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Showing posts from May, 2014

PBOTD 31st May: Primrose Cumming - Silver Snaffles

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Writing at the dawn of the pony book, Primrose Cumming was lucky. Publishers were not obsessed with series, and were prepared to allow Primrose to experiment with writing pony books that, by the end of her career, included most variations of the genre. Her first three books shot off in completely different directions. Doney (1934) was an experiment with the horse-telling-its story format, and Spider Dog (1936) an adventure more doggy than pony. With her third book, Silver Snaffles (1937), she made a leap into fantasy to produce the ultimate dream-come-true pony story. It is still in print, and has been loved by generations. Before Silver Snaffles, many horses and ponies had told their own stories, but here ponies talk to children directly, though only in a fantastic riding school reached by saying the password “Silver Snaffles”.

Only children who do not have their own ponies can enter this magical world; this “Extraordinary Riding School, ... absolutely different from an ordinary …

Review: Natalie Keller Reinert - Ambition

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Natalie Keller Reinert’s heroines are tricky to like, at least at first. The heroine of Ambition, Jules, has come up the hard way. She was the horse-mad girl without the horse, who earned rides and teaching through slog. “I was child labor and I was proud of it,” she says. All she wanted to do was ride. The barn where she worked was for the children of the rich, who soon worked out Jules’ position in the scheme of things: right at the bottom. And they let her know it, “accidentally” spilling shampoo in the troughs she was filling; dropping tack they knew she had to clean in the mud. Because she was just the help, and they could get away with it. It was enough to sour anyone, and Jules is sour.

She’s determined she’ll succeed on her own, and if sheer, hard, passionate graft could do it, she’d be in the Olympic team already. But as we find out, it’s not enough. Graft, even when allied to talent, isn’t enough to win you the scholarship you need in order to keep your stable afloat. It’s n…

PBOTD 30th May: Christine Pullein-Thompson - Three to Ride

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I've covered a few of Christine Pullein-Thompson's books in this series, but not written much about the author herself. Christine Pullein-Thompson (1925-2005) was the most prolific Pullein-Thompson sister by far, and to date is the British author with most pony books to her name.  If you are wondering who's in line to overtake her, my money's on Jenny Oldfield, who has produced a phenomenal number of books, pony and not. 

Christine's bibliography (which you can see in full on my website) numbers over 100 titles, which range from non-fiction to early readers and children’s adventure stories, and, of course, pony stories.  

Christine's mother was the author Joanna Cannan, and her sisters the pony book authors Diana and Josephine. All three sisters had their own particular take on the pony book. Christine's twin, Diana, wrote mostly about children who were solitary, Josephine went for large families, and Christine had a mixture of both.

When the twins were very y…

PBOTD 29th May 2014: Monica Dickens - Dora at Follyfoot

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For quite a few months now I've been able to hide the awful truth: those books I couldn't put my hands on were there, somewhere, on the shelves. It was just that I hadn't yet got round to reorganising them after our two house moves last year.

Well, I have now had to haul my head out of the sand. My copy of Dora at Follyfoot, which I bought when it first came out in 1972 has gone AWOL. It is not there. It is not hiding behind the Pullein-Thompsons, it has not joined the massed ranks of Riding Magazine. It has gone. Sadly it is not alone.

 I think it possibly fell victim to the great purge which we did of our books before move number two. We'd got rid of boxes of books - great car loads - before move number one, but we still had 100 boxes of books which came with us. I've never worked out quite how many we'd have had if not for purge number one, and I don't want to. Jamming them all in after move number one was quite hard enough.

The whole experience did spur…

PBOTD 28th May 2014: George Rutherford Montgomery - The Capture of the Golden Stallion

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There are some series that sum up my childhood for me, and G Rutherford Montgomery's Golden Stallion is one. Like so many of my childhood favourites, I first met them in our local library. The library didn't go in for gaily coloured dustjackets: the children's section was filled with ranks of uniform series, dustjackets long gone, and if I remember any colour, it's blue-grey. The Dr Dolittles were grey, the Chalet School a faded blue. The library was a very far cry from the bright children's libraries of today, but I don't remember being bothered by the lack of colour on the outside of the books. There was plenty inside.


The Golden Stallion series is one of those that manages to combine the wild and the domestic. Hero Charlie lives on the Bar L Ranch with his family, and he catches a beautiful wild stallion, Golden Boy. Although Golden Boy is broken in and ridden, he spends much of his time running wild on the ranch with the Bar L mares, which always struck me…

PBOTD 27th May: Kitty Barne - Rosina Copper

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Rosina Copper (1954) is the true story of a pony bought almost too weak to walk, but who blossomed into a new career as a show horse. There is a mystery about her earlier life, and two people in her life who know more than they’re telling, but at last the truth comes out.
Mary Gibson, who bought Rosina, won over 100 rosettes with her, and the mare became a well known fixture at shows. For several years, Mary Gibson held birthday parties for Rosina, which were so well attended road signs had to be put up directing people to the party.

 Rosina was a tough pony: she survived a hard life as a polo pony and neglect, and died at the age of 43.

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More on Kitty Barne

PBOTD 26th May: Monica Edwards - The Cownappers

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The Cownappers (1958) is one of Monica Edwards' Punchbowl Farm stories. Cows aren't the most natural inhabitants of a mystery story: you can't ride them, and they aren't cosy pets.

In The Cownappers, it's human evil prompted by cows that drives the plot. The Punchbowl Family have a paying guest called Jewel (Bijou de la Couronne) - a cow who is almost black. She has been cownapped from France, and the Thorntons end up tracking down her rightful owner and returning her via Westling and Jim Deck’s fishing smack in a strictly illegal cross channel voyage.

You wouldn't have thought cows could have been combined with sailing, another of Monica Edwards' fondnesses, but it's a testament to her powers of story telling that none of this seems even remotely implausible.

More on Monica Edwards
The Cownappers will be the next Monica Edwards title to be republished by GGB.

PBOTD 25th May: Hilda Boden - Pony Boy

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Swift gallop round the PBOTD today: it's Hilda Boden's Pony Boy, first published in 1958.

It's the story of Colin, and his Welsh pony. He calls the beautiful black pony Merlyn. Colin doesn't have a handy instructor lurking to teach him how to look after the pony: he gets a book out of the library so he can learn to ride from it, and acquires tack by cleaning leather. Then he meets Lucy. Lucy helps him win at the Summer Show, but Lucy has an ulterior motive. She wants a pony like Merlyn herself.

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More on Hilda Boden

PBOTD 24th May: Ann Stafford - Five Proud Riders

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I'm continuing a bit of a theme here: the pony books which Puffin published. Editor Kaye Webb wasn't a fan of the conventional pony book, but she did publish some excellent pony stories. There are links at the end to all the other Puffin pony stories I've featured so far this year. Webb (and her predecessor, Eleanor Graham) published books from around the world, rightly recognising that horse stories do not have to be dependent on a deathless struggle towards the next rosette at the gymkhana.

Ann Stafford's Five Proud Riders is one of those stories which revolve around a group of brave children venturing out on a long ride on their own. This was pretty much standard fare for the children's pony book right up to the 1960s, but I can't see it being published now, particularly when some of the children are so young. You'd never get an unaccompanied 4 day trek past a risk assessment.

So, it's worth making the most of a plot that has probably been killed by …

PBOTD 23rd May: Catherine Harris - The Heronsbrook Gymkhana

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The Heronsbrook Gymkhana (1964) is Catherine Harris' last pony book (at least as far as I know). She moved away from the family whose madcap adventures had careered through her earlier books, the Marshams. Perhaps she felt, with maturity, that an insistence on dash and headlong adventure were best avoided. The Heronsbrook Gymkhana  is much more domestic in scale, but it is her best book. 
It takes a single event; a gymkhana, and a set of characters ranging from the young to the about-to-be-married, and the adult organisers, all of whose fears and hopes are explored within a convincing setting and a short time frame. It's a format which suits her: instead of having to conjure up convoluted plot, the set time frame and events of the gymkhana allow her to explore how her characters behave in a realistic setting.

It is, generally, an assured book.  It does have one of those endings where all the ends are neatly tied, and those who are mildly wicked resolve to improve, but the proces…

PBOTD 22nd May: Marjorie Mary Oliver - Ponies and Caravans

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Today's pony book is the third in the Bunts books: not really a series, the three books (The Ponies of Bunts, Sea Ponies and Ponies and Caravans) are loosely connected, with some of the adult characters appearing in all three books. My copy, as you can see, is a sad and shabby thing. Printed during wartime, the dustjackets for this title do seem to find it hard to make it through the years, and I kept this copy because it was the first I'd found with a dustjacket. Even though I found better ones later, I kept this because it looks so utterly pathetic, and it took on the role of the runt of the litter; the one I kept because I was pretty certain no one else would ever want it.*
The story's not massively exciting: it's Oliver's mixture as before - the healing power of the countryside, lots of Dartmoor ponies, and a gaggle of children let loose from the town. There is a bit of excitement towards the end, when the caravan has to make it across Dartmoor in time to buy D…

PBOTD 21st May: Gunnel Linde - Ponies in the Luggage

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Gunnel Linde is a Swedish author, born in Stockholm in 1924. Several of her books have been translated into English: only one is a pony book (or at least, a book involving ponies). 
Ponies in the Luggage is a good read: at first I wondered if the author was going to make this a wild and unbelievable romp, but she doesn’t. Aunt Tina invites Nicklas and Anneli for a holiday in Copenhagen.  Once there, they manage to win a pony in the Zoo’s lottery, and then have to keep the pony in their hotel, and smuggle him back to their home in Stockholm without letting anyone know they have him. 
The pony does indeed live in their hotel room, his droppings have to be cleared up, and his noises explained.... It is pretty much a miracle that Aunt Tina doesn’t spot the pony, particularly when they are all sharing their sleeper on the train back to Stockholm, but she doesn’t. Fortunately the children's parents are enchanted rather than horrified when they all eventually make it back to Stockholm.

PBOTD: 20th May 2014, Richard Ball - Broncho

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This book had been languishing on my to be read pile for years. It's not the oldest resident, which is rather depressing. Generally I put off reading books because I think they'll bore me, but I've enjoyed Broncho so far. If you've read Michael Morpurgo's War Horse, you'll enjoy this book. It was written in 1930, 12 years after the end of the First World War, and is billed as "the imaginary biography of a horse" - I don't like books in which the horse tells its story, but the narrative in this book is actually told from the third person, so there are none of the uncomfortable anthropomorphisms which usually lurk in equine autobiographies.
Broncho is a much abused horse who has ended up at a rather shady dealer's. He's bought by Robert, who, very slowly, gets him round. And then they go off to war.... 
I believe the story is loosely based on Colonel Malise Graham and his horse Broncho, which he rode at Olympia. 



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More on Richard Ball

PBOTD 19th May: H M Peel - Jago

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H M Peel lived in Australia as a young woman, and so found plenty of background for her Australian horse stories. Three of her books: Fury, Jago and Untamed, are set in Australia. Hazel went to Australia at the age of 21, having worked with horses since she left school. The attraction of working with them had worn off:
“I became fed up with the long hours and slave wages, so went back to London, living in a hostel at King’s Cross.... travelled Europe, and when I was 21 I decided I wanted to see more of the world so applied to go to Australia as a migrant on their two-year scheme.  I went by myself of course, with no money to my name to speak of, and was flabbergasted when on sailing down the Suez Canal on Valentine’s Day I met a man and knew he was the one and only.  We married in Australia."
Hazel and her husband worked their way around Australia for three and a half years, doing any job they could. While they were there, the wool clip had failed, and unemployment was very high.…

PBOTD 18th May: Patricia Leitch - Afraid to Ride

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I loved my copy of this book, which was the Collins Pony Library edition. I loved its matt cover, with its dramatic illustration, and I loved the story of poor, petrified Jill, who manages to help her cousins run the riding school, overcome her fear and save a misunderstood pony at the same time: so many boxes ticked. Having said that, the oldest character is sixteen, so him taking on the running of the stables isn't as unlikely as it might have been.

Afraid to Ride was originally published as part of the Collins Spitfire series - paperback books that would fit in a very small pocket. Patricia Leitch contributed four books to the series under the name Jane Eliot, and most of them were picked up and re-written for the Collins Pony Library in the 1970s. The one exception was Pony Club Camp, possibly because Collins already had Josephine Pullein-Thompson's novel of the same name.

Overcoming fear was something Patricia Leitch addressed in her first book, To Save a Pony. She was alw…

PBOTD 17th May: Jean Slaughter Doty - Monday Horse

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Continuing the showing theme, today's PBOTD is from the other side of the pond. Jean Slaughter Doty's The Monday Horses is the horse world red in tooth and claw. Heroine Cassie's horse Toby is badly cut, and needs to recover at a local stable. Cassie works there in return for Toby's board, and soon discovers (as did Caroline in Caroline Canters Home) that the world of a professional stable is a very different one to that of the hobby rider.
She sees the worst: owners who sell on a loved pony because it isn't winning enough, and replace it with an animal their child can't actually ride, and others who aren't above using performance-enhancing drugs on their animals, which leads to tragedy. Horses are often commodities, sold on for stratospheric sums just so that the new owner can win in the show ring.
This does have its good sides: there are wonderful horses for Cassie to ride, and the horses themselves never change, despite the labels humans insist on annoint…

PBOTD 16th May: Caroline Akrill - Caroline Canters Home

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Yesterday I touched on the one previous showing series there's been, Caroline Akrill's Caroline series.  The series originally started off as a serial in PONY Magazine, for which Caroline wrote. It appeared in 1973, and I read each episode as it came out. Show producer Stuart Hollings and I must be about the same age, because he also read it as it came out, and would read it out to his friends on the school bus. I was never that brave, possibly because I was the lone pony-obsessive on the school bus.



The series is the story of a clash of two cultures: Caroline, who likes riding, and her cousins, the Harrisons, whose job riding and ponies is. Winning is not just something that would be rather nice, and show off your equestrian prowess: it puts food on the table.

In Caroline Canters Home (1977), Caroline goes to stay with her cousins, having decided she wants a career in showing. The Harrisons immediately decide that Caroline is the ideal person to show their hack, Clytie. Carol…

PBOTD 15th May - Linda Chapman: Loving Spirit

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The focus in the next few days is on showing. There aren't that many pony books which focus exclusively on showing, but author Linda Chapman has written a recent series set at a showing stable. I reviewed this book when it first came out, and what follows is a slightly adapted version of that.
Ellie Carrington, the 14 year old heroine, is from New Zealand. Her parents have been killed in an accident, and her grandmother can no longer care for her, so she's come to England to live with her uncle Len and her cousin Joe. She's had to leave her pony, and the one small flicker of light on the horizon is that Uncle Len runs a showing stable. However, Uncle Len is worlds away from the sympathetic father figure Ellie needs. He is wedded to his work: all that matters is that the stables succeed. Len is impatient, dictatorial: a bully. Cousin Joe, 16, is cowed by his father and shows not a flicker of spirit; his father thinks he's useless, and tells him so.

Ellie clashes badly wit…

Review: Maggie Dana - Turning on a Dime

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I’ve been a bit quiet on the review front in the past week because I’ve been attempting to do quick reviews of some of the self-published ebooks out there. This has all come to a horrible, grinding halt because I haven’t been able to finish any of them. When I found myself replying to an author offering to send me a copy of their self published book, featuring their heartbreakingly beautiful but terribly vulnerable heroine, saying a whole load of things I fortunately didn’t actually send, I knew it was time to stop.
Maggie Dana also self-publishes, but she’s good. I like her Timber Ridge Riders series (book nine is on my hideously long to be read list), and I was intrigued by Turning on a Dime, which is a departure from the modern day girls and barn books that are Timber Ridge Riders. Turning on a Dime also features a pair of girls, but with a difference. The book opens with Samantha, of Dutch/African American parentage who lives in present day Connecticut. She and her father are on …

PBOTD 14th May - Patience McElwee: The Dark Horse

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Today's book, and the next few are all to do with showing, to celebrate the fact that it's the Royal Windsor Horse Show now.
Patience McElwee (1910-1963) wasn't a rider, but her daughter Harriet Hall was. She said “My father and I both hunted most weeks and my mother would come to the meets, but she was terrified of horses and never willingly had direct contact with one. She did, however, know a lot about the racing world and could talk horse brilliantly.” It was Harriet’s experience of the Pony Club and shows that Patience McElwee drew on.
Patience McElwee's world is sternly realistic. Jane buys her way into favour in Match Pair at Pony Club Camp by giving people sweets. The poor Merry children, of The Merrythoughts (1960) have a similarly bleak experience of human nature. Adults are more interested in their own concerns.
In Dark Horse (1958), the children  have to contend with the selfish manoeuvrings of the adult world. Mrs Aston Pringle, the impeccably drawn gran…

PBOTD May 13th - Ruby Ferguson: Jill Enjoys Her Ponies/Jill and the Runaway

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It's been a while since I did a Jill book, but I do aim to get them all in before the year is out! PBOTD for today is the fourth in the Jill series, Jill Enjoys Her Ponies (1954).  By the less innocent 1980s, the double entendre of the title was too much for Hodder, who changed the title to Jill and the Runaway, which is how it remained until Fidra Books' recent republication.
The series from the fourth book on sees Jill having pony-related adventures which are no longer tied in to her getting a pony. In the previous books, she gets first Black Boy, and then Rapide, and after a bit of initial difficulty, she and Rapide settle down. The challenge for any pony book after girl's-got-pony is what you do next, and endless gymkhanas can lack narrative drive. 
Ruby Ferguson chooses to revisit the girl-without-pony theme in the shape of Dinah Dean. Dinah is obsessed with ponies, but she can't afford lessons. She meets Jill when she has a lesson at Mrs Darcy's stables, and …