The Woman who Reads Pony Books for a Living

(and boy, am I jealous)

I’d never thought of horse and pony books as a recognised fiction genre, but yes, they are indeed.  Am I the only person to whom this is a surprise?

When I volunteered to review Dream of Fair Horses, the name Jane Badger trotted lightly past me in a couple of emails – Dream of Fair Horses, in its electronic incarnation, seemed to be coming from a company called Jane Badger Books.  Who or what was Jane Badger Books, I wondered (as well as, What a cool name!)  What did this person have to do with re-issuing Patricia Leitch’s old favourites?  Was she a relative of Leitch?  I ruled out this idea straight away, as her website also mentioned a re-issue of Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s books in the near future.  But what was her background?  How did she get into this niche market?  Her website and her blog are devoid of personal information, making me even more curious about her. Knowing that at least ONE reader will be interested in her story (hi meidhbhe!), I asked her PR agent if I could interview her.  A date and time were set, a WhatsApp call was made…

Jane Badger, Champion of the Pony Book

It turns out, Jane Badger is probably the world’s foremost authority in the world of classic pony books.  Titles, authors, character names and horse names rolled easily off her tongue during the course of our conversation, sparking many vivid memories in my mind.  If she was on Mastermind, her specialist subject would no doubt be “The works of the Pullein-Thompson sisters.” But how did she get to where she is today?

Like me, and like a great many of my followers, Jane was a horse-mad, horse-less child. We read the same books and magazines; we played with the same plastic horses; and we lusted after the same Julep models that were priced way way out of our league.  Jane never did get that horse she dreamed of, but she has made herself a cornerstone of the horse world, through her extensive knowledge of equestrian literature, and through her ambition to bring some of her old favourites back into the public domain.

It started off unintentionally.  While on a family holiday, Jane spotted a hardback version of a book she’d read as a child in a second hand shop.  She didn’t buy it, but regretted her decision almost immediately and returned to the shop.  Alas, it was gone, but she saw another old favourite and snapped it up. That was to be the first of many! She soon built up quite a collection, but then realised that there is actually a big demand for these old, out of print horsey books – especially the first editions.  She started buying and selling on e-bay and quickly became one of the biggest dealers in the genre.  But if you look at her website, you will see that Jane is also the driving force behind re-issuing many of these out-of-print favourites as e-books.  How did this come about?

With a somewhat sheepish smile, Jane told me that she got the idea of buying an out of print book that had been a favourite of her late father as a gift for her godfather.  Unfortunately, her godfather’s eyesight was no longer what it had been and the typeface in the book was very small.  She had the brainwave of scanning the book into a PDF file, thinking that the PDF file could be read on a Kindle with a large font size.  Then she had a eureka moment – she could import the PDF into Word, and then export it as a Kindle file. Et voilà – her godfather could read his book! But, more importantly, this was an easy way of re-publishing some old favourites!  Sure, proof-reading is essential, but the system is quick and painless.  She started contacting some of her favourite authors (or their estates) and now has permission to re-release a number of books, and has plenty of others in the pipeline.

Who is buying these books? It probably is predominantly old dears like ourselves, for whom these books are a transport back to a more innocent time, where you could spend the afternoon sprawled across your bed with your nose in a book, and not feel guilty about all those things you should be doing instead of reading.  However, Jane feels that there is a steady demand from younger readers as well, for whom these books can be a form of fantasy fiction.  After all, if children are reading about training dragons and slaying vampires, why shouldn’t they enjoy reading about an idyllic summer spent with ponies in a world that existed fifty years ago?

We discussed the complete lack of boy-girl relationships that’s apparent in all British classic pony books.  I have a clear memory of all relationships being more or less equal and asexual in the books I read.  This is in stark contrast to the later Saddle Club books, where the protagonists could become boyfriends and girlfriends, and indeed compared to the modern-day Defining Gravity series which I have just read (gonna talk about that in a later post!). Was this to do with society at the time?  Probably, but it was a decision that was made by the publishers. In Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s series about Noel and Henry, in the last book of the series, there’s a hint that Noel and Henry kiss (Noel is a girl, by the way. I think a homosexual relationship would most definitely have been a bridge too far in the 80s!).  Well, it turns out that her publishers, Collins, didn’t want any more of the series after that.  You can see their argument – it was a series about children, and now they’re young adults? How did that happen? The Famous Five never had to grow up! But thousands of readers have been left hanging, wondering what happened with these much-loved characters.  Wonder no more – Jane met Josephine, and tells us what she had planned :

Their fate was never committed to print, but Josephine envisaged Henry going off with a dressage rider, but coming back to Noel (who presumably did not judge him too harshly for his defection.)

As well as no romance, there is little evidence of the signs of stress we see in teenagers today.  Eating disorders are not discussed, although the skinny girl who eats an apple a day could be a typical background character.  The only form of self-harm I remember is a quote along the lines of “I like hunting because it’s nice when I stop!” – so yeah, self-harm was unknown back then, or certainly unacknowledged.  There’s no drinking or smoking mentioned in pony books, either, although I’m pretty sure my home town wasn’t the only place where teenagers stole from their parents’ drink cabinets!  No mention of drugs seems fair enough; in the 60s and 70s the only drugs I knew about were alcohol and tobacco…

Other issues which are relevant to all teenagers do come up, though. The bullying, pushy parent; the spoiled, selfish child; the person who has it all, yet is jealous of anyone else’s success.  How hard work will not always win you the prizes you dream of; how to face and accept the loss of loved ones.  So, they are certainly not to be dismissed as pulp fiction for kids!  And I shall no longer feel guilty about still reading pony books into my adult years!

What can we look forward to to fill up our Kindles?

Check out Jane’s website to see! Jane Badger Books

And explore Jane’s old blog for lots of interesting articles about this genre that we love so much! booksandmud.blogspot.com

Best of all, not only is Jane an expert on the world of equestrian literature, she’s also published a book on the subject, which is about to be reissued in Kindle format! It’ll be available from June 20th, and you can read all about it here.

I’m off to pre-order mine…

PS. Some of the random titles that came up during the course of our conversation :

Tan and Tarmac although I was actually thinking about Jump to the Stars (Bobby and Guy, remember?), by Gillian Baxter

No Mistaking Corker, Monica Edwards. And as a consequence, I remembered Cargo of Horses by the same author afterwards.  What an adventure story!

The Jill Books, Ruby Ferguson. Sadly, these will most likely not be issued as e-books.  Jane has not yet managed to track down who owns the rights to this much-loved series.

The Showring Series, Caroline Akril. I’d never heard of these, but they’re already there on Amazon, waiting for me! How did I miss these?

The Silver Brumby, Elyne Mitchell.  I was Thowra for so many years…

Flambards, KM Peyton.  Thanks to Samantha Hobden of Haynet, I finally got to watch all of the TV series a couple of years ago!

Do any of these ring a bell with you? Join me for a hack down memory lane if you can!

14 thoughts on “The Woman who Reads Pony Books for a Living

  1. It was lovely to see my name and those of ‘Bobby and Guy’ of ‘Jump to the Stars’ mentioned. I am now 81 but I recently began to wonder myself what happened to Bobby and Guy. The result was two more books about them and Bracken Stables recently published on Amazon, ‘Love and horses at Bracken’ and ‘Horses and Challenges at Bracken’, and I hope their story will carry on. Gillian Baxter.

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    • Thank you so much for commenting!! Jump to the Stars was, for me, the point where pony books began to grow up. I can see the cover so clearly in my mind, the green background and Shelta crashing to the ground… I managed to borrow A Difficult Summer from a friend, but I only read it once. And of course I would dearly love to find out what happened later…
      My Kindle is going to be full to bursting! Thanks again for your comment – never did I dream that the author of one of my favourites would one day comment on something I’d written!

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  2. Lovely to read your interview here with Jane Badger.
    I have been following her for about 15 years i think.
    I found her blog when looking for all those pony books i loved as a ponyless child to buy for my pony mad daughter.
    I bought a few and went and picked them up from her house in Northamptonshire; unfortunately she wasnt there, she’d gone to Olympia ( of course she had!) but her husband was lovely, and her house how i had imagined, with piles of pony books all up the stairs!
    At the time i was trying to get the whole series by Monica Edwards that included Fire in the Punchbowl, do you remember those? But i couldnt, and then my daughter didnt want to read them anymore because it meant there were big gaps in the story !!!! I understood.
    Anyway, lovely to find someone else interested in old pony books, horses and travelling! You have a new follower!
    Lee

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    • I couldn’t get hold of all of the Punchbowl books as a child, I may have read one or two but can’t be sure.
      My girls were not into pony books in the same was that I was. Perhaps it was because they had the real thing outside? They were into Goosebumps and various vampire series and the older one got into Stephen King quite early, about 13 I think. There were a lot of really good kids books around for them though, think of Harry Potter (obvs), Philip Pullman’s first Lyra series, The Book Thief (which my youngest still counts as one of the best books she’s ever read).
      Whereas in the 60s there was that Children’s Classics series with the yellow and red binding, Chalet School… no wonder I lost myself in Pony books!

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  3. The books you mention were and are unknown to me. Never heard of any of them. Never heard of the Cammie series. Which is a shame, because, honestly, I think the Brits were better writers. Now I don’t want to be flamed by my fellow Yanks..we Americans didn’t seem to write books about girls and horses. The Black Stallion series was all Alex and The Black. “MY friend Flicka”, “How Green was my valley”, and “Thunderhead” were all a little too…anxiety ridden, at least for me. Too many librarians thought that a child’s horse book meant “Black Beauty’ was the only choice, and damn it, it’s not a book for children! TOO heartrending!
    The WORST book for a child…and I say this from experience, was Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony”. An aunt of mine who knew I loved horses and books gave it to me, thinking she was doing me a favor, and and I’m still traumatized by it. But then, Steinbeck was so depressing, in ALL his books, and I had to read most of them when I was in High School.

    The American horse/pony book genre was so cowboy oriented. Growing up like Jane..and you…a horse mad, horse less girl growing up in Detroit, the only horses I saw were on TV and the only horse books were those of Margurite Henry (who, admittedly, wasn’t a Western genre writer) and Will James (Who wrote a whole SLEW of books about horses, to include “Smoky” “Scorpion”, etc. but again, are all Western /cowboy oriented. I have several of Jame’s books. )
    The one book I read that was American written but was set in England…and thus was about horse sports NOT involving roping cows or chasing mustangs was “The Horsemasters” by Don Stanford. I still have…and love…an original hard cover copy of that book and intend to take it with me to my cremation. Gotta have something to read no matter where I end up!
    THe thing that the Brits got right was two fold: One, a kid didn’t need the interpersonal, boy-girl sexually undertoned, social stuff in her books. She..or at least this reader..wanted horses. I didn’t need kids, I had them all around me. I wanted horses. It was hard enough growing up poor and horseless, dealing with incipient hormones and incredible self consciousness as it was.
    And two,the Brits made the HORSE the central character. They had character. Just like real horses.

    And there’s no shame to picking up (should I say snatching with glee?) a suddenly found copy of a book you loved as a kid. Heck, I just found and bought a reprint of “King of the Wind” by Henry. The first time I read it, with Dennis’s LOVELY illustrations, it inspired a love of Arabian horses..the old fashioned kind, not the spindly neurotic show horses of today, that I still have to this day. And…………now older and understand the world much better, reading it at 65 made a lot more sense then i read it at 10. Growing up Catholic in Detroit, I had never heard of Ramadan and had no idea why no one could eat until sundown; or what a sultan was, or why the French King didn’t want the lovely Sham.

    As a last note, there is a website called”Project Gutenberg” (gutenberg.org) where volunteers scan books into the website, the website runs a character recognition program (I have no idea how they do that) and then anyone can download it for free.
    So………check out Project Gutenberg. You may just find that old loved treasure there and download it!

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  4. Loved the Joanna Cannan books! I have 2: A PONY FOR JEAN and ANOTHER PONY FOR JEAN. I always thought she was such a lucky girl since I had no ponies. The books were my mother’s, even though she was NOT horse crazy, and I remember her reading them to me at night. What great books for bedtime stories for a horse crazy girl with no hope of getting a horse until she grew into an adult.

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    • I thought I had read Joanna’s Special Pony when I saw your comment, but having looked it up, I’m not so sure. I think I’d have to re-read to be certain. How nice that your mother used to read them to you. My parents must have read to me, as we were a very bookish family, but I have no memory of it. We were all reading independently before school age… I remember reading Ladybird books (not sure you had them in the US) with my brother – The Little Red Hen!

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  5. I really loved the Cammie series by Jane McIlvane, illustrated by Wesley Dennis. (Cammie’s Choice, Cammie’s Challenge…) Thank you for jogging my memory about the hours I whiled away reading and dreaming as a horse crazy girl. ❤️

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    • So these were American pony books? I’ve never heard of them. Wesley Dennis of course I know from the Misty books – what an artist he was, I have an old copy of Sea Star Orphan of Chincoteague with colour illustrations, they are just wonderful.

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  6. Were these primarily British books? I’ve never heard of any of them. I took two kiddie-lit courses in college, both undergrad and grad school, and both of my term papers concerned horse books. I can’t find the good one.
    BTW, not everyone had, or can afford, a Kindle.

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    • Yup, primarily British, although the Silver Brumby series was Australian. It would be interesting to see one of your term papers…
      so, besides Misty and Flicka, what did you have in the way of horse fiction in the US during the 60s and 70s? I also have a very old, very battered copy of Smoky. And a 2nd hand copy of Thunderhead just arrived in the post today, woohoo!
      Re Kindles, not sure how you get online, but you can download a free kindle app for computers, smartphones, tablets. That said, I would hate to try to read a book on my phone. I’d be goggle-eyed.

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    • BY the way, just adding this – try to get hold of a copy of the Silver Brumby if you can. I bought a 3 in 1 edition for my kids in the 90s so it should be easy enough to get hold of. They are beautifully written tales of freedom and love.

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  7. I’ve followed Jane Badger’s blog for years so it’s nice to find out a bit more about her. The Josephine Pullein Thompson Noel and Henry series were my favourite. It wasn’t until I started reading about pony book authors on her website that I realised I’d missed out on so many pony books! I think her new publishing venture is great and I feel far less guilty spending a small amount on a Kindle book rather than a lot of money on a vintage copy on eBay.

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    • I was so delighted to find her blog, even if she’s not keeping it up to date!
      I am pretty sure I missed out on Noel & Henry, so I’m looking forward to them coming out on Kindle.

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