I made an exciting discovery yesterday evening -- Summer Pony by Jean Slaughter Doty!
So, it was incredibly hot here last night and I made the grave error of keeping the curtains up all day and letting the hot sun turn my room into a suffocating sauna. I have lots of idiosyncracies about sleeping -- I couldn't take one of the hot blankets off the bed because then there wouldn't be enough weight on me. I have to have the weight of blankets to lull me to sleep. Turning my fan to high speed didn't work either because it would start this inconsistent clicking noise that totally drove me mad. I can handle little bits of noise at night, but they have to be rhythmic. Otherwise, just as I'm falling asleep a random click will make my eyelids snap open in a rage. Yes, I really do get that irrationally angry about not sleeping. I have many issues - insomnia is just one of the more irritating ones.
Anyway, I wandered around the house looking for something interesting to read, even though I have about a dozen really cool horse books just lying around waiting to be read. But I'm on this kick right now where I can only read children's or young adult books. The story of Lil E. Tee or Citation is just not where it's at for me. And I came across a stash of vintage children's books that I hadn't previously seen. I collect the things and store them pretty haphazardly, so every so often I find a couple of titles that I don't even remember owning. So, lo and behold, sitting there on the shelf between Cowgirl Kate and A Kiss for Little Bear was Jean Slaughter Doty's Summer Pony. It was just the right blend of adorable 70s cover art and slim sizing that convinced me it was perfect for a midnight read.
It's nice a little book. I'll admit that I don't remember reading it as a child and usually when it comes to horse books, I just DO NOT forget. However, that being said it probably would have appealed to me as a child. It's totally on the simplistic side, which always bugged me a bit. I know it's meant for kids in the 7 or 8 year-old range, but even at that age I was definitely reading a few levels above that. But when it comes to horses I guess I can forgive a lot.
The plotline totally feeds into every little suburban / city girl's fantasy of Mommy and Daddy bringing home a pony to live nights in the garage and spending lazy days tied to the tree in the backyard, cropping the overgrown grass. I mean, did ever such a thing happen? I suppose it may have, but the sheer nonsense of this always struck me even as a little girl. Whose parents are naive enough to think that a pony is almost no expense / responsibility at all? And that they trust their little girl to know enough about ponies to properly take of one, well....it just leaves me rolling my eyes. My parents were not that guillable. Well, not quite - they did trust me a lot to buy me a pony, but we also boarded it somewhere for a couple of years until we made the decision to get a tiny farm. OK, OK, enough sidetracking, on with the story.
Anyway, Ginny (a name that I love, by the way) has apparently spent enough time at camps riding ponies that her parents decide to lease a pony for her for the summer. It's here that the story opens on the three of them at some godawful hellhole of a farm, trying to find a pony to bring home. The description of the deplorably dirty conditions and dejected, starving ponies kind of skeeved me out. I know that the typical narrative for the majority of horse and pony stories revolves around a little girl's desire to adopt a misunderstood outcast of a horse and make it her very bestest friend in the world and yes, in theory I get how this plot structure works and how it can be compelling. But in my own personal experience, even as a child I never desired this scenario for myself. Basically I ended up liking books in spite of this silly plotline. I always figured that these books were catering to the horsey-minded girls who would probably never spend much time with a real horse and eventually end by becoming more obsessed with boys, leaving that silly horse-mania behind. I still happen to think that's true, by the way, because by the time I was 6 my little horse-obsessed brain had devoured every riding manual and veterinary handbook I could possibly get my hands on. I spouted out facts and trivia like my life depended on it, so the idea of rehabilitating a half-starved, dirty little pony wasn't that appealing. I had enough sense to guess it wouldn't be such a lark. And besides I had been riding enough by then to realize that ponies were not going to be my best friends. Don't get me wrong -- I LOVE ponies. But I also had been stepped on, bucked off and pushed around by enough of the little monsters to know that our relationship was not founded on true love, but rather on whether I happened to have a treat in my hand at that particular moment.
And so, Ginny ends up with an emaciated, mangy little pinto pony (Question: Why, at a certain time in children's horse writing, did pintos and piebalds always represent the outcast horse? See National Velvet, Bluegrass Champion, Summer Pony....those are the only ones that pop to mind, but with some more thought, I could probably list more. I really had no idea people looked down on pintos so much.) Of course, Mokey, as she comes to be known get into all sorts of minor troubles, such as getting cut up by a rope when she is left tied to a tree with no supervision, not wanting to jump because she has a horrid curb bit in her mouth and getting loose and eating all the apples in a nearby yard, causing a terrible bout of colic later that night. WHICH IS TO BE EXPECTED WHEN A FAMILY ADOPTS A HORSE AND KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT HOW TO CARE FOR IT. Ugh, for reals, dude. Even my 7 year old self is groaning inwardly. Please to not write any more books about little girls that know nothing about ponies and have to learn the hard way (i.e. the pony suffers). I am so over it.
Of course, we also discover Mokey is a beautfiul, shiny, fat little pony with a lovely stride and a talented jumper. Of course. Moreover she is a very good girl that seemingly doesn't have a mean bone in her body. I am not saying these ponies do not exist. But come on, guys. Even the best of ponies nips or pins his ears sometimes. Sue me, I like some realism with my pony fiction.
Also, by the end it turns out that she gets to keep the pony because a supermarket developer purchases the cruel pony-lenders property and he decides to sell his sad little ponies for as little as possible, as quickly as possible. How convienent. And untrue. That dude would have totally gone on to prosper and do the same to other poor little ponies. I had when bad guys don't get punished. Humphf...makes me very cranky.
However, one very bright and shiny spot that makes up for everything in this book! I love that Ginny ends up taking Mokey to a show and she does just okay. She suffers from nerves in her first jump class and doesn't pin. And in her second class she does well, but she doesn't win. The pair comes away with 3rd place. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate a horse story that doesn't make the heroine win first prize, over some of the finest horses in the country. Dude, that shiz is not cool. I can forgive anything. But not that. I worked my butt off with my $300 pony and was a VERY GOOD little rider. But winning first place was a rarity in my wealthy county, where the girls all had sleek, push-button hunters.
It probably seems like I don't like this book, but in all honesty it was a good little book. One I will give to my nieces to read one day. They like horses, but aren't totally obsessed and this little book can serve to teach a lot to girls like that. But will I revere and cherish this book? Eh, likely not. It was just okay.