Feb 10, 2008

Ashleigh the Wonderkid Takes on Horse Abuse: Ashleigh #1

Ashleigh #1: Lightning's Last Hope
by Joanna Campell
First Printing: October 1998

Can Ashleigh protect Lightning?
Ashleigh Griffen thinks horses are the most wonderful animals in the world. She can't imagine why anyone would want to hurt a horse. So when Ashleigh discovers Lighning living in a filthy stall on a neighbor's farm, she can't ignore the horse's suffering.

Ashleigh knows Lighning isn't her responsibility. But Ashleigh is sure that Lighning's life is in danger is she stays with her abusive owner. How far will Ashleigh go to save the beautiful horse?

Hey all! I'm proud to be able to contribute to the project here, and have taken on the task of reviewing the the Ashleigh series. The Ashleigh series was a spin-off of Thoroughbred; of a time before Wonder, and Whitebrook Farm and Townsend Acres, and was something of a time bubble in which Ashleigh never aged past 11. The events that started Thoroughbred are never expected to happen -- and so we can expect our heroine will live in blissful contentment at Edgardale for the rest of eternity.

But first we begin with the story of Ashleigh the Wondergirl taking on horse abuse! Joanna Campbell returns from whatever black hole that life has drawn her into to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as the case may be these days) and thus the Ashleigh series is born at the whim of the publishers who wish to capitalize off the original series' fame.

But before anything else, we must kick off with a look at the cover. It's a white horse! (After all, the horse hero of the book must surely be white, next to black isn't that color what every little girl dreams of riding when it comes to horses?) Now, one can draw a guess that Lightening (who looks remarkably well cared for considering she's "living in a filthy stall" ) must get her name from her color, and not the fact that she's fast. Also, one wonders at the genius who decides to sit on a horse presumably bareback without reins on the bridle. Not even a lead rope. That horse takes off, girl is toast. I can only draw the conclusion that it is meant to be some kind of romantic image of what owning a horse is really like, but yet fails to touch on why it would be any "last hope."

The Big Picture goes as follows:

After establishing our heroine as a horse-crazy girl with a pony named Moe, and an equally horse-crazy best friend named Mona, we find the two of them on a trail ride, where they discover a deer path in the woods. Exploring it the following Saturday, they come across a dilapilated farmhouse and barn (complete with junked out old cars that just screams Kentucky redneck) and a skin-and-bones horse who despite this still has "excellent conformation." But lo' before our heroines can abscond with the poor creature, the mare's seedy villainous owner arrives, and threatens them with a shotgun. (*gasp!*) and warns them never to come there again.

Later, Ashleigh has a dream about the horse, and it seems Mona does too (as if Lightning were the next Pet Psychic in Horse form), but when our intrepid girls can attempt a return to the farm, they are confronted with the seedy man whipping Lightning! (Oh noes ... whips!) They make several more visits to the horse, sneaking hay and grain to her. And again later, when Ashleigh returns alone, she finds the man beating the horse again. She finally spills the beans to her parents, and Kurt (the hired hand) brings the horse to the farm.

And everyone lives happily ever after, Ashleigh gets to go to the Derby to see a horse the family bred run on the under card, and dreams of owning a chestnut filly that wins the Derby (because we just have to throw in every single reference to the actual series after all!) Everyone is safe and sound and happy ... at least until the next time.

Some Key Points of Interest

  • Once again, we confront the fact that Whips are Bad™ -- because after all, everyone who uses them must be an absolutely evil person. Takes a lot, I'd say to flog a horse to the point of injury/breaking skin and bleeding sores. Lightning's owner had gray hair, and it sounded like he wasn't in the best of health. Makes me wonder how he'd manage to whip a horse, except that whips are of course evil, and somehow he manages to do it.

  • Ponies are the kiss of death. I mean, these girls have a wonderful home to live at, with horses right at their finger tips (even the townie friends keep their ponies at a stable) -- something your average girl (and most likely the reader of this book) can only dream about, and they spend half the time griping about how they can't wait to get a real horse.

  • Everything of course must be set up for a dramatic finale. Ashleigh won't tell her parents, but Kurt follows them, but doesn't get involved until the very end. Of course, if Ashleigh had told her parents right away, there would have been no story.

  • Lightning's owner was using her to pull a block-and-tackle to lift car parts. Why someone would pick a Thoroughbred/light weight riding horse to do this job rather than a draft or a draft-type pony, I'll never know. He also didn't seem to feed her very well, which meant he wasn't long on brains. By feeding the horse, it meant it has enough strength to do the job. But no .... he has to resort to the Evil Whip™

I still fail to see how this was Lightning's last hope in any way? It's all too neat and cut and dry to me. Ashleigh doesn't want to admit anything to her parents because she's afraid she'd get in trouble for being a "horse thief" but somehow repeatedly trespassing on someone else's property is A-OK. But hurrah, finally the police get involved, and Kurt just goes and takes the horse. And now she gets to live with Ashleigh. For now. On to book 2!

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