This recently published photograph prompted one of my readers to contact me saying that she had never heard of Fell Ponies before reading my “Bunch Courtney Investigates” crime books, and she was fascinated to read of their links to royalty.
The photograph was released to honour the Queen’s 96th birthday. It shows the Queen standing between two of her favourite Fell Ponies, the stunningly white Bybeck Nightingale and Bybeck Katie.
I should mention, though, that black is the most common colour among Fells.
Having worked in stables when I first left school I’m familiar with many horse breeds, which gave me some small insider knowledge when deciding upon an animal that would suit Bunch’s rebellious streak, something different to a snow-white Arab mare, a seventeen-hand chestnut Hunter, or some other showcase equine that are so often portrayed in fiction.
I admit I succumbed a little, so yes, Robinson Kane Gloucester, commonly known as Robbo, the horse belonging to Bunch’s father, is that huge Hunter. But hey, Robbo is just a bit player and not the star turn.
I needed something sturdy, a horse suitable for hunting and one that could cope with the hilly terrain around Bunch’s Sussex home – and also a horse that was commonly available in Britain in the pre-war years. When writing Winter Downs, the first in the series, I had toyed with the idea of a giving Bunch a Welsh Cob or New Forest Pony – until my good friend Sue Burns purchased a black Fell Pony, by the name of Bonbon. Of course, the choice of Bunch’s mount became obvious!
The Fell is known for its stamina and a comfortable, rapid gait, as well as its intelligence and a calm, if occasionally mischievous, personality. Perfect! I named Bunch’s pony Peregrine – Perry for short – and my horse-mad sleuth was ready to ride!
Book two, In Her Defence, saw the inclusion of Magpie, otherwise known as Maggie, a bad tempered, piebald Vanner Cob, which our heroine bought at auction, much to everyone else’s horror. Maggie was purchased in order to pull the pony cart that had been hauled out of retirement. Don’t forget, in the war years, when petrol rationing in the UK made car use extremely difficult, many farms and estates made use of old pony traps and carts for local trips. Perry was both too small for the shafts and also, at the ripe age of twenty-plus, rather too old to haul a cart on a daily basis. Maggie’s purchase also led to vital information in the poisoning case that Bunch was then investigating!
In Listed Dead, the third in the series, Bunch is still as horse mad as ever, even if she succumbed to a nifty little MG sports car for those longer trips in pursuit of villains.
Watch out for a further two more Bunch Courtney Investigations in the pipeline for this year: A Case for Murder and A Deadly Plot.