May 29, 2008

A Horse of Her Own: in which Joanna Campbell tests her theory of old man helps horse crazy girl equals championship gold!

A Horse of Her Own
by Joanna Campbell
Published: 1988

Today A Horse of Her Own arrived in my mailbox. (Yes, that means I purchased it, and yes I know I've apparently gone nuts...but just wait. It gets worse.) It's a remarkably short book -- only 118 pages -- but the story is fairly simple. There's not a whole lot going on, but there are a few things to take note of given how this book came out a few short years before A Horse Called Wonder.

Nothing to complain about, really. It's a horse. It's a bay. The girl's outfit doesn't totally offend my eyes, and the scene is relevant to the story. Moving on to the freakishly correct summary:
Making dreams come true

Penny Rodgers loves horses more than anything, but her parents say lessons are a waste of money. Penny is determined to ride, though, and asks a neighbor if she can work with his horse. Bones looks like a sorry old animal, but Penny knows what a lot of love and hard work can do.

Soon Penny is spending all her free time grooming and training Bones with her best friend, Jan. This is the best summer of her life -- until her parents tell her that once school starts she has to stop "playing" with Bones. Somehow, Penny has to prove to her parents that riding isn't just a game -- it's the most important thing in the world to her. Now she just has to do well at the end-of-summer horse show. Not only is the blue ribbon on the line, but her lifelong dreams as well!
Okay, to the plot!

Penny is your average 13-year-old horse crazy girl with way more motivation than she knows what to do with. Jan is her partner in crime. However, quite possibly for the first time ever, Jan is the more accomplished rider, having ridden since she was around eight, and takes lessons regularly. Sure, Penny might be better, but given that her parents don't have the money for lessons we'll never know. As it stands at the beginning of the book, Jan is the one who not only supports the main character with her friendship, she's instrumental to Penny's plans! No kidding. I was shocked also.

The book starts off with Penny wanting horseback riding lessons. So bad. But Penny's mom, who spends every free moment inspecting her check book, won't let her. She just doesn't understand Penny's giant ordeal, so Penny takes this opportunity to walk down the road to stare at the only horse in her suburban area of Connecticut. Connecticut must be lacking in horses, but that's besides the point. While she's staring at this nondescript bay horse, she decides that she's going to act on every single day dream she's ever had about this horse and ask its owner if she can "take care of it" and ride it and such. Luckily for her the owner, one Mr. Billings, is an old man who doesn't care what she does or how much times she wastes. He lets her have at it, while also warning her that the horse doesn't do much of anything and has never been ridden before. Penny, who doesn't know what she's doing, immediately enlists Jan's help. They clean the horse (whose name is Bones, which I do find absurdly cute) up and Jan finds some used tack for Penny to purchase, as well as acting as Penny's expert regarding all things horsey.

Between the two girls, they get Bones adjusted to a saddle in a matter of a couple of weeks and begin to get him used to a rider. After their first successful walk around the paddock with Penny in the saddle, Mr. Billings congratulates them in a way that seems a little too similar to Charlie Burke, and then tells Penny that he has a surprise for her waiting in the barn. What is the surprise? 100 pounds of grain! Yay! And in another really weird Ashleigh and Charlie moment, Penny comes rushing out of the barn to thank Mr. Billings, who's already walking back to the house and waving her off. So now she doesn't have to pay for grain and can pay for shoeing instead. Things are certainly falling into place for Penny.

Only then her parents start getting worried because now she's "too busy" and is getting behind on her chores. Her little brother decides to help her out a little by doing some of her chores in exchange for the use of her "cassette player and headphones" when she's not around. In any case, her parents decide to give her through the summer to work all she likes with Bones. But when school starts up again, she'll have to limit it to weekends. Naturally this is not acceptable to Penny, being horse crazy, so she's determined to improve and show her parents how much it means to her to ride.

Penny and Jan cook up their grand plan to convince Penny's parents that riding is all Penny wants to do: win the end-of-summer show! So they start training both Penny and Bones to jump, with the assistance of Mr. Billings, who's helping without being asked and trying to hide the fact that he enjoys it. Sound familiar? Penny is like the daughters and granddaughters he never had (not to say he doesn't have them...he's just disappointed in them).

Eventually reality starts to get shoved to the side and Penny is working at five foot jumps by mid-summer. She at least doesn't do this perfectly, so that's all I can really say about that. By the time they're clearing pretty good jumps, Jan works it out so Penny can exercise Bones over the jumps at her stable, but when they get there Bones doesn't perform. Instead he's reacting to all the other horses, being attention starved of horses for so long, and Mary Lou (our resident riding school bitch) starts to taunt them enough for Penny to ask Jan for her crop. Yeah, that's a few thousand steps away from normal for Joanna's books. Penny touches Bones on the shoulder with it, immediately gets his attention, and off they go...taking the course at the stable perfectly. I am pretty shocked by this development, I have to admit. The main character in a Joanna book asks for a crop, uses the crop responsibly, doesn't cry about it, and gets a positive result. Who knew she was capable of this? I certainly didn't.

The riding instructor at the stable suggests that Penny enter Bones in the Junior Advanced show, but she thinks that's pushing it and enters in the Intermediate. (Clearly I'm reading too much of Cindy because I expected her to take the instructor's advice for a minute.) But, a week before the show Bones gets a superficial cut on his leg! Gasp! He heals up and Penny takes him to the show and they win. And Jan wins (or, at least, it's heavily implied) her advanced class. And the antagonist wins her class (weirdly enough). Then Penny's parents miraculously understand how much riding means to her and allow Mr. Billings to give her Bones, with his help for board and feed. The end.

Oddities:

  • "Oh, go away, Gregg. You're such a pain." Normally this little piece of dialogue wouldn't be an issue, only it is because Penny and her friend, Jan, say it in unison. Unless this is like their prearranged plan regarding Gregg it is impossible.
  • "Well so are you two. All you talk about is horses - yuk." Well, our most prevalent theme has reared its ugly head in the first chapter. It makes me curious if Joanna Campbell had the same conflict with her ex-husband. I'm betting she did considering he traded Moe for that motorcycle. (WHY do I remember these things?)
  • Now, you'd think Gregg would become a major antagonist, but he doesn't. In fact, he disappears after proclaiming that horses are yucky.
  • Ah, finally. Jan tells Penny that she's a natural at riding and is picking it up faster than she did. Of course she did. She's the main character! They always have to be supernaturally good at this stuff.
  • Oh, man, Mr. Billings calls Penny "Missy."
  • Just as Penny starts getting super confident (on her first day of jumping, no less) she tries to go over a makeshift jump that's two and a half feet tall. Thankfully she falls and her ego returns to normal.
  • Wow, another antagonist. I didn't see that coming. Mary Lou rides at the same stable as Jan, and she's the kind of girl who "smiles snidely" at the mistakes of others. Then Penny takes to calling her Miss Boots because this girl is obsessed with her expensive riding boots. I find this odd. If only Joanna's other antagonists had strange nicknames. I can't help but wonder what Brad's would have been.
  • Again we have another scene involving a backfiring car. Penny doesn't hear the backfire, but "old Bones here sure must have." The whole exchange between Mr. Billings and Penny is directly from Battlecry Forever, or should I say it's the other way around?
  • "My money's on you in the show!" says Penny's brother. Penny replies, "Oh, Jimmy. You watch too much TV." I don't think she gets what he's saying. Anyway, that response comes flying out of nowhere.
  • Get ready for it: Penny uses a crop on Bones again! During the show she uses it to get attention. I really cannot understand what caused the change between this book and the Thoroughbred Series. It's like night and day.
  • For as often as Penny's parents worry about their lack of money, the ending, when Penny is given Bones, is remarkably irrational. Even if Mr. Billings insists on helping her out with board and feed.
You know, I'm actually not regretting the $4 I spent on this. Yes, Penny probably advances further than is possible given she's being coached by her friend, and yes the story is simple and ends rather unrealistically, but it's a horse story and the main character is actually nice and doesn't freak out at crops or use a crop and then cry about it. Nor does she obsess over winning. It's a nice little breath of fresh air before I finish up the Cindy books with another installment featuring scowling, whining, crying, demonstrating an irritating inability to listen to medical professionals, and shrieks of pain (from Cindy, and most likely myself).

7 comments:

Caballos_Muchacha said...

Wait, Joanna's hubby traded a horse for a 'cycle?

Sounds interesting. Ordinary and warm and fuzzy!

Did you ever read a book called 'My Pretty Girl'? It is about this girl who keeps her horse in her backyard and the neighbors complain and stuff...

sundae-mourning said...

this is quite possibly one of the more realistic horse stories out there. (well, minus the five foot jumps, of course.) Bones actually seems like a real horse, instead of those weird, fantasy horses that can read their riders' minds and always behave perfectly and never need to be disciplined in any way. i loved that Penny actually used a crop and didn't cry herself to sleep over it.

of course, it does bother me slightly about how her parents allowed her to keep Bones. it was the perfect, neat little ending, but how long before Mr. Billings gets too old and broke or even just unwilling to keep pouring money into a horse that's not even his anymore? then what? i mean, i'm glad Penny finally got her horse, but the logistics of affording one always bug me.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who didn't like this book? I mean, I definitely see the positives here (crop use, imperfect riding, etc), but the book bored the crap out of me.

Of course, I'm 25, not 11. That could be why.

Mara said...

Am I the only one who didn't like this book? I mean, I definitely see the positives here (crop use, imperfect riding, etc), but the book bored the crap out of me.

See, I'm coming off of Arabian Challenge...so almost anything seems more interesting. But you know, like I said somewhere, it's simple. There's a reason it's only 118 pages, after all.

Claire said...

man, i was definitely waiting for you to review this book mara. i needed to know that someone else caught the eerie resemblance to charlie!

Mara said...

Wait, Joanna's hubby traded a horse for a 'cycle?

Yes. Check out www.joannsimon.com and read all about it.

Did you ever read a book called 'My Pretty Girl'?

Nope, can't say that I have. Although it does sound vaguely familiar.

Lei said...

It's a short little book. But I sort of always did like it. Totally never put two and two together though about Joanna writing it. Thought never crossed my mind, especially with the use of the crop.