K.M. Peyton is the same writer as Kathleen Herald. Whatever name she writes under, I love her books. I've read this one several times, years ago, but picked up a copy at a library sale yesterday and reread it.
Nine-year-old Ros Palfrey is delighted when she discovers a black and white pony tethered in a field near her house. She and her friend Leo name the pony Badger and bring him carrots. But Badger, so spirited and healthy at first, is neglected by his owners--a mean girl and her family--and loses condition rapidly. Ros is horrified. As winter sets in and Badger gets thinner and scruffier, with no shelter from the cold, Ros decides to steal the pony to save his life.
Poor Badger is an exciting, beautifully written gem of a story. Badger's plight feels real because it's not overstated: the pony is neglected, but not so much so that the authorities should step in; in fact, Ros insists her father call the SPCA, who talk to the pony's owner about feeding him but do nothing more. The adults in the book are concerned about Badger, but only Ros decides to take action--even though she knows it's stealing.
Ros is a tough girl who plans ahead and thinks she's prepared for anything, while Leo is timid and slightly in awe of Ros. I love how their roles reverse during the big rescue, as Ros despairs after her plans go awry, and Leo discovers the excitement of being out alone at night. I also appreciate the aftermath of the theft, when Ros deals with the consequences of her actions and her continued worries for Badger's future.
The ending is perfectly satisfying. The ending also takes place on Christmas Eve, so the book would make a great Christmas gift for a horse-crazy kid. It's out of print, unfortunately, but good used copies aren't hard to come by.