I’m delighted to share the cover which Atlantic Books have conjured up for my book, which will be published in hardback in the UK in March 2012.
If Wishes Were Horses is a memoir of my own unabashed horse-craziness but also an eclectic and eccentric history of girls and horses from Lascaux to My Little Pony. It’s about the way that our attitudes to women, children and horses have changed over the centuries and how those strands all came together in the twentieth-century pony craze which was discussed and debated by thinkers from Anna Freud to Germaine Greer. It’s also about the ways we use our imagination, and how we all try to make the leap from childhood to adulthood without losing the best of ourselves.
On the way I came across princesses, recovering crack addicts, courtesans, warriors, pink-obsessed schoolgirls, national heroines and runaways. I re-read Black Beauty, Patricia Leitch’s Jinny and Shantih novels, Moorland Mousie, Jill’s Gymkhana and nineteenth-century side-saddle manuals. I made the acquaintance of a groom who worshipped an ancient Celtic pony goddess with Budweiser and hippomanes, and an Australian “pony girl” who only felt at peace when she was galloping free in a meadow dressed in a PVC cat-suit with a horse-hair tail. The book also features a teenager from one of the most deprived areas in London who journeys across the city every weekend to groom and muck out, and says she wants to ride racehorses. I talked to a fragile and fierce old lady who carried a knitting bag full of painkillers for her old riding injuries and who told me that death out hunting would be “a lovely way to go,” and tracked down the backup team of the 1950s superstar showjumper, Pat Smythe.
The book looks at fear and romance, sex, stereotypes and hero worship. It exposes the myth that horses are, as one girl put it, “just for the rich”, and makes the case for what a horsey childhood – whether it’s in the Norfolk countryside or a council estate in Brixton – can still do for twenty-first century children, for, as Muriel Wace or “Golden Gorse” wrote in The Young Rider in 1928, “A child who is happy on his pony’s back has something which will be to him a glorious memory that the years cannot dim.”