Showing posts from November, 2014

PBOTD 30th November: Mary O'Hara - Thunderhead

Mary O'Hara's Thunderhead is another of those books it took me decades to read. Unlike other books I've talked about in PBOTD this wasn't because I knew it existed but was condemned to lust after it, fruitlessly, because neither the local library not local bookshops had it. Oh no. I actually had Thunderhead. I had the Dragon paperback version published in volume format. And I had My Friend Flicka too. I didn't read that either, and I'm not entirely sure why. It wasn't because I had a thing about Dragon books, because I happily read the other Dragon pony books I had (from memory, all Christine Pullein-Thompson titles) time after time, but something put me off the O'Haras. I can only think it was the volume format that put me off, because I was certainly quite happy to read about American boys and their horses. Walter Farley's Black Stallion series and G Rutherford Montgomery's Golden Stallion books were as meat and drink to me.

Now that I have r…

PBOTD 29th November: Susan Chitty - My Life with Horses

Susan Chitty's My Life & Horses is the story of Crony. Crony doesn't have much in the way of qualifications, but she knows what she wants out of life. She wants to work with horses. My Life & Horses is not the sort of novel that sees our heroine using her life as a groom as a springboard to greater equestrian achievements. Gillian, a user of my forum, describes the book as like Monica Dicken's One Pair of Hands, only with horses.

Getting chased around the feed bins by an amorous employer certainly isn't part of the girl groom's life as depicted in the pony novel, though it is hinted at in Dorian Williams' Wendy books. This rather more honest look is probably due to the fact this book was written for adults, rather than children. Having said that, the first chapter appeared in the PONY Magazine Annual for 1965, with these immortal lines: "My friends... call me Crony for short because it rhymes with pony and I'm mad about them. I've always b…

PBOTD 28th November: Gillian Baxter - Ribbons and Rings

I will make heroic efforts to get myself back on track for this piece. Gillian Baxter's Ribbons and Rings (1960)nods towards one of Gillian Baxter's other loves: fast cars. Her hero Shaun O'Rorke has been trying to earn his living as a driver. Unfortunately, he's crashed rather often, and so has decided to come home from Spain, with his stallion Toreador, and make a living from horses.

Parents and those responsible for teenagers don't always get an easy ride in Gillian Baxter's books. There to help Shaun are girl groom Pauline, and the reluctant debutante Leslie Marsh. She wants to help Shaun make a success of riding a wealthy owner's show jumpers, but her parents are violently opposed to this plan.

The Marsh parents finally acknowledge Leslie’s feelings, though her unromantically practical mother sees Leslie’s work at the stables as an opportunity to keep an eye on her, and perhaps redirect her towards a far more suitable match than Shaun.

“Lady Marsh decid…

The Wild Horses of Abaco

I wrote  yesterday about Stacy Gregg’s book Wild Horse Island, with its story about the Abaco Barb. I was intrigued by the idea of a breed of horses who had originated in Spain, and who were still galloping round the Abacos Islands today.

There is no herd: there is one, single horse.

Once, there was a herd of horses of Spanish descent, but a fatal combination of hurricane, invasive poisonous plants, ignorance and inbreeding has led to the horse’s catastrophic decline.

Although the horses were indeed descended from Spanish horses probably brought over by Columbus, it’s not that likely that they arrived on Abaco in the 15th century. Cuban logging companies who worked in the Abaco Islands imported horses to work the forests in the late 19th century. These horses were of Spanish descent, as Columbus established horse farms on Cuba. The Abaco horses were genetically tested, which showed that they were indeed of Spanish descent.

When the logging companies left in the 1940s, the horses st…

PBOTD 27th November: Gillian Baxter - Tan and Tarmac

Tan and Tarmac was one of the first Gillian Baxters I read. I was intrigued by its description of a stable in the middle of London, which rode out in Hyde Park, and whose stables were in storeys, and had to be accessed by a ramp. Those stables really did exist. They were at De Vere Mews in South Kensington, and were the home of the Civil Service Riding Club. The CSRC was founded in 1937, and had its own horses. The Club operated out of the Mews until 1974, when they were sold for development.

The Club's home moved spectacularly upmarket after that, when the Queen gave the horses a home in the Royal Mews. The Club made the decision to sell its horses in 2003. It does still exist, and organises affordable riding lessons for its members. The Club is mostly London-based, and uses centres like Vauxhall City Farm and the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre.

As an aside, while I was researching this piece, I found that artist Lucian Freud used some of the ponies at the Wormwood Scrubs Centre as …

PBOTD 26th November: Gillian Baxter - The Stables at Hampton

Gillian Baxter was an author who tantalised me. In my pony book reading childhood, I knew she existed, because her books were advertised at the end of some of my pony books, but I never found one, not a single one. I forgot all about her until I started thinking about buying pony books, and came across a book dealer called Louise Simmonds, who ran a company called Ozbek Books. I found her on the internet, and she sent me a catalogue. I was thrilled by the idea of a catalogue just devoted to pony books, but did wonder just how much there would be that I didn't already know, because I must have pretty well every pony book that ever there was, mustn't I?

How wrong I was. The most exciting thing though was to see some Gillian Baxter paperbacks listed. Louise wrote great catalogue descriptions, and she was obviously very keen on the Gillian Baxters herself, so I ordered as many of the paperbacks as I could afford. Gillian Baxter, I have to say, was well worth the wait. Shortly afte…

Review: Stacy Gregg - The Island of Lost Horses

Stacy Gregg is really striking out – after her modern day biographical story The Princess and the Foal, she’s now moved on to a story where the focus moves between the present day and 15th century Spain.
If you’re a regular of my reviews, I expect you can guess who the heroine is: yes, the child of a broken family. Beatriz lives with her mother, although their current home is the Phaedra, a boat moored off the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. Beatriz' mother is researching jellyfish. Beatriz wants to go back to the USA to live with her father in Florida, but her mother’s not keen.

When the novel opens, Beatriz is being delivered back to her mother on a tractor by a woman called Annie, after Beatriz suffered sunstroke. It turns out that Beatriz, in her wanderings around the island, came across a mare struggling in a mudhole, and after an epic struggle, Annie and her tractor helped them both out. Annie is the conduit between Beatriz and the world of 15th century Spain. She sees the co…

PBOTD 25th November: Vian Smith - Minstrel Boy

Today's PBOTD is a complete contrast to yesterday's story. The Minstrel Boy (1970), is based on a true story. Mrs Meredith's son, Philip, was killed on the Western Front during the First World War, and she id determined that his horse, Minstrel Boy, will win the Grand National, running in Philip's name.

Mrs Meredith, it must be said, is not a sympathetic character. She is horribly driven, and whilst fully conscious of her own suffering, blithely unaware of anyone else's. However, Vian Smith is a subtle and skilled writer, and at the end, when Mrs Meredith finally achieves some happiness, you are actually glad that she's done so.

~ 0 ~
More on Vian Smith

Review: Olivia Tuffin - The Palomino Pony Rides Out

This is the second in the Palomino Pony series. The Palomino Pony of the title, Lily, is in foal, so doesn’t do a great deal in the book because Georgia (Gee) can’t ride her. Georgia is, however, given the chance to ride Wilson to try out for the Working Hunter Team Challenge, as his owner is away at university.

So, there’s plenty of authentic horsy action, and there’s a good wodge of dramatic tension caused by the introduction of a new character, Lexie, the step daughter of Joe, former top show jumper. They have moved into the ritziest of ritzy horsy places, dripping with every possible equine luxury, and shining with that spectacular neatness you can only achieve if you have an awful lot of money. Joe’s utterly determined that Lexie will do well, and so she rides, and she jumps, and she has the best ponies, whether she wants them or not. She is, poor girl, terrified of jumping, and is isolated because of the family’s constant moving about from place to place. She’s looking forward …

PBOTD 24th November: Florence Hightower - The Dark Horse of Woodfield

I really must re-read this - writing about it reminds me of how much I like it. You have to love a book which opens with the heroine forgetting herself and neighing in class.

Dark Horse of Woodfield (1962) is the story of the Armistead family. They used to be fabulously wealthy, but the Great Depression of the 1930s has hit them catastrophically hard. They're not bowed down by it, despite the difficulty they have in surviving from day to day. They meet the challenge with gusto. All of them have plenty of schemes to make money, including the neighing schoolgirl, Maggie.

She wants to enter her mare, Stardust, in the Unior Hunter Stakes, but she knows she has to earn the entry fee herself. To Maggie's surprise, it's the one member of the family who wasn't keen on horses, Great-Uncle Wally, who eventually provides the key.

The whole book is bursting with brilliant characters: it's a great ensemble piece. There's Bugsy and his caterpillars, and Elizabeth binding on …

PBOTD 23rd November: Mary Treadgold - Return to the Heron

Return to the Heron (1963)is the sequel to The Heron Ride (1962). Sandra and Adam's diplomat parents have been killed, and they have to live with an uncle and his family; none of whom want them, or even particularly like them. Mary Treadgold captures the bleak and soul-shrivelling effect living in that household has on them, particularly Sandra who unlike her brother, does not go away to school. In The Heron Ride, Adam and Sandra have a charmed summer staying with Miss Vaughan, who understands and likes them, but they still have to go back to their grim existence when the summer ends. There is no easy way out; no fairytale removal from a horrible situation; Sandra simply learns enough to make it a little more bearable. 

Return to the Heron breaks both Sandra and Adam out of their prison, but the book is not just about that; it is about the love of beauty, loneliness, possession,  and generosity. At the end of the book, when Adam and Sandra are going to live with their other trustee…

PBOTD 22nd November: K M Peyton - Greater Gains

Greater Gains is the sequel to yesterday's PBOTD, Small Gains. It takes the story of Clara Garland and her family on.

K M Peyton specialises in feisty heroines, and Clara is one of the best of them: I enjoyed the way she keeps her family going by sheer determination. In passing, I wonder what the story would have been like if it had been told from the point of view of one of the weaker characters in the book, like Margaret, Clara's sister. K M Peyton's heroines are always blessed with plenty of oomph, which I like: there's nothing wrong with a plot showing a strong woman, but it would be interesting to see how the author handled a less self assured character as the pivot of the plot.

Clara has to make difficult choices to survive, and her dilemmas are entirely believable. The plot of both books turns on the difficult choices Clara has to make: without spoiling the stories completely, I can sympathise with her first choice, but I have a little more difficulty believing…

Review: Katharina Marcus - Boys Don't Ride

Why does Katharina Marcus not have a publishing contract? Why? I loved this book (well, novella, because it's not actually that long). I read a lot of horse fiction and Boys Don’t Ride is streets ahead of most of it. Complete towns and villages, in fact.

The author is wonderful at getting those more subtle nuances of the teenage state that pass most authors by: the isolation many feel; the difficulties of getting by even when you appear to have everything going for you. Tull, because of his staggering good looks, gets attention he doesn’t want. The attention hasn’t made him arrogant, or given him that gloss of self confidence the good looking often have. He’s gentle, and he loves horses. Always has done, but he keeps it very quiet, not least because his mother (yes, it is the single parent thing again but I will allow such a good author the odd cliché) doesn’t have the money to pay for lessons. When his absent father doesn’t top up his school canteen account, Tull doesn’t even h…

PBOTD 21st November: K M Peyton - Small Gains

Small Gains, and its sequel Greater Gains, which follows tomorrow are some of K M Peyton's historical novels. I have a particular fondness for this pair of books. They're set at the beginning of the 19th century, in rural Norfolk, and are the story of Clara Garland, her family, and her Norfolk Trotter horses.

The Norfolk Trotter is sadly a breed that is no longer with us. Here it is in all its glory:
In an era when proper roads were not that common, the Norfolk Trotter (and the other breeds known as Roadsters) were, quite simply, the fastest method of getting around. They were the latter day equivalent of the sports car. Then, a top speed of 16/17 mph, with a horse who could carry a fairly hefty weight all day, was as good as it got. Trotting races were immensely popular at the time, providing the same sort of excitement that Silverstone does now.
As time moved on, it moved without the Norfolk Trotter, but its genes survive in the modern day Hackney. Sadly time has moved on for…

PBOTD 20th November: H M Peel - Jago

There are books which change the way you think about things, and Jago was one for me. It's about a Thoroughbred who could have been a great racehorse, but because there's no allowance made for his individuality, is turned into a rogue. Jago escapes into the Australian bush, where he learns to survive. It's not an easy process.

I read other pony books set in Australia at the same time: and loved Elyne Mitchell's Brumby books. They're told by the horses themselves, and although there are occasional intrusions of stern reality when horses die, the horses themselves are noble characters. They look after their mares, don't fight the other stallions too often (and only if they're aggressive first) and are generally all round good eggs. That said, I adored these books and read and re-read them. The triumph of good as portrayed by Elyne Mitchell is enormously attractive.

There's not a lot that's attractive about Jago's early existence in the bush. It is…

Review: Karen Bush - The Five Pound Pony

It’s a great pity that pony annuals these days don’t tend to feature short stories, because this collection would have been lapped up by the editors of the pony annuals that appeared in the 1970s and 1980s. The Five Pound Pony is a collection of eight pony stories, each followed by a short article on the background to the story, and giving you ideas of what you can do, and links you can follow, to take the stories further.

All of the stories have an interesting twist to them: if you’re reasonably sharp you’ll probably work out what’s going to happen before the end, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t enjoy the stories, because Karen Bush does have a way of hooking you into the miniature worlds she creates. 
The common theme of the stories is children’s longing for ponies, and what they do to fulfil it. There are model ponies, and hobby horses, and ponies you adopt. It’s difficult to pick out particular stories because I enjoyed them all, but I was very struck by The Pony Resc…

PBOTD 19th November: Olive Norton - Bob-a-Job Pony

When I wrote my book Heroines on Horseback, I had to cut a lot out. I had particular difficulties with the 1950s and early 1960s, when there was an explosion in the number of pony books published, and stern decisions had to be made. Some authors were funnelled off into the chapter on famous authors; others to the one on series fiction, and the Pullein-Thompsons to a chapter of their own, but that still left plenty of authors to cover in what became known as the Mop Up Chapter.

Intitially, it had a cast of thousands, but in the end it was whittled down to M E Atkinson, Hilda Boden, Gillian Baxter, Catherine Harris, Patience McElwee, Sheila Chapman, Kathleen Mackenzie, Lorna Hill, and Veronica Westlake to keep what was already a very long chapter within bounds. Authors only made the cut if they'd made a notable contribution to the genre, whether it was being rather bad (Lorna Hill), or writing well-constructed, involving fiction. Authors of single books failed to make the cut, and s…

Review: Amanda Wills - Against All Hope

Against all Hope is the second in the Riverdale Ponies series. When the first book in a series (The Lost Pony of Riverdale) ends with most of the major tensions being addressed, you do wonder quite where the next book will go. The major difficulty for heroine Poppy in the first book was her relationship (or the lack of it) with her stepmother. Poppy has never quite forgiven Caroline for not being her dead mother, and with the leaden-footed determination to hold to her point of view that many parents will recognise, shut her stepmother out of her life at every opportunity. By the end of the book, the two have reconciled, and Poppy has realised that stepmother Caroline isa person, just like her. Which is actually quite something, because often children simply don’t think of their parents as people at all.

Against all Hope therefore doesn’t have that tension: Poppy’s focus is now moving outside herself, and on to her pony Cloud, and her new friends. As the book opens, the vet’s checking C…

PBOTD 18th November: Monica Dickens - Stranger at Follyfoot

Today's PBOTD is a book from a series I covered most of months ago: Follyfoot. Stranger at Follyfoot (1976) is the last of the series, and it changes the dynamics of Follyfoot by sending the Colonel away at the start, leaving Slugger nominally in charge. This creates something of a power vacuum, because being in charge isn't Slugger's forte, and so Dora, Steve and Ron are to some extent jockeying to fill the gap the Captain has left.

Another element is thrown into the mix when Yaz turns up, complete with a horse. Yaz tells endless, endless stories about who she is and why she's there. At first Dora, whose first instinct is always to believe what she's told, believes Yaz, but eventually she becomes suspicious, and as so often in life, the presence of a negative force has the effect of (thereabouts) uniting everyone else.

The Follyfoot Series
Cobbler's Dream (reprinted as New Arrival at Follyfoot)
Dora at Follyfoot
The Horses of Follyfoot
Stranger at Fol…

PBOTD 17th November: Diana Pullein-Thompson - Cassidy in Danger

Today's PBOTD is one of its author's favourites amongst her books. Cassidy in Danger (1979) is the story of Katy, who is sent to stay with her godmother. Katy's had a wandering existence with her mother, never settling anywhere for long. She has few friends, and because she's moved from school to school, she can't read. Much of her life is devoted to hiding the fact that she can't do what everyone else seems to do without question.

While Katy's staying with her godmother, she's looking for friends. Her first friend is a pony grazing in a nearby field. She also makes friends with a boy who lives nearby, and his rat. No one is supposed to go near Cassidy, the pony, because he's dangerous. Because he's dangerous, his owners are going to put him down, but Katy fights for him, and at the same time, she begins to find her own way through her difficulties.

It's interesting that it was only when Katy made a break with her family that she manages to …

PBOTD 16th November: Mary Gervaise - Pony from the Farm

I read the G for Georgia series by Mary Gervaise because Armada badged them as pony books. It's fair to say the series isn't really a pony one: yes, there are ponies, but they're not really the central point of the series. School, and family, are far more important components of the plots.

Pony from the Farm (1954)is (along with A Pony of Your Own) something of an exception, because it's centred around a trick ride that Georgie Kane's friends, Ermyntrude and Susan, organise in order to raise funds for one of Mrs Kane's pet charities.

So far, so conventional, but there's a tragedy in this book: Susan's beloved mare, Black Aggie, dies. It's a tragedy that Mary Gervaise handles with sensitivity, and which sees her writing at her best, as we see Susan's grief, and guilt, and the other characters' response to it.

~  0  ~
More on Mary Gervaise

PBOTD 15th November: Primrose Cumming - Rivals to Silver Eagle

There are some books it can take you years to find, and one of them for me was Rivals to Silver Eagle, by Primrose Cumming. It's the last in the Silver Eagle series, and was printed in 1954, long after the first two in the series. It was never reprinted in English (a later Swedish edition did appear), which is probably what made it rare. That's not to say copies didn't turn up: they did, they were just extremely expensive (by my standards - a minimum of £80, which I realise is small change in the rare book world). It was a very, very long wait until I came across one. 

I probably didn't help myself by deciding I was only interested in a copy with a dustjacket, which were even harder to find. I never did find the lurking, cheap, immaculate copy I was sure must exist out there somewhere, if only I could make sure I was in the right secondhand bookshop at the right time, and had in the end to bite the expensive bullet. But such is the lot of the collector. For every chea…

PBOTD 14th November: Christine Pullein-Thompson - Stolen Ponies

Stolen Ponies is the last of Christine Pullein-Thompson's books in this particular section. It's another of her adventure stories, and was published in 1957. It's interesting looking to see what else Christine published that year, as it gives a good idea of her scope. First was The Impossible Horse, which she published under the pseudonym Christine Keir, which must to some extent have been based on life. The Pullein-Thompsons earned some of their living by re-schooling difficult horses, and that's exactly what Jan does in The Impossible Horse. Whether glamorous men heading off to the Army featured in the Pullein-Thompsons' early lives, as they do for Jan, I do not know.

The second of the David and Pat series, The Second Mount, also appeared in 1957. This again featured something with which Christine was familiar: running your own riding school. David and Pat have gone into partnership, and have bought the unrideable Tornado, who needs re-schooling. 
Perhaps Christi…

PBOTD 13th November: Christine Pullein-Thompson - The Impossible Horse

The Impossible Horse (1957) is in some ways an odd book. My first experience of it was the Dragon paperback pictured below, with the author's name as Christine Pullein-Thompson. Originally, however, the book was published under the pseudonym Christine Keir. The book was something of a departure from Christine's previous work, which featured teenagers fighting against adversity. The big difference was romance: when I read her earlier David and Pat series, I'd wondered if there might be some romance between the two, but there's nothing, not a scrap. The idea of it is there, as Pat's sent off to be a debutante and have a London season. The entire reasoning behind one's season was to find a suitable husband, but this is never mentioned explicitly. 

So, it was under a pseudonym that Christine first introduced romance. Heroine Jan has left school and has started up a business re-schooling horses. One of her clients is the handsome Benedictine, who, too much for the g…

PBOTD 12th November: Christine Pullein-Thompson - Goodbye to Hounds

In my rather illogical flitting about the pony book world, today I'm covering the last of the Chill Valley Hounds series. As its title suggests, the hunt is threatened. The Days' farm, which they only rent, is to be sold, and if that happens the Chill Valley will lose at a stroke its kennels, and most of its hunt staff. Goodbye to Hounds sees the two families who make up the hunt fighting to survive.

One of the things of which hunts used to be accused (and occasionally still are) is riding where they shouldn't without any care for the consequences. Sadly Goodbye to Hounds includes a text book example of this. They ride over gardens and are selfishly unmoved by their trespass:
”We rode into the garden belonging to the largest of the two houses. We rode up some steps, across a rockery and through a tennis court. We heard shouts behind us, but we didn’t care because we had seen a little wicket gate giving access to the wood, and because this was probably our last hunt with th…