Book name: Six Ponies
Author: Josephine Pullein-Thompson
Format: ebook, print
Genre: Pony books, vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1946
Star Rating: 5/5
Josephine Pullein-Thompson was one of three sisters whose prolific writing dominated the post-war pony-book scene.
Six Ponies is the first book in what is now known as the ‘Noel and Henry’ series. It centres around the importance of the pony club in teaching its young members how to maintain good technique in their riding and excellence in the care of their ponies.
When Six Ponies opens, the members of Major Holbrooke’s branch could not be farther from attaining this lofty ideal. In fact, they are all absolutely hopeless.
Noel is probably the worst but she’s likeable and keen to learn. She goes on to make the greatest strides despite not having a pony of her own. If the others are slightly better it is more by luck than judgement.
Susan is pretty lazy and having a groom to look after her pony reinforces that. The many Radcliffes (including sisters Evelyn and Hilary) are haphazard in their care but bold and capable riders.
John Manners, a farmer’s son, is keen to do right by his pony but isn’t always very patient. June frustrates them all with her show pony and excellent record at local and national shows. Richard is too interested in other things to take his riding seriously.
This status quo would probably persist were it not for the arrival of six ponies at Major Holbrooke’s stables. He offers them to the local pony club members to break and school.
Everyone is wild with enthusiasm, and the six ponies are assigned to their young riders. This eagerness doesn’t survive obstacles such as being busy with other hobbies or having to return to school during term time.
Each rider faces their own challenges.
John lets himself down badly due to his lack of patience with Jet, though he does improve later. Evelyn rides Romany in a far too excitable manner and has her pony taken away and reassigned to Noel.
Richard barely has Red Rufus broken, let alone schooled, by the time of the final assessment. June way overdoes the training for her pony, and Grey Dawn also requires re-schooling at the end.
Six Ponies is a salutary lesson for riders of any age, but it is also full of fun in the best tradition of pony books. Margaret becomes completely lost in the fog during a New Year paper chase. Margaret and James get in trouble again for teaching Rocket and Romany circus tricks. James fractures his arm trying to jump Romany over a fence before she’s remotely ready to jump that high.
And that’s just the Radcliffes!
Six Ponies has been one of my favourite pony books since childhood. Every fan of pony books longs to have a pony if they don’t own one themselves, which I never did.
The mixed show made of it by the young riders helped me to understand at that age how technical riding and caring for a pony is, and just how much hard work is involved.
Six Ponies was originally published in 1946, and in my 1979 edition the post-war feel is quite evident. Almost every man mentioned has a military title, having just returned from the war.
However, everyone is looking forward from the conflict behind them and the focus via investing in young ponies and riders is on a future we should feel optimistic about.
In some ways the assertion of a return to prewar normality was a much-needed reassurance to both children and adults that life could now focus on enjoyments such as riding and rural life. This must have been very welcome when Six Ponies was published so soon after the fighting ended.
Of course, the war changed everything. This 1946 portrait of a countryside still dominated by hunting, the aristocracy and the military men who returned could never last. Nor should it have done so. Part of what people fought for was a more just, equitable and fair society, after all.
I would highly recommend Six Ponies by Josephine Pullein-Thompson for a reader interested in a very traditional pony story from an earlier time.
Six Ponies also kicked off a series of five books about the Barsetshire Pony Club, including the spin off Radney Riding Club where Noel visits Major Holbrooke’s nephew.
Thank you for reading my review of Six Ponies by Josephine Pullein-Thompson.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of Jacqueline Rides for a Fall by Pat Smythe.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of A Pony of Your Own by Mary Gervaise.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr.