by Joanna Campbell
Original Publication: 1991
Ashleigh wouldn't care about anything, ever again.
Ashleigh Griffen swore she'd never give her heart to another horse -- not after a terrible disease wiped out her family's breeding farm, along with Ashleigh's favorite mare, Stardust.
Now the Griffens are starting over as breeding managers at Townsend Acres, and Ashleigh's sure she is going to hate living there.
Then a small, sickly foal is born -- a beautiful copper filly that looks like Stardust. No one thinks the foal will live or that it's worth trying to save. No one but Ashleigh.
Can one girl's love alone work miracles?
Overall Amazon.com Rating: Five stars out of five.
Yup, this is the book that spawned 72 volumes, a spin-off series, some number of super editions, and forced three other books that had relatively nothing to do with the series under an imprint called "Ashleigh's Thoroughbred Collection". Its accomplishments are great indeed, but let's take a closer look.
We open up on Townsend Acres, a breeding and training farm of the sort that tend to not exist. Townsend Acres is a sprawling and impressive (read: wealthy) farm that has just hired on two new breeding managers, who are in the process of moving into their new home conveniently located on the farm. They've brought their three children with them, a picturesque bunch that either look like their mother or their father with absolutely no mix of the two (Caroline and Rory have their mother's "red-gold" looks, while Ashleigh sports her father's dark hair and hazel eyes). Our interest is, of course, on Ashleigh.
The Griffens arrive at Townsend Acres after bungling up their try at their own Thoroughbred breeding farm, which was under insured right when a virus came along to deliver the death blow to their family's financial security. So they've lost almost everything but their immediate possessions, and Ashleigh's pretty bitter about it. After all, she lost her horse when they sold their farm and lord knows there's nothing like a 12-year-old girl who's been forced to give up her first horse. We're dealing with a strong force of nature here.
Lucky for us, Ashleigh isn't the snotty type even though she tends to make goody two shoe remarks to herself about how wonderful horses can behave when they're given the right treatment. Clearly no one else in the book has the unyielding faith Ashleigh does in loving a horse until it miraculously does what you want, but Ashleigh is the special type prone to falling head over heels in love with these creatures. Unfortunately she's vowed to never do that again.
So we get our tour of the farm, during which Ashleigh exhibits an astonishing lack of understanding despite the fact that she's supposed to have grown up in this sort of environment. No, Ash, you're not supposed to put stallions in paddocks together, no matter how much love you shower upon them. They'll still dislike each other.
Moving on, we meet Brad Townsend -- the heir to Townsend Acres -- for the first time. He's surly and rude, while Caroline spends her time "fluffing" her hair in order to get his attention. I was not aware that girls actively fluffed their hair for the sake of boys and in front of boys, but this was the early 1990s. Who knows what fifteen-year-old girls were doing back then. Ashleigh is contemptuous of Brad's holier-than-thou attitude, although she spends time later on staring at him in a daze while he rides a sweaty, steaming horse on the training oval. Read into that what you will, because it's the last time any sort of subconscious sexual meaning will be implied in the series.
So Ashleigh starts up her new school, meets her new gaggle of friends, and inevitably falls hard for, you guessed it, another horse. It helps matters that this horse looks "exactly" like Stardust, her old horse from home, and that this horse is pregnant because it's really no fun to fall in love with a geriatric horse. No adventures can be had there. Eventually, after taking care of this horse (Townsend Holly, stakes winner and dam of many fine race horses), it gives birth to a sickly thing that no one will love except, of course, Ashleigh. And this guy named Charlie Burke. Did I not mention him? Right. Charlie, Townsend Acres' old trainer who haunts the place and just won't retire to Florida like all other normal people, steps in and helps Ashleigh bottle feed this new foal. After many hours and days and weeks and months and failing report cards and sleeping in the barn and getting grounded for failing report cards and being taunted by Brad about how sickly the foal is we get to around the end of the book. The foal is christened Wonder, or Ashleigh's Wonder as she'll later be registered, and the owner of Townsend Acres, Clay Townsend, who acts like God half the time, declares that the filly won't be sold off and they'll keep her on for yearling training. Glorious! Wonder whinnies in joy and all is well. Until the next book when the training problems start, because you didn't think they'd get off easy did you? Certainly not.
In the end, the first book of the series is relatively slow going. There's a lot of angst and needless drama between Brad and Ashleigh serving to set up their future rivalry (the inner fangirl in me sighs for Brad/Ashleigh...*sigh*). More fun and amusing things are set up to happen in the next books, when the action starts and the character list grows and things become more interesting. Sickly foals are inspiring and all, but really it's monotonous after a while (not as if the whole series isn't...oops! revealing too much too early there).
Yeah. I somewhat agree with the majority, but I'd go with four and a half out of five. Because the monotony is worth that extra half star.