Despite being a book-obsessed child, I was never very interested in animal stories. My mother was horse-mad as a child, and although she passed down her horsey books, I just couldn’t muster any kind of enthusiasm. Even after moving to Texas and learning to ride horses, I still ignored any series that included ponies on the cover.
This may be about to change, though. Earlier in the summer, two friends sent me a box of wonderful books, including Jill’s Gymkhana. I knew of Ruby Ferguson from the Persephone catalog, but I’d never read any of her books. I’m delighted that this was my introduction to her works.
Jill Crewe is the only child of a widowed mother, who has recently moved to a new village. She falls in love with a neglected pony, Black Boy, who belongs to a neighboring farmer, and decides to buy him. But because money is scarce, Jill has to figure out how to ride him and take care of him on her own. Fortunately, Jill is surrounded by kind neighbors and, with a bit of work and perseverance, she learns to ride and care for Black Boy. She also makes friends and eventually realizes her dream of competing in a gymkhana.
Jill is a delightful creature – very natural and frequently funny. She has no time for her mother’s fanciful books, and has some scathing opinions on her cousin Cecila’s love of school stories (Angela Brazil’s books come in for a bit of a beating, here). When she does read, she prefers books about ponies, but she’s an outdoor creature, happiest when out riding or camping with other horsey friends. In real life, I’d probably be tempted to string her up by her jodhpurs, but she’s a wonderful character.
Fidra Books has published the first two Jill books, and hopefully will publish the others. Now I just have to hunt down a copy of A Stable for Jill on this side of the Atlantic!