventures which are no longer tied in to her getting a pony. In the previous books, she gets first Black Boy, and then Rapide, and after a bit of initial difficulty, she and Rapide settle down. The challenge for any pony book after girl's-got-pony is what you do next, and endless gymkhanas can lack narrative drive. 

Ruby Ferguson chooses to revisit the girl-without-pony theme in the shape of Dinah Dean. Dinah is obsessed with ponies, but she can't afford lessons. She meets Jill when she has a lesson at Mrs Darcy's stables, and Jill's assigned as teacher. At the end of the lesson, Dinah admits she doesn't have the money to pay, and suggests she can work for it, but Wendy, who's running the stables in Mrs Darcy's absence, isn't having any of it and Dinah is sent off. 

In a neat and rather uncomfortable echo of those beautifully-clad, proficient riders sneering at Jill in her earliest, clueless days in Jill's Gymkhana (1949), we're left in no doubt about what a worm Jill and Wendy think Dinah is. They don't see the desperation, just the deception.

Hampton Library edn, illus Caney
It's Jill's mother, as so often in the books, who acts as Jill's moral compass. Once she's explained Dinah's grim home situation, as a domestic servant to a father obsessed with his research, Jill is struck with guilt, and makes Dinah a present of her outgrown riding clothes. Jill bought those same riding clothes in Jill's Gymkhana when instead of doing the errands she'd been sent to do, she used the money to buy the clothes at an auction. It's a neat comment on the way that, once we've moved into a group and been accepted by it, we accept the way it thinks, and conveniently forget the way we once behaved.

Armada pb, 1963, illus Caney
Jill continues to veer between being embarrassed by Dinah, and sympathising with her. Although Jill does help Dinah out, she makes sure to do it when none of her friends can see her and judge her. I think this shows Jill's bravery: it's desperately hard for a teenager to go against the herd, but she does it, albeit on her own terms. 

Armada, pb, 1970? cover uncredited
In any other book, Dinah Dean would have been the heroine from the start, but it isn't until the end of the book that we see what manner of girl Dinah Dean is. At the Blossom Hill Gymkhana, she rides in, complete the stolen ponies and a tale of a a wicked horse dealer selling horses for meat. Dinah's never really been part of Chatton equine society, and she remains distant from it, because at the end of the book she's due to be shipped off to boarding school. Jill and her friends would have loathed it, but Dinah is overjoyed by the prospect.

There are two concepts of the heroine at work in this book: Jill, the conventional pony book heroine, whose priorities are riding properly and treating your horse correctly, and Dinah, the fairytale heroine, poor, put-upon, brave and resourceful, fighting to right wrongs, and utterly uncaring of what other people think. It's interesting that it's not Dinah who changes in the book, but Jill. Both Dinah and Mrs Crewe show that there is a wider world beyond the pony. Jill Enjoys Her Ponies is probably the Jill book that explores most deeply the world beyond conventional pony activities.

Hodder, laminated boards, 1970s 
Knight, 1970s, cover W D Underwood

Knight, 1980s
Knight, 1990s

Hodder, pb, 1993

Hodder, pb, 1993, cover Adrian Lascom

Fidra, pb, 2014, illus Caney

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Fidra Books have now republished Jill Enjoys Her Ponies, and you can buy it directly from them