Book name: Jacqueline Rides for a Fall
Author: Pat Smythe
Genre: Pony book, vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1957
Star Rating: 5/5
Pat Smythe will always be remembered as a showjumper, but her pony books about a trio known as ‘The Three Jays’, showed just how versatile a person she was.
Smythe grew up in Gloucestershire, and when she wasn’t travelling the globe competing at the highest level she trained her horses at a farm called Miserden. This real-life home, her staff and the horses such as Tosca and Prince Hal who made her a star rider, appear in her pony books alongside three fictional characters.
Jane and Jimmy are siblings whose father is out farming in Kenya. They are cousins, in this invented world that intersects with our own, to the real Pat Smythe and she essentially acts as parent/guardian to them during the school holidays.
They are joined in this first book in the series by Jacky, whose mother died when she was young and whose doting father has let her become terribly spoiled.
Jacky comes to stay at Miserden over the Easter holidays as her father hopes that she will improve by mixing with young people and having a more normal life. This takes some considerable doing as she has a strong personality and is used to being around adults and having everything her own way.
However, a simpler life in the country, looking after her own pony, and learning from the best about how to care for him and school him properly works its own magic in time.
The introduction of a newcomer who doesn’t fit in and is seen as initially a burden is common in traditional school stories, especially around the time that this story was published in 1957.
The premise is that the school will then rub off the sharp edges, teach the character better behaviour and the right principles in life and the tale ends with their being a valued member of the group. The key is on fitting in, achieved by following the good example set.
It isn’t so typical to see this approach in a pony story.
I love Jacqueline Rides for a Fall for the vivid portrayal of Jacky’s personality and her development. There is a considerable amount of psychological insight into how someone could end up this way, which produces a gentler perspective where less blame is placed on the child.
This is achieved largely because the story is told from an adult’s perspective, which is also very unusual in a pony story.
The element that touched me deeply, and strikes me again every time I read these tales as an adult, is the yearning wish to be a parent that Smythe presents in her writing. The stellar Olympic career of a full-time showjumper came at a price. Although she married after her retirement as an equestrian, she never had children.
I still remember as a child diving into these books without bothering to read the note and the front of the books saying that the Three Jays were invented. I can recall my surprise at finally noticing this, and reflecting on how real life had merged with fiction.
The books present more than a glimpse into the private life of a famous rider. They also offer great plots, strong characterisation and plenty of technical perspectives from a true expert.
Thank you for reading my review of Jacqueline Rides for a Fall by Pat Smythe.
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