Year of pony books: January 1st, Josephine Pullein-Thompson's I Had Two Ponies

As the Pony Book Advent Calendar went down so well, I thought I'd try and do a pony book post every day this year. Goodness knows whether I will manage this, but we'll see.

Today's book is Josephine Pullein-Thompson's I Had Two Ponies. This was her second solo novel, and was first published in 1947, which makes it an amazing 67 years old this year. It's not amongst her best-known books, possibly because it wasn't published in the 1970s by Armada, as many of her other books were, and so missed a whole generation of pony book lovers. I first came across it in the Collins Pony library version below. A few volumes from this series appeared in our local Boots store, which in the 1970s sold books, and my sister and I were given one each. We were incredibly pleased with them, as all our other books were paperbacks, and the Collins Pony Library, with its row of specially commissioned hardback covers, represented an almost unimaginable level of sophistication. The books cost 50p, which was a serious amount of cash in those days. We were so impressed with these books and their beauty we couldn't even bear to take the price label off, and you can see it still.

I Had Two Ponies was my sister's. I've just checked on my shelves, and I do seem to have that copy in my collection. There's no possibility of doubt, as it has her name in it, so if you want it back, Ducks, you know where it is....

Collins Pony Library

The original edition had a particularly good front cover by Anne Bullen. In a fit of booksellerly enthusiasm, I sold my first edition with dustjacket to someone who was in urgent need of a present for their beloved, and I've not yet replaced it. Bits of me say yes, but you still have the story, and other, louder bits of me, say yes, but not with that cover, you don't.

Collins first edition, 1947

Armada published an edition of I Had Two Ponies in 1963, which a not entirely successful cover illustration by Mary Gernat. This edition did keep the Anne Bullen internal illustrations, though the Collins Pony Library lost the lot, sadly.

Armada paperback, 1963

And what of the story? I've chosen this book because I love the story, which is a classic in which a spoiled rich girl sees the evil of her ways, and Reforms, helped by the bohemian Westlake family, and the civilising influence of The Horse. Christabel Raffington has absolutely everything she wants, including two ponies. In fact, she's not that interested in the ponies, other than as possessions to boast about. Her father threatens that he will send them to the sales if she doesn't buck up her ideas, but she doesn't, and so he does. After a few momentary sniffles, Christabel's quite pleased not to have the bother. Then her parents go off on a business trip on which she's definitely not welcome, so she's packed off to some old friends of the family.

The Westlakes are not impressed with Christabel and her money. They like secondhand books, and horses, and dogs, and are wildly windswept rather than neat and tidy. Christabel is utterly horrified at first, but thinks she will be able to improve them. Sadly for her ambitions, the Westlakes are even more horrified at her, particularly when they learn what she's done with her ponies. Eventually Christabel does come to see the error of her ways, and then she, and the Westlakes, slog away and investigate until they can buy the ponies back. Along the way, Christabel learns the virtues of working for what you want, self reliance, generosity, how to ride, and of course, the true magic of the horse.

The story avoids being a pedestrian morality tale because of Christabel's growing self-realisation, and her ability to laugh at herself. The Westlakes are one of those large families that Josephine Pullein-Thompson did so well, and the whole thing is a delightful story of a spiky girl who not only learns to fit in, but changes the dynamics of the family she's staying with too.

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If you'd like to know more about Josephine Pullein-Thompson, there's much more about her on my website.


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