Pony books, the Collecting Books and Magazine guide to which authors wrote what books.
Like many other small girls, I was mad about ponies, and dreamed of spending my days riding, emulating the many children about whom I read. The reality, when it came, was rather different. I was a very wet child, and became absolutely terrified of ponies. I overcame this to a certain extent, but never to go beyond a gentle canter, and the desire to ride has never returned. However, I have never lost my love of reading pony books, and indeed this has extended (surprise, surprise) to collecting them!
As soon as she could wean me from How the Mole Got His Car which was my favourite book until aged about four, and before I could graduate to something worse (in her eyes) like Noddy, my mother read me her childhood books The Ponies of Bunts (by E Ducat and M M Oliver) and its sequel, Ponies and Caravans, and I was hooked for life. At first, these, and other books were read to me, but as I grew older and able to read, I devoured them for myself - literally as I had a nasty habit of tearing off the bottom of pages and eating them as I read! Having read all those my mother had I then moved on to read the books which were being published in my own childhood.
Not all books which feature ponies are 'pony' books. A 'pony' book needs to be fundamentally about learning to ride, owning or caring for ponies. The pony is the hero of the book, and without the pony, there would be little point to the book. Plot wise, there are three types of pony book; format wise there are two types. All of these overlap, but the divisions are quite distinct.
The early pony books (in general those published pre 1945) were much larger than other children's books, often being the same format as an annual. Unlike the school and adventure stories we collect, there were few full colour or black and white illustration plates, no decorative covers and no full-colour dustwrappers. The books made up for this, however, by the quality of the illustrations that they did have which were often by such distinguished artists as Lionel Edwards, Alan Seaby and Stanley Lloyd. The dustwrappers were very much that - made of rather rough paper, which was usually buff, cream or grey, and with one of the inside illustrations printed on the front to make them seem not totally boring. Some of the books, especially the non fiction and the 'non fiction story' books were illustrated with black and white photographs, which have a wonderfully nostalgic look to them now. It is also interesting to note that many of these early pony books were published by three publishers - Country Life, Blackie and A & C Black. After the war, other publishers moved in and the books were published in the normal 8to format, with black and white line illustrations and full colour dustwrappers. Although there are exceptions - Anne Bullen being a notable one - many of the post-war illustrators were vastly inferior to their earlier counterparts. Not because they were less famous but because they simply couldn't draw ponies accurately.
Pony books did not appear until the late 1920s. Before everyone shrieks and says 'What about Black Beauty?' I must say that, although the forerunner of them all, Black Beauty is about a horse and not a pony. Before the first world war, ponies were used, by all classes except the poorest, as a means of transport. Cars were kept only by the rich, and then often in conjunction with horses. During the war, the motor vehicle was developed at a far greater rate than it would otherwise have been and people could see it overtaking the horse completely. Thus for a time, few children were learning to ride. This started to change in the late 1920s. In 1928 Country Life published Golden Gorse's The Young Rider which went to a second edition in 1931, and a third in 1935. In the preface to the third edition, the author wrote: 'Since then  the outlook on children and their ponies has changed very much for the better. Five children seem to be learning to ride today for one who was learning seven years ago.' The market for pony books had clearly arrived, and apart from a short period of time from about 1975 to 1985 has never ended. Like many children's books, pony books published after 1970 hold little interest for the collector, and I am not considering them here: suffice to say that the market is once again booming, with new titles being published regularly and old ones being reissued.
The plots of the pre 1970 books can be divided into three types: those written by the pony itself, rarely found after World War II, books written from the point of view of the rider with little instruction in riding techniques, mostly written between 1936 and 1965 and, thirdly, books also written from the point of view of the rider but which taught far more (roughly from 1946 to 1965).
Golden Gorse, the author of The Young Rider, wrote what is generally considered to be the first 'true' pony story which was published in 1929, with wonderful illustrations by Lionel Edwards - Moorland Mousie. This was followed by Older Mousie in 1932, another non fiction book, The Young Rider's Picture Book in 1936 and then two 'fictional' books, Janet and Felicity The Young Horse Breakers (1937) which was revised and extended as The Young Horse Breakers in 1946. Back in 1992 I wrote an article on pony books for Folly (a fanzine dealing mostly with girls' stories for those who don't know it). Some time before my article was published, someone asked if anyone knew the identity of Golden Gorse. Looking though The Young Rider's Picture Book I discovered a photograph of Moorland Mousie (who was a real pony) together with a man with a caption which said 'This picture shows Mousie in the following year as a 3-year old. In my month at the farm I finished their education.' I made the incorrect, but perhaps natural, assumption that Golden Gorse was a man. I wrote to tell the person who'd asked his identity and she wrote back to say that she had now discovered he was called M R Wace. CD readers who attend the William meetings will know Michael Wace, with whom I worked at Macmillan. I asked Michael if this were a relative and he denied all knowledge of M R Wace or Golden Gorse. Shortly afterwards I discovered Lucy Faulkner of Bookline in Northern Ireland, the one dealer whom I know who specialises in pony books. She sent me an article which had appeared in the Riding Annual in 1980, in which the author had searched out Golden Gorse and discovered her to be Muriel Wace, married to the Rev Henry Wace. I took this into Michael. 'Gosh, yes', he said. 'Henry Wace was my father's cousin.' When Michael brought me in his family tree, it was not surprising that he didn't know all his relatives - his grandfather was one of 14, and his father one of 11! Interestingly, though when Michael asked one of his female cousins whether she had ever heard of Golden Gorse, she replied 'Gosh, yes, she was my Godmother.' Sadly, I haven't managed to get to see Michael's cousin yet to find out more, but it shows what an incredibly small place the world is.
An author who spans both the pre-war and post-war books is Primrose Cumming, whose first book, Doney, was published in 1934 when she was 19. She went on to write what is probably the greatest pony book ever written, Silver Snaffles, in 1937. Jenny, sitting on the manger in Mr Pymmington's stable, tells the old pony Tattles how much she longs to ride. '"Through the Dark Corner and the password is Silver Snaffles"' is the startling reply. When she gives the password and walks through what had been a brick corner of the stable, she finds herself in a land where the children are taught to ride by the ponies themselves. The book was illustrated by Stanley Lloyd. Primrose Cumming wrote other classics such as The Wednesday Pony and The Chestnut Filly. She also wrote, in what I call her middle period, The Silver Eagle Riding Stable series of three and then moved to Dent where she produced seven books ending with Penny and Pegasus in 1970. The climate in the early 1970s was changing and it is unlikely that Dent would have welcomed more books after this, but Primrose Cumming was too astute to wait for rejection. Having written a number of articles for annuals, both about ponies and not, she was approached by D C Thompson to write a series about ballet. As she told me, she 'simply mugged up' ballet and wrote the series. She then 'simply mugged up' on several other subjects to write more series! She was paid considerably more than she earned at Dent, her last few books there bringing in £50 advances against royalties of 10%. My first job in publishing was with Dent. I joined on 1st November 1976 to find that my boss, who was the Editor of the children's books, loathed the type of book I like, and one of my first jobs was to clear out all the files relating to books no longer on the list. I found some fascinating memos about the quality of writing of No Place for Ponies (by Primrose C) which was seen to be not as good as her other books, and, very stupidly, did as I had been instructed and threw them out, instead of keeping them. The books I was told to 'take to some jumble sale or other' and I did at least keep these!
In 1937 Joanna Cannan's A Pony for Jean was published. This paved the way for the style of pony book which was written from the point of view of the rider but actually gave not much instruction. She wrote two more books about Jean, Another pony for Jean and More Ponies for Jean (not very imaginative titles but they told the reader exactly what she was getting) and another five non-Jean pony books (as well as a pony Picture Puffin and numerous other titles). Joanna Cannan would not be remembered now for her pony books were it not for her daughters - Josephine, Christine and Diana Pullein-Thompson.
Mention the P-T sisters to anyone who reads, whether pony-mad or not, and you will get instant recognition. It was they who started the third phase of pony story writing - that written by the rider but with solid instruction. With the development of International Horse Shows after World War II, the British had learnt that they could not win the dressage and showjumping sections unless they changed their way of riding and adopted the continental forward seat as opposed to the old backward seat with which they had led in the hunting field for years. Many instructors of riding, however, still favoured the old way and there was to be a forward/backward seat battle for years. This is reflected in all the post-war P-T books, and in the best of the others of this era. How often do we read 'and he still jumps with the backward seat', or words to that effect.
The P-T's first book, It Began With Picotee, was a joint effort written by all three of them, but after that they went their separate ways. Personally, I enjoy Josephine's books the best, especially her Noel and Henry series. All her books, while full of riding instruction, are also excellent stories and full of humour. Christine and Diana, perhaps because they are twins, write in a very similar style to one another - and one which I find rather annoying in that their heroines frequently swing from deep despair to extreme joy and back again, which detracts from the stories. Josephine wrote 12 pony stories between 1946 - 1961, Christine 19 from 1948 - 1963 and Diana 8 between 1946 - 1956. They all went on to write other things and then returned to pony stories in the 1970s and indeed are still writing them today, even if these are very different from those of their early years (and from the collector's point of view published in horrible paperbacks!).
The Enid Blyton or Elinor Brent-Dyer of pony stories is Ruby Ferguson whose Jill series has never been out of print since Jill's Gymkhana was published in 1949. This was the one series I bought for myself as a child, going to Harrods to spend my hard won book tokens and pocket money, and, with one exception, I still have these same books today. All of us who have read the Jill series know exactly how to ride and care for a pony, even if only in theory, and perhaps this is why the paperbacks today sell an average of 4,000 a year. Sadly, but probably inevitably, the paperbacks have been updated and not always well.
Inevitably, this is a very personal selection of pony books, and because of space I have not included all my favourites, and other CD readers may have others they would like to recommend. One word of warning about prices, since with the pre-war books, these vary enormously, because so many of them are collected for their illustrations. I have seen shabby reprints of Moorland Mousie for sale at around £15 - £20 because they come from a 'sporting' bookseller or one who specialises in Lionel Edwards. You ought to be able to pick up ordinary reading copies for not much more than £1 -£3. For those who want very good firsts in dustwrappers, at reasonable prices, Bookline's address is 35 Farranfad Road, Downpatrick, Northern Ireland BT30 8NH.
Books by Golden Gorse (complete list)
Books by M M Oliver and E Ducat (complete list)
Books by Primrose Cumming
Books by Joanna Cannan (pony books only)
Books by Josephine Pullein-Thompson (pony books only - pre 1967)
Noel and Henry Series
Diana Pullein-Thompson (pony books only - pre 1960)
Christine Pullein-Thompson (pony books only - pre 1965)
Books by Pat Smythe (fiction pony books only - pre 1965)
Books by Ruby Ferguson (pony books only)