Ponies, ponies, ponies
Susanna Forrest, journalist, long time pony-
Tales of girl-
It’s an old story. Girl (Jinny, Jill, Jackie) meets the Pony of her dreams (Shantih, Black Boy, Misty). Pony has intriguing psychological problems that respond only to Girl’s uniquely sensitive nature. Girl and Pony fall in love. Through the medium of an equus ex machina Girl gets Pony. Girl and Pony canter on beaches and rescue other horses from disused mineshafts/nasty farmers, before winning a silver cup against the odds and defeating the arch-
End shot: Girl and Pony gallop whooping along a cliff top, pointed at destiny.
Katie Price, aka Jordan, the glamour model and generator of the dross that holds the tabloids together, has just launched a volley of Barbie-
The Perfect Ponies books are about a gang of girls who work at a stable and get into scrapes like racing to a wedding wearing as many pink ribbons as possible. The dialogue doesn’t sparkle (“I get well thirsty grooming”) and the characters are chiefly distinguished by their hair-
This is a great shame, because Price is a keen, knowledgeable horsewoman -
The pony books of my childhood were packed with plucky heroines and practical pony-
As a pony-
Since I started researching a history of the great romance between girls and horses, I’ve had a licence to dig out treasures such as the ur-
Dick has a few enlightened things to say about Reason, Nature and the Reign of Tyranny, and while the scene in which he gets gelded -
For more than a century after Dick’s debut, horsey narratives were chiefly voiced by the equines themselves, a trend boosted by Black Beauty, one of the biggest-
Though I was born 100 years after its publication in 1877 and I’ve seen more spaceships than cab horses, I still get what May Hill Arbuthnot called “Black Beauty vapours” when I read about poor Ginger’s corpse dangling off the knacker’s cart.
From the 1930s onwards, child riders emerged as the new heroes, rescuing the equine damsels in distress. I should really say heroines rather than heroes, because there are hardly any male protagonists in British pony books.
As women took over the real horse world from the cavalry officers of the 19th century, so they monopolised the imaginary one, and the great pony-
Publishers commissioned title after title -
Those doughty Golden Era heroines kept re-
Critics of the genre carped about middle-
Here’s the paradox. The number of horses in the UK hasn’t dipped, but grown steadily, and pony mania shows no sign of slackening off: at the Olympia Horse Show last Christmas, I saw young girls cheering on the stars in the ring.
I doubt they are all illiterate, nor uninterested in horsey prose. But aside from Peyton’s Blind Beauty (1999), whose heroine does time in a juvenile detention centre, there’s nothing horsey for them to read that reflects the time they are growing up in.
As Meg Rosoff pointed out recently, teenagers “listen to music about suicide and psycho killers” and live in a paranoid world of war and global warming, yet pony-
”Pony books never really go away,” says Price’s editor at Random House, Charlie Shepherd.
“They’re a genre like boarding-
Fingers crossed, though I hope it’s not true that today’s teenagers will only read a book with a celebrity’s name gummed to the cover. Let’s take the chief buyer at Waterstone’s to the Horse of the Year show and show her the hordes who will be happy to have some ponies mixed in with their environmental apocalypse, serial killers and intravenous drug use.
If publishers are prepared to take a gamble and let pony books escape from the “posh gel” stereotype and the ghetto of timelessness, we might see some true contemporary classics.