Thelwell’s Pony Cavalcade

Book Review by Nancy Brannon

I have been a fan of Thelwell cartoons since I was first introduced to them when my daughter was a “wee babe.” Decades ago I used to receive a tack catalog that had Thelwell cartoons on the cover. I saved every one, framed them, and hung them on the walls of my daughter’s room. I have the “collection” of Thelwell books, Angels on Horseback, A Leg at Each Corner, and Thelwell’s Riding Academy, which of course, I got for my daughter to amuse and encourage her horse habit. So when this new edition from Trafalgar Square Books came out, I was delighted! This book is the perfect choice for our annual summer horse and pony camps issue.

Even if you’ve seen the cartoons before, they continue to evoke laughs at every glance. It’s one of those books you want to pick up periodically, arbitrarily open it at any page, and just laugh your way browsing through the pages.

If you visit Thelwell’s official website, you’ll find that Norman Thelwell is “possibly the most popular cartoonist in Britain,” and that his cartoons cover more subjects than just little girls and fat ponies.

Norman Thelwell was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire on May 3, 1923. His earliest drawing was a pencil self-portrait done at age 10. His love of the English countryside, which is reflected in many of his cartoons, was fostered by childhood visits to a North Wales farm. In the foreword to this book, his son David Thelwell writes: “The lanes, farms, trees, and churches on the Wirral peninsula were early inspirations and subjects of his drawings.”

His first pony cartoon was published in 1953 and, by accident, led to a lifetime of association with the image of the little girl and the fat hairy pony. As Thelwell says in his autobiography, Wrestling With A Pencil: “I was a sort of unofficial country cartoonist, doing funny drawings that involved birds, cattle, pigs and poultry. One day I did a pony drawing and it was like striking a sensitive nerve. The response was instantaneous. People telephoned the editor and asked for more. Suddenly I had fan mail.”

 Angels on Horseback was the first collection of his cartoons in published book form. David Thelwell writes: The success of Angels on Horseback prompted more books, and kept it in print all this time. My father would be delighted to know that it has lasted 60 years. The enthusiasm for his gentle humor about the countryside and for poking fun at the foibles of the human race (and their horses) seems undiminished.”

I concur: my enthusiasm and delightful enjoyment of Thelwell cartoons remains undiminished! In this 60th anniversary Special Collection, Pony Cavalcade has cartoons collected from Angels On Horseback, A Leg at Each Corner, and Thelwell’s Riding Academy. Norman Thelwell’s illustrations and timeless wit are bound to get another generation of young riders “hooked” on the “Thelwell pony.” It should be required reading for all children (and their parents) attending summer riding camps.

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