Desert Island Pony Books: Kate Cuthbert

Welcome to the latest episode of Desert Island Pony Books, where my guest is author Kate Cuthbert. As the series goes on, I am finding it fascinating to see why people like the books they've chosen, and if anything it's even more fascinating to find out about the ones they'd leave behind.

Kate is the author of the excellent Hatters series, which is set in a school where riding is on the curriculum. The series is full of sparky and believable characters, and if you're looking for a new series to get your teeth into, I can highly recommend this one. The first book is For the Love of Fly, and it's had (deservedly) excellent reviews on Amazon. The second book will be out soon, and there are three more in the pipeline.

You can follow Kate on Twitter and Instagram.

So, welcome Kate – please tell us about your books.

National Velvet: Enid Bagnold
National Velvet had to be on my list. It is such a triumphant story about chasing your dreams with passion and determination, about being female and brilliant and about living a life, poor in material possessions, but rich in love and support. The main protagonist, 14-year-old Velvet Brown, isn’t a typical sort of heroine. She definitely has some strength of character, but is quite sickly, skinny and a bit nervy. I love the fact that even though she isn’t a strong, super-human sort of heroine, she has the pluck to do something like ride in the Grand National … there is hope for us all! I also love the fact that, along with her own determination, it is the love and support from her family and Mi that gets her through.

It really is a gloriously satisfying tale that would make me feel all warm and fluffy inside, whilst I while away the hours waiting to be rescued. I know that some people find the prose hard work and dated, but, to be fair to it, the story was first published in 1935. For me, the reward of reading National Velvet as I sit under a palm tree on the island would outweigh any struggle that there might be with the text.

Mystery at Black Pony Inn: Christine Pullein-Thompson
This choice comes from an eminent stable of equestrian authors, namely the Pullein-Thompson sisters. Between them, Josephine, Diana and Christine amassed an impressive body of work. The Black Pony Inn series, written by Christine, saw the hard-up Pemberton family trying to make ends meet by opening the doors of their home to paying guests; something I bet they sometimes wished they’d never done as it seemed to bring with it a whole heap of misfortune and drama. The B&B setting provides the perfect vehicle for the introduction of new characters throughout the series. Some were desirable, and some less so, like Commander Cooley in Mystery at Black Pony Inn. He didn’t turn out to be quite the respectable gentleman that he at first seemed.

I haven’t read any of the Black Pony Inn stories for years, but I remember enjoying them immensely as a child. I would happily take any of them with me to read on the island, but I have chosen Mystery at Black Pony Inn for a very special reason. When I was about 8 years of age I travelled with a family friend, a young man of about 28-years-old, from Cambridgeshire to Anglesey, a journey that lasted some 4.5hrs. I had this story on a cassette tape and he put up with listening to it over and over and over again. As I remember it, the entire 235-mile journey was accompanied by Mystery at Black Pony Inn. The friend, sadly, was tragically killed a few years later, but I always felt indebted to him for letting me listen to this charming story on what could otherwise have been a very boring journey. Who knows, maybe he did actually enjoy it on the first listen, but I suspect by the fourth or fifth time around, he was just being kind. So, in that friend’s memory, and because I would love the time to read it once more, I would definitely want Mystery at Black Pony Inn with me on the island.

Slay Ride: Dick Francis
For pure self-indulgent comfort reading, I have to include a Dick Francis novel on my list. To be honest, I could have picked pretty much any of them, but after some consideration I have chosen Slay Ride. As a young teenager this was the first book for adults that I read, and it has everything that I love; horses, mystery and bone-chillingly cold weather.

Francis’s writing style is unfussy and straightforward. I always feel, when reading one of his books, that you are getting a gripping and exciting adventure without having to work too hard for it. Perfect if you just want sheer entertainment from a story.

The hero narrates all of Francis’s novels. In this particular book the hero is David Cleveland, a Jockey Club investigator, sent to Norway to investigate the disappearance of a British jockey, whom we later discover has been murdered. Cleveland comes across as a very sensible, reliable, resourceful, determined, straight-thinking sort of a man. Even when his life is under threat he remains calm, stoic and courageous. These character traits are often seen in a Francis protagonist, and, as a child, I couldn’t help thinking that if all adults were a little bit more like one of Dick Francis’s heroes, then surely the world would be a better place.

I’m Champion, Call Me Bob – My Story: Bob Champion
 I haven’t yet had time to read Bob Champion’s autobiography, which came out earlier this year. I would like to though, and living alone on an isolated island should provide the spare time to do so. As a child I remember watching the film Champions and being struck by the amazing tale of determination and survival, both human and equine. The story of how jockey, Bob Champion, battled cancer to win the 1981 Grand National is a real fairy tale. The fact that, in addition, his mount, Aldaniti, had overcome a near career ending leg injury to run in the race, provides a story worthy of Hollywood’s finest writers. I couldn’t believe that it was actually true when I watched the film back in the 80s. This part of Champion’s story is interesting enough, but add details of his life since that day and the amazing fund raising work of the Bob Champion Cancer Trust and I suspect you have a very worthwhile and inspiring read.

Veterinary Notes for Horse Owner: Captain M. Horace Hayes
This one is a bit of a curve-ball and probably not everyone’s idea of riveting page-turner! The weighty tome, written by artillery officer, Horace Hayes, was first published in 1877, so it’s been knocking around for a while. Revised and reprinted over the years, this book has remained an important source of information for horse owners for well over a century. Covering topics from anatomy, breeding and behavioural problems to diseases, first-aid and surgery, I’d say that there is something for everyone … or maybe that’s just me! The 1987 edition (edited by Peter Rossdale and reprinted in 1994) was definitely a go-to reference book when I was in sixth form and studying for my BHSAI exams. Even at university, when peer-review journals took over from books as the expected source of information, it had its place on my desk. Providing a comforting voice of authority on the stuff that I really should have already learned, it also worked well as a coaster and, due to its size, a rather effective paperweight.

My well-thumbed, coffee-ringed copy still sits on my bookshelf today and, if my stay on the desert island ended up being a long one, I think I could quite happily fill my time re-reading this great work and remembering the good old days.

Now for the one I would pay to leave behind …

Black Beauty: Anna Sewell
I suspect this one will be a controversial choice. I’m guessing Black Beauty would feature highly on many lists as a must-have horsey book, and justifiably so. After all, it is a true classic that has sold in its millions around the world for well over a hundred years. With Black Beauty as the narrator, the book is convincingly written from a horse’s viewpoint. Sewell’s message is a forceful one about considering how we treat animals, as well as our fellow man. Despite being littered with moral lessons, the text manages to avoid becoming too preachy, partly because the power of the story is so distracting. The writing is clear and, if you don’t mind tackling a little Victorian equestrian vocabulary, it is not difficult to understand. Descriptions of small things, the tones of voices and the stable yard smells are vivid and evocative.  As a child, the images that she conjured in my mind of the gritty hardship of life on the streets of Victorian London will stay with me always.

Black Beauty is a story that has stood the test of time and I have nothing but praise for it, so why would I pay not to take it with me? Simple … because it would make me cry, and I’m not really all that keen on crying. There is just one sad, tear-inducing moment after another. I think the cruelty, neglect, illness, injury, farewells etc. etc. (the list goes on) would be too much to deal with whilst also dealing with the emotions of being stranded on a desert island. I think the moment when the chestnut horse is taken away on the cart might just send me over the edge. This scene always caused the biggest blub for me. Beauty believes the dead creature to be his friend, Ginger, although we never actually find this out for certain. The only thing more sad than the thought that Ginger is dead, is the thought that Ginger is alive and still having to endure her miserable, painful life at the hands of humans.

It isn’t all complete doom and gloom; there are strong positive themes in the story; kindness, sympathy, understanding, courage and perseverance, for instance. However, even the happy scenes made me cry, and I cried right to the very end, literally to the last line, when Black Beauty remembers his old friends under an apple tree …that is why I would pay not to take it with me.


Thank you very much Kate for a wonderfully eclectic selection.


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