Last summer, a local equestrian camp served as the setting for an upcoming children’s book about the Pony Express.

Robert Gould and Kathleen Duey collaborated with Miller Equestrian Services, a training stable in northern Escondido, to shoot pictures for “Pony Express,” the latest book in their “Time Soldiers” series (published through Gould’s Carlsbad-based Big Guy Books).

“Time Soldiers,” an adventure series geared toward young male readers, features a group of neighborhood children who travel through time and have various adventures. The books are illustrated using a unique combination of photographs of real children and computer generated images and backdrops to create movielike images.

In previous books, the Time Soldiers’ travels have taken them back as far as the Mesozoic era, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, as well as to the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Japan, medieval Europe and the pirate-infested waters of the Caribbean. Gould, founder, creator and photographer of Big Guy Books, said a Western adventure was an obvious choice for the seventh book in the series.

“Kids love the Western stuff,” said Gould.

However, the challenge was to come up with a storyline that didn’t involve the typical Western shootout.

“We don’t want to promote violence,” said Gould.

Duey came up with the idea of using the Pony Express as the storyline.

“It’s exciting: there’s no violence, but there’s still action,” said Gould.

Gould (the photographer), Duey (the writer) and Eugene Epstein (digital illustrator, effects and story board artist) began by doing research on the Pony Express, finding it to be ideally suited to their audience, since many Pony Express riders were teenagers. While Gould traveled to the Pony Express museum in Missouri, Duey scouted for an appropriate local site to serve as the backdrop for the photo shoot, as well as for some young experienced riders who could act out the story.

It turned out the perfect setting was just a few miles away in Escondido, at Miller Equestrian Services. The stable, owned and operated by Ann Miller, is home to dozens of American Saddlebred and Morgan horses and is the site of Magdalena Ecke YMCA’s summer horse camp.

“They were looking for some kids that could ride pretty well,” said Miller. “They wanted five riders: one Pony Express rider and four Time Soldiers.”

Miller chose five teenage girls who have been helping to run the summer program to participate, all of whom have been riding for years.

“I took the girls that had been working the hardest all summer,” she said.

The riders, who ranged in age from 14 to 17, did one photo shoot at the stables and another at Daley Ranch, where they rode on trails as well as through open spaces. Gould said the photo shoot was exciting but nerve-wracking at times.

“I was standing on a path shooting while two horses galloped towards me,” he said.

Although every Time Soldiers book requires one or two large-scale photo shoots (such as the shoot held on the Star of India, the historic sailing ship in San Diego harbor for the pirate-themed “Patch”), Gould said “Pony Express” has had the most on-location action (as opposed to studio shots) out of all of the Time Soldiers books, and is also shaping up to be the most historically accurate book in the series so far.

“Each book that we do seems to be more and more authentic in terms of the props and costumes,” he said.

Epstein said the riders helped to ensure the accuracy of the shoot by dressing in character: they wore hats and bandanas to conceal their hair and used authentic western saddles.

“The girls took it literally: they changed their look to look like boys,” said Epstein.

Back at Big Guy Books’ Carlsbad headquarters, Gould will photograph the four boys who play the Time Soldiers on a fake horse in their photo studio. Gould said his wife’s cousin, a 13-year-old rodeo rider from Arizona, will play the role of fictional Pony Express rider Caleb Brown.

“He’s a real cowboy,” said Gould.

After the final photo shoot, Epstein will superimpose the Time Soldiers’ images over the female riders’. Although their faces will not appear in the book, Gould said creating “Pony Express” would not have been possible without the help of Miller and her young riders.

“They have been phenomenal,” said Gould. “The girls did a wonderful job. They were excellent riders.”

Miller said the girls enjoyed the experience.

“They had a lot of fun with it,” she said.