Prince among Ponies (1952) was always one of my favourite pony books. This was probably helped by the glorious cover Armada gave their 1970s printing. I have no idea who the artist was, but they certainly created a dream with their grey pony against the pastel rural background. It's just occurred to me, but this must be one of the very few pony book covers of that era which doesn't feature any children - which is perhaps one reason for the picture's success. There's no need to edit out the children who are in the picture and put yourself in their place. There's that glorious pony, and he could be yours, just as he was, in the end Sara and Patrick's.
Prince among Ponies has all the usual Pullein-Thompson elements: a large family, differing points of view on riding, and plenty of good sound instruction on how to ride a pony properly. This is interwoven with secrecy, as Sara and Patrick aren't supposed to ride Adonis; and also with the humour this brings to the story as they try and cover their tracks.
Josephine Pullein-Thompson did like bolshy characters, and here it's Jane Merriman who takes the role. Patrick and Sara live in suburban London, but despite their town location, they have learned to ride properly, in the approved Pullein-Thompson manner. During the summer, they go to stay with Jane's family. They have horses, but they do not ride like Patrick and Sara. They stick on and kick. Youngest daughter Jane is the kickiest of them all. Her beautiful grey pony, Adonis, has taken grave exception to this approach, and no one is now allowed to ride him as he is considered unsafe. Patrick and Sara ride him in secret, and armed with the theories of their teacher, Captain Stefinski, succeed in persuading Adonis to behave. Once their secret has been discovered, Jane refuses to believe that they have had any real effect on the horse. Once he is fit, she says, he will run away with them. Her father disagrees.
“Nevertheless,” said Mr Merriman, laying down his paper and helping himself to marmalade, “they have quite a different effect from you, on Adonis. One wouldn’t think that he was the same pony. And it isn’t” he went on firmly, ignoring Jane’s attempt to interrupt, “anything to do with him being lazy – he seems just as fresh as ever. But he looks like the pony we bought. You remember how much we all admired him when we saw him ridden by those Dawson girls?”
“They’d probably doped him,” said Jane..
I do love the neat character observation - Jane, willing to snarl almost anything if it prevents her from being seen as in the wrong. And there is plenty more. The whole book is a delight, because right wins, the pony is rehabilitated, and everything works out. Adonis even moves to London in the end, but to a livery stable, because Sara and Patrick's parents want to preserve their tennis court and rockery. So, even in suburbia, riding the right way flourishes.
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