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The Milkman’s Cob, June M Grove’s only pony book, is a title which you could have picked up easily and cheaply a few years ago, but it has now become rarer and more expensive. It is about a young girl who loses her jumping pony Larke so stops riding, until the local dairy converts to modern vans and 'Happy' the Milkman’s cob is to be sold. It is a lovely story of his transformation from pulling a float to winning at the Horse of the Year Show in the junior jumping. It’s told in the first person, by four different narrators, which at first I thought would prove irritating, but June Groves does get enough differentiation into her characters to make this work.
Unlike many pony stories where the most pedestrian pony clears 3’ 6” with ease, Happy’s clearance of a 5’ 3” hedge is completely convincing, particularly as this so shatters his rider that she has to be slowly and gently persuaded back into jumping anything again, let alone a fence over 5 feet. The illustrations don’t do the book the favours which perhaps they might, but if you can manage to get hold of this book it is well worth the read.
June used to live in Berkhamsted with a horse living in her back garden in a large converted shed – a cob called Mr Happy. This cob is the horse on which the book was based; the dedication is pictured left.
June was also a very good artist, but sadly, although she did a set of illustrations for the book, the publisher, Witherby, insisted that only their illustrator could be used. Bearing in mind the rather inaccurate effort on the front, that’s a shame. Like her heroine, June was a keen show jumper, and the picture below shows her at Aldershot in 1958. Show jumping wasn’t the only thing she did; Jacquie, June’s niece, said June was 'on friendly terms with the late Dorian Williams and used to get involved in pageants for him – where both she and Mr Happy used to dress up for the day. She maintained that Mr Happy loved it – but I'd have rather heard it from HIS mouth ... '
June Groves wrote a few more things besides The Milkman’s Cob: a two-piece article on her 'Back Garden Horse' for Light Horse Magazine in the 1960s, and I have also found a short story she wrote in Pony Magazine Annual of 1978: Vision.
Finding the book
The book is a great favourite with many of its readers, which has led to it becoming much more expensive in recent years. Copies can now be expensive, though cheaper ones do turn up occasionally.
Sources and links
Many thanks to June Groves’ niece, Jacquie, for the family photographs and information, and to Hannah Fleetwood for information on the book’s contents.