Thorburn, John

About the author

John Thorburn’s Hildebrand was one of the most notable experiments in pony books. It is a book in which real life is triumphantly ignored. Its equine hero, Hildebrand, is a piebald horse who ‘had ceased to be a willing co-operator’.

Hildebrand is christened by his new owners, and one of his equine fairy godmothers unwisely gives Hildebrand the ability to talk: like Saki’s Tobermory, Hildebrand has a gift for saying that which ought to be left unsaid. He insults the last fairy godmother to give him a gift: Sal Volatile the Night Mare, a ‘terribly common’ horse who drops her aitches. This does not go down well.

‘Starts with “an aitch” does it?’ she shouted. ‘I’ll give you haitches! I’ll give you so many haitches that from now hon heverything you heat shall ‘ave to start with a haitch, too. And I ‘ope you’re ‘ungry you hinsolent beast…’

Hildebrand himself is a tactless and feisty horse, meaning his relations with his human and equine friends are fraught. Hildebrand is absolutely the last horse one can imagine patiently teaching a small child to ride. He is far more likely to strand it on an island, or leave it agog as he shares a hen supper with his fox friends Hengist and Horsa. Hildebrand, although a creature of fantasy, is not the stuff of which pony mad children’s dreams are made.

Finding the book
Your best chance of finding it is in The Vanguard Book of Horses and Riding, though this doesn’t have illustrations. The Biegel reprint can be expensive. The first edition is very hard to find indeed, and expensive.



Country Life, London, 1930, illus “The Wag”
Junior Country Life Library, London, 1930
Collins, London, 1949, illus Peter Beigel
The Vanguard Book of Horses and Riding, 1966, 1972

Hildebrand is given gifts by his equine fairy godmothers. Unfortunately he offends Sal Volatile, who curses him. From henceforth, Hildebrand can only eat things which begin with an “H”.