The Peace That Passeth All Understanding.

Ever since I was knee high to a Falabella pony (the ridiculously tiny ones that look like an optical illusion), I’ve loved horses. I love the hefty bulk of them, their habit of standing on you when you least expect it, the way they affectionately try to barge you against walls and scrape you on fenceposts, their whiskery, velvety noses, big brown eyes and disconcertingly dribbly nostrils.

Due to my long standing horse-love, my favourite books when I was growing up were the Jinny at Finmory ‘pony stories’ by Patricia Leitch.

They were about a young girl called Jinny Manders who, like me, lived in a grimy northern town…. The parallels seemed fascinating to me at the time: this wasn’t the intangible otherworld of typical pony books, with their off-the-shelf stereotype posh girls called Henrietta who competed in gymkhanas when they were home from boarding school (occasionally skipping dressage practice to wallow in a bath filled with money). In comparison to these wealth-pamphlets, the Jinny books seemed both very real and entirely possible to my eleven-year old self.

Jinny’s father is a disillusioned social worker who decides to start a new life. He buys a dilapidated old farmhouse called Finmory in the Scottish highlands and changes career, training as a potter. He also has a large beard, so please feel free to insert a stock ‘Hairy Potter’ joke here if you’d like.

Jinny dances for joy when she finds out she’ll have to ride a horse to school, something my child-mind boggled at: my horse riding experience was limited to an hour plodding round in a circle at the local riding school for a fiver a time and my mum really struggled to scrape that together (you could buy a car for a fiver back in 1989, and still have change for fifty-three gallons of petrol…)

As well as his wife and three children, Daddy Manders takes along one of his young social-work charges with him, a twenty year old vegan called Ken, who I quoted in my last blog post. If carbon footprints had been invented back then, Ken wouldn’t have had one. He radiates calmness and spends his time growing organic vegetables. Jinny, in contrast, is hot-headed, temperamental and impulsive with long red hair. She’s as wild as the moorland, and as untamed as the neglected arab mare she rescues from a crashed circus van half-way through the first book.

Ken renames the rescued horse Shantih- (‘the peace that passeth all understanding’- from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad) in the hope of taming by naming. There’s a strong vein of Celtic mysticism that runs through the books, with lines being drawn between Jinny and Epona the Gaulish/Brythonic horse goddess, and between Shantih and the mysterious red horse mural on Jinny’s wall that seems to glow at night. Jinny dreams of the Neolithic, of pony worshipping tribes on dark little horses. She finds a cave filled with ancient horse paintings that dance and move…

But at every turn the modern world threatens to claim and destroy the past, to rationalise it and trap it in museums. It also seeks to dominate wild things: sample plots include the theft of wild ponies, a local laird who cages and experiments on wolves and deer poachers who use helicopters to herd and shoot their prey. Leitch challenges her young readers’ lack of understanding of the natural world and the effect we have on it: the way we damage the environment and aid and abet cruelty and inequality just by living, eating and existing.

Shantih, the flame-coloured horse at the centre of the narrative, straddles these twin worlds of wildness and modernity. Jinny refuses to completely tame Shantih’s wild nature- seeing the beauty and freedom inherent in her unpredictability.

Ideas of poverty, prejudice and class also make an appearance: the Manders’ take in a young girl called Marlene for the summer. She’s poor, canny and rough-voiced, with bitten fingers and greasy hair. Jinny dislikes her and won’t let her ride Shantih, although the younger girl dreams of riding the horse on the beach, ‘fast as flames’, her limp no longer holding her back. When Ken suggests that middle-class Jinny is somehow to blame for ‘the problem’ of Marlene, Jinny rejects this idea, but is haunted by it. You wouldn’t get that in one of Katie Price’s ‘Perfect Pony’ books.

Basically, the books are subtle, beautifully written, thematically elegant and deserve to be far better known than they are. They were marketed as straightforward pony books at the time, with cheesy photographs on the cover and the mystical aspect played down. In this post-Potter world, a sensible publisher with a good marketing department could easily rebrand them with the historical and magical themes at the forefront and make a killing.

After years of googling for more information on the author, I finally found this blogpost http://booksandmud.blogspot.com/2009/05/patricia-leitch.html with a lovely quote from Patricia Leitch:

“It seems long and long ago since the Jinny books were part of me … I have been reading them again, mostly with a grin on my face. Dear Jinny! And Shantih! She was all dream. In fact, I used to dream about the chestnut Arab mare long before I wrote about her. Perhaps this letter will bring her back, and Bramble who was real flesh and blood, my own Kirsty. I still feel, if I could walk out onto the moor and call her she would hear and come galloping over the skyline to me. But then what is imagination for if not to call up the past?”

I think that sums it up better than I ever could. Shantih was my dream and I really owe Pat Leitch for providing me with much-needed escapism while I was growing up.

In other news, I’ve just taken on an aging, grey Dutch Warmblood mare called Jura, who is as old, out of condition and saggy-backed as Shantih is feisty, youthful and wild. I’ll be walking and grooming and getting to know her for the next couple of weeks and I’m slightly daunted- the Jinny books, although very enjoyable, didn’t include many practical horse care tips and so I’ve been googling things like ‘what the hell is long reining?’ ‘which part is the fetlock again?’ and ‘how do you do cantering and stuff?’ Thank goodness for horse-related instructional videos on YouTube. They didn’t have them back when I were a lass…just books.

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About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

3 Responses to The Peace That Passeth All Understanding.

  1. Jane says:

    The Jinny books are going to be published again – the first two should be out in April this year. A company called Catnip publishing are doing them, but what slant they’re going to take I don’t know. Looking at the rest of their list, pure pony might not be the way they’ll go. It’ll be interesting to see!

    Good luck with your mare.

  2. ladyribenaberet says:

    Hi Jane- thanks so much for your comment. I loved your blog and I’m thrilled to hear the books are going to be published again. I’ll keep an eye on the Catnip website…

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