For The Love of Thelwell
Fat hairy ponies. Hook-nosed riding teachers, riders on backward, and horses gone madly off course. This epitomises the cartoons of the Thelwell the pony that many equestrians grew up with and can immediately relate to. But how did these prolific images come about and who did them. Read on to find out more…and shop our complete Thelwell Collection.
Who created Thelwell?
Thelwell, created by Norman Thelwell, was a British cartoonist and illustrator. Born in 1923 in Birkenhead, Cheshire, Norman Thelwell took to art at an early age and preferred drawing and painting to any other school subject. His earliest surviving drawing is a pencil self-portrait done at the age of 10, on which his teacher has written in red ink: ‘V. good indeed’.
He left school aged 16 to become a junior clerk in an office. The second world war had already started by this time, and he joined the army aged 18 in 1941, where he happily carried the extra weight of his sketch pad and paints.
How Norman Thelwell come up with the idea of Thelwell the Pony?
It was whilst he was in the army that he had his only experience of riding a horse. He was serving in India and the horse bolted, leaving Thelwell clinging on around its neck. While recovering in hospital towards the end of the war, the idea of selling his cartoons came to him after he saw a cartoon in an army magazine.
However, after the war he returned to his clerking job in Birkenhead. Then one day he simply decided that he’d had enough and handed in his notice. He obtained a government grant and went off to Liverpool College of Art where he completed his degree in 3 years instead of the more normal 5 years.
In a field next to his house were two hairy fat ponies, with attitude! Their owners were two girls about 3 feet tall and a bit on the round side. Thelwell recalled "As the children got near, the ponies would swing round and present their hindquarters and give a few lightning kicks which the children would sidestep calmly, and they had the head-collars on those animals before they knew what was happening. I was astonished at how meekly they were led away; but they were planning vengeance - you could tell by their eyes" - and so Thelwell's characters were born.
How did Thelwell cartoons become so popular?
His first pony cartoon was published in 1953 and, by accident, his name became synonymous with these kinds of images. In an interview Norman Thelwell spoke of the instantaneous response to ‘Thelwell Pony’: “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. So, the editor told me to do a two-page spread on ponies. I was appalled. I thought I’d already squeezed the subject dry. I looked at the white drawing block and wondered what on earth to do. In the end I dreamed up some more horsey ideas and people went into raptures.”
And what of Thelwell today?
Sadly, Norman Thelwell passed away on 7th February 2004 aged 80 but his legacy lives on. The "Thelwell pony", an often-referenced source of horse-humour the world over, has been translated into languages as diverse as Finnish and Japanese. Consequently, Thelwell entered the language and the libraries of equestrian enthusiasts across the globe along with the learning of how to get into a saddle, and the art of staying there.
He was also a serious landscape artist, painting in watercolour and oils. His 34 books have sold over 2 million copies in the UK and across the world.
At EQUUS, we have everything Thelwell, whether you are looking for rider wear, horse wear, children’s wear or even home accessories, you can find it all! With six different collections, you can pick your favourite or collect them all. Take a look at these much loved collections below, full of excellent clothing and accessories for you or your horse.
Thelwell Original Collection
The Thelwell Original Collection features the adorable Thelwell character in the traditional navy and red design.
Thelwell Trophy Collection
The Thelwell Trophy Collection will bring a smile to the face of anyone who sees it. It includes a quality range of children's wear and horse wear.
Thelwell Race Collection
The Thelwell Race collection is covered in cute and funny cartoons featuring racing ponies, including a quality range of luggage, children's wear and horse wear!
Thelwell Jumps Collection
The Thelwell Jumps Collection features a range of products with the much loved Thelwell illustration of jumping ponies.
Thelwell Hugs Collection
The Thelwell Hugs Collection bright pattern will ensure you and your horse stand out from the crowd. Made from quality materials to ensure your horse the very best.
Thelwell the Greatest Collection
The Thelwell the Greatest Collection features a comical design of the Thelwell cartoon in turquoise and red.