Saturday, 19 January 2008

Review: JOSEPHINE - Prince Among Ponies

Prince Among Ponies is this week's book. It was first published in 1952.

The blurb reads:-

Adonis seemed to Sara and Patrick the most beautiful pony in the world, and they could scarcely believe it when the Merrimans told them he was vicious and not safe to ride. After watching the Merrimans other ponies, Patrick became convinced that Adonis' bad behaviour was only due to mishandling; and that when he and Sara heard that the pony might be shot they decided that it was up to them to prove their theory. Their main difficulty was that schooling must be carried out in secret, and arranging this was no easy matter. How they contrived to carry out their plan and with what astonishing results makes an exciting and immensely readable story, there is much valuable information to be gained from their experiences.

As per usual Josephine style, this pony book is rather instructive and has an unusual beginning.

Sara and Patrick live in London; their mother does not approve of riding and she tries desperately to cure them of the "horsey bug". She gives them "two dozen" riding lessons at a riding school run by someone called "Captain Stefinski" (referred to by Jane, one of the Merrimans as "Captain Stinky"). When this fails she tries (in no particular order) tennis lessons, squash lessons, dancing lessons and ice skating lessons. When this fails, and Patrick announces that he is going to spend his Christmas money on riding lessons. This does not work, and they are as Sara puts it "taken to nearly every Museum in London, and they all made my legs ache. When we weren't at museums we were at pantomimes, which we used to like when we were little, but which increasing old age made us hate."

They also are made to do cricket and eurhythmics.

This soon changes when their father announces that he has to go to Denmark, instead of their usual holiday destination, they go to their mother's old school friend and their house. As they live near somewhere that has lots of museums, their mother thinks that they will happy, instead upon discovering the whole summer that the Merrimans have lots of ponies, they go riding instead. It soon becomes quite obvious that Jane and Patrick/Sara have been taught differently, Jane sits badly according to them and kicks. When the ponies dont do what they do (having being used to the Merrimans' rough riding), they refuse. Jane calls them feeble, and frustrated they decide to ride with Gregory (another Merriman).

They ask about Adonis, one of the ponies, and is told that he is dangerous. Jane rode him, because the rest just hunt, and that she couldnt get him to jump. He also bucked. They think that it is because of Jane's riding and in secret, start to ride him.

The whole theme of this is that it does make a lot of difference where you are taught, even if you go to a riding school. There are bad BHS/ABRS approved riding schools and bad non approved schools, but there are good ones out there. I once went to a BHS and ABRS riding school once. I wont name it in case I am done for libel, but it was in Norfolk. Half the ponies were tied outside a building, no shelter from the rain and with chains. This was in summer; there was only 10 stables for 30 horses. I found it appalling that they had no shelter at all alongside that building as the majority were used for nearly every ride and that in my view, chains are not suitable things for tying ponies up (no string I may add). At least at all the non approved stables that I have been to had stables/stalls for the horses to rest in, and did not tie horses up with chains. In some ways the "approval" system is flawed, I had a look at their website and they are still BHS/ABRS approved. But anyway, that is all I am going to say on the subject, as this is not about how some standards of riding schools are crap.

Like I previously said, as per Josephine's style, this is wonderfully instructive. Perhaps not so emotionally charged and some books, but very appealing to most people. A good solid story, with lots of adventure to keep people entertained. At the end, it is quite a twist, and their mother relents in the middle, and buys them horse riding gear. Their father is not mentioned, so who knows what happened next??


Fiona said...

I must admit I always found he Merrimans rather annoying, quite self righteous & arrogant especially as they were guests. They only had about a dozen lessons at the riding school, so they must have been incredibly gifted horsemen to re-school a pony so quickly. OK so we know that Jane's riding wasn't good; but to me the whole story didn't ring true.
I'm sure they encountered problems later; but hey it's only a story!

pullein-thompson-archive said...

I think that you mean Sara and Patrick, as the Merrimans are the owners of the house, and therefore not guests.

Yes, to a certain extent there is a bit of fantasy, but at the end of the day to get a decent education is what Josephine is trying to get at.

Besides most kiddies wont notice that, it is a lovely pleasant story.

Jane said...

I really liked this: it was always one of my favourites, and I particularly liked the bit where they squash the mushrooms by falling on them and then have to try and explain it at breakfast. (I mentioned this to JPT when I met her, and she had forgotten that bit entirely!)

Fiona said...

I have looked it out and I am rereading it. It's funny how you notice more details as an adult....apart from getting the names wrong. Patrick & Sara are called Huntingdon

haffyfan said...

I love this one, Adonis is the sort of pony you dream of owning and after all this was what this one was about - pony mad but pony less Sara and Patrick's dream coming true.
Adonis is exquisite on the first ed cover and the illustrated Pb but I must admit he is not so dream like on the collins seagull and photo pb's so I am glad I only saw those editions much later!
I think JPT was trying to get across the 'finer points of equitation' in this one and that riding is not just about sticking on and kicking (aka Jane's style). Adonis was not your average riding school/pony club pony, rather a highly schooled sensitive creature who needed riding likewise and responded to be ridden correctly (and in the manor he was accustomed). Just because someone has ridden 'forever' does not automatically make them a good horseman and JPT illustrated this point well by the 'novice' (but correctly taught) Huntingdons suceeding where Jane had not. I like to think they went on to much bigger and better things in the future......Hoys even maybe?

Jane said...

Yes, I'd like to think they went on to bigger and better things - I love the Armada 70s cover by the way. One of the very best and I think it might be a reason why I like the story so much! Shallow, that's me.

Kate said...

I love the cover too. I really enjoyed this book, I've read it a few times despite getting it as an adult. I agree that it's a bit unrealistic for them to have schooled the pony so well quite quickly, but things don't always go right and they do fall off a few times. Great book.