PBOTD 15th April: Josephine Pullein-Thompson - Show Jumping Secret

Josephine Pullein-Thompson had a passion for instruction.  Her own acquaintance with the Pony Club, that usual vehicle of equine learning for the young, was brief. An early rally she and her sisters went to was held at Stonor Park, and centred on stable management.  The lecture was held in a Victorian stable, and as the door was blocked by older children, the Pullein-Thompsons saw and heard nothing. 

Collins, 1955, 1st edn, illus Sheila Rose
Armada paperback, 1969
Josephine's experience of mounted rallies was brief. In Fair Girls and Grey Horses she describes how she hired a “clipped, stabled and corn-fed pony over which I had absolutely no control.”  There were no more pony club rallies after that.  Despite this early off-putting start, as an adult Josephine went on to become District Commissioner of the Woodland Hunt Pony Club, and she maintained her belief that horses should be ridden properly, and that there was always, always, room for improvement.  Angela Bull, writing in Twentieth Century Children's Writers, says that worship of the pony was not enough for Josephine Pullein-Thompson.  “She writes for the serious purpose of turning her readers into better horsemen..... she set about using the pony story, with its well-tried themes of struggle and achievement, as a vehicle for instruction.” And she instructed boys as well as girls. 

Collins Seagull, 1963
Collins Pony Library, 1974
Armada pb, 1980s?
She breaks with tradition by having boys as the principal characters in some of her books. Show Jumping Secret has a hero, Charles, who has to battle two things: his polio, which has left him with a lame leg, and the utter conviction of his horsy cousins that their way (legs forward, hands in lap) is best, and that his modern ways are strange.  Charles eventually wins through, and he and his mare win a Foxhunter Championship – Charles progresses further than any of Josephine’s other characters, in the competition sense at least.   

What is it about cousins? Are there ever any helpful, decent ones? Jill has Cecilia; Jean's cousins in A Pony for Jean weren't welcoming to start with, and Augusta's cousins in Diana Pullein-Thompson's I Wanted a Pony were uniformly foul. It's a hard calling, being a cousin in a pony book.

Armada paperback, 1981
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Show Jumping Secret was first published by Collins in 1955, and was illustrated by Sheila Rose. It then appeared as a Seagull Library edition in 1963, with a different cover. It was an Armada paperback, appearing in 1969. The Collins Pony Library had yet another cover in 1974, and two the final editions had the classic late 20th century photo cover, and were published in the 1980s. 

For much, much more on Josephine Pullein-Thompson, see her page on my website.


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