Book name: I Rode a Winner
Author: Christine Pullein-Thompson
Format: ebook, print
Genre: Pony books, vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1973
Star Rating: 5/5
Christine Pullein-Thompson is a famous name indeed in pony books from the second half of the twentieth century.
One of the things that interests me most about her lengthy career as an author of pony books is how much her stories change with the times.
Debbie Ravenswood’s parents are getting a divorce. Back in 1973, when I Rode a Winner was published, this wasn’t common either in real life or in children’s fiction.
Debbie faces choosing between life in Oxford with her father or London with her mother. It’s hinted that her father’s affair with a much younger woman destroyed the marriage.
Full of pain and uncertainty at seeing everything she knows disappear, Debbie goes to stay with her much older brother Simon, who runs a riding stable with his wife Tina.
Money is tight and Debbie is expected to work hard from dawn to dusk to help look after the horses kept at livery. She soon learns just how much hard slog is involved in caring for horses at all, let alone running a riding stable.
When Simon takes a fall during the cross-country element of a one-day event, that work gets even tougher. Everyone faces tough choices to keep the business going.
Learning to ride is a source of real joy for Debbie after the turmoil of her parents’ separation. She soon discovers a natural talent at schooling horses and bringing out their confidence.
By the end of the summer, her self belief is healthier than when she lived in a town and she is fully earning her keep. Decisions still loom about who to live with and which school to go to, but for now her focus is on Cleo, a talented but temperamental pony, and a show that’s coming up.
I Rode a Winner is one of very few pony books I can think of with a failed marriage at the centre of it. Pony-book heroines without a father are quite common, but this is typically due to a bereavement. It was unusual for divorce and the effects on the child to be a feature of literature at all back in 1973.
Debbie is sad and distraught as a result of the changes taking place, but she’s plucky. She grows in confidence (like many a pony-book heroine before and since) through the wonderful opportunities that come from simply being around horses.
Many of Christine Pullein-Thompson’s pony stories are highly traditional, yet by the early 1970s she was ahead of her time in writing about changes to the family only beginning to take place in British society.
I had so much admiration for Debbie’s determination in the face of her vulnerable situation. The story was told in the first person, bringing the reader even closer to her struggles and earning her considerable sympathy along the way.
There was an honesty from seeing directly into Debbie’s thoughts that isn’t always there in the third person, and I Rode a Winner was very moving as a result.
Thank you for reading my review.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of Jacqueline Rides for a Fall by Pat Smythe.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of A Pony of Your Own by Mary Gervaise.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Day of the Triffids.