Biography

Tuke, Diana

Diana Tuke has written several equine care books, such as Bit by Bit, and A Guide to Feeding your Horse. She wrote this one pony book, A Long Road to Harringay, which was based on a true story of a girl overcoming adversity 'to show what obstacles patience and determination can overcome.' It has a lovely cover by Anne Bullen, and a frontis but no internal illustrations. Set in the West Country, A Long Road to Harringay is about Rosemary Bridges and her mare Golden Charm, who is half Arabian. The actual process of getting Charm is quite long winded, as her breeders change their minds about whether or not they want to sell her, but at last Rosemary gets her mare. She is carefully trained and introduced to showing, where she does well, until she has a brutal encounter on a narrow lane with a horribly unfeeling driver in a large black car. After that, the book is quite grim reading, with Charm’s health deteriorating slowly, amidst much blistering to sort her legs and shoulder out. As I read the book, I was amazed that a pony as badly injured as Charm appears to be was ridden. It was on veterinary advice, but I wonder if that advice would be the same today. Diana Tuke’s mission writing this book was to 'encourage others involved in a similar accident to have the courage and faith to fight for their animal’s life, however great the odds may seem against them ... If the vet says there is no hope for an animal, then it must be put down humanely, but so often a good animal is destroyed because the owner lacks the confidence or, I suggest, the ‘guts’ to nurse it back to health.' Well, I wonder.

As I read the book, I must admit there were times when if Charm had been mine I would have had her put down, particularly as there is no suggestion of any pain relief for the poor mare, and suffer she undoubtedly did. Rosemary’s dedication cannot be denied though, and the mare does recover. Interestingly, this she finally does at the home of a show pony breeder where she has gone to be bred, so perhaps her recovery had other interventions we and the writer did not know about.

Rosemary herself suffered: the numerous dislocations she suffered in the accident were missed, and she had to undergo a very lengthy operation before she recovered.

The book is not the most gripping of reads: given its heart-rending subject matter, it should be more involving than it actually is. It’s not a gem of the pony book genre, but is interesting for its depiction of veterinary care, whether or not you agree with what Charm went through.

Diana Tuke was a student at the Porlock Vale Riding School, inspiration for Don Stanford’s Horsemasters (and Rosemary in Long Road does go to Porlock, albeit only for 3 weeks). She was part of the first class to pass the Horsemasters with 100%, after the instructor, Jimmy Woods, realised that the examiner, Brigadier Friedberger, wanted all his examinees to be able to gallop full tilt up the field and stop dead. She said:

‘My first experience of Porlock was the all day Pony Club (West Country Branches) visit to see the 1952 Olympic Horse Trials team in training. After Savoyard’s accident we were sent to the Village while things were sorted out. We all found it a bit shattering and little was I to know that in two and a half years time I would return to jump the fences we had just seen. In October 1954 Porlock Vale Riding School agreed to take me for the last three weeks of the 15-week Horsemastership course.

November 28th–20th December 1954 were three of the happiest weeks of my life. I loved being at Porlock although it was very hard catching up on the lost 12 weeks [Diana had done the previous 12 elsewhere]. I was given extra lessons to help ... The exam was not easy ... We rode in the school to start with and then went out onto the jumping course, which we had only jumped once before. Having jumped a big drop fence over a ditch we had to gallop flat out until told to stop then trot three strides and canter over the last fence. I was determined to stop and did so but the cob I was riding threw his head up and hit me hard in the face, almost knocking me out. Fortunately this threw me to the back of the saddle just in time to be sprung forward to meet the last fence just right.'

Finding the book
Scarce, and can be pricey.

Links and sources
You can read the full text of the3 Porlock Vale excerpt here, as part of Jacqueline Peck’s history of Porlock Vale.

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