Saturday, 26 January 2008

Review: JOSEPHINE - Show Jumping Secret

Show Jumping Secret is this week's book. It was first published in 1955.

When I first got this book, I thought "I know the story, the girl in the book, has a crashing fall and is forbidden to jump. She then learns to jump in secret, and in the end of the book, her parents find out and she wins some big competition. They (the parents) allow her to jump again".

But I was wrong. The blurb reads:-

THIS is a book for all those who long to have ponies of their own, as well as for those who have their own ponies and want to know how to make them jump.

Secret is a young, grey pony owned by a boy called Charles. Charles's great ambition is to win show jumping competitions. He schools himself and Secret, jumps at many different show, and gradually learns the finer points of horsemanship so that he is fit to compete with the best riders in the country.

Before the end of the season he comes triumphantly with one of the coveted Foxhunter Trophies.

Those who read his story may will learn enough about show jumping from it to enable them to ride as brilliantly as Charles, and to win rosettes as he did.

Firstly, whoever wrote the blurb did not pay attention to the entire book, as (and this is a bit of a spoiler) the question of whether or Charles did win a Foxhunter trophy is never resolved. The nearest he got was qualifying for Harringay, which presumably was a horse show, held at the former stadium (along the lines of White City stadium, which also held show jumping events). To me, looking at the picture on Wikipedia, the cover shows a image more in line with the White City stadium, which was operating at the same time as Harringay. (Also, they both did greyhound racing)

But anyway, the clue is there: this was not about a girl, but interestingly, the main character is about a boy. What the blurb fails to mention is that Charles is disabled in the leg due to a condition called polio. The idea of a "disabled" person in the horse world is later revisited in the Woodbury Pony Club series; this time David (a character in the Woodbury Pony Club series) is disabled due to a crashing horse fall. The change is to reflect the times, in the UK in 1988, fewer people contracted polio, due to vaccination. I myself, have never met anyone who has suffered from polio, and Europe has been polio free since 2002.

But in Charles' case his leg seems to be affected, something which can be a disadvantage in horse riding. He actually acquires Secret, in the middle of the book, when we first meet him, he is without a pony. Like Sara and Patrick in Prince Among Ponies, initially he has to rely on relatives ponies, and until he meets Claire at the local riding school, that is. Like the Merrimans in Patrick's Pony, they (his cousins) are taught badly, and because they initially teach him, he has an awful seat. Claire teaches him, and he gets better and so does his leg.

What else, is unusual about this book is that it is almost exclusively set in London; very few pony books are.

Besides which, it is a lovely story, though unusual. The sheer courage of David to overcome his disability is an added and (for the time) unusual bonus to the book, this book is one of my favourites. The instructional element which Josephine is famous for, is not forgotten in this book; it remains still there.

What makes it slightly unrealistic is that he experiences very little stigma; any disabled person can tell you that they experience some in their lives. He does experience problems with Secret due to a result of listening to his cousins: unlike Sara and Patrick in Prince Among Ponies who have relatively few.

Still a lovely book, although it may not appeal to everyone as it is male centred or those without any experience of polio.


haffyfan said...

Harringay is the name of the arena where hoys was first held back in 1949 and was it's home for 10 years before it moved to wembley then the NEC.

pullein-thompson-archive said...

Thanks for that haffyfan.

I had a feeling it had something to do with HOYS, but I wasnt too sure.

Like the White City Stadium, it is now underneath a load of concrete.

Fiona said...

I really enjoyed this book, when I read it as a child and re-read it recently. JP-T doesn't patronise the disabled, though as you rightly say Charles doesn't face discrimination, though some of the characters do patronise Charles; someone refers to his "funny leg".
What's good is it's a book that shows a triumph over adversity.It also leaves us speculating on what happens next and what Charles future holds. Personally I hope he took up riding professionally.
I do know someone who had polio, one of my students; she is probably in her late 60s & not as fortunate as Charles as she wears a calliper on her leg and has limited use of one arm.

Jane said...

This was one of my favourites as a child: I think because it didn't offer any easy answers, and Charles has to work to get where he wants to go. I did also like the fact it had a boy as the central character: so rare!

Fiona said...

When I re-read my copy I found that it refers to Wembley and not Harringay. This is a 1970s Armada edition & must have been updated as Harringay was no longer in existence.

pullein-thompson-archive said...

Thanks for that Fiona, it is interesting that they have changed it a little.

It actually was in existence until 1978, though by 1958 it did stop hosting all sporting events.

It was also republished in 1981, presumably that it says Wembley too.

Though if someone did republish this book it would pose an interesting dilemma. Firstly because Wembley doesnt host any horse events, and secondly, because of the polio thing.

Kate said...

I liked this book too, partly because the hero was a boy and also because of the disability, but it was generally a good and enjoyable book as well.

Anonymous said...

This was one of my favourites as a child. For whatever reason I loved this bok. Yes, perhaps the was the fact that the MC character had a disability and everything wasn't sweetness and light (at least by the standards of such books). Perhaps because Secret had some Arab blood and there was some discrimination against her breeding -- I was always an Arabian fan. And the counsins -- ugh, couldn't you just strangle them?
I would love to see this re-issued for Kindle.
Thanks for the nostalgia kick.