Some fifty years after the publication of Black Beauty, Golden Gorse (Muriel Wace,1881–1968) wrote what is probably one of the classics of pony autobiography, Moorland Mousie (Country Life, 1929). She followed it with Older Mousie and two further pony stories, as well as writing two instructional riding books for children. Moorland Mousie is one of those pony books remembered with enormous affection by many, so much so that it was reissued by the Moorland Mousie Trust in 2011.
The book’s author, Muriel Wace, was the youngest of five sisters. After the children’s mother died, Ashley Maude, their father, could not settle. He and the children moved house often; the girls had 14 governesses. He bought the girls two unbroken Welsh ponies, one of which was sold as it was too wild. Bearing in mind what the remaining pony got up to, one can only wonder what too wild constituted. Ashley Maude broke that pony in – partially. He became bored at the long reining stage and handed it over to the girls and told them to ride it. They tried. The pony scraped them off on whatever was handy: branches, park railings. Eventually Papa, having rebuked the girls for their inefficiencies, got up himself. The pony duly deposited him. It was sold.
These formative experiences presumably stayed with Muriel. After her husband, the Revd Henry Wace, retired as bursar of Brasenose College, the couple moved to Crowcombe, near Taunton, where Muriel Wace’s interest in the Exmoor pony began. Her later book, The Young Rider’s Picture Book, describes the process of schooling the two Exmoor ponies on whom the heroes of Moorland Mousie were based. Her early experience with the wicked Welsh pony made an impact; Wace continually stressed in her writings the importance of a well-schooled pony: '… If a pony is well-broken he will be without tricks of any kind.'
Moorland Mousie has a maturity and subtlety of viewpoint many pony autobiographies lack, though it was still as much a morality tale as its predecessor, Black Beauty. Moorland Mousie is an Exmoor pony, born on Exmoor. He spends his earliest years on the moor with his mother, aunt and cousin, Twinkle, until the ponies are rounded up and Mousie and Twinkle are sold to a Colonel Coke and his daughter Patience. After numerous equine sins, Mousie is sold, and his descent begins.
The book’s illustrations complement the mood of the book brilliantly, though no Exmoor fan would claim that Lionel Edwards’ Exmoor ponies are what they should be. Be that as it may, the book and its illustrations succeeded in creating a believable picture of a pony, still loved today.
Finding the books
All her titles are reasonably plentiful, but not necessarily bargain basement cheap. Moorland Mousie is expensive as a first with dustjacket; reprints have become more expensive over the years, but are not yet horribly expensive. Firsts of all the fiction titles with dustjackets are becoming more expensive.
Links and sources
Clarissa Cridland: Pony Books, a Brief Introduction(Collectingbooksandmagazines.com, retrieved 4 December 2014)
Gordon Winter: In Search of “Golden Gorse”, Riding Annual 1980 (IPC Magazines, 1979)
This is the website of the Exmoor Pony Centre, and the Moorland Mousie Trust. The Trust works to ensure the survival of the Exmoor Pony, which is threatened as many youngsters, particularly colts, are not sold. These foals are taken on by the Trust, the initial handling done, and the foals then placed in permanent or foster homes until they are old enough to be backed. The Exmoor Pony Centre gives people the chance to see, and to ride Exmoor ponies. I had always thought I was too hefty, post children, to ride an Exmoor but I see that there is a weight limit of 12 stone to ride out on the Exmoors. The only problem would be where to put my legs.