Tuesday, 4 March 2014

PBOTD 4th March: Diana Pullein-Thompson, A Pony for Sale

I am seizing this opportunity to put a piece of my book that didn't make the final edit into this piece. 

Diana Pullein-Thompson was the first of the Pullein-Thompson sisters to get within sniffing distance of being  published.   Riding magazine had a young riders’ section, which ran monthly competitions.  The November 1940 issue asked readers to write a critical appraisal of any article in Riding.   “Tell me,” they said, “what you feel are the good points and if there any bad ones—do not mind saying so. I shall not tell the author!”  Diana Pullein-Thompson, then aged fifteen, won the competition.  Riding certainly got a critical review. Riding said “It is so much better to be fairly critical than just to say that all the articles in RIDING are lovely.  Well, the prizewinner for the seniors produced a good and critical review, and well-written, too, and the lady’s name is Diana Pullein-Thompson...”  Riding didn’t follow their normal practice and publish her entry. Diana said:

“With all the arrogance of youth, I had chosen a piece by a well-established expert – was it Faudel- Phillips? – on jumping with the Weedon seat, which I tore slowly apart, unfavourably comparing the style he recommended with the Italian forward seat.  For once Riding broke with tradition and did not publish the winning entry, for fear, I suppose of offending the expert.”

Bearing in mind the number of times Major Faudel-Phillips appeared as a contributor in Riding, she was probably right.  It was in the same issue in which her success was announced that the first Pullein-Thompson article appeared:  ‘Cocktail Capitulates’ (Riding Magazine, January 1941) was written by all three.

Diana’s first solo pony book was I Wanted a Pony (1946). It was not a savage tearing down of outmoded equestrian theory. Diana Pullein-Thompson saved that for a later work, A Pony for Sale (1951). It tells the tale of a mare, Martini, who is carefully broken in, but then sold on. Eventually, she has the misfortune to be sold to a girl whose idea of encouraging a pony to jump is to whip it, and rap its legs with hedgehog skin studded poles.  
Collins, 1951, first edition
Before ending up with the vicious show jumper Lydia, Martini is sold to a young girl moving on from her first pony. She is enchanted by Martini's beauty, but she is a nervous rider, and pony and rider are spectacularly ill-suited to each other. Martini was not the sensible second pony Pip Cox needed. She tries her best, but she cannot ride the pony properly, and Martini gets wilder and wilder. After a disastrous hunt, when Martini bolts, she is sold. Pip's parents blame Martini's breeder, not their daughter's inexperience, or the fact they chose the wrong pony for their daughter.

Armada paperback, 1960s
Martini is sent to the horse sale, where she is bought by Lydia Pike, who intends to turn her into a showjumper. Lydia's idea of doing this is to brutalise the mare into doing what she wants: hedgehog studded poles and all. It does not work. Lydia is far too arrogant to take anyone else's advice, but after some disastrous competitions, sells the mare to Lettie Lonsdale.

Collins Pony Library, 1973
Lettie Lonsdale, fortunately, is a true Pullein-Thompson heroine, and she does (though it's a battle) take Martini back to the promising mare she used to be, for Lettie rides with tact and not force.

Armada paperback, 1980s

A Pony for Sale was published by Collins in 1951, illustrated by Sheila Rose. It first appeared in paperback when published by the paperback arm of Collins, Armada, in the 1960s, with a cover illustration I believe to be by Peter Archer. The book was part of the Collins Pony Library. Many of the Library had new illustrations done by artists who could draw horses: sadly A Pony for Sale was not one of them. The last printing was an Armada paperback with the classic 1980s photo cover.

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For much more on Diana Pullein-Thompson, including pictures of all her books, she has a page on my website.

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