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Jane Badger Books

Patricia Leitch: Pony Surprise (paperback)

Patricia Leitch: Pony Surprise (paperback)

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It was not the first time that Augustus had met children who stared at him with a gymkhana look in their eyes. In his long life Augustus had often had to deal with such children. He knew that the best place for a pony was standing in its own little field grazing and one of the worst places for a pony was dashing madly round at gymkhanas. In his well-ordered life Augustus had seldom allowed this to happen to him.

Penny and Ewan cannot believe their eyes. They have resigned themselves to a pony-less summer, but there is a pony in their neighbour's field. A real, live pony. Augustus is a Highland pony who has come to stay with Miss Frobisher for the summer. And Augustus needs looking after, and riding. It is a dream come true.

It is not a dream that Augustus has any interest in, however . He has his own ideas of what a summer should involve for a pony, and it does not involve schooling or the Pony Club.

Can Penny and Ewan persuade Augustus that he can become the perfect Pony Club pony?

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“I don’t care what you say, if I had a pony of my own, I would not ride it with all that ironmongery in its mouth or all those straps buckled round it holding it down like that. I just wouldn’t. She’s got a double bit, a standing martingale, a running martingale and she’s talking about buying a drop noseband. Honestly! I’d school it in a field until I could control it in a snaffle. I would. So there!” stated Penny MacDonald.

“All right, all right. Keep your hair on. I only said that if you’d been run away with as often as Jane Pearson you would be quite keen on stopping Black Knight, no matter how you did it,” said Penny’s brother Ewan. “He bolted down the High Street the other day, galloping mad through all the traffic.”

“Well, I don’t blame him. A double bridle with Jane Pearson’s hands holding the reins. I’ll bet you you’d bolt. If he was mine, I’d ride him in the field until I could control him and then he couldn’t get away from me.”

The two children trailed slowly homeward on that summer evening. Though scarcely quarrelling, they were both feeling more than fed up with life. They had just been to an unmounted rally of the Rayer branch of the Pony Club. Since it had been unmounted, they would not have needed a pony even if they had owned one, but other children kept saying things like: “Buster is getting so fat. I’ll need to start keeping him in during the day or I’ll never get his girth done up”, or “Jayne can jump four feet now. I’ve been schooling her over spread jumps and it’s made all the difference.” While Ewan and Penny could only listen enviously.

The MacDonald household boasted a fridge and a washing machine but no pony.

“I would do all the washing by hand, and I’d ride down to the shop for extra milk and things whenever you needed them,” Penny assured her mother. “Then you could sell the beastly machines and buy a pony for us.”

“You are wasting your breath,” said Mr. MacDonald.

“I know,” said Penny miserably. “But I have to keep on trying. One must never give up.”

But the fridge and the washing machine stayed, and Ewan and Penny continued to plod ponyless to all the horsy gatherings in the district.

Ewan was twelve. He was tall and thin with straight black hair and a wide cheery grin. He had an easy-going nature, not minding what he did if it kept other people happy. He nearly always thought that things worked out best if you didn’t make a fuss.

Penny was ten. She had two long black pigtails which she hated but which her mother liked, so they stayed. She was inclined to be what her friends called “sturdy” and her enemies “fat”. But neither her friends nor her enemies could say that Penny’s fat was due to laziness. Unlike her brother she felt that things were there to be organized to suit Penny MacDonald and her whole day was dedicated to organizing her affairs—hopefully pony affairs. Anything at all to do with ponies which might possibly lead to someone saying to her, “Do you want a ride, Penny?”

It was the first week of the summer holidays and seven long weeks of freedom stretched ahead of them but so far, despite all Penny’s efforts to organize the summer, they were still seven utterly ponyless weeks.

As she walked home beside her brother, Penny went over pony possibilities in her mind.

Marian Sprig’s Jester had a strained tendon and was not to be ridden for at least five weeks. Marian was a pale and nervous child who disliked riding and hated everything to do with ponies. Mrs. Sprig was a large, loud-voiced woman who knew nothing at all about ponies but liked Marian to be seen at all the local shows and Pony Club events. So they were both quite keen to have Penny around to help and usually Jester was one of their best bets. Major Hewitt, who owned the local riding school, had never looked favourably upon helpful children and now had definitely taken against them. Some undiscovered child had left a box door open and Major Hewitt’s show mare had got out onto the road, slipped, come down and broken both her knees. There was now a large notice in his tack room stating that the yard was private property and only open to regular pupils of the riding school. Penny and Ewan were faithful pupils, but due to lack of money, not regular. Miss Connell’s Dinkie had a two-week-old foal and although Penny went to see it almost every day it meant that Dinkie couldn’t be ridden. Mr. Dunn’s Flopsy, a New Forest pony that had belonged to Mr. Dunn’s daughter Sandra, had been turned out to grass. The outlook was very black.

“Wouldn’t you think that Mr. Dunn could let us have Flopsy while Sandra is at university? I mean, obviously she’s never going to want to spend all her time riding a pony now that she’s more or less grown-up. It would have been far better for the pony, too. She’s going to do nothing but eat and eat and end up with navicular and have to be put down.”

“You will be able to go and poultice up poor old Flop’s feet and Mr. Dunn will say, ‘Dear Penny, I am eternally grateful to you. Take Flopsy … she is yours. You have saved her life’.”

“It is not funny,” stated Penny.

Penny and Ewan lived in a smart, modern bungalow with whitewashed walls and a red tile roof. It was one of six bungalows all exactly the same, all sitting in their own pocket handkerchief of garden. They had been built in the grounds of Camworth House after Mrs. Harrison had died and the house crumbled into a ruin.

The children turned down the lane that led to the bungalows. There was a smooth tarmacadam road that also led to the bungalows but Penny and Ewan always went home by the lane. It was spooky and overgrown and on windy nights the trees creaked and groaned overhead. Going home by the lane also meant that they passed Miss Frobisher’s cottage.

Most grown ups seemed to think that Miss Frobisher was slightly mad but Penny and Ewan thought that she was just about the only really sane adult they knew. She was the only person that they knew who took advantage of being old enough to do what she liked and spent her life doing something that she really enjoyed. Miss Frobisher was a potter. She made dishes, vases, jugs, mugs and pots of all shapes and sizes. She fired them in her own kiln, decorated them and glazed them and then sold them to different shops. Usually she painted flowers and squiggles on them because she said this was what people wanted but sometimes to please Penny and Ewan she would paint shaggy ponies on them.

“Do you think Mr. Dawes would let me ride Henry?”

Penny was asking. She did not have much hope because Mr. Dawes thought Henry was dangerous and would not let anyone near him except himself, when Ewan suddenly stood stock still.

“Look!” he shouted pointing to the field at the side of Miss Frobisher’s cottage. “Look!”

“What is it?” asked Penny, annoyed that Ewan wasn’t paying attention to what she was saying.

“There you idiot. Look!”

Penny’s gaze followed Ewan’s pointing finger. “I don’t see … ”

Then she saw what he was meaning. She opened her mouth to shriek in delight but the surprise was too great. For almost a minute Penny stood with her mouth open in utter surprise.

“It is,” she gasped at last. “It is a pony. It really is! ..."

Page length: 168

Original publication date: 1974

Who's in the book?

Penny and Ewan, Miss Frobisher, Major Hartley, Linda Bruce
Augustus, Romary

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