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Caroline Akrill

Pony book authors don’t tend to do humour: perhaps it’s the undercurrent of morality that underpins most of the genre (you must take proper care of your pony ), but the pony book that makes you laugh out loud is rare. Jill is amusing, but Caroline Akrill is funny. “It is,” she wrote “perfectly possible to make a career out of misadventure and ineptitude.” She is right. You cannot, unless you are a very rare being indeed, have anything to do with horses and not experience the ridiculous side of it all just occasionally. Caroline Akrill’s genius lies in being able to combine a compelling picture of equine life with humour. Her Eventer’s Trilogy, one of the best selling pony book series of recent times, selling over 70,000 copies, makes me laugh out loud.

Caroline has had a lifetime’s experience to draw on. She was a horsey child, with ponies and a liking for pony books – the Jill books and Silver Snaffles, as well as books which are just about as far from Jill as you can get: the Swallows and Amazon series by Arthur Ransome. After her pony filled childhood, Caroline’s has been a varied career: “...I have tried (and it has to be said, failed) most things: not only was I once the proprietor of the worst riding school in the world, but ran for a while what was quite possibly the most unsuccessful show pony stable ever. I have attempted to master the Art of Riding to Hounds, and I have also been a horse dealer of sorts, both of the latter whilst helping to run a country pub which suffered dreadfully from my divided interest.”

I asked why she started writing. “Michael Williams, ex editor of Pony magazine was entirely responsible for this (although Elwyn Hartley Edwards when editor of Riding published my first article). I wrote regularly for Michael Williams mainly about shows and my own ponies and he was incredibly supportive (always rapping my knuckles about punctuation, spelling and being rude about people) - I was actually banned from attending Ponies of Britain shows for two years by Glenda Spooner, who finally relented and asked me to tea. I was also banned, rather unfairly, I thought, from the donkey show.”

Besides her articles for a variety of horsey publications, Caroline also wrote for Pony magazine: short stories and then a serial - “it was very well received. [It was Caroline Canters Home - the Hollings brothers, now running a Show Pony Yard, used to read it aloud to a bus load of children on the way to school.] Michael Williams suggested I try to get it published. I sent it to Hodder & Stoughton who sent a man in a black raincoat with gloves tucked into his epaulettes - I thought he had come to arrest me but he turned out to be their Children’s Book Editor. He was also marvellously encouraging and thought my work was fresh and different (actually I think he thought I was potty).”

I’d Rather Not Gallop was the first in a trilogy about showing, the other titles being If I Could Ride and Caroline Canters Home. These were all based firmly on her own showing career: something experienced as a child, a reporter, a professional and, worst of all, a parent. I wondered if she preferred writing about showing or actually doing it. “I loved showing when I was doing it – or I thought I did. Later, when I wrote about it, I wondered why I bothered.” I asked, having read Caroline’s chronicle of her attempt to live life as a normal show goer, whether the retirement of Mrs Akrill had actually happened, or whether there were still furtive expeditions to shows. Had she finally broken the show pony habit? “Oh yes, she said. “I never go to shows now. It would be work!”

After writing the Showing trilogy, Caroline was then poached by Christine Lunness, the editor at Arlington Books. “I stayed with them for years. Christine is still one of my dearest friends and Desmond was something else. When the books were doing well he would fly Concorde and when they were doing badly he would go round the office turning off all the radiators. If he wanted you to do a book for him, he would take you out for an extravagant lunch and encourage you to have the most expensive item on the menu. Then he would order a heap of lettuce and line up a vast array of vitamin pills alongside. There would be a little lecture about the benefits of each interspersed with verses from Hillaire Belloc recited in a stunningly good Kenneth Williams impersonation. It was all very unsettling.” Unsettling it might have been but Desmond Elliot was a man with an eye for an author: he started the careers of Jilly Cooper, Penny Vincenzi and Anthony Horovitz, as well as introducing Tim Rice to Andrew Lloyd-Webber.

Caroline’s next series of books was the immensely popular Eventing Trilogy. Christine Lunness, a rider herself; spotted just how popular eventing was becoming, and commissioned her to write the series. The Eventer’s Trilogy is Caroline’s favourite amongst her books – “it has been so good to me.” Its heroine is Elaine, whose ambition to become an eventer is hugely complicated by her decision to work for the Fanes, the classic aristocratic family who are asset rich and cash poor. As one cannot pay the blacksmith with a bit of ancestral brickwork their livery business is in a parlous state by the time Elaine arrives, and it is the tension between the wayward Fanes and Elaine’s ambition that gives the books their spark.

And they are extremely funny. The Fanes are such vivid creations I wondered if there were real-life Fanes out there somewhere. “Yes, but as individuals, not one family. Lady Jennifer is truly out there and she has never recognised herself!”

Caroline continued to write articles and short stories, and a collection of them - Not Quite a Horsewoman - is still in print now. Desmond Elliot “was a book short for his list one year and because my husband worked at the palace he thought it would be jolly good if I wrote a book about the Royals. As my husband never told me anything that went on because I’m such a gossip and I had to get all my royal tittle-tattle from the Daily Mail (how odd that I should later become the publisher of the Duke of Edinburgh and the very soul of discretion) this was a non-starter, so after the extravagant meal, the pills and the Hillaire Belloc, he asked if I had any material tucked away, anything, he said, anywhere, the situation was desperate. I couldn’t think of anything other than piles of yellowing magazine articles insulating the attic. ‘Well, get them down’ he cried, ‘go home and get them down!’ The result was Not Quite a Horsewoman, still selling well twenty years later!”

Other than her non fiction The Art of Showing a Pony, Caroline has (at the moment) written only one novel which does not have an undercurrent of humour. Flying Changes is a particularly unusual pony book; originally intended as as an adult read. It’s very dark, with a main character, Oliver, whose perfectionism and ruthlessness drive him to destruction. The book had a painful birth: “It was far, far darker when it was delivered to Arlington Books. They were simply horrified by it because it was not at all what they were expecting. They had sent me away saying ‘write what you like’ but they wanted another teen book because we already had the market and a paperback publisher waiting. They took out all the darker bits which infuriated me at the time, and it didn’t work anyway because the paperback people said they still couldn’t take it because it ‘clearly was not a children’s book’. They were right, it wasn’t intended to be and it ended up sitting rather uneasily on the shelf.”

Flying Changes isn’t a book you curl up with by the fire as a nice, escapist read. It ends in tragedy, and people are wounded and rejected along the way. But the book did hit a nerve for many - maybe some of its teenage readers saw in Oliver the anti-hero they could rescue. “I received more mail about Flying Changes than any other book. Oliver made quite an impact on the girls. I remember one reader writing in despair ‘I look for him everywhere, everywhere I go, every show, every dressage event, I look for him. I just know he’s there somewhere.’”

After the Silver Bridle trilogy, about a stable which trains horses for filming, there have been no further books. Although Caroline didn’t write anything over those years, she was responsible for the excellent J A Allen Equestrian Fiction series, about which you can read more here. “There was a long gap simply because I became a publisher [J A Allen] and spent over 20 years helping other people to write their books about horses. It was incredibly rewarding but mentally exhausting. I’ll get back to writing soon but it won’t be pony novels. I have a novel almost finished but don’t hold your breath!”

And do you, I asked, still ride? “No. I am ridden out. Now I just look and admire with absolutely no desire to clamber back into the saddle – except for the very, very occasional weak moment.”

Caroline now runs a hotel: the Plas Maenan Hotel. Click here for more information. I have done another interview with Caroline: Caroline Akrill on The Silver Bridle series

Finding the books: the good news is that most of Caroline Akrill’s books are quite easy to find. The difficult ones are
I’d Rather Not Gallop (very hard indeed to find in hardback, but less so in paperback) and If I Could Ride. Caroline Canters Home, the third of the Showing trilogy, is very difficult indeed. Flying Changes is easy to find in paperback and hardback; all the Eventer’s Titles are reasonably easy to find in paperback: the hardback first editions are now hard to find. The Silver Bridle trilogy is reasonably easy: the paperback and hardback editions less so but not impossible. The non fiction titles are easy to find: Not Quite a Horsewoman is still in print.

Links and sources
Correspondence with Caroline Akrill

Not Quite A Horsewoman (Allen 1995, 3rd edn)

Many thanks to Bettina, Hannah, and Dawn for all the scans of the books I don’t have but wish I did.

Caroline Canters Home

I’d Rather Not Gallop
If I Could Ride

Note:  this is the reading order, not the publishing order.  

Eventer’s Dream
A Hoof in the Door
Ticket to Ride

Silver Bridle

Make Me A Star
Stars Don’t Cry
Catch a Falling Star

If I Could Ride
Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1976, 144 pp, illus Elisabeth Grant

Character list

Caroline is on a Studwork Course, but misses riding, and Simon, Sarah and Becky “persuade” her to
leave. The Stud has been hit by Contagious Equine Metritis: most of the mares are now barren, and
the Stud is finished. So, they will become a Riding Centre, and Caroline will be the Secretary. Against
all the odds, the Centre struggles on, and Caroline finds she likes teaching. This leads her to a
dilemma - whether to make a break from her cousins at last, or stay on and run the Centre.

I’d Rather Not Gallop
Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1975, illus Elisabeth Grant
Knight, Leicester, pb, 1979, 119 pp

Character list

It is time for Caroline to show The Small Hunter - “a nice horse, but not naughty. Not

deliberately so." An added problem is that Caroline’s cousins think that the best way
to show The Small Hunter is sidesaddle, and so that’s what Caroline has to learn,
under the tuition of Mr. Marmalade, who "teaches all the best people".

Caroline Canters Home
Hodder & Stoughton, 1977

Character list

(NB: despite the publishing date, this is the first story in the series: it’s basically the series as first

published in Pony Magazine).

Caroline has decided she wants a career in Show Ponies, and her cousins decide she is the ideal
person to show Clytie, their Show Hack. Caroline is not so sure. Then Benjamin, the Show Pony from
Hell, is stolen, by thieves who have not the faintest idea of just what they have taken on.

Eventer’s Dream
Arlington, London, 1981, 167 pp

Granada, 1984, pb
Armada, pb, 1990

Character list

Elaine is determined to compete
in Three Day Events after she
finishes her training. However,
she ends up in the Fane sisters’ livery yard, and although she is
at first appalled, and determined to leave, the Fane sisters have
a strange attraction. They, and Harry Sabin’s bay gelding, and the lethal grey bolter, the Comet, all conspire to keep Elaine where she is.

A Hoof in the Door
Arlington, London, 1982, 154 pp
Granada pb 1984
Armada pb 1990

Character list

Elaine has her event horse,
The Legend, but she still can’t
shake the Fanes off. They are
trying everything they can think of to raise money for Elaine
to compete, and then Nick Foster, whipper-in , suggests
Elaine apply for a scholarship. The process towards this, via
the grey bolter The Comet, Lala Thornapple, and of course the Fanes, is far from simple.

Ticket to Ride
Arlington, London, 1983, 224 pp

Granada, pb, 1984
Armada, pb, 1990

Character list

Elaine has at last managed to
win a place on an Eventing
Scholarship course. She leaves
the Fanes with some bitterness once she finds out they still
think they have a stake in her horse. Elaine’s father meets

Lady Jennifer, with surprising results, but at the end it looks as though Elaine might have found her dream.

Flying Changes
Arlington, London, 1985

J A Allen, London, pb, 1989

Oliver Jasny has star quality by the bucketload, and it takes him from gymkhanas to
the heights of the dressage world. However, his sister, Kathryn, finds that there is a
dark, and ultimately destructive, side to all this success.

Make Me a Star

Grafton Books (Collins), London, hb, 1986, 107 pp, left
Dragon, pb, 1987
Armada, pb, 1988 right

As part of Silver Bridle trilogy, J A Allen, pb, 1993, 305 pp

Grace, an actress, gets a role in a TV series. She’s supposed to be
able to ride, and she can’t. So, she has to learn, as well as convince
her back home boyfriend and her family that she can act.

Stars Don’t Cry

Collins, London, 1987, 109 pp, left

Armada, London, 1988, right (this is stated as first edition)

As part of Silver Bridle trilogy, J A Allen, pb, 1993, 305 pp

Grace arrives at Moat Farm Stables for a four week riding course.
Her instructor seems on another planet, and the farm’s owner has
met Grace before and didn’t like what he saw.

Catch a Falling Star

Armada, London, 1988 (stated first edition), 111 pp

As part of Silver Bridle trilogy, J A Allen, pb, 1993, 305 pp

At last the production of The Hooves of the Horses, the TV series in which Grace has
a leading role, has started filming. The production is hit by one disaster after another.

Compilations Eventer’s Trilogy Arllington, hb, 1984, right and far right Printed in one pb volume twice by Granada  (below left and centre) and by Diamond, pb, below right, 1994

The Silver Bridle

Contains all of the Silver Bridle trilogy

Published by J A Allen in paperback, 1993, 305 pp

Non Fiction

Showing the Ridden Pony
J A Allen, 1981, 144pp, Illus Elaine Roberts

Not Quite a Horsewoman
Arlington, London, 1982, illus Anne Pilgrim

J A Allen, London, 1995, pb, 186 pp

Bibliography -  pony books only

A Road Safety Workbook for Young Riders J A Allen, June 2007, illustrated by Anne Pilgrim

Short stories

Caroline Akrill wrote for Pony Magazine, but also wrote several stories which are rather easier to find.  If you like the Showing series, do seek these stories out.  They are well up to the standard of the books.

The Lamentable Leading Rein, illus Elaine Roberts, Pony Magazine Annual, 1975
The family get a leading rein pony, but there is nobody to ride it.  (Showing story)

An International Incident, illus Elaine Roberts, Pony Magazine Annual, 1976
Mr Duffy finally has a good pony, and the family enter it in the Pairs. (Showing


The Difference, illus Elaine Roberts, Pony Magazine Annual, 1977
Lesley goes to visit Annie in France.

The Churl Who Loved Horses, illus Elaine Roberts, Pony Magazine Annual,

An historical fantasy

The Celebration, illus Elaine Roberts, Pony Magazine Annual 1979
The refreshment lady at the show suffers... (Showing story)

Our Daisy’s Flag Day, illus Leslie Branton.  Pony  Magazine Annual, 1981
Thumper the milkman’s horse is going to be redundant.