‘Would you like to write something for my blog?’ asked Jane. ‘If you did, perhaps you could make it something to do with Pony Mag, as I’ve got lots of old copies to illustrate it with.’
Piece of cake, I thought. And thought. And thought. Nothing much came. So I dug out the five or so 1970s copies I have squirreled away, for inspiration. Early 70s Pony Magazines are totally those I remember from my teenage years. The ones I have were not mine originally – someone called Joanna from Redcliff Bay has boldly written her name on the front of one, as well as giving the crossword inside a go – but I remember them all the same.
November 1972’s readers’ letters proved a rich vein. If you think today’s exchanges on the internet are bad, you should take a look at some of the letters here which prove that nothing is new. The difference being that it took months not moments to submit and be published. All the letters in this issue refer to previous features, and the writers don’t hold back. As well as three about a story I wrote (defending it, all the letters from readers who really tore into it having been published in a previous issue), there is a short message from Kimberley (13), congratulating Gary Davies (no, not that one) on the entertaining account of his trek around Wales on his horse Dandi.
But just after all this feel-goodery, the mood changes…
In the August issue, Deborah Brockbank had written a thought-provoking feature entitled, Who Enjoys Gymkhanas? In it she bemoaned how some ponies at gymkhanas were ridden badly, or for too long, how other riders hadn’t the right kit and that many of the ponies were dirty. Well, Geraldine (14), who had conducted her own research at a local event, began her letter with the encouraging, ‘I disagreed with almost everything Deborah Brockbank wrote…‘ before continuing with, ‘My friend and I saw several ponies being ridden too much, so we mentioned it to two of the culprits and we are now two friends better off.’ (Well she’d be an asset to United Nations, I say. Try that nowadays and you’d probably be told to do something impossible to yourself, and at full volume, too.) Geraldine goes on to acknowledge that there were a few immaculately turned-out people with horse boxes, but rather sweepingly dismisses them as pot-hunters who had no right to be there.
She adds, ‘If Miss Brockbank feels so strongly about what she saw, why doesn’t she start by giving free instruction?‘ (ouch!) and concludes by asking readers who are interested in stopping cruelty to horses to write to her as, ‘…there are a few of us determined to get together and do our utmost to improve the situation,’ a sentiment to which we can all relate, I’m sure. Still a big ask, though, but you have to admire the passion of youth. For all I know, Geraldine may be the CEO of a horse charity by now – and all power to her elbow if she is.
With balance in mind, Jeanette (12), writes that she is in complete agreement with Deborah Brockbank’s article (goodness, what a hornet’s nest Ms Brockbank stirred up), concluding her letter by asking if anyone knows what has happened to her last pony, Simon, an 11hh dun gelding who was quite a good jumper for his size (I take it she means Simon can jump, not that he can keep a small person warm on a chilly day). Anyone? Come on, exactly how many 11hh dun geldings called Simon who can jump well for their size (although the ability to morph into a sweater narrows it down) can there be out there?
Finally, ignoring the Simon issue, Deborah Brockbank herself replies, concluding her letter with the killer blow, ‘Like many others I ride in second-hand clothes, but do spend hard-earned money on boot polish and a hair net.’
The next four letters argue about high-jump competitions, (I am writing in full agreement… I do not agree with… I am writing in reply to… I do not agree with…). This subject was brought to everyone’s attention via another letter in the August issue, beneath which the Editor had rather asked for trouble by writing, ‘What do other readers think?‘ There is nothing an editor likes more than a good old ruck between readers, and it is always gratifying to get letters, if only to confirm someone out there is reading the magazine, not just cutting out the pictures or using it to line their guinea pig’s hutch.
But August hadn’t all been doom and gloom, and one letter in that same issue began, ‘I thought Pony readers would like to hear about my auntie’s pets. She has six horses, one donkey, four dogs and about a dozen hens.’ Well yes, we would, but that was all the information we got, if you didn’t count the photograph of two of the horses (well, one horse and a head). Clearly there was not enough meat on the bone in this missive, and unlikely to elicit an outraged response.
But we haven’t finished with November yet. The legendary Glenda Spooner gets it next, for having dared give her weighty and experienced opinion on the use of the Pelham bit in yet another article in August (ah, the summer madness of the August issue!). But instead of Susie (13) venting her spleen, we hear instead from Squadron Leader Lyon of the RAF, who was ‘disturbed‘ by the feature in his daughter’s copy (phew, wondered where we were going there for a moment), although he does ‘…heartily agree with those more knowledgeable than myself in condemning the use of this gadget.‘ This isn’t enough to stop him from continuing to pick holes in Ms Spooner’s explanation regarding the function of said bit.
Unimpressed by being hauled across the coals by the military, Ms Spooner comes out fighting and gets the last, very firm, word: ‘I take back nothing… it is not true…you should never ‘lift the head’… this is why I emphasised… as I have already said…I do not consider Pelham bits are desirable for anyone…I cannot agree… I do not consider it correct…’ swiftly kicking our squadron leader into touch.
Incidentally, Ms Spooner’s feature included some cost estimates for equipment a new pony owner might have to consider, such as the Pony Club approved saddle, which retailed at about £35, rope halters varying from 40p to a whole pound, leather headcollars which could set you back as much as £5.75, and a lampwick girth at approximately £2.25 (can you still get lampwick girths?).
By now there is only one letter left to go so you’d think it would be about time to wind up with one of the safer subjects such as, ‘This is a picture of Monty,’ and ‘I’m Pony’s biggest fan,‘ (my favourite, I always wanted to ask how big, exactly, they were, imagining evermore elephantine readers) and ‘Do any readers recognise Silver, who is now my pony, as I would love to know something about his past.’
Instead, we are treated to a letter from one John M, informing readers that his application for a pen friend in the September issue (note, not August) which read, 17 years old, interested in rugby, motor bikes and all outdoors sports – imagine the hormonal teenage rush to put pen to paper from female readers recognising an opportunity to outdo their friends who write to Anna in Pratt’s Bottom – was, in fact, a hoax by person or persons unknown (read into that what you will).
Dr John M then goes on to explain that he is actually a Chartered Engineer, going thin on top and running to fat through sitting all day at a stuffy desk, destroying the dreams of the 100 readers of so who have already written pages and pages to him about their ponies, wishes and dreams. He concludes that having read some of the letters, his only regret is that he is not the 17-year-old he is supposed to be, because he would have a ball!
Oh, now you’ve gone too far there. Editor, why didn’t you leave that last para out? What were you thinking? But hey, we only have to watch (cringing) those ‘It Was Alright in the 70s’ programmes to learn why not. Had I left a parting shot like that on our letters page I wouldn’t have been surprised to get a phone call from the MD along the lines of, ‘Janet, can you step into my office for a moment, please… and bring your coat.‘
Hmm, Pen Friends. They were still running in Pony when I first worked there, and very popular they were, too – until a parent wrote to tell us she thought we ought to know that her daughter had received some very suspect letters from someone who clearly wasn’t a teenage Pony reader.
Yes, we agreed, we ought. So the pen friend slot was consigned to the bin, unable as we were to vet all the requests, grateful to the sensible, matter-of-fact mother who took the time to let us know without getting hysterical. It has been some time since readers had their full addresses included under their letters, as they did in 1972. Fast-forward four decades and a trawl through the readers’ letters pages in a 2015 issue shows pictures of readers with their ponies and riding school ponies in glorious colour – including one from Katie with her pony Goldie. Katie’s previous pony had made her lose confidence, she writes, but Goldie is helping her get it back. Dear Goldie is pictured behind a beaming Katie, eyes closed, sound asleep. You gotta love ponies, haven’t you?
During this time we also included a corner for pictures of readers’ pets – especially for those without ponies. These were usually harmless, apart from the picture we received from a reader’s cute budgie, perched on the finger of someone we assumed to be her dad, who happened to be stark naked (shown from the waist up, thank goodness). It didn’t make the cut, pretty-boy-Joey being too small to distract anyone from its human perch. Call me ruthless, call me paranoid (guilty – but now you know why), but don’t call me naive. I mean, if he’d been holding a Giant Schnauzer in his arms, he might have got away with it.
But you know, not all the grown-ups that read Pony need censoring. We often got letters from adults who were learning to ride, who told us they appreciated Pony’s clear instructional features. The ones in the grown-up horsy magazines, they told us, were too advanced for them, but Pony pitched it perfectly.
Don’t mention it, happy to help. But if you’re a 42-year-old chartered engineer with no interest in ponies, it’s probably better you don’t write in now.
Janet’s latest book, My Horsy Life, is out now. It’s available as an eBook (on Amazon, Google and Apple) and a paperback. Amazon tend to run out of paperbacks quite quickly, but you can buy them direct here.