When I did O' Level English Lit, one of the very few technical expressions that stuck in my head was suspension of disbelief. It's such a grand description for the simple act of leaping headfirst into a book and living in it until you've finished.
It is a phrase that's been nudging at me for a while recently, as I've read a few pony books over the holidays that have tried my disbelief somewhat. The main one was Jackie and the Missing Showjumper by J M Berrisford. I know it seems as if I only mention this poor woman in order to put the boot in, but stay with me. The story involves Jackie and her sidekick Babs, both of them all of 13, who are going to spend the Christmas period looking after two showjumpers belonging to a"top-of-the-charts country singer." JMB herself recognised the struggle many of her readers were going to have with the essential dippiness of her plot, and she goes to some lengths to explain how the situation has arisen: the singer can't find any grown ups willing to work over the 3 week Christmas period, Jackie and Babs have lots of experience, and there will be an adult there to keep house. "Not surprisingly, Rory O'Brady hadn't been too keen at first on the idea of anyone as young as Babs and me taking over..." I didn't have to suspend disbelief so much as leave it swinging helplessly over Niagara Falls.
But to do JMB herself justice - maybe I am looking at this from a modern standpoint where health and safety legislation and child labour laws, to say nothing of insurers with incipient heart failure mean such things are incredibly unlikely. It wasn't always like this: I was left in charge of stable at a fairly early age, though for hours not days, and the Pullein-Thompsons were running their own riding school by the time they were 14.
Judith M Berrisford's Jackie series was started in 1958, when life was very different, and what might have been acceptable then was not by 1982, by the time Missing Showjumper was written. She could hardly restrict the girls' activities as the series went on and they grew older (though by inches: Jackie and Babs are the Dorian Grays of the pony world: they never change. I would very much like to know, though, just what debauched horrors their portraits in the hay loft of Aunt Di's stables reveal).
And so we are left with an author whose plot (Jackie and Babs go off to look after ponies) couldn't cope with the modern world, but who had a very successful series which presumably the publishers were reluctant to let her change: publishers like what they know will sell. Josephine Pullein-Thompson's publishers were very unhappy with the way Noel and Henry grew older as the series progressed and forbade her from doing it in any other series. So JMB was I think the victim of time, rather than inability to put over a convincing plot.
There are other worse offenders out there: I struggle with the romance betweeen the 14 year old schoolgirl heroine of Samantha Alexander's Riders series and her 19 year old Olympic rider boyfriend. I also wonder at the astounding ability of Amy in Heartland to do it all: school, a relationship, running the stables and curing all those horses..... maybe that's why the series has sold so many copies. It's not teenagers buying them at all, it's their time-strapped mothers, desperate for hints on how to get it all done.