Elwyn Hartley Edwards: Bestselling equestrian writer with a lucid and elegant prose style


Elwyn Hartley Edwards, equestrian writer and editor: born 17 April 1927; married 1955 Mary Hodgson (two daughters); died Chwilog, Gwynedd 9 December 2007.

Elwyn Hartley Edwards was the acknowledged authority on equestrian matters, having written more than 30 books on the subject in his eloquent prose. Some of his books achieved sales of over a million copies in around 12 languages. The most successful of them is The Encyclopedia of the Horse, which has sold nearly half a million copies since Dorling Kindersley first published it in 1994. The author had prepared a new edition, which is due out in the spring. He was also close to completing a pictorial book on racing for the Automobile Association. This was slightly different from his normal sphere and, being of a lively mind, he was enjoying it for that very reason.

Hartley Edwards was blessed with an amazing facility for writing, being able to cover a page with lucidly elegant text that required little or no editing. He seemed incapable of waffle. "The story of the horse begins in pre-history nearly 60 million years before the emergence of Homo erectus," he writes at the start of the encyclopedia. "From its small mammal beginnings, the horse, as we know it, emerged about 59 million years later. For a million years the horse herds were a source of food for the human race, their importance being recognised in the vivid cave art of Cro-Magnon man, which is between 15,000 and 20,000 years old."

These words were written from the tranquillity of his Welsh home at Chwilog in Gwynedd where he and his wife Mary had settled. It must have been a happy homecoming for a man whose Welsh family had connections in India that extended over 300 years. Hartley Edwards was himself born on a boat that was sailing from India to Britain, where his birth was eventually recorded at Denbigh in North Wales.

Hartley Edwards was to continue the Indian connection by serving as a Gurkha officer in India and Malaya. He was also seconded to the Army of Pakistan, during which time he had the opportunity to live with tribesman on the North West Frontier. He spent another period as an instructor, lecturing on military history at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, managing to fit in a stint at an army remount depot dealing with both mules and horses. He was to say of himself: "Until I was 21 I knew everything about horses and could ride anything on four legs then I realised that I didn't and I couldn't. I have spent the rest of my life learning and I'm still doing it."

On returning to Britain in the late 1950s, he joined the world-famous saddler Lt-Col F.E. Gibson and devoted himself to the design of saddlery and other horse equipment. This experience led him to write his first equestrian book (he had previously written on the ethnic groupings of the Himalayan tribes) which was simply called Saddlery. Published in 1963, it has been reprinted 10 times and has become the definitive work on the subject.

Later, Hartley Edwards was to edit the magazine Riding for 18 years, after which he spent five years as consultant editor of Horse and Hound. He served as a regional chairman of the British Horse Society and as a member of council, receiving the society's Award of Merit in 1993. He was also a vice-president of the Riding for the Disabled Association and vice-patron of the Horse and Pony Protection Association.

Meanwhile he continued to make regular visits to India a country with which, he said, he had "an ongoing love affair". On one occasion he arrived at a small Indian airport for the flight home to be confronted with total chaos. Nothing daunted, he reverted to army mode, barking out instructions which, to his great surprise and amusement, had the desired effect. Neat queues formed; order miraculously emerged.

Having ridden his first pony in India as a child, Hartley Edwards said that he had "mucked about" with horses ever since. Thanks to this practical experience, plus his questing mind and facility with words, he became one of the most prolific and authoritative equestrian writers of the 20th century.

Genevieve Murphy

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