Victoria Eveleigh Talks To Bookbag About Why Pony Books Aren't Just For Girls

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Victoria Eveleigh Talks To Bookbag About Why Pony Books Aren't Just For Girls

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Summary: Victoria Eveleigh's story about a friendship between a young girl and a wild stallion kept Sue reading well into the night. We were fascinated when Victoria popped in to tell us why pony books are not just for girls.
Date: 21 June 2012

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External links: Author's website



Boys Allowed: Why pony books aren't just for girls

As a pony-mad but pony-less child in London during the 1960s, I devoured any pony book I could lay my hands on. Particular favourites were by Golden Gorse, Primrose Cumming, Monica Dickens, the Pullein-Thompson sisters, Ruby Ferguson and KM Peyton, but there were many more, including American authors like Mary O'Hara and Marguerite Henry.

I couldn't get enough of pony stories, so perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised that now, half a century later, I'm writing them. However, I'm sometimes reluctant to tell people I write pony stories. Why? Because of the awkward silence which often follows, or comments like, Oh, how nice!

Part of the problem may be that ponies are perceived to be posh and girlie. Also, pony stories often have plots which are as predictable as a trashy romance: an impoverished girl meets the pony of her dreams which either has psychological problems and / or has been neglected and needs rescuing. The girl develops a special bond with the pony and, after many problems, ends up owning it and if possible winning a competition – beating a rich girl who has a pony she doesn't deserve and doesn't look after. A humorous article on the subject can be found on Jane Badger's website, titled Pony Books – The Rules.

Many pony books (including mine, I have to admit!) follow some of these rules – just as romances often follow the basic pattern of boy meets girl and, despite all odds, they eventually get together. However, good pony stories, like good romances, have much more to them than that.

Characters, and the way they interact with each other, are key components of any novel. In pony stories you have the extra dimension of equine characters and the complexities of the relationships which can develop between horses and humans. This, together with my lifelong love of horses, is why I find the genre particularly fascinating. We are so different from horses, yet we are able to communicate, empathise and form incredibly strong bonds. Of course, that's when things go well; there are endless possibilities for communication breakdowns and misunderstandings too…

Horses, like humans, can be gentle, aggressive, timid, brave, honest, manipulative, energetic, lazy, happy, grumpy and a lot more besides. Furthermore, horses and ponies are much stronger and faster than humans. However experienced we are, there's always an element of danger when we ride or handle horses, and that adds yet another layer to how we feel about them, whether we're terrified or intoxicated by their power.

In a recent online survey, female horse-owners were asked Why do girls love horses? Some of the answers were: they're poetry in motion; they never judge what you look like – they love you because you're you; they're so much easier to deal with than men; they understand; they give lasting friendship; they help me escape from real life; they give me a reason to live; they combine beauty, power, speed and gentleness; they smell divine…

Yes, girls and women definitely seem to have a deeply romantic attachment, and current pony stories appear to make the most of this. Their plots are remarkably similar to romances, with the twist that it is often a feisty heroine (rather than hero) who rescues a horse or pony (rather than a damsel in distress).

What about boys? In the days when horses were used mainly for work rather than pleasure, more boys than girls rode. However the tables have turned steadily as horses and ponies have been kept less for work and more for pleasure. When I was growing up in the 1960s the ratio of girls to boys in our Pony Club was about four to one. I'd say the ratio of girl to boy characters in the pony books of the time was about the same. Today, I found out from the Pony Club that it has 31,395 branch members, of which 389 are boys. This appears to be reflected in most modern pony books, which are overtly girlie.

Why have boys become marginalised? There's nothing remotely sissy about riding ponies, so why does modern British culture assume boys should have little interest in anything equine? After all, most jockeys are male, we have several top equestrian sportsmen and there are still lots of boys who like ponies and riding. However, at a ratio of around eighty to one girls to boys in the Pony Club, it's easy to see why some boys might not want to join!

Perhaps children's authors should take some responsibility for making boys feel ponies and riding aren't for them. I'm as guilty as anyone. At a book signing a little while ago, a boy stood in front of me holding out a copy of Katy's Wild Foal.

Is it okay if you sign it to a particular person? he asked shyly.

Of course. Who are you buying it for? Your sister? I replied in a moment of extreme stupidity.

He blushed bright red. No, it's for me, actually.

Well, if you're reading this, John (I'll always remember your name), the trilogy I'm writing at the moment is for you. It has a boy protagonist called Joe who's just about to join his local Pony Club, raising the number of male members nationwide to 390. Well, it's a start!