Jill’s Jumping Jack [1985]

Published: Debbie Picture Story Library #85

Artist: David Matysiak

Plot

Jill Watson has always wanted a pony but her farmer father can’t afford one. Jill’s solution: ride a cow named Jack instead. This draws the scorn of two riders, neighbour Eunice Bowman and her snobby friend Amanda Price. They scare Jack into a gallop, which makes him jump a hedge and Jill to fall off. Realising things have gotten out of hand there, they manage to catch the bolting cow, but Jill is furious with them.

When Dad discovers Jill had an accident with Jack he is adamant that Jack has to go, and he will be sold at market. He won’t listen to Jill’s protests that it wasn’t Jack’s fault.

Jill takes Jack out for one last ride and discovers Eunice and Amanda have set up jumps on Long Meadow. She tells the cheeky things to stop trespassing and clear off her father’s property, but Eunice and Amanda say not to be so sure about that.

It’s not long before Jill finds out what they mean: Mr Bowman has found a document that enables him to challenge the Watsons’ ownership of Long Meadow at the Little Chiddington Point-to-Point Race. This arrangement was set up generations ago when the same thing caused a neighbour dispute with their ancestors. Dad consults his lawyer, but finds he’s stuck with it. It’s legal: if the Watsons lose Long Meadow at the point-to-point, they will go bankrupt and lose their home. So they have to find a horse for the point-to-point. Eunice will represent the Bowmans at the point-to-point.

Meanwhile, Jack escaped when Dad tried to take him to market and he has not been found. He did a lot of jumping over hedges while getting away. So when Jill eventually finds him, it hits her – use Jack as her mount to win the point-to-point. That way, Dad will change his mind and not get rid of Jack. In the meantime, she keeps Jack hidden in an old shed. She also checks out the point-to-point rules, in case there is a rule against non-horses. Colonel Dempster, who is organising the point-to-point, is quite surprised at Jill’s query, but can find no rule saying outright that the mount has to be a horse: “As far as I can see you can enter the family goat if you like!”

Dad, who knows nothing of what Jill is planning with Jack, has borrowed a horse, Scimitar, for the race, but is not fit enough to ride him. He has to take to his bed after trying, but won’t listen to reason. He continues to train, regardless of his condition. In the end it takes doctor’s orders to put an end to that. Scimitar is too big for Jill to use.

Meanwhile, Jill and Jack begin training in earnest, using the jumps Eunice and Amanda have so kindly set up in Long Meadow. When the two bullies tease her about it, Jack really sends them off. But then they discover where she is hiding Jack and hide her saddle. Jill is forced to ride Jack bareback and the bullies are shocked when she gets badly hurt trying to do so. They send for help anonymously and then guilt has them quietly return the saddle.

But Dad’s view of Jack has not changed and he locks him in the cowshed, ready for sale. Jill, now recovered from her fall, resumes her training with Jack regardless. Jill hauls Dad out of bed to show him what she can do with Jack – tackle the most difficult jump of the point-to-point, Foster’s Dike. Once Dad sees Jack clear the jump that so many horses have shied at, he finally relents, and gives Jack and Jill his blessing for entering the point-to-point. So Jill sends in her entry form. The Colonel is a bit surprised at Jill entering a cow, but hey, it isn’t against the rules, remember?

At first Eunice and Amanda are laughing at Jill entering Jack in the point-to-point. But when they see what serious competition Jack and Jill have become, they decide to pull a dirty trick instead. They leave Jack in Benning’s Pond overnight to make him too ill to enter the event. By the time Jill finds him he has indeed become ill from a bug he caught in the pond, and his condition worsens so much they fear for his life.

The vet isn’t able to do much, but Dad recalls Mr Darbury knows a lot of old-fashioned animal remedies. Fortunately, Mr Darbury has experience with cows catching the same bug in that pond and makes up the remedy he used for them. Jack responds to this treatment. Mr Darbury is confident Jack will recover in time for the point-to-point, and he does.

Eunice and Amanda are surprised and dismayed at Jack and Jill turning up at the point-to-point. Jill has realised they put Jack in the pond, and she tells them it’s revenge time by beating them at the event.

At first Amanda and Eunice get the lead on Jill once the race begins. But Jack soon proves himself a better jumper than their mounts and is catching up. Amanda goes down once Jack catches up with her, much to Jill’s satisfaction. But Jill has to catch up with the others and the only way to do so is tackle Foster’s Dike, the jump that the other point-to-point riders have avoided and gone the long way around. They clear the Dike and get ahead of all the other riders except Eunice. On the final lap Jack and Jill are neck and neck with Eunice, but pull ahead and cross the finishing line first. They have saved their home.

Thoughts

The idea of a show-jumping cow is not as absurd as it might sound. There have in fact been real-life cases of riders training cows as show jumpers. Often this is because, like Jill, their parents can’t or won’t let them have horses. The writer was probably inspired by such cases. Nor was this the first girls’ story to feature a show-jumping cow; Bunty, for example, ran a serial about a show-jumping cow, “Broncho Buttercup”, in 1970.

While Broncho Buttercup was played for laughs, Jill’s Jumping Jack has a more serious mission. He is the only hope the Watsons have of saving their farm. In addition, he has to prove his worth in order to avoid being unjustly put down.

Many of the obstacles Jill and Jack face are pretty routine and have been done before, but they still work and keep up the tension well. Jealous rivals pulling dirty tricks when not heaping scorn on our protagonist. Parents out to get rid of our heroine’s beloved pet after getting angry for the wrong reason. Parent/relative being stubborn about winning for the sake of the family and having a hard time accepting that the spirit is strong, but the flesh is weak. The protagonist having to hide the pet while getting him ready for the big event because she can’t train him openly. The animal falling ill (or disappearing) so close to the event and must recover in the nick of time.

If Jack were a horse the story would be even more routine. It’s him being a cow that makes it more interesting and catches the reader’s eye. In fact, the biggest obstacle and the most novel one of all is Jack proving his show-jumping worth as a cow. Even without the other obstacles thrown at them, Jack would still face ridicule as a show-jumper because he’s a cow and everyone would be laughing at him at the point-to-point. We’re not shown any of that, though, probably because the story can only fit so many panels into its page limit. The only scorn we get to see comes from those two snobs.

The title “Jill’s Jumping Jack” is clearly a play on jumping jacks and Jack and Jill. It may be funny punning, but there is one problem with this. If Jack is a cow, cows are female, and therefore Jack should be a female and have a female name and female pronouns. On the other hand, Jack does not appear to have an udder.

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