A few years ago I had a mid-life crisis, and decided to learn how to ride. I’d ridden occasionally as a kid, and dreamt of having my own pony, but it never happened. So one day I came home and admitted to my other half that I’d “accidentally” bought a horse. It’s very easy to do, I promise! Anyway, I was looking through a collection of my favourite books from when I was young and, even though I didn’t ride regularly then, it turns out they all have a horse on the cover. I really was a pony-less pony-mad youngster.
Anyway, I’m now enjoying catching up on all those missed years of Pony Club. So when I saw Tabby’s Big Year, I was first in the queue for a copy and begging for an interview!
This is a properly horsey book. Lovely, kind, hard-working characters (with the exception of the baddie, of course), an idyllic setting and a classic horsey plot. There is a lot of information about horse care and exercising so it may bore a non-horsey youngster, but it was so carefully and accurately written that I devoured it and I bet any pony-mad youngster would too.
It is a sequel, but I read it as a stand-alone with no issues.
Here is my chat with the author, Hollie Anne Marsh. No surprises, but it’s about horses … and books … and more horses!
I see you’re now based in Barcelona. Have you tried riding in traditional Spanish tack?
No, I haven’t! I have been down to Seville in Andalucía a few times for dressage training and even here in Barcelona, I have ridden quite a few Spanish horses though – they are quite willing, comfortable to ride and have wonderful temperaments generally.
What’s your first horsey memory?
One of my first memories is riding my friend’s pony bareback and galloping him from the paddock gate to the feed shed. We would take turns and do this most days cheering each other on!
What are your top tips for parents of horse-mad children?
I think you shouldn’t force your children to ride. I was desperate to ride since the age of eight and I worked at the riding school to have weekly lessons. When I was fourteen, I got a part-time job so I could loan a pony. Since then horses were a motivation for me to be responsible and make a decent living. My friend that got me into horses, it was her mother that really wanted her to ride versus her… and my friend doesn’t ride now. I also think once kids are old enough, make sure they take some responsibility for their horses they ride eg grooming, cleaning the stable or paddock.
Have you sat your baby boy on a pony yet? We’d love a pic!
Yes. The first time he went alone he was scared and cried on my friends’ pony. The second time though he was smiling and looked quite proud of himself – probably after watching his mummy ride all the time. He also has had a sit on my horse Frieda once with me and another time tried to ride my instructor’s dog trying to imitate me!
Do you think there’s more we could we do to encourage boys into riding? (My son is the only boy in our Pony Club).
It’s funny in Spain there are loads of boys and men that ride. Riding is quite macho and different to the UK, or Australia where I am originally from. In the UK or Australia, the boys seem more interested in adrenalin or team/ball sports. I think the fun and exciting factor is a drawcard… also, team sports like horse ball could encourage them more. In Spain, they have a big horse ball scene actually.
Other than your own books, what are your top 3 books for horse-mad children?
I read Amanda Will’s Riverdale Story for the first time recently and I think it might just be my favourite modern pony book. She is a talented writer; her characters seem authentic and the story is a page-turner. I used to love Flambards when I was younger as it seemed so exotic and fascinating to me – the old English world of hunting (although also a bit cold and cruel). I was also was a bit obsessed with the Saddle Club series as it featured not only horses but ‘coming of age’ themes.
Which of your real horses inspired the horses in your books?
In Tabby’s Big Year, Tabby’s young horse Bliss is based on my horse now, Frieda. She is a 7-year-old, 16.2hand Oldenburg mare that I am training for dressage. I’ve used many names from horses I have known in Sweetbriars. Violet’s horse Spot is based on my last horse in Australia – although I made him Andalusian in the book, however, he has the same kind temperament and dark grey colour, with a peculiar white spot on his hindquarters.
I see a proportion of sales from the first book in the series goes to the RDA. That’s wonderful. Are you doing the same for the second book?
Well, the agreement was that I would contribute once I made a profit with the books, and despite it selling well on Amazon for its genre, I am still yet to make a profit. But I have made a personal donation to them. I hope that one day the series grows bigger (as it’s still in its infancy) then I can donate to the RDA in a bigger way.
Last q, and it’s really important! Who would you want to ride with – the Dothraki warriors in Game of Thrones or the Rohirrim in Lord of the Rings?
I think the Dothraki warriors – I just read that they have such a strong bond with horses, that they are born, fight, and die in the saddle. That sounds cool!
After Tabby’s father vanishes, a deep rift develops in Tabby’s family. Tabby’s mother is focused on being a star performer in her pharmaceutical sales career, while Ava, Tabby’s older sister, is living with grandparents in Cornwall. Tabby feels neglected by her mother and jealous of Ava and although outwardly diligent and responsible, she’s like a kettle about to blow its top… bottling things up until it’s nearly impossible to keep a lid on her frustration and sadness.
Tabby finds solace with her best friends Cate and Violet at Sweetbriars Farm where she is nursing her dream horse Bliss back to peak performance, to be able to participate in the try-outs for the British Young Riders Squad.
Tabby also finds herself facing other challenges – saving her beloved horse Nancy from the knacker’s yard and finding the courage to tell her friends the truth about her family.
Will Tabby be able to save the horses she loves and be brave enough to tell people how she really feels?
Hollie Anne Marsh is an Australian author who lives in Barcelona, Spain with her partner, baby boy and horse Frieda.
Hollie has been horse riding since she was a little girl, enjoying activities such as Pony Club, showjumping, eventing, and trail-riding in the great Australian bush. Hollie lived in England for almost ten years where she had two horses and trained them for dressage.
The Sweetbriars series is inspired by all the special moments Hollie spent with horses – good, funny, and challenging moments!
Additionally the ‘coming of age’ and ‘growing up’ experiences that Hollie had.
Hollie hopes that readers will be able to identify with the characters, find the books fun to read, and they will help readers learn more about horses.