About the author
Vian Smith did not write conventional pony stories. His books aren’t cosy, but they are very well worth the effort. His Come Down the Mountain is a taut picture of teenage stubbornness in the face of convention, as Brenda defies the village to rescue a horse. Author Gillian Taylor described them as ‘more of a human drama than the pony adventure or wish fulfilment.’
Vian Smith was born in Totnes in 1919, and spent much of his holidays with his grandparents at their farm in Holne. Dartmoor was a presence in many of his books. After he left school, he worked as an office boy, and an apprentice before becoming a sapper during the war. During all this time he wrote, and his first published book in 1946, Song of the Unsung, was based on his war experiences. After the war he worked as a journalist on the South Devon journal, as well as writing. He died in 1969.
Finding the books
Come Down the Mountain, Parade of Horses, Martin Rides the Moor and The Lord Mayor’s Show are all very easy to find. King Sam is hard to find, but easy in its paperback version, Tall and Proud. Minstrel Boy, Moon in the River, The Horses of Petrock and Green Heart are reasonably easy to find, but more expensive. Question Mark/Pride of the Moor tends to be difficult to find.
Links and sources
Many thanks to Annette York, Susan Bourgeau, Alison MacCallum and Danyele Foster for the photos.
Bibliography (pony books only)
Question Mark/Pride of the Moor
Constable Young Books, 1961
Doubleday, New York, 1962, cover art Reisie Lonette
Mark finds an abandoned racehorse on the moor, and eventually manages to persuade his poor farming family to let him keep it. The mare is in foal, and the colt she produces is special. Mark grows up with the foal, who becomes a steeplechaser. His training gradually brings the community together, until the colt, Question Mark, enters the Grand National. Be warned: the book does not have an altogether happy ending.
Martin Rides the Moor
Constable Young Books, London, 1964
Doubleday, New York, 1965, cover art and illustrations by Ray Houlihan
Carousel, pb, 1974, 1981
The UK first edition of this book has cover art in the same format as the original UK King Sam. Both were part of Constable Young’s “Out and About” series, and had multiple black and white pictures on a grid pattern with coloured background.
Martin has been deaf since an accident, and his parents buy him a Dartmoor pony to try and help him adjust to his new, silent world. At first he wants nothing to do with the pony at all, until it snows, and he fights through the snowy night to get the pony to shelter. From that point on, Martin and Tuppence’s relationship develops. Disaster comes when Tuppence escapes back to the moors one day, but the wild mares from her old herd turn on her, and she is so badly hurt it looks as if she will die. Martin nurses her for months, and at first it looks as though she has recovered a little, but then she unexpectedly turns vicious: the explanation for this is a surprise for the whole family.
Doubleday & Company, New York, 1964, cover art by John Robinson
Sara Westmacott is left an orphan, bringing up her two young brothers. She takes on a broken down race horse from a local farmer, and is helped by her old friend and neighbour, Andrew. Not everyone is prepared to help Sara, and she faces ugly hostility from those who “know best”. She is not the only person shunned by the community, but her struggle with the horse brings some disparate people together.
The Horses of Petrock/A Second Chance
Constable Young Books, 1965, cover Elisabeth Grant
Doubleday, New York, 1966
Johnnie runs with a gang who plan a vicious assault on a horse. He rebels against the gang and tries to save the horse. He does, and ends up being taken on by the horse’s trainer. Against all the odds, he manages to prove himself.
King Sam/Tall and Proud
Constable Young Books, 1966, illus Peter Forster
Doubleday & Company, New York, 1966, illus Don Stivers
Archway Paperbacks, New York, 1970, illus Don Stivers
with revised cover art by him
Gail Fleming catches polio, and is left unable to walk.
Come Down the Mountain
Constable Young Books, 1967
Doubleday, 1967, New York, cover art by William Shields
Carousel Books, 1973, pb
Kestrel Books, 1980
Reprinted Carousel, 1976
Brenda is an awkward teenage girl, mocked for her weight. She spends every journey to school looking out for a racehorse, deserted in a field now his owner has died. Winter comes, and the horse’s condition deteriorates, but no one in the village will do anything about the horse in case they offend the family who own it, and who used to own the village. Brenda at last snaps, and takes matters into her own hands.
The Lord Mayor’s Show
Constable Young Books, 1968
Doubleday, 1969, cover art Sam Savitt
Kestrel Books, 1980
Danny Duncan, racing trainer, is badly injured by a horse, The Lord Mayor. Youngest son, Andrew, loves the horse. Disaster, never far away from the stables, looks as if it will overwhelm the family this time, but Graham, the eldest son, leaves his publishing career and comes back to help, and in the end The Lord Mayor’s talent, stubbornly kept under wraps by the horse, is allowed to flourish.
Moon in the River
Longmans Young Books, 1969, London, 141 pp. Illus Anthony Colbert
Kurt, Onah and their father survive the massacre of their village on Stone Age Dartmoor. They escape, and try and start life again. Kurt is fascinated by the horses, thinking that they can mean far more to the family than just a source of food; Onah finds a wolf, unlike other wolves. This one seems to want human company. This is an intriguing story of how domestication might have happened.
Peter Davies 1970
Doubleday & Company, New York, 1970, cover art by Karl Swanson
Based on a true story, this is the story of Minstrel Boy, a horse owned by a spoiled and indulged son who dies at the end of the First World War. His mother is determined the colt will run in her son’s name and win the Grand National. Minstrel Boy is sent away to be trained, but without his beloved club-footed Toby, who tended him while he was forgotten in a field, Minstrel Boy is a sullen non-trier, even with Archie Hannigan, one of the best trainers in the business, and his jockey son Sam. Once Minstrel Boy returns home, he becomes a different horse, and the National looks a possibility at last.
A Horse Called Freddie
Stanley Paul, 1967
Non fiction, this is the story of the horse Freddie – “Ireland’s gift to Scotland.” He won the hearts of millions in his thirty races – not because of his successes, but because of “a courage which could turn defeat to triumph.”
The Grand National
Stanley Paul, 1969
“Mr. Smith thought it was time for a precise record that would recapture each race in detail and that would be arranged clearly for quick reference. This book is the product of his thoughts. In it he includes information about the growth and development of the race (covering the period from 1837 to the present) and the specifics of each race – the date, the number of runners ( four to 47) winners and time. But The Grand National is more than a catalogue of who won what, when, and where. In addition, it is a fascinating story that gives an insight into the lives of the English and a charming glimpse at part of their heritage. It is told in terms of people and horses. All of them- the Lamb, the Colonel, Miss Mowbray, the two Peter Simples, the doped Zoedone, the Great Manifest – emerge as individuals linking the 19th century with the present.”
Point to Point
Stanley Paul, 1968
Vian Smith, who trained point to point horses himself, gives a picture of the background of point to point, togehter with how to do it. The book is described as “a comprehensive picture of a traditional sport, told in a way as personal as it is informative.”
Parade of Horses/Horses in the Green Valley
Parade of HorsesLongmans, 1970
Doubleday, New York, 1962
Hungry Waters, 1947
Song of the Unsung, 1949
Candles to the Dawn, 1948
Stars in the Morning, 1950
So Many Worlds, 1950
The Hand of the Wind, 1948
Holiday for Laughter, 1949
Press Gang, 1961
Genesis Down, 1962
The First Thunder, 1966
The Wind Blows Free, 1968