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Showing posts from February, 2014

PBOTD: 27th February, Denise Hill - Coco the Gift Horse

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Denise Hill isn't one of the best known of pony book authors. She wrote two other pony books: The Castle Grey Pony (1976), for the younger reader, and A Pony for Two (1965), the precursor to Coco the Gift Horse (1966).

The hero and heroine of A Pony for Two, Jane and Jeremy, see their dream come true. They get a pony. With Falla, however, they get mystery and adventure as well. Falla has some unusual talents, and not only that, she appears to be causing other people to take notice of her. Falla disappears.

A much more mundane fate overtakes Falla in the sequel, Coco the Gift Horse. She is outgrown: at least by Jeremy. Jeremy is convinced Coco is going to be a worthy successor. Coco however, is one of those horses who is quite spectacularly inept, which leads to an amusing read as Coco, for whom Jeremy treasures a dream as a show jumper, kicks his way through every fence he comes across. I must admit it did come as something of a disappointment to me when Coco is transformed into a…

PBOTD: 26th February, Michael Maguire - Mylor, the Most Powerful Horse in the World

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Michael Maguire has a solid set of adult racing novels to his name, but he also has a couple of books written with a sort of lunatic invention that makes them stick in the mind of everyone who read them. The pony book world has its share of wildly imaginative books which take off into fantasy, but they're rare. Such books don't chime with the girl plus pony plus gymkhana blueprint, although winning the bending each and every time not because of your immaculate riding, but because of your finely engineered horse, has a certain attraction as an idea.
Because the Mylor books featured a horse alright, but Mylor was a robot. Despite that, Mylor has character - bucketfuls of it, in fact. 
I rather like the chestnut horse on the front cover of the original hardback (the later paperback had an identical illustration). Michael Maguire has republished the book himself, and Mylor now appears still as a chestnut with a white blaze, but he's become an Arab. Quite Shantih like in fact.…

PBOTD: 25th February, Allen Seaby - Skewbald the New Forest Pony

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Allen W Seaby wrote pony stories which carried on the grand tradition of the pony telling its own story. Where he differed from his predecessors was in his focus on native breeds (beside the New Forest, he also covered the Dartmoor, Welsh Pony, Shetland and Exmoor), and his concentration on the wild pony and how it related to its environment. Not for him the brushing over of the inconvenient nasties of equine life: In his Dinah the Dartmoor (1935), he describes an account of a fight between two ponies as "kicking and biting, ...strands of hair torn away.. bruises and blood-spots." It was, as he acknowledged, daring of him to include such a scene.

His first work of fiction, Skewbald, the New Forest Pony, (1923) was republished many times, and it's quite likely you'll have seen it in its later incarnations, with the sweetly domestic mare and foal scene on the front cover.

That is not, however, how the book's dustjacket started off. The illustration below shows the …

PBOTD: 24th February, Diana Pullein-Thompson - Three Ponies and Shannan

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A lot of the things I was very fond of as a child, like Cadbury's chocolate, Enid Blyton, and Walter Farley's Black Stallion, I have rather gone off. But I still love Diana Pullein-Thompson's Three Ponies and Shannan (1947). I had the creamy 1960s Armada with the cover by Peter Archer (scroll down to see it). What I liked about Three Ponies was the heroine, Christina. Christina was not like other pony book heroines. If this had been a pony book which trotted obediently down party lines, this is how the plot would have gone: noble Heather and Pat have moved out of their ancestral home after their family loses its money, and their friend Charlie Dewhurst is thoroughly on their side. Rich girl Christina moves in to the ancestral home. Her family destroy everything wonderful about the house, and Christina swanks around with her three ponies and her groom, until poor but noble Charlie shows Christina the error of her spoiled, moneyed ways and the value of honest toil. And wins …

PBOTD: 23rd February, Christine Pullein-Thompson - The First Rosette

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There can't be many pony book fans from the 1970s who don't have a copy of The First Rosette. It was one of those books I seemed to see everywhere in my own obsessive hunt for a book with a pony in it. Whatever else the book shops of Northamptonshire lacked in the pony book department, they would always have a copy of The First Rosette, with its vivid blue backed Mary Gernat cover.

The First Rosette (1956) is one of the earliest (if not the earliest) pony books to feature a working class character. David Smith is the youngest son of a family who really struggle for money. Unlike his brother, he's not going to find his way out of his situation through education. David does it through sheer hard work.

He has his share of luck: after he catches the pony of the Master's daughter, he's invited to tea and rewarded with the chance to borrow a pony. Sinbad, the hunt pony, is not an unmixed blessing. He's of uncertain temper, but David sticks with it. He works at the Hun…

PBOTD: 22nd February, Patricia Leitch - For Love of a Horse

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The chestnut Arab mare Shantih is such a vivid presence in Patricia Leitch's Jinny books it comes as a shock to learn that the only place she ever existed was in her author's mind. Patricia wrote in a letter to me:
"[Shantih] was all dream. In fact, I used to dream about the chestnut Arab mare long before I wrote about her. Perhaps this letter will bring her back, and Bramble who was real flesh and blood, my own Kirsty*. I still feel, if I could walk out onto the moor and call her she would hear and come galloping over the skyline to me. But then what is imagination for if not to call up the past?" When Collins asked Patricia Leitch to write a three book series about a girl and her horse, it was the chestnut Arab mare who careened into being, along with Jinny, the extraordinarily vivid, spiky teenage girl who loves her. Jinny is difficult to like at times, and impossible to admire at others, but she has a compelling presence. She is worlds away from the sensible, …

PBOTD: 21st February, Glenda Spooner - The Silk Purse

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Glenda Spooner was a formidable woman, of decided opinions, strongly expressed. Here she is writing in the preface to her The Earth Sings (1950), her second book, smacking down the critics of her first, Royal Crusader (1948):
"When I wrote Royal Crusader I was told that I had "attributed to a horse knowledge of everyday human activities that a horse could not possibly have." This was confusing, because both those horse heroes, the High Mettle Racer and Black Beauty, have an astonishing knowledge of human beings. But as the book was written in an honest endeavour to help my greatest friends - horses and ponies - I considered their case was best stated by a horse. The success of the book proves I was justified." So there. 
The Silk Purse (1963), her last children's novel, is a warts and all description of the showing world, a world Glenda Spooner knew very well. Most of the book is a look at the showing world from the jaundiced but still affectionate point of view…

PBOTD: 20th February, Mary Treadgold - The Heron Ride

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Mary Treadgold was the editor of children's books at Heinemann during the first part of the WWII. She received pony book after pony book, the majority, she said, equally badly written. (In passing, I would love to know what she rejected.) She thought she could do better herself, and so in the autumn and winter of 1940, as London was pounded by German bombs, she wrote We Couldn't Leave Dinah (1941) in an air raid shelter. (It will feature in a later PBOTD).

The Heron Ride (1962) was one of her later books, and was part of a three book series, Return to the Heron (1963)being a sequel, and Journey from the Heron (1981) a prequel.  In The Heron Ride, Sandra and Adam's parents have been killed in an accident, and they now live with their uncle and his family; none of whom either like or want them. It is worst for Sandra, because she lives there all the time. Adam at least is away at school. It's relentless, and it grinds Sandra down, to live in that loveless, noisy, househol…

PBOTD: 19th February - Vian Smith, Martin Rides the Moor

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Vian Smith is not the author to go to if you want comfortable and predictable pony adventure. His characters have difficult challenges to face. Today's pony book, Martin Rides the Moor has a hero who has gone deaf after an accident. His parents are worried about him, naturally enough, as he struggles to adapt to a new existence with only minimal sound. They buy him a Dartmoor pony, Tuppence, in the hope that giving him something to care for will help him.
At first, Martin wants nothing to do with the pony, and he remains closed in and determined in his resistance until he has to fight through the snow to rescue Tuppence. It isn't all plain sailing after that: Vian Smith has much more for his characters to go through, but the book is, ultimately, hopeful.
Martin Rides the Moor was first published by Constable Young Books in 1964. I don't usually put American printings in the bibliographies in the PBOTDs, but I have here because the American edition is so much nicer than the…

PBOTD: 18th February - Kathleen Mackenzie, Jumping Jan

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Kathleen Mackenzie was part of the explosion of pony books which happened in the 1950s, but when you read her books, you can't help but feel her heart was elsewhere. Like Mary Gervaise, she preferred families and what happened within them to long and loving descriptions of pony care and gymkhanas.
Jumping Jan is one of her most pony-orientated books, and even here, the focus is really on the family heroine Jan is going to work for. It's not the horses that you remember after reading this book, but the family, who are splendidly vile. They are dominated by the mother, Mrs Jervis, a great beauty and a minor actress, who has married well. She no longer acts, but prefers to devote herself to creating emotional storms in the family. Mr Jervis stays well out of the way, but their children are not so lucky. The son is a liar and a cheat, who tries to pass someone else's play off as his own, and the youngest son is prone to hysteria. Eldest daughter Ellie has her own ambitions, an…

PBOTD: 17th February, J Ivester Lloyd - Joey

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John Ivester Lloyd's Joey (1939) was the author's first book. It's the life story of a pony, who is brought up on a farm, sold to a girl called Susan, and then hunts. The 1930s was a decade which saw a transition from the pony biography story of which Joey is an example to stories where the interest was centred on the human element. John Ivester-Lloyd adapted what he did: his later stories saw him leaving the pony biography well behind him as he switched to adventure stories. 

Two of his adventure stories are particularly interesting as they appeared in the form of booklets printed for Moss Bros, then a well-known provider of riding kit. Presumably these short adventure stories were given out to children waiting to be measured for their riding clothes to still the agony of the wait. Come on, Young Riders! was illustrated by Peter Biegel; Adventure of Two Young Riders by John Ivester-Lloyd's father, Tom Ivester-Lloyd, a well known sporting artist.

Tom Ivester Lloyd was …

PBOTD: 16th February, Jill Maughan - The Deceivers

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I've moved to the 1990s for today's pony book. By that time, there were fewer pony books being published than in previous decades, and The Deceivers (1990)was one of an increasingly rare breed. Armada did publish some books as first editions (Patricia Leitch's Jinny series was a particularly notable example), and The Deceivers was an Armada original.


It's not the usual tale of girl gets pony. Girl does get the pony, but it's totally unsuitable, and is in fact a horse - a thoroughbred, the sort of horse of which a horse mad girl dreams that she, only she, will be the one to find the key to poor, spoiled, dangerous him. Unfortunately for heroine Lucy, she doesn't have the backing and advice of a practical, sensible, and yes, moral, Mrs Darcy. Lucy has Janey Squires, who owns the riding school at which Lucy's going to keep her horse.

Janey has a vicious rivalry (from her side at least) with rival riding school owner Angelica Kent. Janey knows full well Lucy…

PBOTD: 15th February, Irene Makin - Ponies in the Attic

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Today's book is Irene Makin's Ponies in the Attic. This is quite a timely book for me, as it's about having to move away from a house you love. Heroine Debbie is fulfilling the moving to the country dream, but she's lonely, as she finds her cousins and her aunt, with whom she lives, difficult to get on with. The house is in the New Forest, and in the attic Debbie finds someone's drawn pictures of the ponies on the walls. They were drawn by Dan, who used to live in the house, and who misses it desperately.

About this time last year, we moved from our much loved, money-draining, stone millstone to a house as different as could be: a seventies palace in the middle of town. It was a wrench to sell the house, because we loved it. The new owners have thrown sackloads of cash at it (which it did need) and it's odd to drive past and see it shrouded in scaffolding. Odd, because there's a sense of regret that we never managed to sort out the chimneys and the pointing…

PBOTD: 14th February, Josephine Pullein-Thompson - Pony Club Camp

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To celebrate Valentine's Day, here is one of the few British pony books to feature romance. It doesn't happen for Jill, (was she fonder of John in Jill's Riding Club than she was of James Bush? We will never know), Jackie  or Jinny, and if Collins had had their way, it wouldn't have happened with Noel and Henry either.

Noel Kettering first appears in Six Ponies, published in 1946, and Josephine's first solo novel. In it Noel is really rather hopeless at first, and lacks all confidence in her abilities. She is more capable than she thinks, though, and succeeds rather better than the rest of the Pony Club at breaking in a New Forest pony. Henry Thornton saves his first appearance for Pony Club Team (1950), when he visits his uncle, Major Holbrooke's, the guiding star of the Pony Club. Henry is irritatingly superior, and thinks he's rather above the Pony Club and all their ways. Noel doesn't mind him, but he and Pony Club member John wind each other up so …

PBOTD: 13th February, Mary Oldham - A Dream of Horses

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Did you dream of a life with horses once you were finally free of the shackles of school? I did. I read those stories where children took over the running of the riding school after an accident or illness conveniently carried the owner off, and I was absolutely sure I could do just as well as they could. If that failed to happen, and I was realistic enough to work out that the convenient illness didn't actually happen that often, and even if it did, there wasn't a huge likelihood I'd be on the scene to help out, well then I'd go on and ride for someone - my dreams were a bit vague on exactly who this would be, but I would show jump my way round the country.
My parents were beyond appalled by this plan, and put their foot down firmly. We had careers interviews at school, at which we were supposed to turn up complete with a plan for our future. Without horses, of course, I had none, so in desperation, announced (to the intense surprise of both school and my mother) that…

PBOTD: 12th February, Golden Gorse - Moorland Mousie

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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.
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. …

Review: M Garzon - Blaze of Glory

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Contains spoilers. And spleen. 


I don't often struggle to finish a book, but I did Blaze of Glory. Let me set the scene. Feisty girl Tea (I've always wondered how this was pronounced if you're not English, and the author helpfully tells us it's Tay-a), lives at a stables, brilliant rider, tricky family background, needs to raise money so she can get to the Royal horse show, and does so by riding exercise at the racetrack. This she is strictly forbidden by her stepfather, Declan, to do, because it's dangerous. Declan's glamorous, polo playing nephew Jaden finds out, and disapproves. First he yanks her off a rearing horse, and then:
"Jaden turned to me and grabbed my arm.
"Let's go," he said, his voice hard.
"No, wait...! I struggled to free myself and he tightened his grip, digging his fingers painfully into my fresh bruise." He fails to get Tea to leave, so he grabs her, throws her over his shoulder and carts her out.

I don't li…

PBOTD: 11th February, Shirley Faulkner-Horne - Pat and Her Polo Pony

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Shirley Faulkner-Horne's Pat and Her Polo Pony - The Power of a Charm is today's Pony Book of the Day. The heroine, Pat, was one of those children who cropped up fairly often in inter-war books: the child of parents living in India who was shipped back to the mother country for the sake either of their health, or their education. Pat's father, it must be said, only serves in India because he can't afford to hunt and play polo in England.

Pat is sent off to stay with cousins she's never ever met, dreading it as they are horse mad and she is petrified of ponies, after she broke her arm in a fall. In another sign of the times, her uncle is a vicar who is able to keep several ponies, something very difficult to achieve on a vicar's salary these days. 
This book has a strong moral bias, though at times it does seem conveniently to forget it. It's hard work, politeness and grit that gets you somewhere, and that's what comes to Pat's aid (as well as the ch…

PBOTD: 10th February, Brian Fairfax-Lucy - Ponies in the Valley

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I was very tempted, when writing Heroines on Horseback, to use the original cover for Horses in the Valley as the cover illustration for my book, but that didn't quite happen. It's a classic of its type, and to me it expresses all the important elements of a pony book: you've got the girl feeding the ponies, and a focusing of the attention just on the girl and the horse and pony. The whole world is focused on them. 

I have to admit it is a while since I've read the story, so I'm not going to give an elaborate summary and analysis of it, because I can't. The book is, however, one of a type that became increasingly rare from the 1940s onwards: the story's told from the point of view of the horses. There are three horses in the story, Bear the black Shetland, Colonel the bay hunter, and a chestnut filly called Katharina. The house where they live is being rented out to Mrs Grantoun and her daughter Ann, who fortunately are horsey people. The tension comes fro…