Saturday, 26 January 2008

Review: JOSEPHINE - Show Jumping Secret

Show Jumping Secret is this week's book. It was first published in 1955.

When I first got this book, I thought "I know the story, the girl in the book, has a crashing fall and is forbidden to jump. She then learns to jump in secret, and in the end of the book, her parents find out and she wins some big competition. They (the parents) allow her to jump again".

But I was wrong. The blurb reads:-

THIS is a book for all those who long to have ponies of their own, as well as for those who have their own ponies and want to know how to make them jump.

Secret is a young, grey pony owned by a boy called Charles. Charles's great ambition is to win show jumping competitions. He schools himself and Secret, jumps at many different show, and gradually learns the finer points of horsemanship so that he is fit to compete with the best riders in the country.

Before the end of the season he comes triumphantly with one of the coveted Foxhunter Trophies.

Those who read his story may will learn enough about show jumping from it to enable them to ride as brilliantly as Charles, and to win rosettes as he did.

Firstly, whoever wrote the blurb did not pay attention to the entire book, as (and this is a bit of a spoiler) the question of whether or Charles did win a Foxhunter trophy is never resolved. The nearest he got was qualifying for Harringay, which presumably was a horse show, held at the former stadium (along the lines of White City stadium, which also held show jumping events). To me, looking at the picture on Wikipedia, the cover shows a image more in line with the White City stadium, which was operating at the same time as Harringay. (Also, they both did greyhound racing)

But anyway, the clue is there: this was not about a girl, but interestingly, the main character is about a boy. What the blurb fails to mention is that Charles is disabled in the leg due to a condition called polio. The idea of a "disabled" person in the horse world is later revisited in the Woodbury Pony Club series; this time David (a character in the Woodbury Pony Club series) is disabled due to a crashing horse fall. The change is to reflect the times, in the UK in 1988, fewer people contracted polio, due to vaccination. I myself, have never met anyone who has suffered from polio, and Europe has been polio free since 2002.

But in Charles' case his leg seems to be affected, something which can be a disadvantage in horse riding. He actually acquires Secret, in the middle of the book, when we first meet him, he is without a pony. Like Sara and Patrick in Prince Among Ponies, initially he has to rely on relatives ponies, and until he meets Claire at the local riding school, that is. Like the Merrimans in Patrick's Pony, they (his cousins) are taught badly, and because they initially teach him, he has an awful seat. Claire teaches him, and he gets better and so does his leg.

What else, is unusual about this book is that it is almost exclusively set in London; very few pony books are.

Besides which, it is a lovely story, though unusual. The sheer courage of David to overcome his disability is an added and (for the time) unusual bonus to the book, this book is one of my favourites. The instructional element which Josephine is famous for, is not forgotten in this book; it remains still there.

What makes it slightly unrealistic is that he experiences very little stigma; any disabled person can tell you that they experience some in their lives. He does experience problems with Secret due to a result of listening to his cousins: unlike Sara and Patrick in Prince Among Ponies who have relatively few.

Still a lovely book, although it may not appeal to everyone as it is male centred or those without any experience of polio.

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??

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Review: JOSEPHINE - Patrick's Pony

Patrick's Pony is one of Josephine's hardest to find books. Although reprinted in paperback, this is very rarely seen, and the hard back edition is pretty rare too.

It was first published in 1956 and the picture to the left is of the hardback edition, which is illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam. He is most famous for (at least pony book wise) for the Jackie series, as he did the majority of that series' illustrations.

The blurb reads:-

Patrick was an orphan, and Taffy, his pony, was his dearest possession.

How to prove to his new parents that Taffy only needed food and kindness to make him a good little pony was a problem Patrick and Carol solved very happily.

An exciting warm-hearted pony story.

As a rule, I dont generally agree with things like "warm-hearted" and when I read the blurb for Diana's The Pennyfields which stated that the book was "a happy story, full of fun" I certainly didnt agree with that, this time it is an warm-hearted story. I dont know if exciting is the right word for it, but warm-hearted it is.

Anyway, Patrick having being brought up by an elderly grandfather who is lying ill in the hospital is carted off to a children's home, with his pony Taffy. Taffy lives next door in some rough paddock, due to poor fencing he has to be tied up and Patrick's enemy Brian threw stones at him. So he looks rough in general.

However, Patrick does the best for him, and one day he hears of a family who want to foster him. He agrees to come with them; they live on a farm, so he thinks Taffy will come along.

This book is more of a role reversal. Rather than usually the existing child (or children) being the problem, and the parents trying to get the child to settle down and making things easier, it is the other way around. Carol (the child) welcomes him with open arms, and the father is the one who does not want Taffy.

He (the father) does not want Taffy around, so Taffy is left in the children's home, and instead tries to get Patrick to bond with another pony called Rufus. At one point he is heard to be saying that the pony would be better off dead. In some way, he is very cruel, as Patrick's grandfather did not teach him to use a telephone (his grandfather couldnt "abide them"), Patrick makes a mess of phoning the vet. Instead of teaching him, he laughs at him.

But Carol and Patrick are determined that wont happen, and things happen. Like most pony books, the end is a bit cliché, you know that the pony isnt going to be dead after all.

But this book make you happy and in some ways, warm inside. Unlike Josephine's books, this deals very little with the schooling side of things, but more like Diana's, it is about human relationships.

It gives you a warm pleasant feeling inside this book. Even if you arent a kiddie who is interested in emotions and relationships, then it gives enough excitement to keep you reading. It is a shame that this is one of Josephine's hard to find books, as it deserves to be on more people's shelves.

Funnily enough it is dedicated to a "Phillip". As Christine had a son called Phillip, I wonder if it was written for him?

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Review: JOSEPHINE - Pony Club Trek

Pony Club Trek is the last book in the Woodbury Pony Club series.

It was first published in 1985, but the picture to the right shows the Dean compilation which was first published in 1994.

The blurb reads:-

The members of the Woodbury Pony club are busy preparing for a three-day trek over the beautiful, rolling Downs. Before they have gone too far disaster strikes, for Oliver falls off at the gallop, and Tiger escapes over the hill, reins and stirrups flying. But this is only the first of a series of incidents that lead to a dramatic struggle to save a pony's life.

As for illustrations, there is a quick map on the first page. This map is not credited and there are no more further illustrations. 

A couple of things; not the entire pony club are going trekking over the Downs. Some minor characters are mentioned in the beginning, this focuses on the main characters.

Like Pony Club Challenge, there are changes afoot. Tina's and Sebastian's parents have now married, meaning that for once Tina's mother is not a single parent. Tina is now fully mounted; through a series of events that are mentioned in Pony Club Challenge, Sarah did not get on with Bowie and has a new pony called Sparkler.

The story begins with a lot of the members turning up for a rally, and practising for possible inclusion at the Horse of the Year Show held in (at the time) Wembley. As for various reasons (ponies too big is one, as James rides a 15.1hh gelding, his horse's height alone would automatically disqualify him, never mind the fact that smaller ponies are better for mounted games) some members prove unsuitable, David suggests that the others do a trek. So that leaves the main characters.

A lot of it is dealt with the practicalities of the trek; Harry's stepfather gets extremely involved as he sets clues for them to follow (a sort of treasure hunt) throughout the trek. Mrs Rooke is still favouring Sarah; as she is in the mounted games team, she joins them with her new pony Sparkler.

Aside from the treasure hunt side of things, there are plenty of thrills and spills galore. You do have to wonder why (apart from the evening) there was no adults in the actual trek; Diana's Ponies on The Trail deals with a similar theme (the only difference is that people are paying to go trekking) and there was an adult present. Ponies on the Trail was only written 7 years before.

It's nice to see the members outside the actual pony club setting, this feels like it is continuing on the teamwork theme of last week's book. The fact that they are spilt into 2 teams makes it interesting, and although the actual mounted games team is more competitive, it does actual make competitive spirit a sub plot to this book.

Although it stands out as a good book, and a good addition to the series, I dont feel that it makes a satisfactory ending. I feel that there was a lot more could have been done with the continuation of the series. Did Tina's mum and Seb's dad marriage last? Did Tina and Seb get on after a while? Did the Woodbury mounted games team reach Wembley? Did they have anything more to do with Cranford Vale? What happened after the trek? So many, many questions that have yet to be answered. (If anyone else has any theories, please let me know)

Personally, I am very disappointed with the ending. It's too abrupt and leaves a taste in your mouth. Not a nasty one, but you feel something is missing. Like a chocolate cake without any chocolate. That kinda thing.