PBOTD: 17th March, Josephine Pullein-Thompson - Six Ponies

I had three of Josephine Pullein-Thompson's Noel and Henry series as a child. Of the other two in the series, I never did manage to find The Radney Riding Club, but I managed to read Six Ponies once, before it disappeared from the library, in the way that books sometimes did, victims of some purge I never understood. The book took on a sort of mythical existence: I knew it existed, because I'd read it, but I couldn't find it again, no matter where I looked. Eventually, when I moved on from pony books, I forgot about Six Ponies. 

The book obviously had a mythical status with other pony book fans as well, because when I started to read them again, and hunt for them on eBay, early editions of Six Ponies went for stonking amounts: far beyond my purse. Eventually I uncovered an Armada paperback (the one with the skewbald on the cover, which I rather like) and read it, wondering as I did if it was the same book. It was, and yet it wasn't. There were bits I was sure I remembered happening, but they didn't appear to be in the book I read. I shrugged my shoulders and moved on, glad that at least I'd found the book.

Collins, first edition, 1946, illus Anne Bullen
It was Vanessa Robertson, from Fidra, who first explained the mystery to me. Six Ponies had been drastically cut for its paperback appearances. Armada published to a set length, and Six Ponies was way over it, hence the cuts. Sadly, until Fidra published their edition in 2007, the cut version was what most of us had to put up with.

Armada, paperback, 1971
 Six Ponies wasn't Josephine Pullein-Thompson's first novel: that was It Began with Picotee, which she wrote with her sisters as a teenager. It was published in 1946, after WW2 ended, as was Six Ponies, Josephine's first solo novel.

Josephine had run a riding school with her sisters, but had left to go and do war work. After a spell in a remount depot, she moved on to work as a telephone engineer at a telephone exchange in Reading, on whose roof she wrote Six Ponies. Although written during the war, the book doesn't mention war at all. Josephine told me that it was a deliberate decision to leave the war, and all its grimness, out of the book, and so, although she tried to place the book in the future, it was set in the England of the 1930s.

Armada, paperback, 1979
The book was inspired by one of Charlotte M Yonge's books, Six Cushions. Joanna Cannan, Josephine's mother was a fan of the author. Josephine read the book, and said "It was interesting because of its characters. I wanted a broad canvas for my first solo book, not a first person story, and this writer managed to tell you so much about six girls and their families by describing their trials and successes in making six cushions. It seemed to me the six people breaking in ponies would make a much more exciting story. And I could also explore their families."

And explore them she did. Six Ponies was the first of what was to become a series of five books about the West Barsetshire Pony Club and their ponies, and their instructor, Major Holbrooke. Six Ponies introduces the pony club members. There is hapless Noel, almost crippled by her lack of confidence, superior June, cheerful, nouveau-riche Susan, occasionally violent John and the rackety Radcliffe family. A friend of Major Holbrooke's bets him that the Pony Club will not be able to break in six New Forest ponies. Major Holbrooke accepts the challenge, and the ponies are divided out amongst the riding club.

Swift, laminated boards, 1987
The six ponies experience breaking in very differently. June's pony is hurried on far faster than she should be. One is pretty much ignored, and one is beaten. One, Romany, is almost ruined by thoughtlessness, and it's this pony that Noel takes on, despite her misgivings. Of course Noel wins the day, but she never completely overcomes her lack of self confidence.

Fidra, paperback, 2007
 Six Ponies showed that Josephine Pullein-Thompson had, by the time of her first book, hit her stride. It featured themes she was to cover again and again: large families and their dynamics, and the importance of training a horse correctly; riding it properly, and never forgetting there was always something to learn.


Six Ponies was first published by Collins in 1946, with a cover and illustrations by Anne Bullen. It was reprinted several times in that format. Its first paperback publication (much cut) was by Armada in 1971, with a cover I much like, but whose artist I haven't been able to discover. Armada published the book again in 1979, this time with photographic covers, and Swift published it again, with laminated boards and a rather fanciful cover illustration of wild horses, in 1987. Fidra published the book, uncut, and with all the original illustrations, in 2007.

The Noel and Henry series:

Six Ponies (1946)
Pony Club Team (1950)
The Radney Riding Club (1951)
One Day Event (1954)
Pony Club Camp (1957)

For more on Josephine Pullein-Thompson, see her page on my website. There's an interview with her, a piece on the Noel and Henry series, and much more.


Joanna Kenny said…
I didn't know the paperbacks were abridged, so I've just ordered the Fidra edition, as this is my favourite series and I'd like to read the bits I've missed. I had the photo cover Armada.
janebadgerbooks said…
I hope you enjoy it - I wrote the introduction for the Fidra edition! It's amazing how much it was cut. I don't think the next books in the series were cut as badly, if at all. I must admit I've never done a line by line comparison.....

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