Sunday, 14 September 2014

PBOTD 14th September: Patricia Leitch - Jump for the Moon

Warning - contains spoilers

Throughout the Jinny series, we've seen Jinny wrestle with the nature of possession. Her deepest, darkest fear is that Shantih will be taken away from her. She's never felt secure in her possession of her horse. At the opening of Jump for the Moon, Jinny has learned that the circus from where Shantih came is due back. Worse, the ring master was interviewed on the radio, and has said he wants Shantih. Desperate to avoid coming across the circus wagons returning to Inverburgh, Jinny rides Shantih back to Finmory along the main road. In a dreadful irony, it's through this decision that she exposes herself to the very real possibility of Shantih going, because she's seen from a bus by a man who recognises her as Wildfire, stolen from her breeder years ago. And they track Jinny down.


Patricia Leitch often introduces other characters whose lives act as a contrast with Jinny's. In Chestnut Gold, Jinny is given the task of looking after a new girl at school, simply because they both have horses. Except Nicola Webster is further along the route of losing her horse than Jinny. Her parents have split up. She and her mother no longer have a comfortable, monied lifestyle. The only asset remaining to them after her father's business folded, and he left them, is her horse, brilliant showjumper Brandon. He has to be sold: at the moment he's still living with  Nicola's aunt, while he's advertised for sale.

Nick's approach is radically different to Jinny's. At first, she bombards Jinny with a welter of lies about her and Brandon, and how they're simply waiting for her father to find a new house before they all move back in together. But Nick doesn't keep this up, and she faces the sale of Brandon with stern practicality. It has to happen, and so she gets on with it. Nick's one dream in life is to ride professionally - and it's obvious she could do it - but she has to say farewell to this as well as to Brandon.




Jinny's wild fears about the circus are soon revealed to be exactly that, but Shantih is Wildfire. She is that stolen mare, and she still belongs to her breeder, Mrs Raynor. When the worst happens, Jinny doesn't resort to wild flight over the moors, taking Shantih with her. Mrs Raynor agrees to come and see Shantih for herself at the Ardair Show. Jinny will finally achieve her pony book dream of glory: the Ardair Show is far bigger than anything she's attempted before, and she wants to go out in a blaze of glory; to have one last, golden memory of Shantih blazing triumphantly round the course before Jinny hands her back. When she achieves the pony book dream, at the same time Jinny will be denying it: because after then she will no longer have her horse. They won't ride into that golden, gymkhana-filled sunlight together.

We see Jinny growing up more in this book: she recognises the differences between her and Nick, and realises that Nick's way has something to recommend it; that the face you present to the world doesn't have to reflect exactly what's going on underneath. Sometimes you need that mask. And Jinny finally reconciles herself to school: a condition her father imposes before he pays for Jinny to be a Junior member of the BSJA is that she'll be in the top ten in the class exams. Jinny decides that she'll do this, but Jinny being Jinny says "I've got to improve, so I may as well be top." And she is. And finds that, when she pays attention, the work is actually interesting.

The end of the book reduces me to tears: Jinny hands Shantih over to Mrs Raynor. She simply does it, with no fanfare, able at last to let Shantih go, but Mrs Raynor, breeder of Arabs, who lives for their fire and beauty, gives Shantih back. If you're a child of the eighties, do you remember those inspirational posters that were the thing in the early years of the decade? There was one that said "If you love something, let it go. If it's really yours, it'll come back to you." I thought then, and think now, that there is a good deal of tosh in that statement because the thing that you love is presumably a sentient being with its own thoughts and opinions, and therefore when you let it go, it might well stay let, but I do think the first bit's right. It's right not to hold on to things with tooth and claw, and I love the way Jinny does this. 

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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch

Saturday, 13 September 2014

PBOTD 13th September: Patricia Leitch - Chestnut Gold

Chestnut Gold reintroduces the clash between modern technology and selfishness, and the mystical. Jinny and Shantih are involved with the making of a film, but while she's there, the Walker appears again and shows Jinny a cave sacred to the Red Horse, with a frieze of golden horses, who, when the sunlight hits them, dance. 


It's standard for us now to think that sharing these things with the everyday world, with everyone is good, but that's not Patricia Leitch's view, at least not as far as the cave goes. The film maker's motives for wanting to reveal it to the world are entirely selfish, and will ruin its solitary beauty. Once it becomes a tourist attraction, and is no longer only seen by those who recognise and salute its power, it will be diminished.

In the end, the Walker destroys the cave, but Jinny is the conduit through which the golden horses live. She recreates the mural at the Wilton Collection, where it can be shared with the world.

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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch

Friday, 12 September 2014

PBOTD 12th September: Patricia Leitch - Ride Like the Wind

Ride Like the Wind is about courage: the courage to go on doing what terrifies you; the courage to break away and try and make your way of life work instead of going down the route of convention. It's also about bullying, and what it does to you.



We meet a new character in this book: Kat Dalton. She and her family have come to stay for the summer near Finmory, and Kat has brought her beautiful black mare Lightning with her. Kat wants to event, and so she arranges to have lessons with Miss Tuke, lessons which Jinny will attend too.

Kat is one of the most tragic figures in the Jinny series. When she meets Jinny, we think, as Jinny does, that we've met another spoiled rich girl, who gets her kicks from taunting those who don't have as much as she does. She's certainly deeply unpleasant to Jinny when she invites her to lunch. Jinny's initial reaction is to want nothing to do with Kat, but she can't resist the joy of doing cross country on Shantih, and so she persists with Kat.



And very soon she realises that Kat is utterly, and completely, petrified of cross country, despite her boasts that she will win Badminton on her push button horse. It takes a while before Jinny learns why Kat persists in doing what terrifies her: her step father despises what he sees as her cowardice, and he taunts her with it, humiliating her, and yet she keeps going back for more, trying ever more desperately to impress someone we know cannot be impressed, because he does not want to be impressed by Kat. He wants to torment her. And he does.

Kat says, at the end of the book, that it's for his money that she stays around her stepfather (poor Kat: first her mother deserted her, and then her father, leaving her with Helen, who then remarried Paul Dalton). I wonder if she does, or if this is just bravado, because there's something so peculiarly desperate about Kat's pursuit to be thought brave. Paul Dalton's approval is the nearest thing she's going to get to love: and the tragedy is that she'll never get it. Kat is one of the characters I wonder about most in the Jinny series: what did she go on to do? Did she manage to throw off the shackles, or did she limp through adult life, cannoning from relationship to relationship, condemned to seek approval from those who would never give it?

And the dreadful irony of course is that Kat is brave: because true bravery lies in facing your fears, and that's what Kat does, over and over again.

Jinny does not have Kat's horrors over cross country, so sails around in complete contrast to her, but she does have her own fears, which she has to face at the end of the book when she and Shantih almost drown saving Kat, who has tried, through one last terrible act, to impress Mr Dalton. Jinny also has to face up to the fear of losing Finmory when her father's latest book is rejected, and Nell, his main buyer for his pots, sells up. Mr Manders, does, in the end, face the fear of the unknown, and the unconventional path.



One thing that  dates this book is that when Mr Dalton taunts Kat with her so-called cowardice with appalling viciousness, he does it in full sight and hearing of the other competitors, but no one does a thing. Jinny is horrified, and it's clear the other spectators are too, but that's as far as it goes. Kat is left alone to fact what we know will be a torment which will continue until she leaves home; if she ever does.  This is something which also crops up in Horse in a Million: the tinker Jake arrives back while Jinny and Sue are talking to the rest of the tinkers about the disappearance of Shantih and the Highlands. He fells one of the women with a blow. Jinny is horrified by the blow, and shuts her eyes to avoid seeing what she knows is coming, but that's all that happens. It's not commented on. Jake obviously rules by violence, but nothing is done to make him stop.

If people wonder how the horrors of the seventies so much in the news happened, this I think gives you your answer. Abuse went on, but it wasn't checked. It simply wasn't the way of the world. Thank goodness it is now.

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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch

Thursday, 11 September 2014

PBOTD 11th September: Patricia Leitch - Horse in a Million

Horse in a Million moves away from the mystical themes of Night of the Red Horse, and concentrates on a theme Patricia Leitch was particularly keen on - not judging people. The book opens with Miss Tuke enlisting Jinny and her friend Sue to bring the Highlands in off the mountain and close to her stables, because the tinkers have arrived and Miss Tuke is convinced they'll steal the horses. 

What I like about Patricia Leitch is that she doesn't write in black and white. The tinkers are not all black, but they're not all white either. They are just as suspicious of people who live a normal lifestyle as they are of them. We mostly see Tam, who is obviously terrified of his father Jake. Jake rules Tam and their two lurchers with vicious determination. As if often the way with Patricia Leitch, it's the animals, in this case one of the lurchers, who provide a means of people building bridges between themselves. One of the lurchers is hit by a truck, and Jinny and Sue help Tam take him to the vet. Although Jinny may have judged the tinkers, she doesn't judge their animals, and it's this which helps her later on.


The other main plot line of the book involves the gymkhana Jinny and Sue are organising at Finmory. It's a very small affair, involving just them and the trekkers at Miss Tuke's stables, and Jinny is hopeful that for once, she and Shantih will win something: that they'll be like other families and actually win a cup, because Sue's father has donated one for the horse and rider who accrue most points over the gymkhana. Clare Burnley, the wealthy girl with beautiful horses and the holiday home in Scotland, makes the journey  north just to take part in the gymkhana. And with her beautiful horses, accustomed to winning at the largest shows, she sweeps the board. We feel, with Jinny, the appalling unfairness of this. It is utterly unnecessary for Clare to take part: she has nothing to prove; and a thousand other chances to win, unlike the trekkers, who only ride occasionally. 

Again, this is nuanced, because it's easy to condemn Clare as nothing but a pot hunter, but at the Inverburgh Show, we see what winning means to her. She is utterly devastated to lost the jumping, and we see something of how she sees herself: she exists only when she wins. She cannot shrug off losing, and she's contrasted with Jinny, who loses spectacularly at the Finmory gymkhana, but manages to get over it. 

I love too the little bits of self knowledge we see Jinny acquiring in this book: of how she tells herself not to sulk when she can't go with her father to fetch Sue. It takes a lot to recognise your faults, and to do something about them.


Of course the main thrust of the book is that ponies are stolen, as Miss Tuke predicts. Two of hers go, and, worse for Jinny, Shantih and Bramble vanish. They can be found nowhere, but it's through Jinny's earlier acts of kindness: because she defends Tam when he wants to watch the gymkhana, and because she helped the dog, that he tells them where they can look for the ponies. At the end of the book, we see that's what connects them: I feel about Shantih, says Jinny to Tam, the same way you love your dog. It is in that instant that Tam looks straight at Jinny for the first time, and they connect.

Through Tam's hints, they find out where the horses and have gone, and eventually, find the Highlands at a sale. Shantih is not there, but she's found, in the end, through a series of coincidences. Ken has the last word on this, when he says:

"Coincidence!" said Ken scornfully. "There's no such thing. It's a cover-up word for a chain reaction, a linking of incidents which we hardly understand. We're only beginning to be aware of them."
"What links brought Shantih to the car park?"
"Your love for her," said Ken slowly. "The tinker boy's courage. Me coming to the sale instead of chickening out? The calves? The men in the horsebox? Who knows? These and a billion more subtleties create what we call coincidence." He laughed, hard and sudden. "We know nothing," he said, and running his hand over Shantih's neck, he went on down to the sea.
Which is as dramatic a rebuttal as I've found from an author on the use of coincidence.



Horse in a Million is a very liberating book to read; a hopeful one. You never know, says Patricia Leitch, what might be working away in the background to influence your life: do not box yourself in.



Horse in a Million has been republished by Catnip, and is still in print.

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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

PBOTD 10th September: Patricia Leitch - Gallop to the Hills

Gallop to the Hills (1979) is a story in which we see the power money has, and its power to corrupt. Jinny's dog is accused of sheep worrying, and if your dog's caught worrying sheep, it can be shot. This worry is nagging at Jinny as she fulfils a commision to paint the horses belonging to a nearby aristocrat, Lady Gilbert. Jinny is sure she has seen wolves nearby, but nobody believes her.



It turns out that Jinny is right. Lady Gilbert's son keeps them. Lady Gilbert wants to protect her son, and so lies about the wolves. The Gilberts are a chilling portrayal: used to command, used to getting their own way and of having enough money to buy themselves out of trouble, they do not care who gets hurt as long as they can pursue their own desires. Jinny, with all her desire to hang on to Shantih and possess her, knows something of pursuing your own desires regardless, but Jinny still retains the power to learn.






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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

PBOTD 9th September: Patricia Leitch - Night of the Red Horse

Epona, the Celtic Goddess of the Horse, bursts onto the scene in the fourth book of the Jinny seies, The Night of the Red Horse (1978). Epona takes the form of the terrifying Red Horse that stalks Jinny’s dreams and communicates with Jinny via the equally terrifying man, The Watcher. The story starts with with archaeologists visiting Finmory to look at the mural of the Red Horse on Jinny’s bedroom wall. 


A statuette of Epona was found many years ago and given to a small collection in Inverburgh: the Wilton Collection. The archaeologists want that statuette, and if they can’t have it, are keen to take whatever else they can find, particularly as they are convinced there is another statuette still buried. Once they have visited, Jinny starts to see the Red Horse; staring, alive, from her mural, from the fire, and in her dreams. 


Jinny’s utter terror of the Red Horse is contrasted with the safe, comfortable world of most pony stories. Night of the Red Horse is a genuinely disturbing book, unlike the placid, fluffy unicorn adventures which were to succeed it as the pony book attempted to combine the mystical with the pony. The Red Horse is ferocious, relentless; night after night it haunts Jinny’s dreams. One particularly dreadful night, Jinny cowers by the Aga, reading her favourite pony book, using it as a sponge to soak up her terrors.

“No danger. No dreams. Only summer days filled with riding school ponies. They held back the terror of the Red Horse.”




Unlike those many, many pony books where the major problem is whether or not a rosette will be won at the gymkhana, Jinny’s problem is the Red Horse, and the haunting, screaming, nightmare that awaits her when she sleeps.
“The need for sleep was a lead weight inside her head. In a moment of total terror, Jinny knew that she must sleep, and that in her sleep the Red Horse was still waiting for her.”
Jinny’s fear of the Red Horse is worse than its reality: Jinny eventually manages to face her fear, and finds that fear has been stopping her from achieving what she has to. The Red Horse leads Jinny to find the missing statue, and eventually, to reunite the two statues in the Wilton Collection. For Jinny, this means peace, of a sort, though the Red Horse will never be comfortable; never be tamed.

This piece was adapted from my book, Heroines on Horseback

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The Jinny Series
For Love of a Horse
A Devil to Ride
The Summer Riders
Night of the Red Horse
Gallop to the Hills
Horse in a Million
The Magic Pony
Ride Like the Wind
Chestnut Gold
Jump for the Moon
Horse of Fire
Running Wild

More on Patricia Leitch

Monday, 8 September 2014

PBOTD 8th September: Joan Houston - Jump Shy

Joan Houston rode her first pony at the age of two: she fell off. That didn't deter her, however, and she went on to compete in the National Horse Show finals in New York at the age of nine. Joan Houston wrote three horse stories: none of which, sadly, are particularly easy to find. Just one was published in the UK: Jump Shy, today's choice. It was published by Heinemann in the UK in 1959, with a lovely cover by Sheila Rose. The original edition is illustrated by Paul Brown, which means that if you want this, you're probably going to have to dig deep. 

Thomas Y Crowell first edition, 1956
Jump-Shy's location has been changed in the Heinemann edition to the UK, but not much else in the book has been changed, which does make it read a little oddly at times, but the story's well worth persevering with. It's a story of rivalries between different training methods and conflicting loyalties, as heroine Tamara tries to get showjumper Merlin, who after a horrible accident now refuses to jump, back to his old form.

Heinemann, London, edition, 1959
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More on Joan Houston