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Josephine Pullein-Thompson (1924–2014) is one of the best, and most popular of pony book authors. She continued to publish books into the 1990s, having started with It Began With Picotee, which she wrote with her sisters, Christine and Diana. Writing must have seemed normal to the Pullein-Thompsons: their mother, Joanna Cannan, was a noted writer who wrote some of the very earliest pony books, as well as some notable detective and adult fiction. The Pullein-Thompsons started writing at an early age, and went on to run their own riding school. They were heavily influenced by Henry Wynmalen’s Equitation, and taught, and wrote about, a kinder and more horse-centred form of riding, moving away from the twin evils of the ‘good hunting seat’ and the backward seat whilst jumping.
Ironically, as two of her best loved series involved the Pony Club, Josephine’s own experience of it as a child was brief. Her first rally was in the Victorian stable block of nearby Stonor Park. Although a splendid stable block, its doorway was narrow, and it was blocked by older, and larger children. The Pullein-Thompsons saw and heard nothing. Their next rally was mounted and Josephine hired a 'clipped, stabled and corn-fed pony over which I had absolutely no control.' There were no more Pony Club rallies after that. Despite this early off-putting start, the adult Josephine went on to become District Commissioner of the Woodland Hunt Pony Club.
Josephine’s most popular series is the Noel and Henry series about the West Barsetshire Pony Club. It was written over a period of eleven years, and was one of the few English pony book series to introduce an element of romance. When I met Josephine Pullein-Thompson, I asked her what had intrigued me for decades: what happened? Did Noel and Henry get together? Their fate was never committed to print, but Josephine envisaged Henry going off with a dressage rider, but coming back to Noel (who presumably did not judge him too harshly for his defection.)
Josephine’s most successful books are those in which instruction and everyday life with horses are at the fore. In the 1970s and 1980s, she wrote The Moors books: an adventure-based series set in Cornwall. Plot was not Josephine’s strength, and these books took her away from what she did best: observe character within a tight framework. Her longest series, it features sisters Frances and Louisa Burnett (at least in the first five books: the sisters were another victim of Collins, Josephine’s publishers, who preferred characters in series not to age). In the 1980s, Josephine returned to the format with which she was most comfortable. The Woodbury Pony Club series was published in 1983 and 1984, and featured another group of vividly written children and thoroughly believable ponies.
Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s books succeeded in teaching the reader whilst never making them aware they were being taught. Equally at ease with adult as with child characters, her stories, while not stuffed full of plot, are thoroughly believable portraits of children and their ponies.
Noel and Henry
Pony Club Team
The Radney Riding Club
One Day Event
Pony Club Camp
Star-Riders of the Moor
Fear Treks the Moor
Ride to the Rescue
Ghost Horse on the Moor
Treasure on the Moor
Mystery on the Moor
Suspicion Stalks the Moor
Woodbury Pony Club
Pony Club Cup
Pony Club Challenge
Pony Club Trek
Finding the books
The early books as first editions with dustjackets are the hardest to find. Most of the titles found in paperback are very easy to find; though the early Armadas with Gernat covers can be tricky to find in good condition.
Sources, links and acknowledgements
Obituary, Daily Telegraph, 20 June, 2014, retrieved 20 June 2014
My interview with Josephine Pullein-Thompson
My article on the Noel & Henry series, which appeared in the Fidra Books’ reprints
Josephine, Christine and Diana Pullein-Thompson: Fair Girls and Grey Horses, Allison & Busby
Liz Jones, Daily Mail columnist, meets the Pullein-Thompsons
The Pullein-Thompson Archive – a blog which reviews the sisters’ stories.
Many, many thanks to Dawn Harrison, and to Jenny, Hannah, Susanna, Konstanze and Ehsan for their help with the bibliography.