Friday, 31 October 2014

PBOTD 31st October: Gordon Wright - Learning to Ride, Hunt and Show

Today's PBOTD is one of my more tenuous efforts to connect with the National Horse Show. Today's author, Gordon Wright, was a successful show jumper in his own right, as well as a fine trainer. In 1962, the National Horse Show honoured the winners of the Hunter Seat Equitation Championship: over half of them were students, or former students, of Gordon Wright. He trained members of the United States Equestrian Team too.

Learning to Ride, Hunt and Show (1966) is (as you have probably worked out) not fiction at all. I'm including it because it's illustrated by Sam Savitt and I love his work. Gordon Wright did write a work of fiction (The Winning Streak, publication date unknown), but all I have to go on for the book's plot is a brief summary, I can't tell whether it should be included here or not. As I'm skirting round the subject anyway, I might as well, so here it is:

Daphne Van Allen is not a gracious winner. She thinks she can forget about sportsmanship and still come out on top. She thinks she's behaving perfectly rationally, but she becomes a danger to herself and others. I do wonder just how many unsportsmanlike riders Gordon Wright saw in his career, and whether anyone ever recognised anything of themselves in Daphne Van Allen.

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More on Gordon Wright
The National Horse Show

Thursday, 30 October 2014

PBOTD 30th October: Paul Brown - Hi Guy, the Cinderella Horse

Today's book is a real life story. It's written and illustrated by Paul Brown, probably the most sought after equine illustrator in America. Paul Brown started his career as a commercial illustrator, a career interrupted when he left America to serve with the First Light Infantry Division in World War I. He missed death by inches when a grenade shot past him just as he turned his head. When he returned to America, he picked up the reins of his business again, and carried on doing commercial illustration.

He wrote and illustrated several children's stories, one of which is Hi Guy, the Cinderella Horse (1944)The horse, Robin, was rescued from a pound after his owner abandoned the horse when he moved away, and left the horse to starve. Just before he was about to be destroyed, the horse was bought by a riding academy owner for $5. The horse, renamed Hi Guy, more than repaid the $5 purchase price. Once fit, he went from strength to strength, showing an unexpected talent for jumping. He competed, and won, at Madison Square Gardens.

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More on Paul Brown
The National Horse Show

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

PBOTD 6th November: Josephine Pullein-Thompson - Prince Among Ponies

I have an uneasy feeling I might have already covered this book once, but I do not care. It's one of my favourite pony books, let alone one of my favourite JPTs. And it has one of my favourite covers. I have no idea who did the beautiful illustration for the 1970s Armada edition (pictured below), and I wish I did, because I'd love to tell them how very much loved that cover is: and not just by me.

Prince Among Ponies (1952) features someone who popped up frequently in her books: the person who will not listen. Six Ponies was dripping with them, with Evelyn Radcliffe being possibly one of the worst. In Prince Among Ponies, it's bolshy Jane who takes this role. Hero and heroine of the book Patrick and Sara have gone to stay for the summer with Jane’s family, the Merrimans. Patrick and Sara live in suburban London, where they have learned to ride with an instructor who has Pullein-Thompson approved attitudes to equitation. 

The Merriman family have horses, but have learned to ride in a much less formal school: they stick on and kick. Youngest daughter Jane is the kickiest of them all. Her beautiful grey pony, Adonis, has taken grave exception to this approach, and no one is now allowed to ride him as he is considered unsafe. Patrick and Sara ride him in secret, and armed with the theories of their teacher, Captain Stefinski, succeed in persuading Adonis to behave. Once their secret has been discovered, Jane refuses to believe that they have had any real effect on the horse. Once he is fit, she says, he will run away with them. Her father disagrees. 

“Nevertheless,” said Mr Merriman, laying down his paper and helping himself to marmalade, “they have quite a different effect from you, on Adonis. One wouldn’t think that he was the same pony. And it isn’t” he went on firmly, ignoring Jane’s attempt to interrupt, “anything to do with him being lazy – he seems just as fresh as ever. But he looks like the pony we bought. You remember how much we all admired him when we saw him ridden by those Dawson girls?”
“They’d probably doped him,” said Jane. 

I do love the humour of this book: Jane's snarky snarling, and the slapstick comedy of the mushrooms which get squashed to smithereens when Adonis dumps his rider on top of them. Prince Among Ponies is still a great read, and if you want to read just one JPT, this is probably the best place to start.

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More on Josephine Pullein-Thompson

PBOTD 29th October: Margaret S Johnson - Silver Dawn

Today's PBOTD is Margaret S Johnson's Silver Dawn (1958), the next in my National Horse Show series. This one is about Julia Braddock, and her horse Silver Dawn. Julia's father runs a training stable, and he helps Julia get Silver Dawn ready for Madison Square Garden. It's one of those bittersweet stories. As often happens when your parent earns their living from horses, those horses have to be sold, and the more successful they are, the more money you get for them. Sadly for Julia, that is exactly what happens to her.

Author Margaret S Johnson wrote and illustrated Silver Dawn, but several of her other books were illustrated by her mother, Helen Lossing Johnson. Below is Stablemates (1942), which is particularly pretty. 

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More on Margaret S Johnson

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

PBOTD 28th October: Eric Hatch - Year of the Horse

Today's PBOTD, and those for the next few days are all related (sometimes a bit tenuously, I admit) to the National Horse Show in America. When I was researching this post I found out a whole load of things I hadn't known before. The show was held at not one, but three versions of Madison Square Gardens in New York. It was started in 1883 by a group of sportsmen, and in 1890 moved to the second Madison Square Gardens. And in 1926, it moved to the third Madison Square Gardens. In 2011, it moved yet again, but this time right out of New York to the Kentucky Horse Park.

Eric Hatch, author of today's book Year of the Horse (1965), was an author, owned a radio station, and was an expert horseman, a judge and a steward of the American Horse Shows Association.

Year of the Horse is the story of an advertising executive, Freddie Bolton, who works on Madison Avenue (I told you some of these connections were tenuous). He has an adored daughter, and when she asks for a horse, that's what he gives her. Despite the fact the whole family are already living well beyond their means. Freddie names the horse after a product he just happens to represent.

He knows nothing about horses, but finds himself growing very fond of the horse, who is, it turns out, a very capable animal indeed, more than capable enough of competing at Madison Square Gardens.

Monday, 27 October 2014

PBOTD 27th October: Samantha Alexander - the Riding School Series

I think this is going to be a post which is principally of pretty pictures, because my lovely plan, which was to read some of these stories before I featured them, hasn't actually come to anything. What I will say is that I think this series is possibly the first in the UK pony book world to write an entire series from different points of view in each book. Do correct me if you think I'm wrong. It's a format that has been used relatively recently by Kelly McKain in her Pony Camp Diaries series.

The Riding School Series

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More on Samantha Alexander

Sunday, 26 October 2014

PBOTD 26th October: Alexa Romanes - The Gift Horse

Today's PBOTD is the second pony book by Alexa Romanes. In the first, Save the Horses (1983), heroine Kelsie comes down from London to spend the summer with Roger and Toby at Crantock, their parents’Cornish farm and home for ill-treated horses. When she gets there, she steps straight into a financial crisis. The three friends try to help and their lives become very busy indeed, coping with ponies and jobs and trying to sort out the problems caused by the new and badly run local riding school. 

In the next book, The Gift Horse (1985) Kelsie is training to be a riding instructress and living with the Lanyons on their farm-cum-riding stables. Her life is perfect but for one thing: she desperately wants a horse of her own. She ends up with a skewbald gelding from the circus, who has been trained to buck people off...
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More on Alexa Romanes

Saturday, 25 October 2014

PBOTD 25th October: Pat Leitch - To Save a Pony

I can't believe that I haven't already covered this book, but I haven't. It's Patricia Leitch's first book, To Save a Pony (1960), published under the name Pat Leitch in 1960. The Dallas family re-locate to Scotland and start a riding school in order to keep the wolf from the door. The family, including youngest child Jane, go to a local horse sale to find ponies, and Jane sees a pony she is desperate to save.

The conventional pony story would at this point either have Jane spending her little all on the pony (because she conveniently has savings, probably augmented by what she can beg from her siblings) or frantically coming up with some money making scheme in order to make the money to buy the pony. This scheme is, ultimately, successful. Jane tries to take the route of raising money, but it doesn't go according to the pony book plan. 

No miraculous means to buy the pony appear, and Jane has to wait until the end of the book before she sees the pony again, when she discovers her condemned to the dreadful pony book fate of pulling a cart. But Jane is writing a pony book, and she is sure that if she can only get the manuscript to a publisher, it will provide her with enough money to buy the pony. (This had worked for other pony book heroines; Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s Christabel in I Had Two Ponies for one). Gregory, who runs the riding school and has lived with the family since he was five, challenges Jane.
“And where will you get twenty pounds from? No, don’t tell me. I can guess. Your book!”
‘Well, why not?’ I demanded.
‘Jane! Jane! Jane! Will you never grow up? Things like that just don’t happen. You’ve got to face up to it that life is brutal and hard and not a fairy tale with you as the principal fairy godmother.”
Jane's book is rejected. 

She does, in the end, get the money, but only by conquering her fear and doing what she has flatly refused to do before: jump a pony in a show. An author refusing to allow the pony book heroine to be “the principal fairy godmother” was almost heretical at the time: pony book after pony book saw miserable ponies rescued by the strenuous efforts of the heroine. In Patricia Leitch’s world, which was a more realistic one than most, girls do not necessarily get ponies.

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More on Pat (Patricia) Leitch

Friday, 24 October 2014

PBOTD 24th October: Joanna Cannan - More Ponies for Jean

In yesterday's post I was wittering on about my attempt to buy fewer books. But then we come to today's book, Joanna Cannan's More Ponies for Jean (1943). Which I do not have. And I think I have all the other Joanna Cannans (just done quick check on her bibliography - yes I do, though my copy of They Bought Her a Pony is in the Three Great Pony Stories edition, and in an absolutely ideal world it would be a lovely first edition. Not that the first of TBHAP is particularly distinguished, as it's illustrated by Rosemary Robertson, who is not one of my favourite illustrators, but still.) There is some hope on the horizon, because the first Jean story, A Pony for Jean (1936) is being republished next month by Hot Key, and if sales are good they'll probably do the other two.... 

More Ponies for Jean is a particularly satisfying book from the point of view of a pony-mad girl because Jean goes on to work with horses. Of course Joanna Cannan's own daughters (Josephine, Christine and Diana Pullein-Thompson) went on to do just this, so she had plenty of fodder to write about. I, like all the other children I read about, wanted to work with horses too. My parents were utterly opposed to this plan, which still flickered, even when I'd gone to university. Rehabilitating ponies, I thought, would be much more fun than my parents' chosen career path for me, carrying on at the university until the end of  my days.

As you'll know if you've followed me, I didn't do either of those things. But I'm very glad that Jean did. And I would like to read the book again, to live a vision of how life might have been through her.

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More on Joanna Cannan

Thursday, 23 October 2014

PBOTD 23rd October: Christine Dickenson - The Dark Horse

I am slightly handicapped attempting to write about Christine Dickenson's Dark Horse (1973) because firstly the lovely piece I'd semi-written in my head has actually used the plot of a totally different book, and when I went to find my copy of Dark Horse to check the details I found I do not actually have a copy. Ah. 

But should I buy one? I am, although my family might not believe it, trying to cut down on the number of books I buy. When I compare the number coming in with previous years I'm not actually doing too badly, though I have blown the budget somewhat by buying a whole load of PONY and Riding magazines from the early 1960s, and now I come to think of it I do very, very much want to acquire the PONY mags I don't have from the 1940s and 1950s which is in fact all of them. I might just pop over to eBay to see if there's any there. Because you never know. And magazines don't count as books. And they are useful for research, because I'm sure everyone else wants to know of obscure pony books now vanished into obscurity just as much as me.

I will see you later. EBay calls. And it isn't as if I'm going to buy a book.

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More on Christine Dickenson

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review: Diana Kimpton - Princess Ellie's Perfect Plan

It's quite a few years since I read one of the Princess Ellie books. This is the latest, and it's an object lesson in how to get a nuanced story for the younger reader into 90 pages. Princess Ellie, because she's a princess, has to do things in a certain way. There are no gymkhanas for her, because the photographers and press who would flock round the moment they knew she was there would wreck it for everyone else. She has lessons on her own with the Royal Governess, and dinner is something you dress up for. Every day.

Besides her ponies, there's one person who makes all this bearable for Ellie: her best friend Kate. Kate is the grand daughter of the palace cook, and lives with her grandparents because her parents are often away working. And then they come back, with the news that they're going to send Kate to boarding school.

Both girls are horrified - Ellie will have to go back to doing things on her own, and Kate doesn't want to leave everything she knows. For Ellie, life will be just her, and Miss Stringle the Royal Governess and Meg the groom, but only as long as Meg's not too busy. Ellie casts about desperately for solutions, but just when she thinks she's found one Kate turns everything on its head.

I liked the way this story works on so many levels: it's a lovely story of friendship, but also about how privilege can be a gilded cage, and how tradition can hamstring you as well as protect you.

Princess Ellie and the Perfect Plan is a satisfying story with plenty of authentic, and at times exciting, pony content for the young reader, and plenty for the older reader to think about too. It's another triumph for Diana Kimpton.

Thank you to Usborne for sending me a copy of this book.

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Diana Kimpton - Princess Ellie's Perfect Plan (Pony-Mad Princess 10)
Usborne, 2014, £4.99, paperback, £1.71 Kindle, £1.99 Kobo

Age of main character: 9?
Themes: friendship, new schools

Diana Kimpton's website

PBOTD 22nd October: Jean Slaughter Doty - The Crumb

Today's book looks at riding schools in America, although to be fair Ashford Stables are rather more of a training establishment for people with their own horses than anything else. Still, human nature is the same everywhere. Heroine of this book, Cindy, gets a summer job at Ashford. A dream come true, she thinks. 

Cindy loves horses with that slightly misty passion common to so many girls, and it's a terrible shock to her when she realises just how far some of the people at Ashford will go in order to win. Mind you, ruthlessness in the pursuit of success has not exactly gone away. There are still, sadly, any amount of shenanigans going on in the showing world, and if I can pick out just one truly hideous example about which I've written in the past, Tennessee Walking Horses are still sored to produce the Big Lick, a slightly bizarre gait much prized by people who show the horse.

This has been going on for years. People have been exposed on Youtube for the practice, and legislation is only now slowly crawling along.

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More on Jean Slaughter Doty

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

PBOTD 21st October: Christine Pullein-Thompson - They Rode to Victory

They Rode to Victory (1972) is the sequel to Riders on the March. The comprehensive school team is going to compete against a team from a smart girls’ school. This is something of a fixture: the poor team never competes against another, possibly even less well off team. (K M Peyton's Who Sir? Me Sir? and Zita White's The One Day Ponies come to mind). They always have to show that grit and determination can win out against teams dripping with cash and wonderful ponies.

Life of course is not fair, and in real life sometimes those teams might have won, but it's just as likely not. Literature though is often about fairytales, and morality. If you worked hard, maybe you too could do as well.

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More on Christine Pullein-Thompson

Monday, 20 October 2014

PBOTD 20th October: Christine Pullein-Thompson - Riders on the March

There were a few books I acquired as first editions, and Christine Pullein-Thompson's Riders on the March (1970) was one of them. Of the Pullein-Thompsons, it was Christine who worked hardest at being relevant. Even in the 1950s, decade of the middle class pony owning child, Christine used working class characters. The First Rosette (1956) had as its hero David Smith, the youngest son of a family where money really is an issue: David’s family genuinely struggle, and there is no money for riding lessons, let alone ponies. 

David's struggle is contrasted with the far more conventional pony life of Pat, the daughter of the Master. After David catches Pat's pony when she falls off, he is invited to tea and offered the chance to borrow a pony. Christine carried on introducing working class characters, with Janice and Mick in The Lost Pony (1959). All these characters, and the comprehensive school pupils in Riders on the March, are all prone to the same mercurial swoops from happiness to gloom. It is as though Christine’s desire to sympathise with the difficulties of being poor leads her to over-write their emotions. Without any direct experience herself, she seems to assume there must be a heightened emotional response to life generated from being brought up in difficult circumstances.

I loved Riders on the March at the time because it dealt with characters who didn't have ponies, which was my lot, but I must admit I've found it hard to keep feeling the love over the decades. I do find the characters' emotions hard to keep on top of.

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More on Christine Pullein-Thompson

Sunday, 19 October 2014

PBOTD 19th October: Kathleen Mackenzie - Minda

It took me several years to write Heroines on Horseback, my book on the pony book. When the book finally had its last edit, my editor asked me for more quotations from several books, but I had to say no because I didn't actually have a copy of the book myself. There were several books I analysed and made notes on and then promptly sold. Minda (1953) was one of them, and sadly it made so little impression on me it didn't even make it into my book. It does carry on the theme of riding clubs, because heroine Minda Budge (who sounds as if she should make it into a Jill book on the strength of her name alone) joins a Pony Club started by three children. As we saw a couple of days ago, joining a club run by your peers can be tricky, and so it proves here. Another member of the club, Jill, is jealous of Minda's talents and schemes to keep her out of an event in which she will represent the club. I think you can probably work out the outcome for yourselves.

Minda is another book illustrated by Maurice Tulloch: not alas as successful an illustration as Ponies in Secret, but he has captured the girl and pony relationship pretty well.

In case you missed it when I posted it a few days ago, here's a modern day interpretation of just that thing.

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More on Kathleen Mackenzie

Saturday, 18 October 2014

PBOTD 18th October: Christine Leslie - Four Start a Riding Club

Today's PBOTD is another book that's more notable for its illustrator than anything else. Christine Leslie's Four Start a Riding Club (1963) is one of those books which had sunk into total obscurity. I first ferreted it out myself when I wrote about Anne Bullen for Fidra Books' newsletter. It was cheap as chips at the time as no one else had even heard of it, so I hoovered up a copy. 

Sadly the book wasn't an undiscovered gem. The Tollhouse Riding Club is launched by Karen, Gilla, John and Patrick. They don’t agree about much, and have some healthy fights about how to do things, but do in the end manage to get the Riding Club going successfully. And that's about it, really.

Illustrator of the book, Anne Bullen, died young at the age of 50 in 1963, and Four Start a Riding Club was the last pony book she illustrated. If you follow my Facebook page, keep watching, because I have an exciting Anne Bullen related giveaway coming up.

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More on Christine Leslie
More on Anne Bullen

Friday, 17 October 2014

Review: Carolyn Henderson - Beside Me

Carolyn Henderson’s Beside Me is based on her Grey Ghost, which she originally wrote for Caroline Akrill at J A Allen. If you’ve read that book, don’t assume you’ve already read Beside Me, because you haven’t. There are a few similarities, but Beside Me is a very different book. I liked the original, but I love this version. It’s subtle, involving, moving: I read it for the second time at our local coffee shop, having forgotten that it made me cry the first time. 

Corinne has a lot to contend with. She doesn’t fit in at school. She’s not, as queen of the school Penny makes clear, one of the cool kids. She is, Penny says, horses obsessed – Corinne says she’d rather look round a tack shop than Top Shop. And Corinne sometimes hears things, and sees things, that really shouldn’t be there. This doesn’t stop her being able to connect with horses: her favourite is Secret, an unbroken pony at the stables Corinne rides at. But the stables are closing, and all the horses and ponies, including Secret, have to be sold. There is no chance at all that Corinne and her careworker mother will be able to buy him, and Corinne’s mother takes a very dim view of Corinne’s ambition to work with horses.

Into all this comes new boy Luca, a Romany gipsy whose father is a horse dealer. Luca is particularly gifted with horses, and that’s what brings him and Corinne together, as Luca helps Corinne break Secret in. Entwined with the pony plot thread is a mystery surrounding Miss Meynell, whom Corinne’s mother cares for. Miss Meynell lives in a ramshackle house with ramshackle empty stables, and when Corinne wanders off to inspect the stables, something happens that has profound effects on all of them.

Beside Me is a richly realised book: we see Corinne at school, and at home, as well as at the stables, so although there’s a strong pony element to the book, we see Corinne as a real teenager, not just a cipher for pony-related events. Carolyn Henderson has a very sure touch with teenagers, and she’s created a thoroughly believable one in Corinne. I don’t like obvious characterisation in books: character x is the bully, so she is BAD, and character y is not the bully, so she is GOOD. It’s much harder to create characters, good and bad, with whom you can sympathise, and understand, even if you don’t particularly like what they are doing. In one of my favourite scenes, Corinne goes to see Penny in hospital, and these two utterly dissimilar girls talk: the real genius of this scene is that there’s not some mushy reconciliation – rather Corinne starts to understand why Penny is as she is.
“I’m starting to realise that we all have ways of protecting ourselves: my way is to keep myself separate and as inconspicuous as possible, but Penny’s is to dress and paint herself into the person she wants to be. Last week, she was the bitch queen. Today, she’s the princess of sorrow.”
I also liked the approach the author takes with Luca. Granted he is the stuff of which dreams were made, but there’s no frantic storms of emotion from Corinne. The author allows her to take the relationship at a slow pace, which is, though they’d probably rather  die rather than admit it, what most 14 year old girls want.

Henderson tackles difficult subjects: an overdose, and the death of a dog, sensitively and realistically. Yes, there’s grief, and pain, and although some minor characters definitely go off the deep end, Corinne and Luca have a much more measured attitude. I liked this heroine, who thinks her way round the things that happen to her. I liked the solid belt of decent instruction on things horse. This book takes over the instructional mantle from Josephine Pullein-Thompson. I can see people reading this book using it if they ever have a pony to break in.

The book combines solid equine fact with some brilliantly realised characters, and Carolyn Henderson tells a good story. The supernatural element isn’t overdone, and I was completely convinced by it.

My one minor quibble lies with the publisher. Forelock are still prey to typographical errors here and there: fortunately not quite as many as their earlier books, but they’re still there.

But Beside Me is one of my books of the year.

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Carolyn Henderson: Beside Me
Forelock Books, 2014, £9.99

Age of main character: 15
Themes: supernatural gifts, bullying, overdose, breaking in of horses

PBOTD 17th October: D A Young - Ponies in Secret

D A Young's Ponies in Secret (1955) is another book about a riding club, but it's also about what happens when power goes to people's heads. When the book opens our heroes are hugely excited by the prospect of a summer filled with ponies. They're even more excited when they learn there's a local riding club, but then they meet the people who run it, who are not actually much older than them, but have rigid ideas on what's what. The book is a well observed story of the wielding of power, and of how easy it is to misinterpret what people do.

Ponies in Secret is illustrated by Maurice Tulloch. I often burble on about how the classic pony book seems to exist in a sun-drenched eternal summer. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and the ponies all smart and glossy. Maurice Tulloch captures this vision in his pony book illustration. I do wonder if it made a difference from his hunting illustration, hunting necessarily being often rather bleak, as much of it takes place in the winter.

I think Ponies in Secret is the most sun-drenched of all the pony books he illustrated, and if I had to pick an illustration which sums up the pony book world of the 1950s, I think the one below would be it.

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More on D A Young (not much. Sorry.)
More on Maurice Tulloch

Thursday, 16 October 2014

PBOTD 16th October: Elinore Havers - The Surprise Riding Club

This is Elinore Havers' first appearance in PBOTD, and it's taken her 10 months. This is I suppose because she's not one of my favourite authors, and so she, like a few others, has taken something of a back seat in PBOTD.  Her Surprise Riding Club is an ok sort of read - pedestrian, if I'm being honest.

Sarah and her friends start a riding club during the summer holidays so they can improve their riding. The “Surprise” element comes in as each President is supposed to provide a surprise for the members when they finish their time as President.

Most of Elinore Havers' books were published in the Crown Pony Library series. The Surprise Riding Club was published by Collins, and made an appearance in the Collins Pony Library. I wonder if the appearance of her books in pony libraries is the key to understanding her appeal: she writes books which tick all the boxes required by the pony lover, and is utterly reliable in doing so.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

PBOTD 15th October: Josephine Pullein-Thompson - The Radney Riding Club

I wonder if children today will ever understand the frustrations of living in pre-internet world? Before the world wide web, you simply couldn't find everything you wanted with a quick Google search. Finding secondhand books, for a start, could take years, if you even managed it at all. When I was a child, what books I read depended on:

a. Whether the local library had them
b. Whether our (rather limited) supply of local bookshops had them
c. Whether a noble relative living elsewhere found the book
d. Whether I hit the jackpot at a jumble sale (vanishingly rare)
e.  Whether I could borrow the book from a friend - not something that happened often as none of my friends were pony book fans.

Publishers of course want you to buy their books, so as well as handy lists of the books in a series, they used to put page long descriptions of other books you might like at the end of the book.  These, to me, were hideously tantalising. I knew Monica Edwards' Punchbowl Midnight existed, because I'd seen it listed, but I didn't see a copy until I was in my forties. That's a gap of a good thirty years since I'd found out the book existed. And The Radney Riding Club was the same. I knew it was out there, but I didn't see one (Six Ponies was the same).

I don't think today's children will ever understand the huge excitement; the thrill, of finally, after decades, getting your hands on a book you'd longed to read as a child but never found. Because for them, everything is obtainable: in some cases as long as you're prepared to pay for it, but every book is out there, somewhere, and getting it is often a case of simply being prepared to wait the few days before it's delivered. Not decades.

I think out of all the books I'd longed to read as a child, The Radney Riding Club and Six Ponies were the ones that gave me the greatest pleasure to find. In an ideal world I admit I would have preferred not to wait decades, but that did make the sheer joy of reading them at last all the more intense.

And fortunately both books were very well worth it. I'd never known that Noel and Henry had ventured out from the shelter of Major Holbrooke's estate, which they do in Radney, as it's set at Henry's home. There was an entirely different set of characters, most of whom didn't appear in the other books.

I think, for me, this book will always be coloured by how long I had to wait for it. Reading it was all the sweeter for having had to wait.

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More on Josephine Pullein-Thompson

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

PBOTD October 14th: Monica Edwards - Killer Dog

I've reached the end of the HOYS section, so am doing a swift detour back because I didn't include Monica Edwards' Killer Dog in my round up of her books. Granted, it isn't particularly horsey, but then neither are quite a few of her other titles, and I've included them. This one I just plain forgot.

Killer Dog is a novelisation of the film The Dawn Killer. I thought the book had first seen the light of day as a script written by Monica, but I'm not sure whether or not this is the case. The book is set on Romney Marsh, and that's where the film was shot too. The book isn't, however, a Tamzin story.

The heroes in this one are the Hawkes family. Sheep are being killed by a dog, and suspicion falls on two dogs: the Hawkes Glen, and another dog, Lion. The Hawkes are determined to prove Glen is
innocent, and wait out on the Marsh to try and discover which dog is the attacker.
Sadly this book is based in fact. Before we moved a couple of years ago, the field neighbouring ours was let out to a farmer who grazed his sheep there. He moved the sheep after an horrific dog attack, which left sheep so badly wounded they had to be put down. Farmers can still shoot dogs if they believe it is the only way to stop them worrying stock.

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More on Monica Edwards
John Allsup's excellent Monica Edwards site

Monday, 13 October 2014

PBOTD 13th October: Victoria Eveleigh - Joe and the Race to the Rescue

I know HOYS has finished, but the organisers had, sadly, failed to extend the show for an extra day so I can fit in all of the HOYS books I wanted to feature. So, there's one more HOYS book today, and that's Joe and the Race to the Rescue  (2014), the last in Victoria Eveleigh's Joe trilogy. 

In this book, Joe has outgrown his first pony Lightning, and has another brilliant games pony - Fortune - on loan. Fortune, however, is not the same pony Lightning was. Not at all, and Joe can't seem to work out how to ride her. Fortune is beginning to frighten him. Help comes from an unexpected source: at his aikido class, Joe learns to visualise calm. From his traveller neighbour, Nellie, he learns that horses live in the moment, and that Fortune needs to learn to trust him. Slowly, and carefully, Joe and Fortune begin to build their relationship. Fortune emerges as a real pony, not something who's the vehicle of Joe's wants and desires.

Joe does in the end succeed at getting to the Prince Philip Cup with the local Pony Club, but there's much more to the book than that. Besides thrilling gymkhana games you get Shires, and floods, and adventure. 

The Joe Series
Joe and the Hidden Horseshoe
Joe and the Lightning Pony
Joe and the Race to the Rescue

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More on Victoria Eveleigh

Sunday, 12 October 2014

PBOTD 12th October: Patricia Leitch - Dream of Fair Horses

If you've never read Dream of Fair Horses, you are in for a treat. It's certainly one of Patricia Leitch's best books, if not the best. When you read it, you can see where Jinny came from, but it's not necessary to have read the Jinny books to appreciate what Patricia Leitch does with the pony book here. What I actually want to do in this piece is quote reams and reams from the book, but I will restrict myself, because really all those quotations sit better when welded in to the rest of the book. 

Gill Caridia is one of a family of seven, whose author father, Laurence Caridia writes novels of the sort that critics love but nobody buys. His detective novel, however, has sold so well he's been able to buy back the family home, Hallows Noon. Up until this point, the Caridias have led a nomadic life, moving from place to place as their always-precarious fortunes fluctuate, but this time the family hope they have settled. All sorts of visions of normal life lie before them, but underlying it all is Laurence Caridia's growing belief that he has sold his soul.

Hallows Noon, ironically, means Gill, the only horse lover of the family, gets to experience what her soul longs most for. Across a like is a field of horses and a beautiful grey pony, Perdita. The pony's owner, Mr Ramsay asks Gill to ride the pony, Perdita. It is a magical experience.
“Perdita changed from a trot, her hoofs pounding the ground. Suddenly she broke out of the circle and flung herself madly away from the rein. She snaked her head, her tangled mane tossing and wild and then she reared up, touched down and reared again proud and defiant. For a second she balanced there. It was as if a tree had sprung from the ground surging in the instant from a seed to a full blossomed tree, blazing and brilliant. As if for a second I could hear the rage of the sun.
I caught my breath and heard Mr Ramsay laughing with a deep gravel sound. A flow, a current, strong as an electric shock passed between the three of us.”

Gill loves Perdita with every fibre of her being. To Gill, because she loves her, the pony is hers. And when Mr Ramsay dies, he leaves the pony to Gill, not to his family. But by this time, financial disaster has closed in again upon the Caridias. Their house has had to be sold to pay their debts; and they are on the move again, probably to inner-city Birmingham. There will be no fields, no stable, and no money: no way to keep Perdita. Laurence Caridia is returning to what feeds his soul. Gill thrashes round frantically trying to find a way to keep Perdita, but her father points out with a relentless lack of sympathy just how hopeless the case is.
“..”You can’t keep her the way she should be kept. Can’t afford to feed her. But you don’t care, that doesn’t matter; as long as you can possess her you don’t care what happens to her.”
“But I love her.”
“Love! You call what you want to do to Perdita love? You only want to hold on to her, never let her go. She’s bred for the show ring... Do you think she’d be happy shivering in a field while you deliver your papers... “
Gill lets Perdita go. By the end of the book she has met a boy, and plans to live in a commune with him ”to build a new way of living together, or sharing love.” I suspect she gets on better in the life that was to come than does her father, whose books I would have been interested to read. It would be intriguing to see just what his mixture of honesty and selfishness would have produced.

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More on Patricia Leitch

Saturday, 11 October 2014

PBOTD 11th October: Gillian Baxter - The Team from Low Moor

The best pony book authors create characters who convince you no matter what end of the social spectrum they're from. Many of Gillian Baxter's heroines, like Bobby in the Bracken Stables books, and Frandia in Horses and Heather are monied. In contrast, there are those who approach the horse world from the opposite end of the income scale. Lindy Smith, the gipsies’ daughter of Horses and Heather, has to some extent taken on the behavioural models of her parents when she decides to keep the filly she finds wandering on the moors, though she knows she must belong to someone. 

Furiously ambitious but poor Edie, whose only hope of succeeding with horses is to work with them, causes an accident in the pursuit of her ambition in The Team from Low Moor (1965). Edie isn't actually the heroine of The Team from Low Moor - that's Charity Whitford. She runs the Pony Club. The Low Moor branch is the poor relation of a much wealthier branch, with an array of ponies only a mother could love, but riders who are keen. When Charity meets Laurence Croft, a famous show jumper who was blinded in an accident which also killed his family (and which was his fault) she manages to persuade him to take the club on and train them. So successful is he that they compete at the Prince Philip Cup. 

Charity is an oddity - she is, to me, one of Gillian Baxter's less successful characters. She's strangely indistinct, I suspect because the far spikier and more interesting Pony Club member Edie grabs all the narrative interest herself. 

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More on Gillian Baxter's books
An interview with Gillian Baxter

Friday, 10 October 2014

PBOTD 10th October: June M Groves - The Milkman's Cob

June M Groves wrote pieces for equine magazines, but as far as I'm aware, just the one book. This 

was The Milkman's Cob (1961). The heroine loses her jumping pony Larke so stops riding, until the local Dairy converts to modern vans and 'Happy' the Milkman’s cob is to be sold. It is a lovely story of his transformation from pulling a float to winning at the Horse of the Year Show in the junior jumping. It’s told in the first person, by four different narrators, which at first I thought would prove irritating, but June Groves does get enough differentiation into her characters to make this work.

Unlike many pony stories where the most pedestrian pony clears 3’ 6” with ease, Happy’s clearance of a 5’ 3” hedge is completely convincing, particularly as this so shatters his rider that she has to be slowly and gently persuaded back into jumping anything again, let alone a fence over 5 feet. The illustrations don’t do the book the favours which perhaps they might, but if you can manage to get hold of this book it is well worth the read.

June used to live in Berkhamsted with a horse living in the back garden in a large converted shed - a cob called Mr Happy, the horse on which the book was based. 

Like her heroine, June was a keen show jumper. Show jumping wasn’t the only thing she did: Jacquie, June’s niece told me June was “on friendly terms with the late Dorian Williams and used to get involved in pageants for him - where both she and Mr Happy used to dress up for the day. She maintained that Mr Happy loved it - but I'd have rather heard it from HIS mouth..........”

Thursday, 9 October 2014

PBOTD 9th October: Pat Smythe - Three Jays Go to Town

Pat Smythe was a phenomenon. The first Olympic Games at which female equestrians were allowed to compete took place in Stockholm in 1956. She won a bronze medal. Pat Smythe succeeded in a world which was not friendly to the female show jumper. In the same year she won the Olympic medal (the first Olympics at which female equestrians were allowed to compete), she won the Grand Prix Militaire at the International Show in Lucerne in 1956. Another woman rider came second, but the cup was presented to the French officer who came third, and it was his name that was engraved on it. 

Unlike many other international riders of the time, Pat had no family or other money behind her. With her mother, she ran their rented house, Miserden (which later appeared in her Three Jays series), as a boarding house for agricultural students, and for children whose parents wanted them to have a country holiday, and this, with a little horse dealing, funded her riding.  After the tragic death of her mother in a car accident, and the blindingly unsympathetic attitude of her bank manager, who rang on the afternoon of her mother’s death to say that he was sorry about the accident, but please could she repay her overdraft of £1500 as soon as possible because she had no securities to cover the sum, Pat had to run the show on her own.

She cleared the overdraft by selling one of her horses, and hired a housekeeper to look after the guests. After the successful publication of her autobiography, Jump for Joy, Pat moved her bank account.  She then turned to writing her children’s pony series, the Three Jays. In today's episode Three Jays Go to Town (1959), the Three Jays have won the Zone final for the Prince Philip Cup, and so they're off to the Horse of the Year Show. As ever with the Three Jays, nothing runs completely according to plan, as their schools aren't keen on them taking time off to practice. And then Darcy takes Jimmy for a ride in his latest test plane....

HOYS at this time was held in Harringay - just. The show moved to Wembley in 1959. I'm not certain whether later reprints of the book made the switch too, as I have no copies to compare! HOYS stayed at Wembley until 2002, when it moved to its current home, the NEC Arena in Birmingham.

The Three Jays Series
Jacqueline Rides for a Fall
Three Jays Round the Clock
Three Jays on Holiday
Three Jays Go to Town
Three Jays Over the Border
Three Jays Lend a Hand
Three Jays Go to Rome

This piece was adapted from my book, Heroines on Horseback
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More on Pat Smythe

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

PBOTD 8th October: Dorian Williams - Wendy at Wembley

It is one of those things that really dates you - can you remember the glory days of show jumping on television, when after the news finished (about 9.30 pm in those days) you'd get a full week of show jumping from HOYS? I remember the joy of being allowed to stay up to watch it (I had a mother who was keen on early bed times). 

Dorian Williams (1914-1985) was the voice of show jumping on television. He commentated in the glory days of horses on television, when every evening programme of the Horse of the Year Show and the Royal International Horse Show was televised. Educated at Harrow, he had a full life: besides commentating; he was involved with the British Horse Society as a member of its council, and Chairman; and was instrumental in setting up the National Equestrian Centre at Stoneleigh. He was also Master of the Whaddon Chase Hunt. He used his family home, Pendley, for a Shakespeare Festival, and set up a Centre of Adult Education there.

As well as all this, he found time to write. The Wendy series explores what life was like for a working class girl working with horses. Wendy is soon whisked away from her ordinary background (Dorian Williams, with what jars as a spectacular bit of sexism now, describes Wendy’s mother as “just a busy housewife looking after six children.”) In the first book of the series, Wendy Wins a Pony (1961), Wendy does indeed win a pony in an art competition, but the pony himself, Smiley, plays remarkably little part in the story. He is simply a device to get Wendy away from her family and in to work. After Wendy has nowhere to keep her pony her guardian angel, Miss Rogerson of the local riding school, advertises on Wendy’s behalf for somewhere to take her as a girl groom, with attending pony. Wendy finds work with the Tivertons, and their new residential riding school, and that is where the three-book series is based.

The series is a reasonably realistic portrait of what life as a girl groom would be like, with unrelenting long hours, exhaustion and not much in the way of time off. If you want to know exactly what the working life of a girl groom will involve, you'll find out from this series. This concentration on the minutiae of working life means that darker depths to the characters, are hinted at, but aren't explored. Mr Tiverton doesn't have much of a grip on financial probity. They've used Mrs Tiverton's legacy to start the stables, and sold their cars and their best horses. Mr Tiverton seems oblivious to the choppy financial waters in which they are sailing:

...”God knows how we’re going to pay for it.”
But he did not sound serious; in fact he laughed cheerfully and winked at his wife, as though there were some understanding between them. She smiled back, then frowned almost imperceptibly...”
These hints that all is not well remain just hints, and the tension between the two Tivertons is never properly developed.

What can go wrong when working away from home is made a little more explicit. All is not plain sailing between Wendy and her employers. In Wendy Wins Her Spurs (1962), Wendy leaves, and gets a job with the Whittle family. It is difficult to see Mr Whittle as anything other than an older man who wants to get Wendy into bed, although this is never openly stated. He is constantly trying to get her alone, is obviously resentful when her friend visits and shares her room, and at one point comes into her room after she's gone to bed. Nothing happens, but it is difficult not to wonder where Dorian Williams was going with that particular plot line. In the end, Mr Whittle, tries to dope a racehorse and is arrested, saving Wendy, the reader is convinced, from a much worse fate.

Was Dorian Williams trying to warn young girls working with horses of what could go wrong? Perhaps he did not feel able to write directly about the threat from a male employer. (Susan Chitty’s 1966 A Life with Horses has her heroine being chased round the feedbins by one of her employers, but this is treated as a joke.) Working life is not straightforward in Dorian Williams’ books. Even the seemingly decent Tivertons conspire with one of their pupils behind Wendy’s back, when he rides her horse at the White City Show. Although Wendy does perhaps over-react to the discovery that Roger Lovell has been riding her horse when she isn’t there, it was not a particularly honourable way for employers to behave.

The series as a whole is still a readable one. Wendy is a young and rather naive girl, living away from home for the first time, and her life with horses seems realistic. She has no major triumphs in the show ring: her horse wins at the White City show, but only when he is ridden by someone else. When Wendy goes to Wembley (Wendy at Wembley, 1963) she does not compete, but takes part in a pageant. Any girl reading the series would come away with no illusions about the sheer slog involved in a career with horses, and perhaps an idea of some of the downfalls.

This piece has been adapted from my book, Heroines on Horseback

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More on Dorian Williams

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

PBOTD 7th October: Monica Edwards - Under the Rose

Monica Edwards' Under the Rose (1968) is quite unlike her Punchbowl and Romney Marsh series: there's no gentle Cascade here: the horse in this story is far worse than Lindsay's colt Chalice with his nipping. This horse can kill, and one of the children in the book has a particularly terrifying experience before the horse relents in its pursuit.

The horse is part of the mysterious world of the shut-up country house, Kings Somborne, that enchants the Black and Hunter children. It's there that the horse, and his groom end up. Their lives are in turmoil, but so are the children’s. The Blakes’ desire is not getting a pony, but finding somewhere to live, now that their father has announced he wants the family house for himself and his new partner. The Hunter children have parents who live together, but whose mother is so obsessed with doing good works that she rarely sees them Theirs is a different world from the comfortable, stable families of the Punchbowl and Romney Marsh books, and the horse in it reflects that.

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More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Monday, 6 October 2014

PBOTD 6th October: Monica Edwards - Joan Goes Farming

Ah, Joan Goes Farming. Published in 1954 by Bodley Head as part of its career novels series, it's a title I've never actually managed to track down. When I was writing my book, the availability of titles was occasionally a problem. How can that be, you ask, when you must have hundreds of the things? I do, but unfortunately not every title by every author, and you can safely assume that when writing a book on the things, the one title you haven't got is the one that tells you something pivotal about the author.

The Monica Edwards chapter, as originally envisaged for Heroines on Horseback, dealt just with Monica Edwards "pony" books: Wish for a  Pony, The Summer of the Great Secret, No Mistaking Corker and The Midnight Horse. It didn't take long until I'd stretched this out to include some of her other stories, arguably just as horsey as those four: Cargo of Horses, for one. I had shillied and shallied while writing the book, until it was suggested to me quite strongly by my usually imperturbable editor that it might be an idea if I got on with things. I did. Chapters flew from my pen. The end was in sight.

And then the Monica Edwards chapter came back. Could I, they asked, actually cover all the books? Many of their readers were Monica Edwards fans, and I could afford to extend myself more than I had on some of the other authors. What this actually meant in practice was that I had to read well over 25 books, and read them fast. Joan was one of the ones I hadn't read, and I was lucky in that the wonderful person who runs our local Chalet School group had one, which she let me borrow (thanks Pam). And does Joan say anything pivotal about the author? I'm not sure it does. She didn't make it into the final cut of my book.

Both Rennie and Joan followed the plotlines Bodley Head wanted for the series: girls could have careers, but marriage must be waved at the end of the book as a possibility. Whether it's a possibility Monica saw her characters actually embracing, I do not know. It seemed to me then, and does now, a terrible shame to do all that work and then give it up because you get married. I do wonder how Monica saw Tamzin and Meryon, Dion and Rissa, and Roger and Lindsay in later life. Do let me know what you think.

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The Bodley Head Career Novels
More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Sunday, 5 October 2014

PBOTD 5th October: Monica Edwards - Rennie Goes Riding

I'm spending the next few days rounding up the Monica Edwards titles I haven't yet covered (with the exception of one, which will have to wait until after HOYS). Today's is one of her most reprinted titles, Rennie Goes Riding (1956)The career novel was a feature of the 1950s, with series aimed at both girls and boys. Rennie Goes Riding was part of a series published by Bodley Head which involved such stirring tales as Diana Seton, Veterinary Surgeon, Air Hostess Ann, and Margaret Becomes a Doctor.

All the stories gave you a decent idea of what a career would actually be like: but almost all ended with a hint of romance, leaving you wondering what the aim of the book was. Were you to do the career, or get married, or somehow combine both? Rennie does indeed end the novel contemplating a possible romance with Morgan Davy. It looks as if the farming life he contemplates does involve horses, so I hope that Rennie would have gone on to do something with her painfully acquired training.

Monica Edwards had some experience of working with horses herself, for a short period before she married. Her one paid job was at a farm in Oddington, Oxfordshire, when she was sixteen, where she was to ride the horses “beautiful creatures, real blood-horses... I was thrilled to bits,” she wrote. After a brief stay at the farm, she took an unpaid position in North Wales when she looked after hunters until her employers returned to Gloucestershire. She arranged another position with the Bicester Hunt, but did not go, and remained in Rye Harbour until her marriage. She went on, of course, to support the family through her writing.

Rennie Goes Riding did have a psychological depth that was not always the lot of the career novel. Rennie longs, as do so many girls, to work with horses, but there is very real doubt about whether she will succeed. Rennie does not find life easy; having seen her mother killed in an accident, she is frequently ill, and stress makes her physically incapable: her hands or her legs stop working. Her family see her career choice as possibly foolish, but agree to let her try; her Aunt Lucy, who fears it will not work,  is more than the conventional figure of opposition. She is prepared to use her savings in an attempt to help Rennie, even though she fears she will not succeed.

Rennie does succeed in establishing a horsy career, but it is not an easy process. Her health is problematic, and she leaves her settled job at a riding school to extricate herself from a situation where a fellow groom’s boyfriend has become keener on Rennie than the groom. The job she goes to is with the worst of horse dealers, whose horse doping activities lead to a boy’s death. Rennie realises just what she has become involved with, and leaves. She is still determined to work with horses, though she now understands something of the dark side of the horse world, as well as the sheer physical slog and lack of monetary reward. Monica Edwards was nothing if not realistic in her portrayal of life working with horses. 

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The Bodley Head career novels
More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site

Saturday, 4 October 2014

PBOTD October 4th: Monica Edwards - A Wind is Blowing

Today marks the end of the Monica Edwards Romney Marsh series, with A Wind is Blowing (1969)

Although ponies become a less important element in Tamzin’s life as she gets older, the part an animal can play when human comfort will not do comes touchingly into play in the last of the Romney Marsh books,  A Wind is Blowing (1969).  Tamzin, overwhelmed by grief when Meryon rejects her after he is blinded trying to stop a bank robbery, seeks refuge with Cascade. It is a wonderful picture and completely unsentimental; Cascade’s real interest, I am sure is in his hay, but nevertheless his presence does what is required, and Tamzin is comforted.  
Crying  bitterly and desolately for a long time it seemed as if grief and hopelessness began to go out of her with the tears, until there was only a clear calm like the sea after storm. She had been drifting in that storm, but now her boat was answering to the helm again,
and there was  a star to steer by.
With a wisp of hay in his teeth Cascade turned to look at her as she leaned against him to re-read her letter.”
Cascade saves the day later when ridden at breakneck speed from Castle Farm to get Meg the collie for Meryon before she can be taken away by the town couple who have offered to have her. 

A Wind is Blowing is one of those books that divides Monica Edwards' readers. Not everyone likes the Meryon who emerges in this book, with his arrogant refusal to listen to anyone, and his almost rejection of Tamzin. To me, it's believable. Meryon has always been the golden boy; always been able to think his way out of his troubles, but you can't think your way out of being blind. And people often hit out when hurt and frightened, particularly when they are unable to admit it.

I find this book a fitting end to the series: having overcome this huge test of their relationship, the reader can be fairly sure that Tamzin and Meryon are fairly launched on adulthood. I do wonder if Tamzin did ever become the long-faced, horsey woman she so feared becoming, but somehow I don't think she did.

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The Romney Marsh Series
Wish for a Pony
The Summer of the Great Secret
The Midnight Horse
The White Riders
Cargo of Horses
Hidden in a Dream
Storm Ahead
No Entry
The Nightbird
Operation Seabird
Strangers to the Marsh
No Going Back
The Hoodwinkers
Dolphin Summer
A Wind is Blowing

More on Monica Edwards
Everything you ever wanted to know on Monica Edwards and her books: John Allsup's site