My guest blogger today is author Jane Ayres. Jane had her first pony story published at the age of 14, and went on to write The Great Horse Rescue for the well received J A Allen Junior Equestrian Fiction series. She is re-issuing her excellent Matty series as ebooks. All profits from the books are going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary; they're all available from Amazon, and are £3.03 each.
Ponies, names, and happy endings by Jane Ayres
These days, I seem to forget so many things. The house is littered with post-it notes because if I don’t write it down, it will get forgotten. So why is it that I can remember the names of most of the ponies I rode?
When I was a child I avidly read every pony book I could lay my hands on. My favourites were by the Pullein-Thompson sisters - Diana, Christine or Josephine, followed by the Jackie books, the Jill books, the silver Brumby series, stories about Misty and Stormy of Chincoteague, novels by Monica Dickens and Monica Edwards – the list is endless and I still have all of those books, over 40 years later. They were such a major part of my childhood and teens. I devoured anything that featured a horse. I consumed the abundant tales about girls who were lucky enough to have a pony. I wanted to be those girls, so I started to write my own pony stories. And when I wrote, it was often the name of the pony characters that came to me before anything else. Names are so evocative. A name conjures up an image that can form the foundation for a story.
In my novel Last Chance Horse (Stabenfeldt, 2010), Pagan had to be a magnificent black stallion. Powerful, rebellious, strong. He could be a Shire or even a feisty Shetland, but he wouldn't be a laid-back appaloosa or a showy flea-bitten grey. In another of my pony series, if I told you there is a horse called Fireworks, he would almost need no introduction. You are starting to picture him. Similarly, you couldn't imagine that Candy Floss would be a dangerous colt or a bad-tempered piebald. She would be a pretty, sweet-natured strawberry roan mare – wouldn’t she? (ironically, she was based on Candy, who was indeed a strawberry roan who looked like a rounded Thelwell creation and was exceptionally grumpy and moody!)
Charles Dickens was brilliant with names and understood the way we associate them with personalities. And as I consider this, I am reminded of those riding school ponies whose names I never forgot.
The first riding school I went to as a child had three horses: Tiny, an enormous bay cob who never went faster than trot (and only if he was in the mood) and was used a lot for beginners because of his placid nature, and grey mare Mazel Tov and liver chestnut Ginny, who were reserved for more experienced riders. The several ponies included handsome neat grey Starlight, the rotund Candy (as described above), responsive chestnut-with-a-white-star Ranger, and Binky, who was my favourite.
What attracts us to the horse we want to ride? Are we drawn to stunning good looks? Do we construct an image of that horse in our minds, in the way we tend to do with people when we first meet them? Binky conjures an image of a cute, sweet-natured pony. He was a silvery dapple grey, and very pretty, but not a safe ride. You could be cantering along, the wind in your hair and with no warning at all, he would put the brakes on, stop dead and put his head down, generally resulting in his rider flying into the air and landing with a bump. Or, in the case of a friend, landing on a sharp fence post and impaling a kidney.
|After riding Paintbox while on holiday in Skegness in 1974. I wasn't expecting to ride hence the footwear! I was 12 years old then!|
In so many pony books I read as a child, the girls overcame all the odds, were natural riders, learnt fast, got brilliant ponies etc. My reading encouraged me to aspire to something unachievable. This is in no way a criticism of those books, which were fiction, after all, and I loved reading them. They were a lifeline, a gateway to a wonderful fantasy world. I lived in a built up area, with no countryside as such, and the riding school was off a busy main road, which we would hack along, competing with the traffic. That was my reality. The other local stables I went to consisted of a tiny yard tucked behind a car breakers and scrap dealer. No rolling hills and green fields. So when I started to write I initially tried to create the landscapes, horses and environments I longed for.
However, what I really liked about KM Peyton’s Fly-By-Night (1968) was that Ruth seemed somehow a real person, closer to the people I knew. I think it was the first time I had read in a pony book that a girl had periods, an acknowledgement that she was authentic. I found Vian Smith’s inspiring story Come Down the Mountain (1967) offering a similarly believable world.
As I got older and my self-awareness grew, I no longer demanded my reading matter provide happy endings. In fact, the first pony story I ever had published was a creepy tale ironically called Dream Pony, about a psychotic pony that goes crazy at a horse show. It doesn't end well for the girl or her pony, but it was the first story I had published by a short lived but wonderful UK magazine called Pony World. I was 14 years old. (I should add that my other preferred reading in my teens, in common with many young girls, was horror and the supernatural which has continued to influence my pony books).
Over the past thirty years I've gone through phases where I resumed riding lessons, each time giving up when I reached the steep part of the learning curve.
As a child, I did foolish things, like entering unfamiliar fields and trying to ride the ponies bareback, without even considering the risk I was taking (or the fact I was trespassing!). Yet, the older I got, the more I had to fight to overcome nerves. It’s incredibly frustrating, being afraid of the thing you love. When I try to analyse it now, it isn't actually horses that I became afraid of. It was a fear of the unknown, the realisation that any living creature could be unpredictable. My riding lessons assumed huge importance and significance, but each time I drove to a new lesson, I would feel a thrill of fear mixed with anticipation. Gradually, the fear took precedence.
The last time I rode, the horse was called Rocky, it was our first time together, and I was happily cantering around the sand school, feeling quite pleased with myself. Seconds later I was lying face down, eating sand, feeling bruised and rather shocked. He had bucked violently, without any warning at all. Even the instructor commented on what a surprise it was. Neither of us could see any reason for it. I landed inches from the fence posts and could very easily have sustained more serious injuries. Like my childhood friend when he rode Binky. Maybe my subconscious honed in on that. What if….the premise of all good stories.
Because it’s what you always do, I stood up, shaking, took a deep breath and got right back on Rocky. But something was different. Something had changed. I was the wage earner, the bread winner in my household. I had responsibilities so I shouldn't be taking risks. That’s what I told myself. I haven’t ridden since.
If you'd like to see the books Jane's written, they are all here
Shetland pony picture from Freefoto.com