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Showing posts from July, 2013

The Chemical Horse: a brief literary tour of colic

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Flicking through pre-war Riding magazines, I came across an article about home made preparations for the stable medicine chest - Home-Made Recipes, by Mowgli, Riding Magazine, June 1939. Everything Mowgli gave you recipes for was along the lotion and potion line: nothing internal. The one horse therapy recipe that has stuck with me for years is the turpentine plus linseed one for colic beloved of the 1950s pony book. I wondered if Mowgli hadn't mentioned it because it postdated him, so started ferreting about in the more ancient reaches of equine lit.

The veterinary arsenal of today, tested, and generally guaranteed safe, is relatively recent in the history of horse ownership. For centuries, owners relied on the home-made remedy, as that was all there was. Gervase Markham's Markham's Master-piece, (1668) tackles everything the 17th century horse owner needed to know. Much of what he writes is based on observation, and his is often spot on. He describes colic (cholick) this…

Review: Belinda Rapley - Foxy - Rivalry at Summer Camp

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Belinda Rapley’s Pony Detectives series is now onto its fifth episode with Foxy: Rivalry at Summer Camp. I’ve enjoyed earlier books in the series, but this is the best by a long way. The author’s into her stride now, and the plotting and character interaction have really developed in this book. Pony mysteries can sometimes feel a little contrived: the mystery is rather too obviously bolted on to the pony doings which are the book’s main focus, but in this story, the mystery flows naturally, and the book's a real page turner. 


Foxy sees the Pony Detectives girls venturing out of their yard for the first time, because they’re off to Pony Club Camp. This gives the author a chance to bring in more characters, and to keep them in place for the duration of the book. It's shifted the focus more onto the mystery and other characters’ development, but that's not a problem. If you've read the previous four books you know the original characters well anyway, and if you haven'…

And the winner is....

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Fiona Moate! Congratulations.

Review: Sable Hamilton - Wildfire (Stardust Stables)

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There's a reason Jenny Oldfield's written more horse and pony stories than any other British author: even Christine Pullein-Thompson*. She tells an excellent story. Stardust Stables is her latest series, written under the pseudonym of Sable Hamilton.



It's been out a few months now, and I admit I wasn't hustling Wildfire to the top of the to be read pile. My last experience of Jenny Oldfield was her Magical Ponies series, which encapsulates everything that is bad with the fantasy pony genre: portentous pony speak and unrealistic perfection in its fantasy creatures.

Stardust Stables is, thankfully, a world away from the Magical Ponies. Jenny Oldfield likes setting her series in America, and this one runs true to form, as it's set in Colorado. Stardust Stables provides teenage stunt riders and trained horses and ponies to the movie business. The Stables is run by Lizzie and Jack, and the riders appear to live there, at least during the summer. I haven't read book …

The Mystery of Dick Francis and the Missing Heads

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I've been sent some cover shots for some American printings of Dick Francis recently for my website. I don't know whether it's the publishers, or the designer, or maybe just sheer, freaking chance, but someone obviously has an issue with heads.

They're obscured:



Or just plain missing.





The one above is utterly bizarre. If it had been the cover for Bonecrack, in which models of horses with broken legs are sent to the hero, I could have just about understood it.


Thanks to Bettina Vine for these.

Review: Victoria Eveleigh - Joe and the Lightning Pony

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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 everythin…

Review: Maggie Dana - Chasing Dreams and Almost Perfect

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I hadn’t realised until I started reading Almost Perfect that I hadn’t read Chasing Dreams. A quick trip to the ebook store later, and it was mine (and very reasonably priced it is too).  This review will be two for the price of one as I try and catch up.

Chasing Dreams sees Kate’s father, who’s been absent in the Brazilian jungle for the past four books studying butterflies, arrive home. Kate has mixed feelings about this: it’s great to see her Dad again, but he has a new position in a university in Wyoming, 2000 miles away from Vermont. Great thinks her Dad: there’s masses of space in Wyoming, and Kate will be able to have a horse. The problem is her Dad doesn’t see why they should spend a huge amount shipping Tapestry over when there are plenty of horses in Wyoming. Potentially losing Tapestry isn’t Kate’s only problem: best friend Holly’s boyfriend is trying to organise a surprise birthday party for her, and this means lots of secretive phone calls to Kate: phone calls Holly can’t…

Review: Che Golden - Mulberry and the Summer Show

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I really liked this book, which makes me even sadder that I have an issue with the way in which one of its teenage characters is depicted. In general, this is a well-written, sparky story. The characterisation is spot on, and it’s a joy to read. If the rest of the series is as good as this, it’s going to be a cracker.

Mulberry and the Summer Show is the story of Sam: she’s nervous. Her mum can ride, and her elder sister Amy’s amazing. She wins everything. Sam though is scared. She can cope with riding on her mum’s cob, Velvet, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, but now she’s going to be taking proper riding lessons at the yard. This is not a small, friendly yard either: there’s around 80 horses, and the owner Miss Mildew (really? isn’t this a little obvious?) is a harridan: sharp and unsympathetic. Unfortunately, as is often the way, the yard owner’s character sets the tone for the yard. Amy’s rival Cecilia is jealous of Amy’s riding prowess, and she and her cronies take it out on Sam. While th…

Review: Troon Harrison - Red River Stallion

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I have major difficulties remembering names. When I used to teach, I had a plan of the classroom, who sat where, and their names. And I needed that plan. When addressing pupils, Short Accountant Person, or Dark Haired Woman Who Looks Petrified doesn’t really cut it. So it’s to Troon Harrison’s credit that she has a heroine in Amelia Otterchild Mackenzie whose name has stuck with me since I read it.
Amelia Otterchild Mackenzie is the heroine of this book, set in Hudson Bay during the 1930s. Amelia and her sister Charlotte Bright Eyes are on their own. They are half Swampy Cree – half white. Their Cree mother married a man who went off up river, promised to send for them and never did. After waiting years, Amelia’s mother married another white man, but he went back to his country, Scotland. And now their mother is dead and Amelia and Charlotte need to decide what to do.
When the book opens, Amelia thinks she’s going to die. Her canoe is being swept out to sea and she cannot stop it. Bu…

The Ancestral Pony Book

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We have an ancestral pony book: it has been in the family for decades. It’s Gypsy Tells Her Story, by Leslie A Newman. I remember it in my grandmother’s bookshelves. It sat there, unread even by me, who had ferreted Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies out of the same bookcase and read it to death, together with a good helping of my grandfather’s Hammond Innes thrillers.
Gypsy was the one book in that bookcase my grandmother actively encouraged me to read. She wanted me to read it because of its religious significance: Gypsy the horse tells her story of being ridden along the same route as founder of Methodism John Wesley on his early travels preaching, and the book is dedicated to “the boys and girls of Methodism.” I loved my grandmother dearly but this was one of the few things she and I didn’t see eye to eye on. If I hadn’t known the book’s religious connection, I’d have picked it up and read it, but I did. My grandmother never overtly told me why I was supposed to read it, but I p…