Patricia Rosemary Smythe (1928–1996) succeeded in an equestrian world geared to men. Equestrianism is perhaps unique in allowing women to compete on equal terms with men, but it was not always so and Pat Smythe (and Brigitte Schockaert of Belgium) were the first two women to ride in Olympic show jumping events at the 1956 Stockholm Olympics. Pat won a bronze medal, and was one of Britain’s most successful show jumpers in the 1950s and 1960s, with horses like Tosca, Flanagan and Prince Hal.
Writing helped Pat Smythe keep going. Riders then, in order to compete internationally, had to have amateur status, and could not earn their living directly through horses. She was a major equine celebrity, and capitalised on this with her books. Pat Smythe wrote two pony book series: the Three Jays and the Adventure series. The Three Jays series is one of the most visually attractive of pony book series. All the hardbacks have dustjackets by J E McConnell, and it’s these which seem to be remembered more fondly than the stories, despite the inaccuracy of the horses’ portrayal in the early dustjackets. J E McConnell did get better at drawing horses as the series progressed. The trio on Three Jays Against the Clock are dire, with spectacularly awkward heads, but three books later, the cover of Three Jays Over the Border is almost unrecognisable, with a well-drawn horse set against the backgrounds he did so well. J E McConnell was obviously a confident artist: Three Jays Go to Rome has no pony on the front at all – and I can’t, at the moment, think of another pony book where this is the case.
The Three Jays themselves were wildly contrasting characters: the spoilt Jacqueline, and down to earth brother and sister Jane and Jimmy. They are at boarding school, but stay with Pat during the holidays. The Three Jays uses the literary device of having a trio of fictional children in a story told by the author using herself and her own horses and stables as background. (This device was later used by Marion Coakes and Gillian Hirst in Sue-Elaine Draws a Horse). The parts of the books where Pat Smythe is writing about her own horses are the best in what is an uneven series: and she is a better writer than her children’s books would suggest. Her non-fiction books are remembered fondly: she writes vividly about her horses. The Three Jays and Adventure books were not amongst the most popular of pony books. Armada only printed the Three Jays series twice in paperback in the 1960s, but not in the 1970s, a decade which saw many reprints. Presumably once Pat had retired, readers no longer had that magic figure before them whose world they wanted to enter.
Pat Smythe married the Swiss Sam Koechlin and moved to Switzerland, returning to England when he died. She died of heart disease at the age of 67.
Bibliography (pony books only)
Jacqueline Rides for a Fall, 1957
Three Jays Against the Clock, 1958
Three Jays On Holiday, 1958
Three Jays Go to Town, 1959
Three Jays Over the Border, 1960
Three Jays Go to Rome, 1960
Three Jays Lend a Hand, 1961
A Swiss Adventure, 1970
A Spanish Adventure, 1971
A Cotswold Adventure, 1973
Finding the books
All titles are easy to find in hardback or paperback.
Sources and links
Pat Smythe: Leaping Life’s Fences
Susanna Forrest on Pat Smythe
Susanna Forrest’s If Wishes Were Horses has a chapter on Pat Smythe
Many thanks to Dawn Harrison for the postcard and plate of Pat Smythe which illustrate this section, and to Fiona Williams for the Gernat Armadas. Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau, Dawn Harrison, Sue Howes and Fiona Moate for supplying photographs.