Pat Smythe wrote many wonderful pony stories that continue to delight readers today, but being an author wasn’t her first claim to fame. She was already a competitive showjumper before she began writing pony stories, and she features as a character in a number of her own books.
The Three Jays is a series of her books featuring siblings Jimmy and Jane, and their friend Jacqueline. The addition of a third member to the group is the subject of Jacqueline Rides for a Fall, the first book in the Three Jays series. Together, they go on to to have numerous adventures together.
Pat Smythe grew up in Gloucestershire, UK, where she was evacuated during world war two. Her autobiography describes how her mother died in a car crash when she was just 23.
I still remember how bleak I felt when I read that account for the first time in Jumping for Joy, one of her autobiographies. I was still a child and I ached as she recounted waiting for her mother to arrive and realising that something had gone wrong.
Her childhood hadn’t been easy before that, either, with her father dying when she was still a teenager. She had also fallen ill with diptheria at the age of five and nearly died, and she had to learn to walk again after her recovering.
One of her brothers had also died from pneumonia aged four. Health was often fragile at that time, as the story of Pat Smythe’s life reminds us.
This traumatic childhood clearly imbued a steel-like quality of resilience in Pat Smythe, because despite all of this she went on to become a world-famous showjumper as well as a successful author.
Pat Smythe travelled around the world competing; she owned and trained some of the best-known equine names in showjumping. Tosca was a beautiful grey, probably my favourite of Pat Smythe’s horses.
However, the story of her cheapest horse, Prince Hal, is potentially the most inspiring. He was a former racehorse, and she was able to buy him so cheaply because no one believed that he had much of a future on the track.
Pat Smythe must have had an amazing empathy with horses, as well as a keen eye for potential, because she got the best out of ones that weren’t considered to have much promise.
However, it was with Flanagan that she competed in the Olympics and won a bronze medal in the team showjumping in 1956 in Stockholm.
The 1956 summer Olympics were actually held in Melbourne, Australia. Despite this, the equine sports were held in Stockholm in June. This was due to quarantine requirements for the horses.
Pat Smythe rode Flanagan at the event, and her fellow team members were Wilfred White on Nizefela and Peter Robeson on Sorchin. It was a successful Olympics for Great Britain, who also won gold in the Team Eventing and bronze in the Individual Eventing.
As is still so often the case in equestrian sports, their main competition came from the Swedish, the Swiss, the German and the Italian riders.
While riding and showjumping were always Pat Smythe’s first love, she loved being an author and had published 11 books by the time she turned 30. She retired from showjumping in 1960, at the age of 32, married a childhood friend and fellow Olympic equestrian and moved to Switzerland.
The couple had two daughters. She continued writing, of course, and published seven 'Three Jays' books from 1957 to 1961. She also wrote a further three books of fiction: A Swiss Adventure, A Spanish Adventure and A Cotswold Adventure almost a decade later from 1971 to 1973.
In addition to works of fiction, Pat Smythe wrote six nonfiction books about horses and riding from 1955 to 1971.
Pat Smythe’s husband died before her and she returned in later life to Miserden, Gloucestershire, the farm where she had trained her horses and from which she had travelled all round the world to compete. She died there aged 67, having lived a rich and eventful life as author and as international showjumper.
I still remember hearing of her death in 1996 and feeling devastated that she was gone. I’ve re-read 'The Three Jays' books in particular many times before and since, and although it is unusual for an author to appear so directly as a character in their own fiction it works and I love the glimpse into her competitive life that this provided.
Thank you for reading my article about the life of showjumper and author Pat Smythe. I'll be back on Wednesday. In the meantime, please do share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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