December 16, 2021 4 min read
You may notice a few familiar faces on the Breeches.com website. The beloved Thelwell ponies have made it to Breeches.com! These lovingly drawn characters have become synonymous with the equestrian world and the horse back riding lifestyle. Filled with nostalgia and gentle humor, the Thelwell ponies are something we are truly excited to incorporate into our line of retail products.
Norman Thelwell is the artist behind the Thelwell ponies and is known as the unofficial artist of the British countryside. His love of the British landscape is captured in a series of ink and watercolor drawings of the area surrounding his country estate in South Hampshire. You can also see these pastoral landscapes incorporated beautifully into the background of all of his Thelwell pony comics.
While not a dedicated horseman himself, Thelwell’s first ever horse encounter has informed all of his beloved pony drawings. When on holiday in North Wales as a young boy, Norman and his brother, Alan, were mounted on two large Shires with no prior riding experience or instruction. Instead, the horses took off at a fast pace down steep, narrow lanes with the two boys bouncing around in the saddle and clinging to their long manes for dear life. This image of two young kids bouncing this way and that with manes flying in the air became a recurring theme for his drawings later on in life.
Starting in the 1940s, Norman Thelwell was conscripted for the Second World War. His time spent in military training in England and then in India changed and informed his drawing style for the rest of his life. Not only did his time abroad force him to work on his least favorite subject– figure drawing– but it was also during this period in his life that he realized he could earn a living from his illustrations.
So if Norman Thelwell was not a horseman, what inspired him to create his iconic Thewell ponies? The concept for the Thelwell ponies and their short round riders, began with two ill-tempered, chubby beasts named Thunder and Lightning that lived outside his artist’s studio in Codsall.
The story goes that Thelwell would watch as two young riders approached the ponies armed with helmets, whips, and halters. Sidestepping lightning-fast kicks, the girls got the ponies haltered and brought them in to be ridden. Thelwell was inspired to draw the incident and sent it off to the magazine, Punch. It was an instant success and the artist was immediately bombarded with requests for more.
Thelwell’s love of nature and reputation for drawing horses expanded into a collection of sporting prints. According to his autobiography, his collection of sporting prints was inspired by the day he came across a bedraggled fox in the woods. The small creature was trying to jump over a wall, but was clearly exhausted. Thelwell could hear the sounds of horses and hounds in the distance so he quickly grabbed the animal and helped it up the wall where it disappeared into the woods.
Because of that day, Thelwell found a new perspective on fox hunting that he captured in a series of comics. The drawings feature scenes like “The Return Home” where a clever fox sits proudly behind a bush while a muddy and tired horse and rider plod home empty-handed. Or scenes from a series called “The Glorious Twelfth” where a hunter stands miserable and empty-handed, surrounded by yawning hunting dogs and empty shells with his quarry flying away unharmed.
Thelwell’s journey to fame was not without its setbacks. At one point, he approached a publisher with the idea to create a book. He was told it was a bad idea, but luckily another opportunity came along. His first book, Angels on Horseback, was published in 1957. Since then, there have been more than 30 different books featuring his beloved characters, including the Thelwell ponies and their adventures.
Thelwell didn’t stop there. His Thelwell ponies became so popular that a line of merchandise was created. There were Thelwell figurines featuring angry riders dumped from round ponies and chubby horses and riders galloping headlong into the distance with, of course, minimal control.
But it didn’t stop there. There was even a Thelwell rocking pony featuring an adorably round pony complete with mischievous eyes and a miniature saddle. The rocking ponies were a big hit and can still be found through vintage resellers.
Breeches.com is proud to be part of a movement introducing the Thelwell ponies to the next generation of horsemen and horsewomen. We will be working closely with the Estate of Norman Thelwell to create new Thelwell pony merchandise that features Norman Thelwell’s beloved characters.
Riders young and old are able to purchase Thelwell shirts, belts, and socks right from Breeches.com. Characters include riders sitting backwards on their round mounts, children craning to see over their pony’s fluffy mane, and adorable riders falling off harmlessly over small fences.
The crowning products in our Thelwell Collection is our line of saddle pads created in collaboration with Lettia. Featuring all purpose and baby pads in pastel purples, pinks, and blues, there’s sure to be a character and color every rider can relate to.
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