The Pony Club Annual was first published in 1950. In the preface to the first volume, the Pony Club Chairman, Guy Cubitt, said: ‘… The written word can help us to understand what it is we want to achieve in practice, what skills we must strive to master, what mistakes we must seek to avoid.’ Cubitt hoped readers would find the Annual ‘interesting, informative and enjoyable.’ As it survived in pretty much the same format until the 1980s and has been resurrected now, as part of the Pony Club’s celebrations of its 80th birthday in 2009, it would appear they did.

The Pony Club annuals divide themselves reasonably neatly into four sections: the smaller format available from 1950–1963; the larger format available until 1983 and edited by Genevieve Murphy; the laminated format edited by Toni Webber and published by World International, which was available until 1985, and the Pony Club Book, which reappeared in the mid 1980s.

Annuals 19501963
The first section of annuals, edited by Alan Delgado, were beautiful pieces of work, all illustrated by equine artists at the top of their game. The first annual alone contained original illustrations by Michael Lyne, Joan Wanklyn, Cecil G Trew, Sheila Rose, Peter Biegel, Maurice Tulloch and Marcia Lane Foster. The content was a mixture. Readers were expected to take an intelligent interest in all aspects of the horse; historical; cultural; artistic and practical, as well as amuse themselves by reading stories. The early editors wanted you to learn. Richard L McCreery stressed the instructional nature of some of the articles in his preface to the second Pony Club Annual (1951), though he was also keen on the reader learning by example.

Stories were a central part of the annuals, though the number published wasn’t consistent, varying I would imagine according to what the other content was. One constant was the author Major C Davenport, part of the Pony Club Organisation Committee. He appeared in the first annual as the author of a piece on keeping a pony at grass, and was instrumental in developing the Pony Club film Horse Sense, with its characters Joan, Betty and Captain Hall, of the Downshire Branch of the Pony Club. These characters lived again in what became known as the Captain Hall series, which was featured in the second Pony Club Annual, 1951, and ran at least until the end of the first section in 1963. It was illustrated by different illustrators each time until Pony Club Book 6,when Thelwell became the series’ regular illustrator.

Other notable stories were two contributed by Monica Edwards, possibly the first time slip pony story, in Stella Munro’s Moorland Magic (Pony Club Book 8) and several pieces by Naomi Mitchison, both fictional and non: her first piece (Pony Club Annual 6) was on her ‘two rather nasty ponies and one rather nice horse.’

The Pony Club Annual changed its title to The Pony Club Book in 1956. This was,apparently, because people might think the Annual just contained reprints of piece already published elsewhere, rather than all-new material. Ironically, the Pony Club Book did re-use at least illustrations that it had already used in earlier annuals: the cover for the Pony Club Book 8 is the frontispiece to the first Pony Club Annual.

All illustrations in this section are taken from the first Pony Club Annual.

Annuals 19651983
After the publication of Pony Club Book No 14 in 1963, there was something of a hiatus. The next Pony Club Annual for which I can find any details was published in 1965, and was called Pony Club Annual 1966. There was a new editor, Genevieve Murphy, then equestrian correspondent of The Observer, who remained as editor until 1983. The previous editor, Alan Delgado, had a short story published in the 1966 Annual, but is otherwise not mentioned in this section of annuals.

The 1966 annual came in a new and larger format. It was more obviously aimed at children: the illustrations in particular saw a change. New illustrators like Sally Bell and Janet Grahame Johnstone were used. I am fond of both, but they have a definite and more stylised look aimed (in my opinion at any rate) at appealing to the younger child. John Board, an illustrator with a much more classic style, illustrated a short story, as did Sheila Rose, and Thelwell was still there. The general tenor of illustration was very different, however.

The emphasis of the content changed too: virtually gone were the articles of general horsy interest: these were replaced by more on stars of the Pony Club, puzzles and competitions. The content, in short, was much closer to that of Pony Magazine Annual, and was now aimed at entertaining, with a dash of education, rather than solid education. The new Annual was intended to be a more contributory affair: contributions were asked for the next year’s Annual from Pony Club members and associates.

What palace revolution accompanied this change I do not know: The introduction on the flap of the 1966 Annual said Genevieve Murphy “had the full support of the British Horse Society and the Pony Club in preparing the Annual.” This may mean exactly what it says: worry not, you’re getting an approved production, or it might mean that the introduction of the changes caused ructions. I am still trying to find out what happened.

The new format was, however, successful, and remained virtually the same for theperiod it was published. The drive on having short stories written by members did not last: regular authors were soon established, with short story favourite Carol Vaughan, Josephine Pullein-Thompson and Primrose Cumming appearing in virtually every annual. Only one annual in this period appeared without a story by one of them.

Some features became fixtures: Riders of Renown, an illustrated guide to successful international riders appeared in every issue, as did In Many Moods, pages of black and white photographs. Chrstine Bousfield contributed a long running series on how to draw horses, running from 1975-1983. There was plenty of branch news in each issue, and also photographs of winning teams from inter-branch competitions.

The last three annuals in this section appeared in laminated boards. The last annual, the 1983 edition, was noticeably shorter, with 60 pages compared to the 76 of the previous issue. Presumably this change was to cut costs because of falling sales: the next short section of annuals had a radical face lift and a new editor.

All illustrations in this section are taken from the 1980 Pony Club Annual.


Annuals 19841985

Genevieve Murphy, after 18 years as editor, was now succeeded by Toni Webber. The format of the annual changed dramatically, and it was now published by World International Publishing Company Ltd. The annual had a complete re-design, with a new font, and multiple photographs instead of just one on the cover. Inside, the change was even more radical: the album was now in full colour throughout, and the design was now more consciously modern. Most article illustrations were now photographs, generally in colour. What illustrations remained were sometimes in colour, and were expanded to take up much more of the page than previously. Unfortunately, the quality of the illustrations that remained was generally very poor indeed. The contents weren’t changed too much: there were still stories, news of the Pony Club, and puzzles. Riders of Renown was jettisoned, and replaced by Stars of the Future. Readers contributed two pages of poems and pictures.

The annual came in at 62 pages, and another was published in the same format in 1985. A major cut in costs had obviously been made: these annuals are very poorly made, and in both my copies, the pages started to detach as soon as I started to read them. The quality of the illustrations took a further dive in 1985. An excellent article by Elwyn Hartley Edwards on Is Your Gadget Really Necessary? ends up looking like a filler in an annual of the cheapest and nastiest sort because of its truly terrible illustrations.

All illustrations in this section are taken from the 1985 Pony Club Annual

The Pony Club Book 19861995
The Pony Club presumably decided a change was necessary: the next annual published, in 1986, reverted to being a Pony Club Book. Whether Toni Webber was still editor I do not know: no editor is mentioned in either Pony Club Book 1 or 2. Pony Club Book 3 was edited by Barbara Cooper. Not only did the title revert, the tone of the Annual did too, moving back to the more educational model of the 1950s. There were still articles about the Pony Club, but these were augmented by articles that could have been there in the earliest annuals: I particularly like the illustrated pictures on wildlife and plants you could spot whilst out on a ride. Joan Wanklyn and Kit Houghton contributed long articles on perspective and photography respectively; there were articles on the development of the saddle, and on horses in the King’s Troop as well as unusual breeds: Zebroids and the Iberian horse both featured.

The Annual’s format improved. It was still laminated, but the production quality was much better. It was still in full colour, and the quality of illustration took a considerable leap back upwards: the Pony Club Book number 3 included full colour reproductions of Frederic Remington’s works, as well as colour prints of carriages.

Although three Pony Club Books were published, they were not a yearly event. Pony Club Book 2 was published in 1988, and it was seven years before Pony Club Book 3 appeared in 1995. As far as I know, there were no other Pony Club Annuals or Books in the 1980s and 1990s, but I’m quite prepared for some to emerge from the woodwork.

I assume the Annual was, by the late 1990s, defunct, and that so it remained until the Pony Club’s 80th Anniversary in 2009, when a new annual was published.

The illustrations in this section are taken from the Pony Club Book no 1 (Joan Wanklyn) and The Pony Club Book Number 3 (Frederic Remmington).

The Pony Club Annual 2009
This annual was issued free to all Pony Club members, and is available on the Pony Club website. It was sponsored by the Animal Health Trust, and is liberally sprinkled with advertisements. The Pony Club presumably didn’t want to get its fingers burned again, and I assume had made very sure it will not lose money on this Annual.

It has an almost total shift of emphasis away from articles of general horsy interest and stories over to page after page of Pony Club doings, interspersed with a few slightly more general articles, such as Belinda Wilkins on the three generations of her family who have experienced the Pony Club. A better name for the publication would be The Pony Club Year Book – alas, in its current format, it is of limited interest to the general horsy reader.

I wonder if it’s pushing things too far to argue that the changing annuals have reflected changing society: from the slightly paternalistic push for education in the 1950s, through to the Me, Me, Me generation now, apparently only interested in reading about themselves. To be fair, I think this annual isn’t really intended for a wider audience: it was distributed free to every member, and any outside sales I think are just a bonus.

The final thing that makes me convinced this Annual is aimed purely at its members is the font. It’s tiny, and at my advanced age I struggled to read it.

However, this is the first annual for a very long time: who knows what the future will bring?

Finding the annuals
The earlier annuals are the trickiest ones to find. The majority of early annuals are findable and generally reasonably priced. The exceptions are those that contain a Monica Edwards short story: nos 6 and No. 11. Monica fans know they exist, and so they tend to fetch higher prices. The 1970s and 1980s annuals are all pretty easy to find (with the exception of the 1984 edition). Beware adverts declaring these 1970s and 1980s annuals are rare: they aren’t.

Many thanks to Pam Wakelam for photos and information on the contents of the later sixties and early seventies run of annuals.