Playing Past is delighted to be publishing on Open Access – Sporting Lives, [ISBN 978-1-905476-62-6] a collection of papers on the lives of men and women connected with the sporting world. This edited volume has its origins in a Sporting Lives symposium hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Institute for Performance Research in December 2010.


Please cite this article as:

William, J. The Immediate Legacy of Pat Smythe: The Pony-Mad Teenager in 1950s and 1960s Britain, In Day, D. (ed), Sporting Lives (Manchester: MMU Sport and Leisure History, 2010), 16-29.


Chapter 2



The Immediate Legacy of Pat Smythe: The Pony-Mad Teenager in 1950s and 1960s Britain          

Jean Williams




Equitation has been prized as an art, leisure pursuit, work technology and a means of war for thousands of years. Though women have ridden, raced, hunted and fought with horses since well before the formation of the Jockey Club in the 1750s, access to the best livestock has always been an indicator of social class. Brailsford, for example, has horse races with nine un-named women riders in Newcastle in 1725 and Ripon in 1734, perhaps suggesting a north-east bias.[1] Just as male royalty and aristocracy patronised the sport, by 1797 Ladies’ Plates had been established at Guildford, Lewes, York and Egham races and a Ladies’ Purse at Chester. While we know about some wealthy individual women equestrians in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britian, we generally know less about the lower classes who had fewer material resources at their disposal. Pierce Egan, for example, made Alicia Thornton famous in his 1832 Book of Sports, because of her beauty, access to thoroughbred stock and the notorious side bet of her husband, Colonel Thomas Thornton. It is unclear whether she died shortly after her racing feats or whether the title ‘Mrs’ was a courtesy, as her husband is said to have married again in 1806.[2]

As  the collections of the British Library in London and the National Sporting Library in Middleburg Virginia show, women’s equestrian participation has long been combined with literary representation. The mythologising of Lady Godiva riding naked through Coventry in protest of taxes imposed by her husband, first recorded two hundred years after it supposedly happened in 1236, is part of a longer tradition. It includes Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, who symbolically rode her horse astride and, later, the brilliant horsewomanship of Lucy Glitters written by R. S. Surtees, said to be based on real-life huntress Lady Lade. Two women made riding particularly fashionable to the urban elite between 1850 and 1880 and the national press helped spread their fame. The first was Catherine ‘Skittles’ Walters, an elegant courtesan who rode in Hyde Park in a costume so tight that a letter to The Times in 1862 complained that the traffic in both directions was halted by the spectacle. However, the Liverpool-born Queen of the Chase was eclipsed in 1876 by Elizabeth, Empress of Austria and the number of women hunting rose dramatically. By 1880 women increasingly wrote about their experiences, as much for readers as for riders: Mrs Power O’Donoghue; Edith Somerville; Violet Greville; Belle Beach and Mrs Stuart Menzies became prominent authorities before the First World War.[3] Susan, Countess of Malmesbury, in her book on Cycling, for instance, drew links with commanding a horse and taking charge of a bicycle.[4] Meanwhile, Lady Georgiana Curzon’s chapter on ‘Tandem Driving’ dismissed those critics of women’s ability to control a carriage and pair as themselves lacking the necessary technical skills of proper harnessing or suffering from ‘want of nerve.’[5] However, hunting aside, the militaristic links of equestrian sport before 1945 have tended to be documented at the expense of women’s history.

The British are notoriously sentimental, and cruel, towards animals, so the stereotype goes. The White Horse at Uffington, Berkshire is thought to be a 400 foot representation of Epona, goddess of the horse and a site of sacrifice. The carnage associated with Boadicea, the widow of the king of the Iceni, in AD 61 is re-told in schools and has been the subect of numerous television and film programmes, both popular and documentary.[6] In more recent times, it is now generally accepted that in the second Boer War (1899-1902) the British forces alone lost over 300,000 horses, whilst campaigns during World War One cost the lives of around a half a million horses. Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, a novel for children written in 1982 has recently been a success as a play at the National Theatre, and continues to attract much popular attention, most recently as a Steven Spielberg film adaptation.[7]

Yet surprisingly very little academic research exists on equestrian sport in the twentieth century beyond horse racing and hunting. Female equestrianism is an historically important, but underacknowledged, sporting phenomenon therefore, and particularly after 1945. Not least, the International Olympic Committee (IOC, founded in 1896) and Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI, founded in 1921) gradually admitted women to the three disciplines at the Games, beginning with dressage in 1952, show-jumping in 1956 and three-day eventing (combining dressage, jumping and cross-country) in 1964. There was some precedent it seems, as, at the 1900 Olympic Games, Elvira Guerra competed for France on Libertin in the ‘Hacks and Hunter combined’ section. There remains some dispute, though, about whether this was an Olympic event. Helen Preece similarly tried to compete in the 1912 Modern Pentathlon competition (shooting, cross-country, fencing swimming and horse riding) but was declined the opportunity by the Swedish Olympic Committee at the instigation of Pierre De Coubertin.[8]  Outside of the Olympic conmpetition, Lady Wright, Marjorie Avis Bullows, became the first woman to ride astride at Olympia; the first to win the show-jumping championship there in 1928 and later ran a prestigious riding school at Metchely, Edgbaston with her husband Robert. The innovation of ‘working pupils’ developed a career-path for young women such as ‘Pug’ Verity and Tinka Taylor later to be replicated at other riding schools. The first youth gymkhana was held in 1928, a forerunner to the formation of the Pony Club in 1929 which had 8,350 members in 1934.[9] Recovering from a fractured pelvis in 1936, Wright won the Daily Mail Cup at Olympia on Jimmy Brown to set a new Ladies’ record of 7ft 4 inches. However, World War Two saw the mechanisation of cavalry battalions which  weakened the military links with the Olympic versions of the sport which had been reserved until that point for officers. In British post-war civilian life, more people used cycles or motor transport for and so the horse increasingly became linked with leisure, rather than work.

This article focuses on the life of Britian’s Pat Smythe (22 November 1928 – 27 February 1996), particularly the autobiographies Jump For Joy (1954); Jumping Round the World (1962) and Leaping Life’s Fences (1992) to explore the part that equestrianism played in her life as leisure, work and as cultural practice. Pat Smythe’s win at the 1949 Grand Prix in Brussells and her dominance in national British championships between 1952 and 1962 helped to develop a tradition of horse-riding as a widely televised post-war  ‘open’ sport; even the three-day event.[10] While equestrianism was to have an important  place in Olympic competition, Pat Smythe and other female riders were to popularise it in Britain after 1948 as a wider cultural practice. Equestrianism (like motor racing) draws our attention to the gendered nature of access to sporting resources. Pat Smythe’s career as an Olympian began later than that of her horses which were required to be available for British team (but were not used) at the 1948 London Games at which women were not allowed to compete. The 1950s and early 1960s were, then, important times for a swift change in the image of horse riding.

The thesis of this work concerns the ‘immediate legacy’ of Smythe, who is argued to have been a founding figure in creating a recognisable stereotype of the pony-mad British teenager by the time of her first Olympic appearance at Stockholm. While the influence of women like Marjorie Wright should not be underestimated, in 1956 Smythe and and Brigitte Schockaert of Belgium were present at the Stockholm Olympic Games and Smythe helped to win a team bronze. Smythe had already been made an OBE the same year and was a published author. This  show-jumping first nevertheless marked a change in the militaristic nature of Olympic equestrian competition and more people from a wider range of backgrounds began to take part in more events in Britain and abroad.[11]  Like the athlete Mary Rand in the 1960s, Pat Smythe was conflicted by media interest in her private life, but she was also one of several postwar British sports personalities to have a profilic career as a writer and columnist on a number of subjects from horse care and management, to ski-ing, conservation and adventure stories for children. The style of writing, for children and adults, was a particular brand of plucky glamour.  This contrasts with the more derisive depiction of pony-mad girls in the work of Norman Thelwell who was to become ‘the unofficial artist of the British countryside’ and one of the nation’s most popular cartoonists. Thelwell’s first pony caricature was published in Punch in 1953. The ‘Thelwell Pony’ and its rider became a recognisable cultural type: his first book Angels on Horseback was published in 1957, and was inspired by his observations of two hairy ponies – ‘small and round and fat and of very uncertain temper’ – who grazed in a field next to his house. In Thelwell, it is always the pony, not the human companion, who is in charge. Smythe’s Three-Jays series of children’s books articulated an altogether different world where pony-ownership faciliated modesty in victory, equanimity in defeat, adventure and teamwork.

A short biography of Pat Smythe:<br>From Jump For Joy to Leaping Life’s Fences

Patricia Rosemary Smythe was born 22nd November 1928 at 24 Shotfield Avenue East Sheen to join elder brother Ronald, already three and a half, and in her words ‘as a replacement for elder brother Dickie who had died of a heart complaint two years and a day before’. Her father noted in his diary ‘Patricia born 10.05 am, Monique splendid! Dull wet morning. To office after lunch. Aunt Isobel died today.’[12] Monique, her mother, had been brought up with three brothers at Cromhall Rectory in Gloucestershire, riding farmer’s hunters and point to pointers. At St Swithin’s School Winchester she was captain of the cricket XI and head of house so this seems to be where Pat’s love of sport came from. Monique was married at nineteen to Eric Smythe. The second son of an electrical engineer, Eric and his brother Gordon were taken to Davos when their father contracted Tuberculosis. This meant that both sons became fluent in German, French and English, going to school in Lausanne. Eric then went to Heidelberg University and qualified as a Civil Engineer working in the military, before becoming the youngest staff officer in the Intelligence Corps. This seems to be where Pat got her internationalist perspective from. A precarious kind of upper middle class upbringing followed as the family briefly owned a £2000 house called Beaufort, by Barnes common before becoming ‘homeless’. While at Beaufort Pat therefore grew up close to the Roehampton Club with its roller skating rink, swimming pool, golf course, tennis and polo matches but also within reach of plenty of open space. Monique Smythe was often sent horses to break-in and school and Pixie was such a pony, having been kicked and blinded in one eye. With 13 as her lucky number Pat won equal first prize on Pixie at the Richmond horse show in 1939 and came to national prominence.[13]

Eric Smythe’s rheumatoid arthritis meant that his health was fragile and he was advised to go for a dry cure in North Africa, effectively leaving the family homeless and Pat was sent to boarding school at Seaford, Ronald to Newquay and their mother joined the Red Cross in London. The experience was to persuade Pat never to send her own children to board. It was also to affect her fiction, as the children’s adventures were not nostalgic depictions of her peers, based in educational institutions: there were to be no school-stories.

A large part of the Smythe mythology was borne out of the combination of an innate ability to ‘bring on’ horses, especially those considered frail or flaky, an entrepreneurial ‘can-do’ spirit and a matriarchal family structure. A lot of this was necessity: Eric was to die 19 January 1945 having tried a range of therapies from gold injections to psychic healing. It helped of course to have family friends such as the Drummond-Hay family, daughters of the Duchess of Hamilton who invited the Smythes to their Ferne Gymkhanas, society and sporting events which were photographed for Tatler. But Pat Smythe, though an Olympic-class name dropper, was not a total snob. She had much to say in praise of circus families and their empathy with animals in using the psychology of each character as part of their training, for example. In the holidays both the children and the ponies worked on local farms and this ethic of hard-graft in the face of adversity also became a Smythe trademark. Miserden House for example, looks like a country pile, but it was paid for by a combination of teaching children to ride and speak English, as well as being a guest house and term time lodging for students at Cirencester College of agriculture. It was launched as such on Pat’s twenty-first birthday and it is from here that the Three Jays journey on their competitive adventures to Olympia and further afield.

Because of space it is not possible to outline the development of each horse the family owned, but, as an example, the unschooled Finality was to be an important purchase. Bought for £40 each with Johnnie Traill (the Polo and golf Pro), Finality was the product of a Thoroughbred stallion and a milk cart pony who had been honourably retired to stud for kicking the cart to pieces in Tunbridge Wells High Street.[14] It seemed initially that Finality had inherited her mother’s sense of humour: the horse endured strangles and injury from a barbed wore fence before Monique Smythe healed it in time for the inaugural White City competition. Against the odds, Pat and Finality won the show jumping event at the White City in 1947. Financially, as well as in terms of prestige, entering a horse how for shillings and winning pounds became an important means of supplementing, then forming, the family income. It also meant a life of travel, as Smythe was selected for the British Team travelling to Belgium in 1948, no mean feat given the number of Army riders and horses in post-war competition. It also meant Traill wanted to sell the horse for £1,500. Finality was sold by the time of the post-Olympic competition in 1948 but as a loan, it won Smythe the George VI Cup. The next year a Princess Elisabeth Cup for Ladies was introduced to save male rider’s egos.

The show-jumping event at the London 1948 Olympics was not open to women but the Smythe’s were obliged to lend Finality to the team. There was no compensation, which deprived them of an important means of income for six weeks, and in any case the horse was declared ‘unsuitable’ for Olympic competition. The British were to come third. Harry Llewellyn, who dominated pre and post war British Show jumping seems nevertheless to have been of help to Pat at a distance. More tangible though, were changes to the British media. The First Horse of the Year Show in 1949 was therefore another nationally important breakthrough event for Smythe overseen by Colonel Mike Ansell who used the White City to provide an indoor show. On a loaned Finality, Smythe won the Leading Show Jumper of the Year. She then won the French Ladies cup on novice Leona and the Belgian Grand Prix on another loaned horse called Nobbler. This so surprised the International Equestrian Federation that they did not have rules in place to prevent a woman from winning. Smythe’s reputation in Europe helped her domestic fame in Britain. This developed in 1950 when she bought a bay for £150 at the National Hunt meeting and retitled him Prince Hal. She paid a similar price for Tosca. The television public were again entertained by the Horse of the Year duel in 1950 between Smythe on Finality tying equal first with Llewelyn and Foxhunter. As Sportswoman of the Year in 1952 (with Len Hutton as sportsman) at the Savoy presented by the Marquis and Marchioness of Exeter (Lord David Burghley had won the hurdle Gold medal for Britian in the 928 Amsterdam Olympics), Smythe was effectively among Fifties Britain’s sporting elite. Madame Tussads made a waxwork.

However, 1953  was to see both the worst of times and personal success: Monique Smythe was killed in a road accident in January. The bank manager phoned on the same afternoon to ask for the repayment of £1500 on the house. Leona was sold immediately to raise the funds. Later that year the seven foot high bank at the Nice show would injure Pat, Tosca and Prince Hal. All three were to recover and Tosca in particular won £1542 in 1952 and £1350 in 1953 before a tour of America supplemented this income. Later Roy Plumley invited Pat onto Desert Island Discs. She was a household name. This she amplified and extended by her writing. The bibilography of her autobiographical/ equestrian/ travel/ conservation writing was to become Jump For Joy (1954); Pay Smythe’s Book of Horses (1956); One Jump Ahead (1958); Tosca and Lucia (1959); Florian’s Farmyard (1960); Horses and Places (1961); Jumping Round the World (1962); Leaping Life’s Fences (1992). Her children’s books were to include Jacqueline Rides for a Fall (Cassel, 1956); Three Jays Against The Clock (Cassel, 1958); Three Jays On Holiday (Cassel, 1958); Three Jays Go To Town (Cassel, 1959); Three Jays Over The Border (Cassel, 1960); Three Jays Go To Rome (Cassel, 1960); Three Jays Lend A Hand (Cassel, 1961); ‘What a Night!’ in John Canning (ed.) Adventure Stories for Girls (Octopus: London, 1978 reprinted 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982). This does not include her journalism for the Daily Express, forewords to numerous books and other writing.

As has been said above, Britain won won team bronze in 1956 behind Germany in gold medal place. Smythe described the occasion, ‘Olympic Games. What a vista of glory and supreme effort those words conjure up! In a flash return the memories of training, falls, fun. Disappointments and achievement all leading to the goal of any sport, the Olympic Stadium, with the hope of a place on the rostrum, the centre place.’[15] But success was interspersed by more misfortune: in 1957 Prince Hal was to die suddenly, a fact announced on the late BBC News. From this period on, Smythe spent more time travelling than at home. At the 1960 Rome event the gender politics of show-jumping still affected selection policies. Four British show jumpers were selected for the team though only three were allowed to ride in the team competition. Dawn Wofford (nee Palethorpe), the other female British rider had come third in the individual event on Hollandia in the first round, but had a disasterous second round to finish in twentieth place (Smythe came eleventh overall on Flanagan). David Barker was selected with Franco and with three refusals, the British team was disqualified by 8am. Smythe was nevertheless required to jump a round with Flanagan to entertain the public. It was a dispiriting end to Olympic competition passed over with considerable restraint in all Smythe’s writing.

The question of amateurism and equestrian Olympic sport is one of considerable complexity, given what has been said about the military nature of participation in the first half of twentieth century. Officers were assumed to be amateurs, other ranks were not. Smythe apparently relied on Lucozade for her energy though, as a magazine dedicated to amateur values, World Sports  was keen to ensure readers that her fee to endorse the fact benefited the British Equestrian Fund.[16] While a prize of a Rolex watch in 1955 might attract the accusation of professionalism from the IOC president Avery Brundage, writing, so long as it was suspended for the duration of Olympic competition, did not seem to trouble him quite so much. He may have been aware of the problem of the employment of at least one male participant at the pretigious Spanish Riding School. By the early 1960s Smythe had contributed six titles to an established genre of girls’ adventure stories: both riding and writing were lucrative, prestigious and self-promoting work. With eleven books on the market and two more to be published in 1961, Smythe could afford to buy Sudgrove in the Cotswolds with 150 acres and a pig farm. It also became clear that in spite of avoiding relationships with male equestrian colleagues, she had fallen for, the then married, Sam Koechlin, father of three small children (Catherine, Sibylle and Dominick). They married in September 1963, had two daughters, Monica and Lucy, and spent their time between Switzerland and Sudgrove. This was hardly a retirement to the domestic sphere though.

Joining the World Wildlife Fund in 1961, Pat Smythe also saw that there are things that are more important than sport. She used her international fame to draw attention to the need for conservation of animals and natural resources. This green agenda has become a belated aspect of Olympic competition but there is a fundamental paradox here. As many commentators have pointed out, there is a flaw in hosting a mega event designed to draw large numbers of international tourists to a particular host country, using huge amounts of natural resource, in order to stage something as unimportant as a nationalistic sporting contest. There is also a questionable brand of conservationist thinking, now much practised by music industry stars and criticised in the popular press, in flying around the globe to try and save the planet. The only person who can have collected as many air-miles as Pat Smythe would be Condoleeza Rice and that would be much later.

In 1947 the Pony Club had a membership of seveteen thousand, by 1962 this was over thirty thousand, in 1972 forty thousand and, after a peak of forty three thousand in 1982 it current membership stands at around thirty two thousand.[17] Having spent from 1948 until 1963 in top level sport,  Pat Smythe was to dedicate the rest of her life to conservation projects until her death in 1996. She continued her links with domestic events, and served from 1983 to 1986 as President of the British Show Jumping Association. We could argue that over the period in Olympic history since Rome 1960 the global market forces of commercial sport have predominated over the ethical concerns of our planet. Have ‘green-Games’ become part of a corporate social responsibility agenda designed to shield the Olympics from the worst criticisms that environmental protesters might level at the degree of expense, waste and consumption?  Smythe was an incredibly successful entrepreneur as a writer, equestrian, expert and transnational public figure before and after her Olympic medal. It is very tempting to say that she was a global figure: conservation, travel and tourism had growing importance in women’s lives in the 1950s and 1960s and, unlike Steve Wagg’s girls next door in British athletics, Smythe was a rather glamorous and cosmopolitan figure.[18] Readers could vicariously travel through her books and the theme of going ‘on holiday,’ ‘over the border’ and more exotically ‘to Rome’ is evident here.

If travel was part of her commercial activities, it was also part of her political life though I suspect she was a conservative in every sense of the word. This is an important issue that academics have overlooked to the detriment of their analysis of the Games and its competitiors. Jennifer Hargreaves has somewhat dismissed female participation as a rather one-sided story:

The history of the Olympics could be rewritten as a history of power and elitism, obsessions and excesses, divisions and exploitation. Certainly, the modern Olympic movement has been imbued with male chauvinism and domination over women. The position of women in the Olympics does not depend only on their relationship and struggles with men – it varies historically and is different for women from different nations and with different backgrounds. [19]

Hargreaves further suggests that female competitors have been ‘seduced’ by the Games, but reading Pat Smythe caused me to re-think this rather sneering attitude that has developed since Five Ring Circus was published in 1984. There is more to participation in the Olympic Games than being the sporting equivalent of a bad boyfriend. How balanced then, are views that there is little good to say about participating in the Games? As one example of this, Smythe was an enduring icon and the sporting culture of Britain was changed by pony-mad girls (and, in my experience in the 1960s and 1970s boys too). Not least, the rate of youth engagement in this non school sport is interesting for all kinds of reasons. For example, the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA incorporating Carriage Driving) was established in 1965 to provide exercise, therapy and fun. Originally the Advisory Council on Riding for the Disabled it became the Riding for the Disabled Association in 1969 when membership had grown to 80 member groups. It is one of the most successful of the sporting charities, with 18,000 volunteers facilitating 430,000 rides and drives for 28,000 participants.[20] This and autistic response to horse therapy are whole other issues too big to develop here.

With Smythe’s writing career and popularity as a public figure, along with that of Dawn Palethorpe and other contemporaries, the 1950s right through to the mid 1980s saw one after another of talented British female riders. In 1965 Marion Coakes (later Mrs Mould) had such success with Stroller that she won the Sportswman of the Year award at nineteen. At the 1968 Olympics she won silver to become the first women to win an individual medal in show jumping. Ann Moore on Psalm went on to also win a silver medal in Munich in 1972. Wales’ Debbie Johnsey became, at nineteen, the youngest competitor in a show jumping contest at Montreal in 1976, narrowly missing out on a medal. Caroline Bradley was never an Olympian because she was not selected for the 1972 Olympics and had been ruled a professional by 1976. Though she could not afford to own Tigre, she was the outstanding woman rider of her generation on the borrowed horse and died of heart failure in 1983 at the age of thirty four. Four years later the rules regarding professionalism were reclassified and equestrianism became an ‘open’ sport. Liz Edgar, who took sponsorship with Everest Double Glazing in 1970 and therefore could not compete in the Olympics, gave up her chance to ride in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, opting instead to lend her horse Jacapo to her brother David. Eventing was popularised by HRH Princess Anne (now the Princess Royal) in 1972. Others also became household names, Lucinda Green (nee Prior-Palmer) for instance, won Badminton (for the second of a record breaking six times) in 1976 on her horse Wideawake, which collapsed and died during the prize-giving. By the 1980s the ‘golden girls’ of British equestrianism were epitomised by Virginia Leng (nee Holgate) who nearly suffered an amputation as a result of her arm being broken in twenty three places but recovered to go on to win an Olympic bronze individual medal and shared a team silver with Green (plus Tiny Clapham and Ian Stark) in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Ginny Leng would go on to win the individual World Championships with Gawler in 1986, to write several books and to manage the Irish equestrian team as part of her public profile.

For a time from the mid-fifties to the mid-eighties, when most of the British public bought their first television set, and then their first colour television set, equestrianism became a staple of the media ‘menu’ of sport. Unlike other ‘popular’ indoor activities that became redefined by, and widely mediated to more homes, such as snooker, wrestling and darts, the television enabled viewers to ‘follow’ a sport in which most ordinary people could not afford to participate. While male riders, such as Harvey Smith, felt no compunction to behave properly, equestrian women were generally aspirational figures. Might Smythe’s pioneering conservation work be viewed, like that of yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur more recently, as drawing attention to issues which transcend sport? As compassionate and engaged environmental ambassadors, long before slogans about the ‘greenest games ever’ became commonplace, Smythe and her co-equestrians deserve more recognition.


With current media interest on the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and speculation as to who will succeed the current Queen,  it is easy to forget that at her Coronation on 2 June 1953 Elizabeth was the world personality who most embodied the hope of the times. She was young and beautiful, so in spite of post-war austerity, to have a twenty seven year old take the throne seemed to herald enthusiasm and optimism. It is worth remembering that the Coronation was the first significant public event to be televised in lavish Technicolor. Royalty collaborated in the process of becoming uber-celebrities, from being photographed by the likes of Cecil Beaton and Dorothy Wilding the women wearing Hollywood-inspired designs by Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell.[21] Whatever Elizabeth did was fashionable and the Queen has become a well-known horsewoman, race-patron and judge of breeding. While attending Wimbledon and other events of the Season are often delegated to lesser royals, equestrian events are seldom missed so lightly. That Princess Anne, rather than any of her three brothers, has been the lone Olympic competitor of the present Royal family, to date, perhaps draws our attention to female equetrianism as being part of the expression of Elizabeth’s sporting monarchy. The issue over the injury to Toytown, owned by Princess Anne’s daughter Zara Phillips, and her possible exclusion from Olympic competition in 2012 as a result, raises perhaps facetious questions over whether the rider should be given the medal or the horse. Pat Smythe’s glamour was of a somewhat down-to-earth, outdoorsy kind that nevertheless seemed to translate into evening receptions wearing ‘posh’ frocks with ease. A homogenous middle or upper class ‘reading’ of the sport is therefore to be resisted.

Meanwhile in contemporary Britain, the recreational variants of equine sports have a very active female base, as British popular culture from Thelwell and Giles cartoons and Only Fools On Horses, a more recent BBC’s celebrity show jumping contest as part of Sport Relief, depict. However, chubby little girls in earnest but hopeless endeavour on scruffy ponies, supervised by bossy blazeratti are not really representative of our sporting past. The British Horse Society (BHS) survey in 2005-6 indicated that forty three percent of British households have a household member with some form of interest in equestrianism (including racing); 4.3 million people have ridden in the previous 12 months (that is, seven percent of the population); one third of equestrian participants are under sixteen and almost half under twenty four and of the total numbers 75 percent of horse riders are female.[22] Equestrianism, as this paper has argued is a sport in which multiple kinds of femininity across classes combine quite happily with fashion and spectacle. It would also be interesting, but now difficult, to know what girls who read about Pat Smythe and other women equestrians made of their writing. With millionaire glamour model and author Jordan (Katie Price) attempting to become part of the British equestrian team for 2012, mostly wearing shocking pink clothes, the combination of high and low culture in our equestrian sport looks set to remain part of a very British way of doing things.



[1] Dennis Brailsford A Taste for Diversions: Sport in Georgian England (Cambridge: Lutterworth, 1999), 146.

[2] Pierce Egan Pierce Egan’s Book of Sports and Mirror of Life: Embracing the Turf, the Chase, the Ring, and the Stage Interspersed with the Original Memories of Sporting Men etc. (London: T.T.& J Tegg, 1832), 346-47 British Library Collection.

[3] Nannie Power O’Donoghue Ladies on horseback. Learning, park-riding, and hunting, with hints upon costume, and numerous anecdotes  (London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1881); Nannie Power O’Donoghue Riding for ladies: with hints on the stable (London: W. Thacker, 1887); Edith Somerville Through Connemara in a governess cart (London: W. H. Allen & Co., limited, 1893); Violet Greville Ladies in the field, sketches of sport (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1894); Belle Beach Riding and driving for women (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1912) and Mrs Stuart Menzies Women in the hunting field (London: Vinton, 1913) National Sporting Library Collection, Middleburg Virginia.

[4] Susan, Countess of Malmesbury, G. Lacey Hillier and H. Graves Cycling The Suffolk Sporting Series (London: Lawrence and Bullen, 1908) British Library Collection.

[5] Lady Georgiana Curzon ‘Tandem Driving’ in His Grace The Duke of Beaufort K.G. (with contributions by other authorities) Driving (London: Longman, Greens and Co. 1889), 147 British Library Collection.

[6] Gilliam Newsum (foreword by Pat Koechlin-Smythe) Women and Horses (Hampsire: The Sportsman’s Press, 1988), 14-16.

[7] Michael Murpurgo Warhorse (London: Kaye and Ward Ltd, 1982 reissued by Egmont UK Ltd 2007); Michael Murpurgo (adapted by Nick Stafford in association with the Handspring Puppet Company) Warhorse 2007 accessed 30 November 2010.

[8] Stephanie Daniels and Anita Tedder ‘A Proper Spectacle’: Women Olympians 1900-1936 (Dunstable, Bedfordshire: Priory Press, 2000), 25-6. Helen Preece had already won the $1000 Gold Cup at the Madison Square Horse Show in 1912, suggest Daniels and Tedder, referencing the Louisville Herald 7th July 1912.

[9] The Pony Club History accessed 27 January 2011.

[10] Jeffrey Hill, Smythe, Patricia Rosemary 1928-1996 Oxford dictionary of national biography OUP 2004-11.

[11] At Berlin in 1936 only 29 riders from eleven countries had competed while the 1948 Games had 46 entrants; subsequent to 1952 the top 25 competitors in each discipline compete for the Finals.

[12] Pat Smythe Leaping Life’s Fences (Wiltshire: the Sportsman’s Press, 1992), 1.

[13] Pat Smythe Jump For Joy (Watford: The Companion Book Club, 1955), 42 is more straightforward on this issue saying ‘Pixie tied for first place with another pony’ than Leaping Life’s Fences p. 10 where it is mentioned the other two riders who shared first place were Dougie Bunn, a future master of Hickstead, and Fred Winter, later to be a famous jockey and trainer.

[14] Pat Smythe Jump For Joy p. 66 is much more tender and dramatic in writing about Kitty the milk horse than the brief summary of this in Leaping Life’s Fences p. 18.

[15] Pat Smythe ‘Olympic Arena’ Jumping Round the World (London: Cassell, 1962), 1.

[16] ‘Pat Smythe…Another Lucozade Enthusiast’ World Sports September 1955: 10.

[17] The Pony Club accessed 27 January 2011.

[18] Stephen Wagg ‘“If you want the girl next door…”: Olympic sport and the popular press in early Cold War Britain’ in Stephen Wagg and David Andrews (eds.) East Plays West: Sport and the Cold War (London: Routledge, 2007), 100-121.

[19] Hargreaves, Jennifer ‘Women and the Olympic Phenomenon’ in Alan Tomlinson and Garry Whannel (eds.) Five Ring Circus: Money, Power and Politics at the Olympic Games (Sydney: Pluto Press, 1984), 52.

[20] accessed 27 January 2010.

[21] Stephen Gundle Glamour: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

[22] British Horse Society Equestrian Statistics 2005-6 accessed 27 January 2011.