Book name: For Love of a Horse
Author: Patricia Leitch
Genre: Pony book
Publication Date: 1976
Star Rating: 5/5
Pony-book fans were enthralled by the Jinny at Finmory series in which a teenager exchanges the urban greyness of city life for a castle-like home up in the Scottish Highlands.
For Love of a Horse is where it all began, and we see Jinny and her family move to Finmory and adapt to life in a very remote area quite unlike the bustle they have left behind.
Jinny is excited to move to Finmory, not least of all because she’ll have the loan of a trekking pony out of season to ride to school every day. She falls in love with Bramble and is thankful just to have a pony on loan. However, her heart belongs to a chestnut Arab mare who Jinny calls Shantih.
The mare escapes from her cruel circus owner and run away to the moors owned by a local farmer. Jinny becomes utterly focused on befriending Shantih and bringing her down from the moor before winter can close in.
The process of taming Shantih takes longer than Jinny anticipates, and she is nowhere near being able to catch the mare when heavy snowfall arrives.
The Shetland pony herd with whom Shantih has been living come down to Farmer MacKenzie’s home for food in the dreadful weather, but the Arab is nowhere to be seen. Jinny sets off alone to rescue her from the moor.
When I was a pony-book obsesses child in the Seventies, I had never encountered anything like the Jinny at Finmory books. They were so different to the stalwart heroines of the Pullein-Thompson sisters’ imagination, for example.
Jinny has little or no experience with ponies; her few riding lessons came at long intervals whenever she managed to save up enough pocket money. Her parents worry about money, as Mr Manders has given up his job as a probation officer to become a potter.
The closest book For Love of a Horse reminded me of was Black Hunting Whip by Monica Edwards, although in that story the father is already a successful artist and the children attend a local private school.
Like many other Patricia Leitch pony stories, For Love of a Horse offers us characters who know what it feels like to go without and to long for a pony without having one of their own or even regular access to one.
The feeling with pony books by Patricia Leitch is often that real life feels very present. This makes Jinny, in particular, and her friend Ken vulnerable in a way that we don’t always see in heroes and heroines of pony stories.
Ken is known to the Manders family because Mr Manders was his probation officer. In For Love of a Horse he struggles to leave his criminal past behind even though he is shown as gentle and empathic in his scenes with Jinny.
We are told that Mr Manders decided to leave his job when a young woman on probation was sent to prison simply because ‘there was nowhere else to put her’. Reading For Love of a Horse as a child I felt that Patricia Leitch opened up a real and often cruel adult world in a way that none of the other pony books I had read had done.
Time and again, her writing hints that kindness (Jinny’s to Shantih and Ken’s to Jinny and also to his dog Kelly) is the only successful response to such a world.
I loved For Love of a Horse and all the subsequent Jinny at Finmory books when I read them as a child. I still enjoy revisiting them even now many decades later.
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