Ever felt you would like to write a pony book? After a lifetime reading pony books, I have spotted the odd thing or two along the way that I think prospective authors really should know before they start.
1. Your chief character must be female. You may put boys into the book, but they should be minor, and preferably irritating, characters.
2. The heroine should not have a pony at the beginning of the book.
3. The heroine will have a pony by the end of the book.
4. When your heroine first finds her pony, his behaviour should be so revolting that no sane person would ever buy him. If you feel this stretches credulity just a bit too much, the pony can be obviously neglected and in need of rescue.
5. The heroine will have a special ‘feel’ for the pony—she and only she can see through the malevolent awfulness to the kind, loving pony beneath. You are not aiming for Thelwell’s Kipper here.
6. The heroine will, after many battles, which you can make as depressing as you like, get the pony round. Under no circumstances will she give up and sell the monster pony you have created for her: help will arrive from somewhere, ideally from an adult who has tragically had to give up riding.
7. Your heroine should love all animals, but you should not go so far as to give her one, particularly a small animal such as a mouse. A family dog or cat will do.
8. You are allowed to give your heroine other interests so that they have a fully rounded character. A fondness for poetry has always worked well in the past.
9. Mothers should be on the scatty side, to say the least. Ideally, shunt the parents off somewhere else entirely: a long holiday or an archaeological dig, say.
10. If you can contrive for your heroine and her friends to have sole charge of a riding stable or yard this is excellent.
11. The heroine and her family will be poor but noble.
12. If any of your characters are rich, they should either be villains, or in need of that moral improvement only your heroine and her pony can provide. They should certainly not be able to ride well.
13. The illustrator should be able to draw either ponies or people, but not both.
14. You should have an end-of-book gymkhana: nowadays, perhaps even a dressage test or long distance ride—at any event, something competitive. Should your heroine win? Don’t forget the uplifting moral effect on her character of losing or coming some way down the placings. She can always improve in your next book. However, in team events, this does not apply. For a team event, it must be a first, and your team must defeat another, far nastier, team.
And finally … always remember the morally uplifting effect of a pony. Someone in your book should be improved by contact with that noble creature, The Horse.
A previous version of this article originally appeared in Folly Magazine, Summer 2004. And yes, I know my illustrations don’t really prove point 13 …