Judith M Berrisford was a joint name used by writers Clifford and Mary Lewis, writers of animal books for children. It is, I assume, Mary Lewis who is pictured as Judith M Berrisford on the jackets of the books. Judith M Berrisford didn’t write as many books as say Christine Pullein-Thompson, but she wrote one of the longest British pony series. The American Black Stallion series, and of course the endless Saddle Club, outrank it, but Jackie lasted for 16 titles, comfortably beating both Jill (9) and Georgia (10).
Jackie managed to fulfil many girls’ dreams by actually winning her pony. Many years ago Pony magazine used to run a Win a Pony competition. As you had to get your parents’ permission to enter the competition, I never managed to get an entry in, despite what I thought were some pretty good ideas for the tie breaker caption competition, but Jackie’s parents were more accommodating: she entered a magazine’s competition and won a pony. Although she is taken to a dealer’s yard and shown some wonderful ponies, she meets Misty outside the stables pulling a cart. Misty, contrary to the usual lot of ponies pulling carts in pony books, is not downtrodden. Jackie falls in love with her and Misty is hers.
Jackie and Misty, together with Jackie’s cousin Babs, go on to have a whole series of adventures, though many of them seem biased towards trekking. Jackie and Babs are great rushers in, and seem to have a fatal ability to irritate the adults with whom they come into contact - and, I admit, me. Even as a child I wanted to bellow ‘THINK!’ at them, but the girls despite their ability to be tooth-grindingly infuriating, both have essentially kind and generous natures, and it is this I think which gives the books their charm.
The Jackie books are not overtly didactic: schooling your pony and improving yourself generally are not things the girls go in for. Judith Berrisford did make one excursion into the didactic with her Family series: marketed by Hodder at the time as educational it certainly is, but one sad side-effect of the need to educate is to make the character of the elder sister, Jane, almost unbearable. She seems to patronise her hapless younger sister Penny at every turn. In real life I have a strong suspicion Penny would not have borne it and upended the tack cleaning bucket on her sister’s head. ‘That would be makeshift,’ Jane says, ‘We must remember to do this before and after every ride... We must be sure to clean our tack after every ride...’ And of course they must. She’s quite right; but it’s the way in which it’s announced from on high that irks.
Jane isn’t alone in this: every character who has something to impart does it in the same way. A better writer would have handled it with a lighter touch; Ruby Ferguson in Jill’s Gymkhana puts over basic pony care through Jill’s general hopelessness and self-deprecation, and the knowledge slips effortlessly in.
As a writer, Judith M Berrisford has some irritating stylistic quirks: the word ‘pony’ is used as an adjective with abandon. Her characters do things that now make me goggle, though they passed me by at the time. In The Ponies Next Door, new ponies are bought and go out on rides almost instantly, without any settling in. The most staggering example in this book (of which I am actually fond: it has a lot of charm) happens when the stables are persuaded to stable a baby elephant, and it only seems to occur to the owners and their child helpers after the event that putting the elephant in the same hallway as the ponies (the overflow of ponies are stabled in the house) is not a good idea.
Most of Judith Berrisford’s characters are enthusiastic and uncomplicated. They’re not given to introspection, but have uncomplicated adventures in which everything always works out. As comfort reading they succeed admirably, which is probably why the author had such a long career, with some of the Jackie books being reprinted even in the 1990s, when the classic pony book was generally on the way out.
Thank you to Susan Bourgeau, Dawn Harrison, Hannah Fleetwood, Konstanze Allsopp, Jacquie Aucott and Roger Thomas, who between them supplied most of the photographs for this section.
Finding the books
As there are so many, I’ve categorised them. Titles mentioned are hardbacks: all the paperback titles are pretty easy to find.
Very difficult: Five Foals and Philippa, Jackie’s Steeplechase Adventure, Red Rocket—Mystery Horse
Difficult: Timber, Change Ponies Jackie (HB), Sue’s TV Pony
Average: Sue’s Circus Horse (hb), The Ponies Next Door, Ponies All Summer, Pony Forest Adventure, Trouble at Ponyways, most of the Jackie hardbacks, the Family series, Nobody’s Pony
Very common: all the paperbacks