Alyssa Brugman grew up reading pony books set in England or America: with plenty
of pony content, but things alien to Australia like hunting and ranches. When she
grew up, she was determined to write pony books which Australian readers would recognise,
and this was the start of the Shelby series.
She has written other, non-horsey, books for teenagers, and these have been picked
up by Faber in the UK. Alas, the pony books haven’t yet, but they are all in print,
though buying them from the Australian sites like Fishpond and Booktopia means you
will be stung upwards of £10 for shipping. Australian ebay seems the best bet so
far as far as getting one for a reasonable cost goes.
Alyssa has her own website, but has kindly written something for this site on her
Lots of Australian books are set in the bush. My books have Australian kids living
in the outskirts of Sydney, so that might be something
a bit different for your readers.
With my series I had a number of aims – one was to write an adventure story featuring
Australian girls riding the types of horses that are typical here. I wanted to include
a number of disciplines and have the girls riding through landscapes, both natural
and built that should be familiar to most Australian horsey readers.
I wanted to accurately describe equine management in an Australian climate, with
a particular emphasis on barefoot hoof care and natural horsemanship techniques,
while at the same time factoring in the limitations of an urban environment. It’s
all well and good to apply natural horsemanship principles if you have 1000 acres
and unlimited time, but what if you live in Sydney, and you have half an hour before
When faced with a horse care issue, which she does in each book, Shelby seeks a number
of opinions from the adults in her life. They always provide varying, and sometimes
contradictory answers. Shelby’s job is to take aspects of those answers and apply
them to her own situation, which is a valuable skill in life, not only in animal
An undercurrent of each of the books is the differing financial situations of the
families of the girls. Anyone involved in horses cannot help being aware of the influence
money has over one’s capacity to succeed in competition. It’s a reality, and something
that I wanted to explore without necessarily smacking readers around the head with
It has also been my aim to make the adults real, with faults, flaws and vulnerabilities,
including the whole ‘soccer mum’ phenomenon, which is even more intense in equestrian
competition because the financial value of the animal (which can run into thousands
and tens of thousands) is determinant on the child’s ability.
The other realistic element that I have been at pains to include is school. Once
you factor in the school week, suddenly you have homework, you have classes to write
about, teachers, and incidents in the playground. It’s so much easier to set an adventure
novel in holiday time, but the reality is that kids have to go to school most of
the time, and so Shelby does too.
I do have an agenda with these books. Shoeing of horses is still widespread in this
country. Most children would not be familiar with barefoot principles, and so I am
introducing them in these stories.
The overwhelming response I get from readers (and most of the girls who write to
me own ponies) is that the girls in these stories are ‘just like us’. That’s very
So what are the books like?
The books come very highly recommended by the Australian members on the Forum. Stardust
To me, Alyssa's books capture the true essence of the love and bond shared between
a girl and her pony. This dedication is beautifully blended into plots that feature
true to life situations which we all at times encounter in the 'Horsey World'. Alyssa
has a light and entertaining style but is also adept at portraying humour, suspense,
compassion and intrigue.
The human characters are those you feel you may have met
before, or may already do so. You may even recognise parts of your own self in the
books somewhere! The horsey characters are a delight, you can feel yourself developing
a connection with them too.
Much as I adore our British counterparts, it was so refreshing
to read pony fiction from a great Aussie author who obviously knows horses, people
and how to concoct the two to ensure a fabulous read for the young, and young at
Bibliography: pony books only
For Sale or Swap Random House Australia, 2004
Shelby, the heroine, is convinced she will improve her riding with a different pony,
so swaps her own Blue for Maxshine Celtic Copper. The swap is a disaster: Copper,
it turns out, is stolen and after returning her Shelby has no pony. There is no trace
of Blue. How Shelby reacts to her setbacks make this a really involving read.
Beginner’s Luck Random House Australia, 2005
Shelby has to find somewhere else to keep Blue, fast, and enters the Matchstick Town
Challenge to try and win money to keep Blue.
Hot Potato Random House Australia, 2006, reprinted 2007
Shelby and her friends buy a pony going cheap at an auction, convinced they can sell
the pony on for more than they paid. However, none of the girls are actually allowed
to have a new horse, so each tell their parents the pony belongs to one of the others:
and nothing else goes quite to plan, either...
Hide & Seek Random House Australia, 2007
Shelby and her mum look for Diablo, a prize stallion gone missing from the stables.
After a trick-riding troupe come to town, Shelby starts to learn some of their tricks,
and it looks as if Blue is a perfect trick-riding pony.
Greener Pastures Random House Australia, 2008
Shelby has outgrown Blue, and that is not the only change happening in her life.