On this day in 1923, an artist was born–one who would make his mark on the equestrian world despite not being an equestrian himself. His name is synonymous for a particular depiction of fat hairy ponies, today seen on mugs and bedsheets and t-shirts around the globe. The genesis of this brand came 30 years after his birth, when he drew his first pony cartoon for the British magazine Punch.

“The response was instantaneous,” Norman Thelwell wrote in his autobiography Wrestling with a Pencil (Methuen, 1986). “Suddenly I had fan mail…I dreamed up some more horsey ideas, and people went into raptures.”

Thelwell’s “pony cartoons” took off, resulting in now classic books known throughout world, including Angels on Horseback, A Leg at Each Corner, Thelwell’s Riding Academy, Gymkhana, Thelwell Goes West, Penelope, and Penelope Rides Again, all of which are available as reissued collections from Trafalgar Square Books. Thelwell’s recognition of a certain “crazy” that went along with horses quickly gained him fans who appreciated the invitation to laugh at themselves (and the source of their obsession).

“I had a hardcover version of Penelope with a well-worn dust jacket,” remembers TSB Managing Director Martha Cook. “It saw hard use doing the years of angst waiting for a horse of my very own.”

“So often the cartoons related to an experience I had recently had with my pony,” notes Olympic dressage rider and founder of Dressage4Kids Lendon Gray.

Given the societal and technological transformations we have experienced since Thelwell’s birth, and indeed, since he first began sketching horses and ponies and the adventures that can evolve around them, it is both remarkable and comforting that his artwork and humor resonate still. Yes, a lot has changed–but not horses…and not the relationships we as humans pursue with them.

“It’s quite astonishing that my father produced so many cartoons and books that had great success and that his work is still enjoyed today, a century after his birth,” says David Thelwell, a noted artist himself. “He certainly gave so much joy and amusement for so long…how many people ever achieve such a legacy?”

To celebrate Norman Thelwell’s Centenary, all Thelwell books are 20% off Trafalgar Square Books’ online bookstore (HorseandRiderBooks.com). May his legacy live on.


Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books for almost 40 years, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.