Sex & Show-jumping – only in Rutshire!

Riders by Jilly Cooper.

I have never had a personal desire to get on a horse, but watching show-jumping on telly was a fixture that I looked forward to while growing up.

The Horse of the Year Show with the Puissance always ending with that gigantic wall getting higher and higher, the relay races, and the incredibly tight courses riden against the clock was a week of great viewing. The Hickstead Derby with the iconic Derby bank and swimming pool of a water jump was a must as a relief from tennis which tends to dominate June.  There were also Nations Cup events, where the teams had to ride each other’s horses.

Show-jumping back in the 1970s was full of real characters. Who could forget Harvey Smith, who on having won two Derbys on the trot made a ‘V’ sign to the judges. I always enjoyed watching the Irishman Eddie Macken who cut a dash with his wavy blond locks and green jacket on his horse Boomerang.  It is a shame that show-jumping has all but fallen off the TV schedules.

So, on to Riders by Jilly Cooper.  We’ll be discussing this 919 page chunkster at Book group next week, but as I have to pass the book on promptly to give one of our other members a chance to read it, I decided to write it up now, and will come back with the group’s reactions later to this unconventional choice of reading (for a book group in general that is).

Set in the Cotswolds, Riders is the first in Cooper’s ‘Rutshire Chronicles’ and was published in 1985.  It concerns just two things in its 340,000 words:  Show-jumping and Sex.  It’s a true bonk-buster – one of the originals, complete with an utter cad, toffs and comedy accents, a poor boy made good, with the added thrill of the show-jumping ring, however at its heart it really is a romance and you’re always hoping for a happy ending.

The main story concerns Jake Lovell, an orphan born of gypsy stock who ran away from school to learn about horses.  He wants to set up his own yard and jump horses, but he’s just a groom as the book opens and penniless with it.  Contrasting  with him is Rupert Campbell-Black, rich and charismatic, who beds every woman who crosses his path, unless they’re fat and ugly that is.  A champion show-jumper already, he’s not known for treating his horses with respect.  As it happens, Jake’s mother was the cook at Rupert’s prep-school, and Rupe was always nasty to Jake, so a rivalry is born.

Jake luckily manages to marry a rich, but plain, girl – Tory, who bankrolls his ambitions.  However their relationship is a loving one, well at first! Rupert goes after a rich American socialite, the ravishingly beautiful but brittle Helen.  He eventually gets her, but theirs is not to be a happy relationship, Rupe can’t cope with monogamy, and Helen finds it very difficult to lose her inhibitions.

After Rupert had come, with that splendid driving flourish of staccato thrusts which reminded Helen of the end of a Beethoven symphony, he fell into a deep sleep. Helen, lying in his arms, had been far too tense and nervous of interruption to gain any satisfaction.

It’s not all sex though, there are horses too. Tory’s younger sister Fenella is a promising show-jumper and could, if she tried harder, be picked for the British team with her horses Laurel and Hardy. Being still a teenager, she’s too interested in partying and Jake takes her to task…

‘You’re not going to make a fool of yourself at Olympia,’ he said.
‘I suppose Tory and Dino have been sneaking.’
‘They didn’t need to. One of the Olympic scouts was in Amsterdam. He said if Jesus Christ had ridden that donkey into Jerusalem the way you were riding Laurel and Hardy all week, he deserved to be crucified.’

Cooper engineers many crises and cliff-hangers to keep the gargantuan story moving.  There is a huge cast of other characters, most of whom are simply portrayed, and conform to  type, but fit well into the story. I particularly liked Billy, Rupe’s best friend who rises from being co-tormentor of Jake to being a decent chap and ace show-jumper too, and the only person who can keep Rupe in check, occasionally.  These show-jumpers are the equivalent of stadium rock stars in their world, on tour for ten months of the year, just touching base occasionally – unless they or the horses get injured that is.   Everything moves from Jake’s humble beginnings in the horsey world towards the major climax of him and Rupe starring at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

The writing is breezy, earthy and robust, with some swearing and obviously lots of raciness – I remember it being considered very naughty when it came out; of course many novels go far further these days. I do wish we could have reached the end around 300 pages sooner as 919 pages, even if easy to read does take time; but I have to confess that I really enjoyed this racy doorstop of a book!  I will no longer turn my nose up at Jilly Cooper books when I encounter them in bookcases on holiday, I’ll search them out instead, and she could become my guilty secret read.  (8/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Riders by Jilly Cooper, Corgi paperback.

18 thoughts on “Sex & Show-jumping – only in Rutshire!

  1. Margaret @ BooksPlease says:

    Oh, The Horse of the Year Show! I used to love that, even though I can’t ride. I have been on a horse, twice, when camping with Guides because our Guide Captain was a keen rider, but it wasn’t an enjoyable experience.

    I don’t think I’ve read any of Jilly Cooper’s books – I’m not sure as there is something at the back of my mind that says I have and there are so many! Anyway 919 pages is a bit off-putting, even though you make it sound quite a page-turner.

    • gaskella says:

      It was indeed a real page-turner! Great fun. I’d happily read more, but I won’t deliberately seek them out if you understand me. They’re not all horsey of course.

  2. Victoria says:

    I’ve always wondered what this book was like! My first year uni room mate read it, and I remember she backed the cover with brown paper because she couldn’t bear the embarrassing cover. She did seem to enjoy it though, and I’ve always been slightly tempted. I was very into horses when I was a child, although in a yearning working class sort of way rather than a pony club way.

    • gaskella says:

      This book was quite a trailblazer for the British bonkbuster – of course Jackie Collins had Hollywood cornered – and she’s British too, another I haven’t read! Maybe you could see if you still like horses and give this a try 🙂

  3. Desperate Reader says:

    I love this book! I haven’t read it for years but it used to be my book of choice at university for the train journey from Leicester to Aberdeen. There was a bit that always made me cry. Some of the follow ups are a bit ropey but ‘Riders’ deserves modern classic status…

  4. victoriacorby says:

    I read Riders in hospital after the birth of my second daughter (when you were allowed to stay for longer than six hours!) and remember finding it very easy to shut myself off from the noise of the other babies in the ward. I loved it, I think that Rivals, Jilly Cooper’s next book, was even better though.

  5. Dark Puss says:

    Rivals I have read and was surprised (he said very snobbishly) how much I enjoyed it. Of course nowadays I’m reading “proper” books like “The Magic Mountain” but somehow the pages don’t seem to turn over as rapidly …

    • gaskella says:

      Oh Dark Puss – I’m glad to see that a man can “enjoy” what is commonly considered a woman’s book. It’ll be interesting to see how the guys in our book group got on with it too – usually, they’re shocked at the amount of shagging (to put it crudely)!

      The Magic Mountain is on my shelf – a lovely luxury Folio edition, but I need encouragement to read it …

      • Dark Puss says:

        Go for it (The Magic Mountain I mean)! I have no preconceptions about Woman’s/Men’s/YA/Children’s books (well maybe The Very Hungry Caterpillar) and I dislike such categorization.

  6. Juxtabook says:

    I’ve only read one Jilly Cooper – Class – which is not fiction and is a rather better exploration of the subject of class than you’d think. I can’t see me buying a Jilly Cooper but I may sneak a read when I come across one!

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