PBOTD 10th March: Ruby Ferguson - Jill Has Two Ponies

Have you ever done something you didn't particularly want to do, out of very mixed motives? Because that is exactly how Jill Has Two Ponies (1952), the third book, in the Jill series, opens. Jill already has a pony, Black Boy, and at the end of the last book, A Stable for Jill (1951), she was agog with excitement because her mother has given her enough money to buy a second pony, and not only that, on her way back from America Mrs Crewe met a family who have what seems like the ideal pony for sale.  And so, when Jill Has Two Ponies opens, Jill and her mother are off on the train to go and see the Penberthy's pony, a show jumper.

Hodder & Stoughton, 1st edition, 1952
Jill is wildly excited, and the last thing she expects is that she will lay eyes on Rapide, and he will lay eyes on her, and it will be dislike at first sight. Jill expects a pony who will at least show some interest. What Rapide expects we come to learn later in the story; but it isn't a human being full of the milk of human kindness.

Hampton Library edition
Matters do not improve when Jill actually tries Rapide. She has a vision of a show jumper flowing effortlessly round a course. Rapide can jump all right, but he does it all in his own unique style: bucking himself up in the middle like a rocking horse toy. He's reluctant to try even that when Jill's on his back.

Armada, paperback, 1960s, cover Mary Gernat
After the disastrous ride, there is an excruciating scene where Mrs Penberthy makes it quite plain she thinks Jill is a mere beginner. Jill is mortified, but out of a mixture of pride and defiance, says she'll have Rapide. Jill wouldn't have been the Jill we know and love if she'd taken the opportunity of backing down when it was offered.

Knight pb, 1960s, cover Bonar Dunlop
This edition has a blue variant cover
Nothing improves when Rapide arrives. He seems to like Jill's friends, and Mrs Darcy and everyone at the stables, but Jill he still looks at as if she were something nasty under his nose. Jill eventually decides it is not going to work out with her and Rapide, and decides to send him to the sales.

Knight, 1973, cover W D Underwood
Fortunately for Rapide, Jill's better nature intervenes after Mrs Darcy explains she thinks Rapide's attitude to Jill comes from the fact he associates her with his previous home, which probably ill-treated him. Stricken with guilt, Jill gives it another go.

Hodder, 1974, laminated boards
It takes time, but Jill and Rapide come to understand each other, and by the end of the book, he's as much a part of her life as Black Boy.
Knight, 1983
Part of the huge charm of the Jill series is that Jill is flawed. She gets things wrong. What people will think matters to her - the thought of being seen on a pony with Rapide's peculiar action is appallingly embarrassing. The genius of Ruby Ferguson lies in the fact she makes Jill's stubbornness, and her changes of mind, completely believable, and she does it well enough to sustain our support of Jill despite the fact she's not behaving particularly well. In the previous books, she'd have been horrified at her own behaviour.

Knight, 1980s
Despite not being a horse person herself, Ruby Ferguson has the knack of writing about ponies as they really are. Rapide is not sentimentalised. He remains a pony with a sense of humour and a tricky streak right the way through the series.
Knight, 1990s
There are other heroines who have more than one pony: Joanna Cannan's Jean, for one, but they're not a particularly common breed. The dream is to have just one pony: to have more might seem like over-egging the pudding. There was little danger of that with Jill and Rapide when they first meet. Because her readers know the battle Jill and Rapide had, perhaps we find it easier to accept her having two ponies, when most of us would never have even one. But perhaps we like Jill so much she could actually have had a whole stable-full, and we'd have cheered her on the whole way.

Knight, 1990s, cover Adrian Lascom
Jill Has Two Ponies is still in print, having been published in paperback by Fidra in 2013. It's been almost continuously in print since 1952, when Hodder & Stoughton first published it, with its iconic Caney cover.

Fidra, 2013
Hodder re-issued the book in their cheaper Hampton Library imprint, and then as a paperback in the Armada imprint, with a cover by Mary Gernat. Most of that first paperback edition had covers by Caney (albeit recoloured) but A Stable for Jill and Jill Has Two Ponies both had Gernat covers, though retained the original Caney drawings inside. The first Knight paperback appeared in two variants with the same Bonar Dunlop cover illustration, but with different background colours. Both had internal illustrations by Bonar Dunlop. In 1973, Jill appeared in a new edition with covers by W D Underwood, which was followed by photographic editions until the late 1990s, when a less than successful cover illustration by Adrian Dunlop appeared.

In all these editions, it's interesting to see how the two ponies were interpreted: the 1974 laminated cover edition being particularly wide of the mark, where Rapide appears to have turned into an Exmoor. He's either not on the cover of the Red Rosette edition, or he's morphed into a grey. The latest edition, by Fidra Books, is the first to get the ponies right for quite some decades.

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For much, much more on Ruby Ferguson, see her section on my site.


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