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. 

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