Jun 4, 2008

TB #24: The Horse of Her Dreams...is ugly. Let's just face facts.

The Horse of Her Dreams
Thoroughbred #24
by Allison Estes
Published: 1998

It's time to come clean. I have not previously read Thoroughbred books 24-46, 49-50, 56, 62, 64-66 and 68. I could throw in #61, Parker's Passion for good measure, because it bored me enough to give up on it about three chapters in, and I never bothered to pick it back up again.

These are the facts as I present them to you. The reviews I post for the next very long stretch of books are my first impressions, and they will also be my last. Probably. Unless I have some unadvised change of heart in another ten to twenty years and start to read these books over again. Since I can't see myself doing that when I'm 46, we'll just focus on the present. This is the Whitebrook Farm Blog's second review of The Horse of Her Dreams (and my first read!). Yes, I am pathetically excited about this.

Based on this cover, Sterling is one of the ugliest horses on the face of the earth. If this is what Christina desperately wanted to replace Wonder's Legacy with, the girl must have been at her last resort. Christina also has this odd, vacant expression that's just a tad creepy. Add to that the glazed eyes and she looks like a blind person trying to decipher things by touch. I'm also enjoying the late '90s fashion in the Doc Martens and baggy clothing. It's like high school all over again.
Will Christina risk it all to save Sterling Dream?

Twelve-year-old Christina Reese is the luckiest girl in the world. She lives at the Whitebrook Farm with her dad, Mike, and her mother, Ashleigh Griffen, one of the most famous jockeys ever. And when Christina asked for a horse for her birthday she got Wonder's Legacy, the last foal of her mom's famous racehorse, Wonder.

But Christina doesn't feel so lucky. Everyone expects her to become a jockey, but Christina wants to be an Event rider. All she needs is the perfect horse. Then she sees Sterling Dream, a beautiful gray mare who's being forced to race against her will. Will Christina risk everything she has to take a chance on a Dream?

Well, the great nine year gap has come and gone, dropping us off in Christina's incredibly awkward tween years. She's recently turned 12, and the absolutely most horrible thing has happened to her. She's been given a horse for her birthday. Damn it! Yes, somehow the wires get crossed and instead of listening to their daughter, Mike and Ashleigh bequeath upon Christina the last known foal of Wonder: Wonder's Legacy. This is like Christina's nightmare, because two months later she still thinks back on this wretched event and starts crying. Admittedly, I can understand her frustration. Instead of being given a horse she can actually ride, she's given a yearling racehorse she has no connection to. It's kinda what my father did to me on my sixteenth birthday when he gave me a newly cut key to the car we already owned and was not intended for my sole use. You know...it's just not exactly what anyone wants as a gift. I'm not even sure we need to mention the weirdness in handing a horse to your 12-year-old daughter and then telling her that she can't ride it. Not to mention this horse is co-owned by Brad Townsend. Isn't that just saddling your pre-teen daughter with more angst and responsibility than she needs EVER?

There is, of course, more to the story. It's not only that Christina has been forbidden to ride Legacy, it's that she wants a horse she can train to jump (and she ain't doing that with a two-year-old racehorse). Because, gasps all abound, she doesn't like horse racing. This seems a little like sacrilege for a main character to say such things in a series previously all about horse racing, but apparently with the ousting of Cindy and Karen Bentley, Harper Collins got rid of horse racing also. Granted, I'll be the first to stand up and say the plotlines were getting old by Cindy's Honor (we can only run in the Breeders' Cup so many times before it starts to wear thin), so I'm actually enjoying the change right now. We'll see how long that lasts.

Anyway, Christina goes to her riding lesson at Mona's stable, which is a quick jaunt by horseback away from Whitebrook. Mona sees that Christina has rapidly outgrown her pony, Tribulation, and reassures Christina that her mother did put lots of thought into giving her Legacy and that she just doesn't understand Christina's devotion to eventing. I find all of this pretty unlikely considering Mona is apparently Ashleigh's best friend, and you'd think the two of them might actually discuss Christina's lessons, but it looks like the two never talk because Ashleigh seems to be in a serious state of ignorance. So the two of them decide that Christina will enter Mona's gelding, Foster, in an upcoming event so Christina can show her stuff and Ashleigh will come to understand by simply watching her daughter's unspoken desire to have a horse she can ride and actually enjoy it. Because no one ever sits anyone down and has a serious discussion in this series.

Before we know it, Mona is instructing Christina to go get Foster and we'll see how they do. Christina scampers off to do just that, but runs into Dylan, our resident twelve-year-old heartthrob who has an affinity for chaps with fringe. Christina is all flustered because prepubescent boys wearing fringed chaps are just so hot, and naturally she can't think straight as her blood starts rushing to inappropriate places. This doesn't distract her too much, because she manages to ride Foster and wins the admiration of Dylan in the process. In the face of this new Foster development, Ashleigh relents and lets Christina start having a hand in Legacy's training, which means she finally gets to learn how to exercise ride.

So Christina does start to get closer to Legacy, just as Dylan asks her to the upcoming school dance, which is like the best thing that's happened to Christina since being allowed to ride Foster and learn how to exercise, which was, like, yesterday. Wow, Chris is on a roll. Anyway, riding on her high from Dylan's invite to the dance, Christina pretty much dreamwalks down to the stable and decides to ride Legacy. They gallop around in the hills and just as she's decided that she's proven to herself she can gallop Legacy (I guess that was the point?), the horse bolts and jumps over the fallen tree. Thrilled by this development, Chris jumps him over the tree again and again and discovered he's diving over the jumps. Which is supposedly dangerous? Chris files him into her "lost cause" folder and thinks nothing more of it.

Until Ashleigh informs her she saw all of it (with her super jockey gaze, or did she have a telephoto lens on her person so she could view everything from her house?) and says jumping Legacy at two is the stupidest thing Christina could have done. Which you'd figure someone who's spent their entire life around horses would know already, given that you don't start racing any horse until they're at least halfway through their two-year-old year, if they race at all at two. Christina claims ignorance and starts sobbing, stating that she just wanted to ride him. Granted, I feel her pain. She's twelve, she wants a horse she can ride, and Ashleigh finally figures it out. So she promises she'll try to let Christina in on the training and Christina promises not to ride without Ashleigh's permission. Seems to be sorted. But then everything falls apart when her parents insist she go to New York with them the weekend of the dance and the (E)vent! Well, now we've got to sob and proclaim that life is not fair.

However, soon Christina is all dazzled by the city, and who wouldn't be when you're staying at The Plaza and eat dinner at Tavern-on-the-Green. These were places I, like, stared at longingly when I was Christina's age and in New York for the first time, so she'd damn well better be dazzled. She forgets that she was pissed off and gets all swept up in New York, but then Melanie comes along. Melanie is thoroughly intimidating to Christina, as Melanie makes it known she's not too impressed with her. Plus, Melanie has piercings and Kool-Aid colored hair and bright, apparently fashionable, clothes. If Melanie and Cindy had ever met under the same circumstances Cindy would be remarking to herself that Melanie's a stuck up bitch within ten seconds, I am sure. Christina, being an entirely different creature, struggles to please her demanding cousin by changing her order to a vegetarian meal and noting what Melanie approves of or not so she can rush to gain Melanie's good opinion.

Fortunately that all goes to hell pretty quickly when the two go riding in Central Park. Melanie picks out Milky Way, a horse for beginners, and sticks Christina with Kenwood, a horse who is, to say the least, easily crazed. Christina picks up on the nefariousness of Melanie's plan when she listens in on two people talking near her who happen to be talking about the horses Mel and Chris will be riding. How lucky for her. Anyway, Kenwood does his antics and Christina rides it out because she's just awesome, I guess, and then she turns on Melanie and calls her out. Melanie doesn't like this, especially when Christina insults her "beginner" status as a rider. And the second curse word is uttered in the series (I somehow missed "damn" back in Ashleigh's Farewell) when Melanie yells at Christina about how she's not impressed by any of her "crap." Because Christina has a mommy and a daddy and Melanie only has a father who fell face first into some horrible fashion faux pas. Christina yells back at her that she's just jealous, and apparently she hit the mark because Melanie just starts laughing and lets it all slide. I don't see this happening realistically between tween girls, because as anyone who has ever been a twelve-year-old female will tell you, there's the obligatory period of silence after a fight, the chance to stab your opponent in the back, another blow up to go through, yet another obligatory period of silence, and then, in fifteen years, if you still know each other, you might make up and become friends again.

Anyway. Enter Sterling. Christina stumbles across the mare's groom hauling the horse around and basically discovers that this poor, mistreated animal is her dream horse. Because it's gray. As if there aren't tons of other gray horses out there, or anything. Because the groom creeps Christina out, and by all rights he really should, she decides to become like every Disney heroine of yore and climbs up into the rafters of the barn to stare down into the mare's stall so she can witness the abuse up close and personal. This doesn't work out too well because the groom sees her and does this comical and yet creepy pointing at her silently as he beats the horse some more. And Cindy wanted to sleep at the racetrack with characters like this roaming around. How Cindy survived at night is anyone's guess.

Sterling runs in her race, but instead of winning she does the absolute opposite and jumps the inside rail and lands in the turf course. Then she heads for the outside rail of the turf course and jumps back into the dirt course. Then, just for good measure, she jumps the outside rail of the dirt course and presumably trots off into the backside with her jockey, who has foolishly stayed on this whole time. I'm sure his fellow jockeys are going to tear into him later, but that's his own stupid fault. Anyway, Christina is thrilled by this development and decides that Sterling is the one.

Finally, Ashleigh pulls her head out of the sand and realizes that her daughter wants not only a horse she can event with...she wants Sterling. During Legacy's race, Christina runs into Sterling's owner, who informs her that he's put Sterling in a claiming race only a day or so after she already ran. Seems unlikely, but whatever. So they rush to put a claim on her, assume they won the horse, and then discover that this other woman also put a claim in on it. So they draw numbers and the other woman gets the draw and Christina loses the horse.

Then the most ridiculous thing happens: Christina offers to trade Legacy for Sterling. Which you'd think would be impossible because of several factors, one among them being that the woman expressly turned down the claim tag plus the $2,500 Mike offers her for Sterling because she specifically wants the mare. Why she'd trade is beyond me, but she does and Christina is immediately given one out of five stars by every Thoroughbred fan on the face of the earth, despite the fact that this book is probably the most well written of the twenty-four books I've read so far. Yes, better than the Joanna books.

  • Ian's attitude at the beginning of this book is just so freakishly upbeat I am a little taken aback. Legacy is the greatest Wonder baby that has ever lived and we are so super excited about all his championship potential! Yay! Yay! YAY! *grabs Christina's arm and starts shaking it hysterically* Ian needs to lay off the coffee, methinks.
  • Why is The Terminator at stud when he was nothing but a claimer that should have been gelded?
  • Yeah, it's not common practice to just change a racehorse's name. If Leap of Faith was racing before Whitebrook purchased her and Mike then renamed her Leap of Faith he'd need a damn good reason, and I don't think whimsy counts as a reason.
  • I'm trying to figure out why the word "event" is constantly capitalized. If Allison thinks it's a proper noun, all the nouns in this book would be capitalized and we'd have even more confusion than normal.
  • "You're light as a feather." says Dylan, and Christina can't help blushing furiously again and wonders if he's kidding. Personally, I'm always convinced men of all ages say crap like this to exhibit their strength in a masculine attempt at preening, but then I could always be wrong.
  • Kevin says something about "the parents" and Chris echoes about how she doesn't want "the parents" to find out she'd fallen off the horse. This reminds me a little of some girl who called her parents "the parental units" before she had her boyfriend kill them. It's creeping me out a little.
  • Anna and Naomi are both sixteen-year-old girls acting like twentysomethings with permanent jobs as Whitebrook exercise riders. Where do these girls live and what the hell is going on with them?
  • Christina is twelve and she claims to not know where Belmont Park is when she lives at a well-known horse racing/breeding farm? Has she never been forced to watch a Triple Crown race before or heard anything about Wonder's races? The mare she claims to be in love with at the beginning of the book?
  • Chris, Ashleigh and Mike stay in the Plaza Hotel. I've done the whole Manhattan to Belmont Park adventure that is public transportation, and I've got to say that's one hell of a long ride every day. However, at least they're not staying in a "fancy motel" as it was in Joanna Campbell's golden days.
  • Interesting Factoid: Clarebrook, where Melanie rides, is actually Claremont, which closed permanently on April 29th, 2007. I always wanted to see how that worked, and now I can't. Thank you New York, for failing to maintain your bridle paths.
  • Sterling rears before the gate and the jockey comes off, so he takes out his anger on her by smacking her across her hindquarters with his crop. Uh, no. This is Belmont, not a bush track.

  • I just love Sterling's owner's reaction to discovering that his trainer and groom were just assholes the whole ten years he was a thoroughbred owner. He states that he's done with horses, seems to have sold them all off, and then blows up at the groom and yells repeatedly that he's done with horses and that the groom is fired and he can leave. Oh, and so can the trainer. Um...if he's done with horses and therefore does not own horses anymore, why is he bothering? The last I checked you can't fire someone who doesn't work for you.
Allison Estes does a good job with the plotline that she's given, but it's no wonder everyone had a fit when this book was published. Eventing and trading Wonder's last super special offspring for a claimer-turned-eventer? This book could have been published on gold plates and it still would have received one star. So I feel for Allison. I do. Because otherwise she's good at her job and makes the Karen Bentley era look like Harper Collins put an evil toddler in charge of the Cindy books.

Plus, how much do I love that Cindy isn't even referenced in this book? Seriously, it's like sweet justice.

(Also, double and triple reviews for books will start popping up as, crazy as it seems, there are four of us blogging away here. Just to inform all you gentle readers out there. Want a second opinion? Read Monique's The Horse of Her Dreams review here.)


Claire said...

mara, i always thought that horse was ridiculously ugly. thank you so much for making the world aware.

Mara said...

It's unfortunate that she's such a nag on the cover given that I think Allison painted a gorgeous picture of her in the book.

Madison said...

I flat don't understand, to this day, how it's so hard for Ashleigh to just buy Christina an eventing horse. They're staying at *The Plaza*, they're a *first class racehorse operation*, and yet they can't shell out a for a low-level prospect for their 12-year-old (which they could easily find in the $7k-$20k range), or even just retrain one of the geldings post-racing. WTF.