Joe and the Lightning Pony is the second in the Joe series. In the first book, Joe and the Hidden Horseshoe, Joe and his family move from Birmingham to the country: a disaster as far as Joe’s concerned. But Joe rediscovers his love of horses, and in the midst of a sea of horse-loving femininity in the shape of his mother and little sister, proves that he has what it takes when it comes to horses. At the close of the book, he’s now riding Lightning, the pony that came free with his mother’s cob because she was lame, and life is looking good.
Life continues to be pretty good for Joe in the second book. Most of the problems that beset Joe are behind him, and he’s looking forward to new challenges.
As in the previous book, Joe and his friends are still doing the martial art Aikido. I like the way the author shows her characters having a life outside horses. So often, pony book characters don’t. Here you can see the way in which what Joe learns at Aikido (“You are responsible for everything you do. You own your life.”) translates into other areas of his life: what he does with his pony and his family. He’s still just as keen on horses as ever he was, but society’s view of horses is that they’re for girls. When his little sister Emily’s birthday comes round, everyone thinks it’s perfectly normal for her to have masses of horsey presents, and to join the Pony Club. When Joe says he wants to join the Pony Club, his mother’s first reaction is to think it’s odd, because the other things Joe likes are normal boy things: fishing and martial arts. She comes round though, and Joe learns to put what everyone else thinks behind him, because he’s responsible for what he does.
His pony Lightning is a wow at gymkhana games: she loves them, and is very, very good at them. Joe has to learn it all from scratch (including vaulting, which Joe struggles with, and practises on the back of the sofa. He falls off, which raises some interesting questions, and reminds me of when my sister managed to break her collar bone falling off the bed when practising half scissors). The Pony Club enters a team for the Prince Philip Cup, the inter Pony Club gymkhana game competition at the Horse of the Year Show, and Joe’s chosen. He has a lot to learn.
I really enjoyed the description of the Prince Philip Cup. Often descriptions of gymkhanas can descend into lists of who won what, but this is genuinely exciting. Besides the Prince Philip Cup, there’s plenty more to keep the reader guessing: what exactly is Lightning’s history? Will Emily manage to overcome the tragedy that hits the family? And what will happen to Lightning now Joe’s outgrowing her?
This book doesn’t have the tension that the first one did, because Joe’s now overcome the major hurdles that beset him in the first book. It’s a different read to the first book, but still a deeply satisfying one. I’m enjoying Joe’s story, and his view on what it’s like to be a boy in a world that’s almost exclusively female.
If you’d like to win a beautiful and unread copy of this book, add your name to the comments here. I’ll do a draw for the book on 24th July (well I won’t, but the Random Number Generator will), and I’ll post it anywhere.
Victoria Eveleigh: Joe and the Lightning Pony
Orion, 2013, £4.99