Drawing the story…
I can’t remember how young I was when I first became aware of horses. Mum and Dad were completely non-horsey, although Dad had ridden once as a young lad. I, on the other hand became obsessed with them by the age of 6, much to their bewilderment.
I had no chance of having a pony back then as we couldn’t afford it and it was long before we all had computers and smartphones, so I took to devouring any horse & pony book I could get my hands on. I loved the fictional lives of the characters in all the Pullein-Thompson sisters’ books, which were the equivalent of the Pippa Funnell’s Tilly Pony stories today. Even then, their Pullein Thompson world of hunting, baggy jodphurs, endless picnics, and jolly japes was fast being consigned to history, but I still daydreamed about being one of these girls, living an idyllic, adventurous horsey life. I also knew off by heart back then all the instructions in my ‘Manual of Horsemanship‘, although I had yet to set a foot in a stirrup.
They sounded way cooler than my parents because they let a wild, rough lad called Ken come and stay and he sounded pretty exciting too!
Then I moved onto the Jinny at Finmory stories by Patricia Leitch – anyone of the same vintage as me will remember these stories about a red-headed girl who lived in a huge old house in the north of Scotland and into whose life, comes a wild Arab horse, Shantih. I had not long moved to Scotland myself and was about the same age as the fictional Jinny when I first read these stories – her parents were seeking a new life in the north like mine were but they sounded way cooler than mine because they let a wild, rough lad called Ken come and stay and he sounded pretty exciting too!
As much as I enjoyed reading the stories I also loved looking at the illustrations in these books. There were some fabulous illustrators at work back then. These were the days before desktop publishing – photographs were still expensive so illustrators used instead. I started collecting antique equestrian books with beautiful illustrations.
I grew to love the wonderful work of the likes of Stanley Lloyd who illustrated books like Primrose Cummings’ ‘The Chestnut Filly‘, ‘Silver Snaffles‘ and Betty Cavanna’s ‘Spurs for Suzanna’ and Harold Eldridge whose wonderful drawings illustrated Walter Farley’s ‘Black Stallion‘ books.
At about the age 12, I had been given a fantastic little book first published in 1941, which I still have to this day, by the superb artist John Skeaping RA called ‘How to Draw Horses‘. Skeaping was a sculptor and artist who was married to fellow sculptor Barbara Hepworth. I loved his drawings, the way he could convey in a few simple lines, a horse’s power, grace and bring alive its movement seemed magical to me. I started practising drawing horses and soon covered every available surface with my early attempts and when I was lucky enough to get my own pony, I used to lie in the grass and sketch him in his field.
As I got older I did keep some of my most treasured horsey books and have them to this day.