Monday, April 15, 2013

W15: The Pony Book

This week’s Biblio-Mat book came out without a dustjacket, just a cellophane wrapper, making the random book even more mysterious than usual:

This could be anything. Anything at all.
Picking it up, a thousand thoughts went through my mind on what it could be. It looked to be quite scholarly and the Monkey’s Paw does carry a wide selection of niche academia so perhaps a text on surgical procedures or a history of mental health studies? Maybe even an exploration in philosophical discussion or a study into world geography. I slowly turned the book over.

Yep. Ponies.
Published in 1966, The Pony Book by Jeff Griffin is everything it sounds like it would be. At 287 pages, it is an encyclopedia on everything one would ever need to know about ponies in the 1960s. Outside of preteen girls and mid-19th century socialites, there’s a certain fanatical subculture that this would greatly appeal to. Unfortunately I do not belong to that group.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Outside of them being small horses and a euphemism for the male organ in a Ginuwine song from the mid-nineties, I actually know very little about ponies. The Pony Book quickly rectifies this with an intro chapter that gives the history and usage of the modern pony, painting them as animals that have had many uses in the past but are now primarily bred for shows and harness/chariot racing. Besides the obvious Shetland pony, the book continues on to showcase fifteen other breeds. Fourteen of them look like small horses. The fifteenth is a miniature donkey. It was clear early on that I do not have the eye or appreciation to make a pony salesman.

A part of me also gets a bit hungry when I look at this.
Although the images are in black and white, they are plentiful and the captions offer a lot of detail into what is being shown, making proper use of images instead of using them as filler. But what is most impressive about this book is not only the amount of historical and biological information contained within, but the sheer amount of ownership and cultural information. Many of the photos come with descriptions on the pony and the owners, who seem to mainly fall into two categories – rich aristocratic women and children with rich aristocratic parents. When the pedigree of the owners is longer than the pedigree of the pony the accessibility of the hobby comes into question.

I didn't even have PowerWheels growing up.
The later chapters deal with the purchase and upkeep of a pony. Hand drawn diagrams show what perfect specimens look like as well as what problems one should avoid while purchasing a showhorse. I can proudly say that I am now aware of the symptoms of bowed tendons and sickle-hocks should I have the opportunity to purchase a ‘Mare in foal with foal at side’ at the local pony swaps. There are also diagrams on constructing the perfect stable and the various types of fencing, which appears to be counterproductive as a few chapters later the book goes into training your pony to jump over fences not unlike the ones you have just built to keep it in your field.

If it's not a gift, look to your heart's content.
The training section itself is a wealth of information for those that foresee owning a pony in the future. With clear strategies on teaching a pony the different types of walks, circuits, and jumps, it turns a brand new pony into a show pony in what seems to be a few hours of work with a bundle of sticks. It is also pretty clear that I would make a horrible pony trainer. However, even though it was printed in 1966, I still feel the information contained within is still valid and useful since not much seems to have changed in the last fifty years of pony development. The Pony Book will probably be a relevant guide for ponies until we figure out a way to increase the amount of horsepower in a horse so until we have cybernetic ponies, I will most definitely keep this book on hand in the case that I happen upon a pony auction while strolling the cotton fields with my socialite friends.

Book rating: 8/10 (Really, who doesn’t like ponies?)

Random quote: “Pony people are always a friendly, helpful lot who love to gas about their favorite pastime.” (As anyone who has ever accidentally wandered into the more fanatical sections of a comicon can attest)

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