Gillian Baxter wrote her first book, Horses and Heather, when she was 15. Much of her writing was based on her own experience. As well loving horses, she was a keen actor, and wrote a children’s novel, The Knightsgate Players, based on acting. She enjoyed fast cars, which made an appearance in Ribbons and Rings. Like her heroine in Tan and Tarmac, she lived in London (Kensington) and rode in Hyde Park.
Gillian Baxter wrote two series of books: the Bracken Stables trilogy, and the Magic and Moonshine series, about a pair of driving ponies. The Bracken Stables Trilogy (Jump to the Stars, The Difficult Summer and The Perfect Horse) is about Roberta, her show jumping mare Shelta, and the Bracken Hills Riding Stables, run by Guy Mathews. The books were aimed at slightly older readers than the Jill books. Bobby (Roberta) is nearly at the end of her school career when the series opens, and she eventually leaves education to work at Bracken Stables.
In this she is unlike Ruby Ferguson’s Jill, who meekly agreed to do a secretarial course. Roberta wants to work with horses and goes ahead and does it. There are boys in the Jill books, but as friends only, whereas there are relationships in many of Gillian Baxter’s books: unsurprisingly perhaps, as many of her books are about girls in their late teens and early twenties.
Gillian Baxter did not restrict herself to one particular horsey field: the Bracken Stable series is about show jumping and eventing. The Team from Low Moor centres on the Prince Phillip Cup, and The Stables at Hampton is possibly the first novel exclusively concerned with dressage.
In the 1970s she switched publishers and started writing a series aimed at younger children, the Magic and Moonshine series: Pantomime Ponies, Save the Ponies!, Ponies by the Sea, Ponies in Harness and Ponies to the Rescue.
Bargain Horses is the last of Gillian Baxter’s works under her name; after this date she wrote for D C Thomson. Bargain Horses was part of a series J A Allen published in the 1980s, aimed at the horsey teenager. It is generally a very strong and readable series, but Bargain Horses is my favourite. It’s a very believable story about a teenage girl struggling with a mother addicted to buying bargain horses; hopeless cases most of them. It’s a testament to the strength of Gillian Baxter’s writing that she can create believable teenagers over a 30 year writing career.
Finding the books
Easy to find: Bargain Horses: Horses in the Heather, Horses in the Glen, Pantomime Ponies, Ponies by the Sea, Ponies in Harness, Save the Ponies, Special Delivery, The Perfect Horse
Medium: Tan and Tarmac, The Difficult Summer, The Team from Low Moor. Sweet Rock, Sue Elaine Draws a Horse
Difficult: Jump to the Stars, Ribbons and Rings , Stables at Hampton, Ponies to the Rescue (very difficult)
Many thanks to Susan, Fiona, Dawn, Sarah, Hannah and Konstanze for all their help with the photos.