Jul 3, 2008

Hey Girls, Let’s Play Grand Theft Horse But He's a Secret!

The Secret Horse
Written by Marion Holland
Paperback Edition: 1988

Since Mara was so kind to review the last Apple Paperback-related horse book, I thought I’d take a crack at it with one that I had to unwrap this thing from a plastic storage bag just to be able to read it, as it had pretty much taken a beating in past years. I kid you not; the cover is about two-thirds of the way from bidding sayonara to the rest of the book. Talk about dog-eared and ratty. It’s an old book, and looks like an old book.

So, here’s our cover:

Glaringly fugy yellow text aside, I never quite got the cover of this book. I mean, what is it? A mystery? The start of the latest pre-teen slasher flick or something? What’s with the dead treeless leaves here? And good lord, is that a rope bit in that poor horse’s mouth? The look of horror on the blond with the pigtails is great, has she discovered something truly heinous? Like a saddle covered in too much neatsfoot oil? Gasp!
“I’m going to take that horse away before it’s too late!”

Poor Nickie! Right at the last minute, her parents say they can’t afford to send her to riding camp. She’s going to be stuck at home with no friends, no camp, no fun. What a miserable vacation!

But that’s before Nickie makes friends with Gail next door. It’s also before Nickie discovers a half-starved, unwanted horse at the animal shelter — who’s about to be put to sleep!

Nickie and Gail plan a daring rescue. They’ll take Highboy away from the shelter and keep him in the deserted stables next door.

But how long can they keep their secret horse a secret?
Let's see, I remember being 10 years old, reading the synopsis and immediately thinking that Nickie was a spoiled whiny little brat. Boo-fucking-hoo, so her parents can't send her to riding camp over the summer. She didn't seem like much of a rider either, if she was ready to give up everything just because she can't go to camp. The book never bothers to say how old Nickie is, but I'm guessing she's a teenager in her early teens. Probably about 12 or 13 or so. Now, when I was her age, I was helping take care of lesson ponies in exchange for extra lessons on my leased pony, certainly not sitting around griping about how unlucky I was that I couldn't go to camp. And tonight, having read the synopsis again, I just get angry about how horrible they make it sound to not go to riding camp. Again boo-fucking-hoo! It's enough to make me not even want to comment about the rest of the blurb.

Anyway, the story begins with Nickie making the grand announcement at breakfast about how much she wants to cut her parents because they're just soooo cruel and abusive to her because here she is, sitting around the breakfast table on the twenty-seventh of June, the very day that most everyone will be enjoying their very first day at riding camp. But alas for our spoiled child, termites have ravaged the family home, and her parents do the sensible thing and replace the front porch and the beams under the living room, rather than sending their daughter to camp. After all, it's so much important to prevent the family couch from crashing through the foundations of the living room, and a front porch is vital to the continued prosperity of the family home -- one can't have important visitors coming in through the back as if they were shunned souls after all. However, Nickie can't quite seem to grasp this concept because it naturally meant she can't do what she wanted (although it sounds like she didn't do a lick of work to contribute to paying for camp) so she decides to try a food strike to see how that would go, and forsakes breakfast in favor of sulking.

And spying on the neighbors. One of whom turns out to be a girl and Nickie decides to go down and make friends. And eat a sour apple too, which turns out to be pretty dumb, but it makes the other girl notice her. And Nickie whines and whines about how unlucky she is because of the termites and the fact that her parents chose home improvement over riding camp. And then Nickie asks her mother to make a pie, and her mother suggests they go to the animal shelter and get a kitten. After all, a kitten is supposed to make up for not having a horse right? So Nickie and the New Girl (who turns out to be named Gail) go to pick cherries for the pie, and talk about wishes. Nickie of course wishes for a horse, and Gail wishes she had curly hair, which clearly shits Nickie out of her mind. After all, why waste a wish on curly hair when you could have a horse, and she flat out tells Gail this (not Ms. Subtle, is she?)

But off they go to the animal shelter, with Gail's little brother, Dennis the Menace Corky, in tow. And they find a kitten, only to lose Corky who's wandered off. Now, I think Gail gives away the reason why Corky is well, mischievous. If my name was Corcoran (which means Red-cheeked or something like that) I'd be a class act too, anything to make a nickname for myself better than that name. So both girls run off to find him, and find Corky locked in a truck. But then Nickie finds an old skinny dark-colored horse in the shed, and tries to steal him in plain daylight before rational thinking gets the better of her (damn that Jiminey Cricket) but she promises she'll be back.

Once Nickie returns home, she reads Gail the riot act, even going so far as to accuse Gail of not liking horses very much because Gail didn't immediately go starry-eyed and drooling at the sight of the old horse (I imagine the fact that her brother was locked in the damn truck might have something to do with it!) And Gail of course says as much, pointing out that the horse didn't look at that good. And then Nickie decides to spill the beans on her daring plan; that she'll sneak over to the animal shelter in the dead of night, and whisk Old Dark Horse away to a land of sunshines and rainbows and butterfly farts from the asses of Magikal Gypsy Horses... a.k.a the old run down stable on the other side of the backyard fence. Gail of course, is very rational about this plan, that horses do cost money. Nickie however flips her the figurative bird, and declares: "I'll worry about the other things later." We also learn that the owner of the house and barn is an old rich dude named ... (wait for it) ... Mr. Olds. Holy cow, Marion Holland, if you're alive, I gotta ask: Was it hard coming up with a name like that?

Anyway, the girls decide to be dramatic, and play "Cops and Robbers" or something. They'll sneak over, and get the horse, and bring him back. Problem solved. And Nickie is so kind to her new kitten; with the prospect of a stolen horse to be had, she dumps him into the basement, and skeddadles for the animal shelter. And somehow, the place isn't locked, and even though the dogs start barking like fury, nobody gives a shit, and they get away clean right down to the old abandoned barn. Yay! They just stole a horse. Cindy Blake has nothing on them! So they dump him in the stable without food, or water or bedding or anything, and get home before some snoopy parent checks in on them.

And it's morning at last! Nickie is no longer on a hunger strike, and she snoops around the kitchen for anything to feed to a horse (because of course, she's a dumb dumb child who is spoiled and did something irrational without planning anything out) and takes carrots and oatmeal cookies which surely must be a stable diet for a horse (Mitch likes bananas by the way) and sneaks a water pail to him. And then she goes out and picks grass for him to eat. And then Gail shows up, and somehow mentions her horse Chip. Oh hey, that's right, Nickie — the reason why Gail's been so capable with this stolen horse of yours is because she has her bona fide cowpony. And her mother has a horse, and Corky has a pony. Be jealous, Nickie, be one jealous bitch because that is why Gail wished she could have curly hair. But then they have to come up with a name for the horse, and decide on Highboy, like the furniture.

Nickie, by the way, needs cash. After all, horses cost money! So she makes a deal with her brother that she'll finish painting the porch so he can mow lawns and make money, if he pays her. Although she's dumb as hell — fifty cents an hour isn't gonna make much (which makes me more inclined to believe this is a very old book.) But now that she's gonna be rolling in the dough, Nickie and Gail start making a list of the things they need to buy, like a real halter, and oats, and holy shit, does this horse need shoes? So they skip off to the general store, and buy some supplies, including a five pound bag of oats. Now, I'm going to be awful here, and say that Marion Holland probable knew jackshit about horses because I used to feed my old Thoroughbred gelding, Flair, 5 effing pounds of senior feed a day. I repeat, 5 pounds a day. I bet they're only going to give Highboy a little handful at a time, which is stupid as shit because they'd never get weight on him that way.

But apparently, there's something magical in the grass at the old abandoned barn (must be the sunshine and rainbows and butterfly farts) because despite the fact that despite the fact that Highboy has only been in the old barn for a few days, and clearly the girls are not feeding him massive pounds of high-quality alfalfa hay, he's starting to put on weight or something. And a few more days go by, and Nickie climbs up on him bareback. And some people come and mow the lawn around the old house, and Nickie flips out like happy ninja because hooray, they can has hay (which by the way, grass hay does not really put weight on a horse. An easy keeper can eat it, and stay plump, but from the sounds of it, Highboy is not an easy keeper.)

And more days go by, and stuff happens. And the kitten gets real big (is he eating the magikal butterfly fart sunshine rainbow grass too?) And Corky throws a tantrum about moving to Falls Church, Virginia, thinking it's a real church. The girls get the grass hay in the barn, and then they see people working to fix up the old house, and Mr. Olds moves back into the house. And then Corky steals the kitten and 11 cinnamon buns and roams around Mr. Olds' property, and Nickie finds the kitten, but Corky finds Highboy, and takes Highboy out to graze in plain sight.

And then Mr. Olds shows up in cane-waving fury, and yells, and flips out like old snarky ninja. But wait! He knows Gail's grandma, so he invites them to tea, and tells Gail that her family can stay in the old house. So Gail doesn't have to move to Falls Church after all. Hooray! And they'll get to keep Highboy too. Yippy skippy with chocolate sauce!

Odds and Ends:

  • Highboy is a brown horse. Yep, that's right. He looks black, but holy moly, Nickie found brown hairs on his nose which means he's actually a brown horse. For once, our majestic steed is not a fucking black horse.
  • Gail lives in an area where the main colors of horses are pinto and calico. Uh .. I've never seen a calico horse. Ever.
So that's The Secret Horse. I should mention that I started this review Tuesday night around 8:00. And as I was in the midst of typing it, I got a phone call at 11:30 PM from someone at my barn saying we were evacuating because of a fire. So I didn't get around to finishing this review until 8:00 PM tonight because I had to rush out to the barn, get my horse loaded in a trailer at 12:30 AM, take him to another barn and get only 4 hours of sleep from 2 AM to 6 AM. I have since spent the time visiting the other evacuation locations where other horses from our barn went, and checking in on Mitch several times. Mitch is doing fine, he handled the crisis and loading like a Super Duper Champion Whitebrook Horse. So kudos to Mitch. We won't be going back to our home barn until the fire is put out. It's drama right out of a Thoroughbred book or something, haha. ;)

Also, this review wasn't posted until about 4:15 AM Thursday morning because of a power outage caused by the fire. I shall review Shadow Horse next. But that review might not happen until the weekend, depending what happens with our current situation and the fire, and all.


Claire said...

hey, i live 5 minutes from falls church. neat!

Anonymous said...

I TOTALLY read this when I was really little!! I thought it was awesome. After reading it I used to carry our mowed grass clippings to our horses, like they needed it

Molly (formerly anonymous) said...

Oh, I effing LOVED this book as a kid! I'm scolding myself for not requesting it actually ;) Nickie was a pain in the ass (and I never got why she'd whine about not going to horse camp, instead of not having her own horse. But then, I went to horse camp once and didn't think it was all that great), but the idea of secretly rescuing a horse? SO AWESOME to twelve-year-old me.

...at 25, though, I'd rather have that cute stripey kitten than a decrepit old horse.

Anonymous said...

The book was written in 1959 (the cover I think is a 1980s reprinting). So $0.50 back then would be around $3-4 dollars today... Not a whole lot.

As for the "calico horse" bit, try googling horse chimeras. That's the first thing I thought of although they're pretty rare.