Vian Smith did not write conventional pony stories: his books aren’t cosy, but they
are very well worth the effort. His Come Down the Mountain is a taut picture of
teenage stubbornness in the face of convention, as Brenda defies the village to rescue
a horse. Gillian Taylor described them as “more of a human drama than the pony adventure
or wish fulfilment.”
Vian Smith was born in Totnes in 1919, and spent much of his holidays with his grandparents
at their farm in Holne. Dartmoor was a presence in many of his books. After he
left school, he worked as an office boy, and an apprentice before becoming a sapper
during the war. During all this time he wrote, and his first published book in 1946,
Song of the Unsung, was based on his war experiences. After the war he worked as
a journalist on the South Devon journal, as well as writing. He died in 1969.
Finding the books: Come Down the Mountain, Parade of Horses, Martin Rides the Moor
and The Lord Mayor’s Show are all very easy to find. King Sam is hard to find, but
easy in its paperback version, Tall and Proud. Minstrel Boy, Moon in the River,
The Horses of Petrock and Green Heart are reasonably easy to find, but more expensive.
Question Mark/Pride of the Moor tends to be difficult to find.
Many thanks to Annette York, Susan Bourgeau, Alison MacCallum and Danyele Foster
for the photos
Photo right: Vian Smith and Seychelles aka "King Sam" from back of hardcover of Tall
The Horses of Petrock (USA: A Second Chance)
Constable Young Books, 1965, cover Elisabeth Grant
Doubleday, New York, 1966
Johnnie runs with a gang who plan a vicious assault on a horse. He rebels against
the gang and tries to save the horse. He does, and ends up being taken on by the
horse’s trainer. Against all the odds, he manages to prove himself.
Martin Rides the Moor
Constable Young Books, London, 1964
Doubleday, New York, 1965, cover art and illustrations by Ray Houlihan, second left
Carousel, pb, 1974, 1981
Martin has been deaf since an accident, and his parents buy him a Dartmoor pony to
try and help him adjust to his new, silent world. At first he wants nothing to do
with the pony at all, until it snows, and he fights through the snowy night to get
the pony to shelter. From that point on, Martin and Tuppence’s relationship develops.
Disaster comes when Tuppence escapes back to the moors one day, but the wild mares
from her old herd turn on her, and she is so badly hurt it looks as if she will die.
Martin nurses her for months, and at first it looks as though she has recovered
a little, but then she unexpectedly turns vicious: the explanation for this is a
surprise for the whole family.
Question Mark (USA: Pride of the Moor) Constable Young Books, 1961
Doubleday, New York, 1962, cover art Reisie Lonette
Mark finds an abandoned racehorse on the moor, and eventually manages to persuade
his poor farming family to let him keep it. The mare is in foal, and the colt she
produces is special. Mark grows up with the foal, who becomes a steeplechaser. His
training gradually brings the community together, until the colt, Question Mark, enters
the Grand National. Be warned: the book does not have an altogether happy ending.
Doubleday & Company, New York, 1964, cover art by John Robinson
Sara Westmacott is left an orphan, bringing up her two young brothers. She takes
on a broken down race horse from a local farmer, and is helped by her old friend
and neighbour, Andrew. Not everyone Is prepared to help Sara, and she faces ugly hostility
from those who “know best”. She is not the only person shunned by the community, but
her struggle with the horse brings some disparate people together.
The UK first edition of this book has cover art in the same format as the original
UK King Sam. Both were part of Constable Young's "Out and About" series,
and had multiple black and white pictures on a grid pattern with coloured background.
Peter Davies 1970
Doubleday & Company, New York, 1970, cover art by Karl Swanson
Based on a true story, this is the story of Minstrel Boy, a horse owned by a spoiled
and indulged son who dies at the end of the First World War. His mother is determined
the colt will run in her son’s name and win the Grand National. Minstrel Boy is
sent away to be trained, but without his beloved club footed Toby, who tended him
while he was forgotten in a field, Minstrel Boy is a sullen non-trier, even with
Archie Hannigan, one of the best trainers in the business, and his jockey son Sam.
Once Minstrel Boy returns home, he becomes a different horse, and the National looks
a possibility at last.
The Lord Mayor’s Show
Constable Young Books, 1968 (leftT)
Doubleday, 1969, cover art Sam Savitt (right)
Kestrel Books, 1980 (far right)
Danny Duncan, racing trainer, is badly injured by a horse, The Lord Mayor. Youngest
son, Andrew, loves the horse. Disaster, never far away from the stables, looks as
if it will overwhelm the family this time, but Graham, the eldest son,leaves his publishing
career and comes back to help, and in the end The Lord Mayor’s talent, stubbornly
kept under wraps by the horse, is allowed to flourish.
Come Down the Mountain Constable Young Books, 1967
Doubleday, 1967, New York, cover art by William Shields Carousel Books, 1973, pb
Brenda is an awkward teenage girl, mocked for her weight. She spends every journey
to school looking out for a racehorse, deserted in a field now his owner has died.
Winter comes, and the horse’s condition deteriorates, but no one in the village
will do anything about the horse in case they offend the family who own it, and who
used to own the village. Brenda at last snaps, and takes matters into her own hands.
King Sam (USA: Tall and Proud)
Constable Young Books, 1966, illus Peter Forster
Doubleday & Company, New York, 1966, illus Don Stivers
Archway Paperbacks, New York, 1970, illus Don Stivers
with revised cover art by him
Gail Fleming catches polio, and is left unable to walk.
The Grand National
Stanley Paul, 1969
“Mr. Smith thought it was time for a precise record that would recapture each race
in detail and that would be arranged clearly for quick reference. This book is the
product of his thoughts. In it he includes information about the growth and development
of the race ( covering the period from 1837 to the present) and the specifics of
each race- the date, the number of runners ( four to 47) winners and time. But The
Grand National is more than a catalogue of who won what, when, and where. In addition,
it is a fascinating story that gives an insight into the lives of the English and
a charming glimpse at part of their heritage. It is told in terms of people and horses.
All of them- the Lamb, the Colonel, Miss Mowbray, the two Peter Simples, the doped
Zoedone, the Great Manifest- emerge as individuals linking the 19th century with the
Other Hungry Waters, 1947
Song of the Unsung, 1949 Candles to the Dawn, 1948
Stars in the Morning, 1950
So Many Worlds, 1950
The Hand of the Wind, 1948
Holiday for Laughter, 1949
Press Gang, 1961
Genesis Down, 1962
The First Thunder, 1966
The Wind Blows Free, 1968
Moon in the River
Longmans Young Books, 1969, London, 141 pp. Illus Anthony Colbert
Kurt, Onah and their father survive the massacre of their village on Stone Age Dartmoor.
They escape, and try and start life again. Kurt is fascinated by the horses, thinking
that they can mean far more to the family than just a source of food; Onah finds
a wolf, unlike other wolves. This one seems to want human company. This is an intriguing
story of how domestication might have happened.
Point to Point
Stanley Paul, 1968
Vian Smith, who trained point to point horses himself, gives a picture of the background
of point to point, togehter with how to do it. The book is described as “a comprehensive
picture of a traditional sport, told in a way as personal as it is informative.”
Parade of Horses (USA: Horses in the Green Valley) Longmans, 1970
Doubleday, New York, 1962
A Horse Called Freddie Stanley Paul, 1967
Non fiction, this is the story of the horse Freddie - “Ireland’s gift to Scotland.”
He won the hearts of millions in his thirty races - not because of his successes,
but because of “a courage which could turn defeat to triumph.”