What happens when a horsemad Ould Wagon moves from Cork to Provence with 2 horses, 2 dogs and a Long Suffering Husband? Why, she gets a third dog, discovers Natural Horsemanship à la Française, starts writing short stories and then discovers a long-buried talent for art, of course…
After reading Dream of Fair Horses, talking to Jane Badger and discovering that Pony Books are a recognised genre, I decided to shake off the shackles of shame that still hovered over my hands every time I browsed through a shelf of pony books.
I know where it’s coming from. I vividly remember an incident in my teen years when a friend remarked “You’re not still reading THOSE are you?”, her nose wrinkling disgustedly as she said the word ‘those”, when she saw me with a pony book. It was probably a Jill book, I loved those. Or maybe A Day to go Hunting which was the last pony book that I bought for many, many years. Whichever book it was, her words cut me to the quick, causing me to feel guilty any time I picked one of my old friends off the bookshelf for a comfy read, and leading to me passing most of my books on to a neighbour’s pony-mad daughters before I left home for university.
Why does learning that these books are a recognised genre make a difference to me? I think it’s the realisation that other adults read them too. After all, many of us (mostly) respectable adults read the Harry Potter books at the same time as our teenage children, and they were most definitely teen/fantasy fiction. Adult science fiction/fantasy can be pretty unrealistic too… never mind comic books, or whatever the politically correct name for them is… but as recognised genres, their readers are considered peculiar or nerdy at worst. They’re certainly not sneered at by their contemporaries!
Thanks to the wonder that is Kindle, I’d found a few example of equine fiction in an adult setting. Laura Crum‘s Gail McCarthy mystery series, for example. Gail is an equine vet who, rather like Jessica Fletcher from Murder she Wrote, keeps finding herself embroiled in one mystery after another. They’re good books, Laura’s equine knowledge is spot on, even if the horses do remain as a background to the story, but you’ve got to suspend disbelief in order to accept that one woman can get herself into so many scrapes, and all while working full-time as a vet! But, despite that, I’d highly recommend these books, I enjoyed them very much.
My rating – 4/5
In the spring of this year, I found a new series on Amazon, the Defining Gravity series, by Genevieve McKay.
I bought the first one because it had good reviews, but I hadn’t realised it was full-on teen horse fiction. Still, it was well-written, current and touched on some pretty serious issues. Astrid is fifteen, overweight, and bullied and cowed by her domineering father. She’s completely unhorsey but has an astounding talent for archery. A rare moment of teenage high spirits on her part unfolds a chain of events which lead to her working in a local dressage barn. The horsiness begins there…
I actually devoured these books, buying the last one as soon as it was released. They follow Astrid for a couple of years as she grows up and navigates her way to adulthood. Once again, the horsey side of things is 100% solid and, to my mind, provides a good glimpse into the young dressage rider’s world. Perhaps the storyline in the last book, Riding Above Air, is a little weaker, but it’s still very readable.
My rating for the series as a whole – 5/5
It was after reading Defining Gravity that I spoke with Jane Badger and realised that I’m not alone in my choice of reading material. There are lots of us out there! And, thanks to Jane, there are more and more of our old favourites being republished!
So, this summer, I’ve read :
My Friend Flicka and Thunderhead, and I’m about a quarter way through The Green Grass of Wyoming. I bought these second hand on Amazon, they’re cheap and easy to come by. In my opinion, Flicka was the best of this series. I remembered not enjoying Thunderhead so much as a child. It turns out I wasn’t wrong, I still find that it drags.
My rating – Flicka 5/5, Thunderhead 3/5.
Jane Badger’s Jill fan-fiction novel, Jill and the Lost Ponies. If you liked the Jill books, you will love it. She absolutely captures the essence of Ruby Ferguson’s heroine. And it finishes the Jill story so much better than Pony Jobs for Jill ever did! Available on Kindle only.
My rating – 5/5
The rest of the books mentioned below were all bought for my Kindle, and were re-published for Kindle by Jane Badger Books. You can download these from Amazon.com, if you type in the author’s name or the book title, you should find them easily.
Caroline Akrill’s Showring series. I have to be honest here and say Nah, these books didn’t do it for me. I think a lot of my problem was the ‘posh’ English being used throughout. Or perhaps the fact that I’m a little bit biased against the whole idea of showing.
My rating – 3/5
The Horse from the Black Loch by Patricia Leitch. This is a strange story where the supernatural meets the real world with no attempt at explanation – we must simply accept that there are mysteries in this world that will never be understood. It’s a good read, it gallops along as a well-paced children’s adventure story rather than a full-on pony book.
My rating – 4/5 with the caveat that it’s more adventure than horsiness!
Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s Noel and Henry books; Six Ponies, Pony Club Team and The Radney Riding Club. This series follow the lives of a memorable cast of teenage characters over the course of a couple of summers. Good fun, realistic characters and genuine horsiness throughout.
My rating – 5/5
I’m also half-way through Jane’s book, Heroines on Horseback, which is an in-depth study of the pony book as a genre, starting at the very beginning with Black Beauty and working up to the 1970s. It’s an academic read and not something I want to devour in one sitting. What I find is that most chapters evoke memories which have long been buried in my mind. It’s great as a trip down Nostalgia Lane, and it reaffirms my new-found determination to be unashamed by my choice of reading material. Ever again.
One final remark – there is a little part of me that is wondering if reading these old favourites is helping me to compensate for the fact that I’m no longer riding. I no longer pony-mad and pony-less, but there are times I long to be able to stomp through the woods with Flurry, my little bulldozer.
Happy gotcha day, Monsieur Mustache.
This is Hector, known to his friends as Totor.
He was the first donkey on the farm to be seen in trousers.
Albert and Grisou thought he looked amazing, so they wanted trousers, too.
Grisou wasn’t sure about them when he tried them on. He thought they made his butt look big, so he removed the back pair. Twice. And he tore the velcro straps off the second time. This is why there is no photo of Grisou disguised in a sailor suit in this post.
Why trousers, someone assed? Well we are in France… la mode is a way of life here…
But actually, it’s to keep those nasty, insidious, allergy-causing biting flies off the donkey’s legs. Hector’s owner loves him to bits and visits twice a week to look after him and his ‘sister’, Quanaille. She saw a photo of these protective trousers on a donkey and ordered a set from a local harness repairer. Hector’s legs were A.ok.
A month ago, Albert’s front legs were a bloody mess. We were treating them every day by washing with an antiseptic and coating with a steroid cream, but they just weren’t getting better. Fly repellent was not enough to keep the flies off all day long, so as long as they kept biting, he kept getting sorer. And worse, the hungry meat-seeking wasps started to arrive and carve little pieces off his legs. It was not pleasant and he was a sad little donkey.
Thankfully, his owner was amenable to the notion of buying protective trousers for him. His legs are now well on the mend.
Grisou, on the other hand, is not suffering so badly from the flies this year, so going commando for a week while his pants are being repaired is not a big deal.
…and Failing Heroically.
I had planned on exhibiting my paintings and drawings in a number of places this summer. Unfortunately, there have been “issues.”
The first expo, which I was particularly looking forward to, was the annual local artists and artisans exhibition at La Biscuiterie in Céreste on July 17th. The LSH has done this every year since Manu and Carine, who own the biscuiterie, started running it. It was to be my turn this year. It’s a convivial day, even if it is a long and hot one, but it’s good fun and generally there are a lot of visitors, many of whom do indeed buy something.
The driving force behind the expo comes from two local artisans, Jean-Yves, ferronier extraordinaire, and Stephanie, who makes really pretty and delicate silver jewellery. But in the most bizarre and cruel of coincidences, both of them had a child in a serious accident on the same day in June.
Jean-Yves’ son was a passenger in a car that went off the road near Céreste. Everyone else walked away from the crash, Jean-Yves’ son was airlifted to hospital in Marseille with neck and head injuries. He was in a coma for weeks and is now in a rehabilitation facility,. He may never regain full use of his limbs.
Stephanie’s daughter was on the French inline skating team and was aiming for a world championship team place. She had an accident in training and suffered serious neck injuries. She is currently in a rehabilitation centre as well. She has some use of her upper body and they are hopeful that she will get her legs going too.
The lesson here is that there are more important things in life than exhibitions. Hold your children a little closer the next time you see them…
When it became clear that La Biscuiterie’s expo wasn’t going to happen, I decided to participate in an artistic Brocante (like a car-boot sale). This was to take place on the evening of July 27 in the square in Reillanne. The LSH had exhibited his photos at this before but felt it wasn’t worth the effort – nobody wanted to spend any money! I decided to sign up for it nonetheless (it cost a tenner) and to exhibit my white on black drawings and some prints and greeting cards. I figured I’d have a good chance of selling the lower priced items.
A full week before the 27th, they were forecasting rain. Nah, it’ll change, we all thought. Every other year there’s been a drought, any potential rain never materialises… but this year was different. It rained buckets on the 27th. All.Day.Long. By midday, the organisers made the decision to move everything indoors, into the Salle des Fêtes.
This was all well and good, we set up our stuff and we did indeed stay dry, but the weather was so bad that only a few very loyal and hardy souls braved the rain to visit the Brocante. It was a long, boring and painful evening – it was ten days since I’d cracked my rib and I was not a happy bunny. See awkward posture in above photo! However, thanks to some of those loyal and hardy souls, I sold a lot of cards and made a reasonable profit.
The final exhibition that was meant to take place was in my friends’ house in Apt, Cent Cinq – check out their Airbnb page! The house opens right onto the main pedestrian thoroughfare, which has literally thousands of people traipsing through it every Saturday morning in the summer. Unfortunately, their household insurance wouldn’t cover me as a person using their downstairs for commercial reasons, I need to have my own insurance. And in order to get the right sort of insurance, I need to be affiliated to the Maison des Artistes. Which is something I must do, but I haven’t yet done it. I’m waiting for the accountant to come back from his holidays so we can work out what’s the best way to organise my affairs!
Long story short, this particular expo will eventually happen, but at a later date, probably in September.
Finally, to cheer up this otherwise rather gloomy post, here’s a picture of Albert the donkey wearing trousers.