Desert Island Pony Books: Kate Lattey

Today's castaway on the desert island where the horse and pony book rule is author Kate Lattey. She's written three series of pony books all set in her native New Zealand, and I admit I do envy their world, which seems so much less constricted than life here in the UK. I really enjoy her books, and you can read my review of Dare to Dream and Dream On.

You can follow Kate on her website here, which also gives you a free download of the first in her Pony Jumpers series.

Kate's chosen a really interesting set of books – and if you've followed the series so far, you'll be intrigued to see which one she'd throw over the side!


The five pony books I would choose if I were stuck on a desert island…wow. I have over 100 pony books in my collection, and to choose just five? The concept is almost impossible. There are obvious choices that I’m sure have been mentioned before, many times, by many others – Ruby Ferguson’s entire Jill series and Patricia Leitch’s entire Jinny series immediately spring to mind – but in the interests of diversity, here are a few of my favourites that are perhaps a little more unusual, and unexpected.

Dream of Fair Horses by Patricia Leitch 
This is, hands-down, my absolute favourite pony book. It just sings to me, every single time I open it up. There aren’t many pony books around with prose like this:
On a loose rein, Perdita galloped on. Her hoofs made hardly any sound on the soft turf. She felt as if she could go on forever. We shared a freedom of space, of air, this tranced motion. We rode the exploding world. Held it still by our movement.
I found Dream of Fair Horses in a secondhand bookstore only a few years ago. Patricia Leitch’s Jinny books had always been some of my favourites as a teen, so I scooped this one up eagerly. I opened it with anticipation, and finished it in tears.

It’s the story of Gillian Carridia, the daughter of an eccentric writer, part of an eccentric family, all of whom have unusual names like Ninian and Torquil, and live in an enormous run-down house with barely any running water. Gill has big dreams of riding at the Horse of the Year Show, after catching a glimpse of it on TV one day, but she has never had a pony of her own, and it seems an utterly unachievable dream. She rides what she can, when she can, filling her head with dreams…
I sat down in the saddle and touched Tessy into a canter and I was no longer a skinny, ugly girl on an old pony that didn’t even belong to me: I was changed into Velvet on the Pie, Gandalf on Shadowfax, Bellerophon on Pegasus, Tom o’Bedlam astride his horse of air. The magic that had haunted my life for as long as I could remember was still as powerful as ever.
Then a series of events lead her to finding Perdita:
In all my life I had never seen anything as beautiful as this grey pony. There was about her an absolute perfection. Lost in her enchantment, I sat and stared. I wondered if she had dreamed of a girl who would come and ride her to fame, just as I had dreamed of her.
Gill’s journey with Perdita from unkempt pony in a field to the bright lights of Windsor is the stuff that dreams are made of, but it only comes after a lot of hard work and a few failures along the way. Family strife continues to plague her, the pony’s owner is in constant ill health and money is always tight. But the dream never fades, and Gill never stops striving for it, never gives up, even when the obstacles stack up in her path, and never stops loving Perdita with all of her heart. The depth of her love is exemplified in the end of this story, which takes the reader to an utterly unexpected place, but it is the right place, even though it doesn’t feel like that at the time. This is the book that made me write Dare to Dream. I can only flatter myself that my work is anywhere near this good. I dream of writing something so vivid, so dynamic, so beautiful. I could read this book all day.

The Valley of the Ponies by Jean Slaughter Doty
I first read The Valley of the Ponies as a child, and at some stage, either lost it or passed it on. We used to visit a local secondhand bookstore on the weekends, and while my mother would only let me pick one or two books each time, the shop owner would allow me to swap out books as credit. So if I bought a book that I turned out not to love, I would exchange it for another one a few weeks on. I don’t think that I ever took Valley of the Ponies back to the shop, but I can’t be completely sure.

Either way, I kept most of my pony books throughout my teenage and young adult years, and revisited many of them over and over during that time. The Valley of the Ponies was one that I came back to only a couple of years ago, when I bought it again as part of a secondhand job lot online. I opened it up with a vague recollection of the story, and was immediately transported back into that world. Nostalgia is a funny thing – sometimes it is the vaguest shimmer of a memory, other times it’s almost visceral, as if you’ve been taken back in time and can feel everything that you felt back then, all those years ago as a child, falling headfirst into a book.

For an awful moment, Jennifer wondered whether she had made a mistake. She'd never taken care of a pony completely by herself, and here was Melissa, so much bigger than she had seemed back at the riding stable, acting tired and fussy after her long trip in the horse trailer, and depending on Jennifer to make her comfortable in the old cow barn. Maybe she shouldn't have agreed to take the pony for the summer…
But having a pony of her own, even a borrowed one, turns Jennifer's summer into a dream come true. Through long, bright days, she and the gentle Melissa explore the countryside and make friends with a herd of beautiful show ponies that run free in a fenced-in valley. The dream becomes a nightmare, however, when the ponies' lives are threatened and only Jennifer and Melissa can save them.
The Valley of the Ponies is not a groundbreaking story, but it’s beautifully written. It’s short and simple, but it transports you to the leafy trails and warm summer days that Jennifer and Melissa enjoy. The dramatic ending feels slightly tacked on, as if someone decreed that there must be drama and this was the only way the publishers (or author) could think of to bring it about, but it is brief and effective and I don’t mind it. The real beauty of this novel comes in the quieter moments, the meadows, the rainstorms, the seemingly endless days of a childhood summer. And Melissa is a great fictional pony – mischievous yet kind, playful yet wise, the kind of pony that you truly believe could be real.

The Valley of the Ponies may not be Jean Slaughter Doty’s best work – I’ve heard great things about her other novels, only a few of which I’ve read, but every time I open it, it takes me on a journey down memory lane. I can feel Melissa’s warm, broad back beneath me, can hear the crunch of her hooves on the fallen leaves, smell the woods in summer and see the sun dappled path between keenly pricked ears. It’s a journey into eternal summer and it’s a nostalgia trip well worth taking.

Pony from Tarella by Mavis Thorpe Clark
This is another book that I found at that secondhand store as a young teen, and you’d asked me back then if it was one of my favourites, I’d probably have said no. However, Pony from Tarella is another of those books that, when revisited as an adult, retains its magic and has a powerful story to tell.

The book is set on a vast station in a remote area of Australia, and is a tale of a boy and a pony whose strong bond comes under threat from outside forces. However, unlike a lot of similar stories, the factors that are keeping Sandy and Sunflower apart are not ridiculous, or contrived, but are so very real. It’s the harshness of that reality and Sandy’s powerlessness to change the fact that money talks, and privilege exists, and that simply loving someone doesn’t mean they belong to you, that really rings true. And yet there are no real villains in this book – nobody is entirely wicked or irredeemable. They just come at life from their own perspective, and have blinkers on when it comes to others’ experiences. Pony from Tarella is as much a story about social class and the effects of one’s upbringing as it is about horses, but it’s all the richer for it.

Stranger Than Fiction by Joyce Stranger
I can’t remember when or where I first picked this book up, but I’ve loved it ever since I first read it, and it has to be one of my most revisited horse books of all time.

It is the biography of Elspeth Bryce-Smith, who was born into a wealthy English family, and contracted polio as a child. Confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk, she was utterly miserable until one afternoon when the gardener’s boy lifted her onto a pony, and her entire world changed. In defiance of her family’s expectations, ‘Elfie’ went on to shun the life that was intended for her, and after regaining the use of her legs, she went to work with horses, in the days when that certainly wasn’t the done thing, especially for a young woman from a wealthy family.

For many years she lived a double life, riding all manner of challenging horses by day while living a prim and proper life at home by night. Considered to be the ‘black sheep’ of her family and unworthy of their respect, nevertheless, she persisted, spending years working for dealers before embarking on a short but successful career as an amateur jockey. This was in the days before women were allowed to race, so she rode under the alias ‘John Graham’.

Beautifully written by Joyce Stranger, this is a compelling memoir that I have read and re-read countless times. Elfie’s courage and self-determination has been a constant source of inspiration to me, motivating me to always find a way to keep horses in my life throughout the years.

Taming the Star Runner by S.E. Hinton
It was a tough call between this and Monica Dickens’ World’s End books, but in the spirit of unexpected choices, this seemed like the less obvious choice. S.E. Hinton’s classic novel The Outsiders is one of my favourites of all time, but Taming the Star Runner, while far less well-known, is of comparable quality, in my mind at least. It’s the horsiest of her books, and believe me, she knows horses.

The story’s protagonist, Travis, is not a rider but he is a writer, and despite his many flaws and troubled background, he’s a good kid that the reader is immediately drawn to. He has been sent to live with his uncle after a fight with his step-father turned violent, and on his arrival, becomes drawn to the riding school that operates from the barn on his uncle’s property. Head instructor Casey has a horse that nobody else can ride, a horse with so much talent that it seems a waste not to utilise it, but the horse is not particularly interested in fulfilling Casey’s ambitions. Sparks fly between Travis and Casey, but this isn’t a romance. It’s hard to define exactly what it is, but one thing is for sure – it’s very, very good.

Travis is an unusual character in pony fiction in that he doesn’t particularly like horses, and I don’t think he even comes close to sitting on one throughout the story. But S.E. Hinton knows people, and she understands teenagers. Her readers are never talked down to, and the characters aren’t treated dismissively, or as stereotypes. The adults are well-drawn here, too.

She also knows horses, and clearly has some experience in the riding school game. Small details, like Casey trying to reschedule an entire week’s lessons around one rider’s grandmother visiting from out of town, or a mother lamenting the fact that she didn’t buy her daughter the palomino pony whose coat colour would match her child’s hair, are perfect in their eye-rolling authenticity.

So, those are the five pony books that I’d take with me to a desert island.

My sixth choice would be a book full of blank pages, and a pen.

The book I wouldn't take...

I don't know if it counts as a pony book but I remember hating Jilly Cooper's "Riders"! I was sick in bed when I read it which was the only reason I finished it. What a cast of unlikeable people! 


Thanks, Kate!


Unknown said…
Dream of Fair Horses is my all-time favourite too :)
fuzzi said…
I've read many, many books by Joyce Stranger, and I thoroughly recommend her works to all, but Stranger Than Fiction is one I've missed, until now. I'll have to find a copy, probably online as I've never seen her books in either new or used book stores in the US.

And I guess I need to find that SE Hinton book, too, as I've enjoyed reading most of her works.
Jane Badger said…
Good luck Fuzzi - I have to admit I haven't read the SE Hinton, so need to track it down.

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