Jul 24, 2008

Look Out Everyone! Olympic-sized Dreams Coming Through!

High Hurdles #1: Olympic Dreams
By Lauraine Snelling
Publish Date: 1995

As per Sundae's request, I'm going to be tackling The Golden Filly and High Hurdles series by Lauraine Snelling. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to do so since all I had was book #1 of The Golden Filly lot, but since I've discovered that our inter-library loan for the TriCounties does have the books at branch libraries, I've gone ahead and put some on request. Only doing two at a time though because of the loan thing, and how it works (and because they'd think I'd have to pay $25 to replace the effing thing if it gets lost -- it's happened before, true story, and I managed to get out of it by the skin of my teeth because someone realized that "Hey, she checked it in, and it got lost on the way back!" So anyway, I'm just trying to cover my ass, mmkay, and keep the loan books down to a minimum.

Luckily, my local library already had High Hurdles #1 on the shelves so I snagged it today. Now, these books are written by Lauraine Snelling. Who, as I understand it, is quite religious. She looks a bit like Mrs Doubtfire, only with blonder hair, and a bit stouter figure. She's also been quoted in her FAQs as saying that Christian writers have a special gift because of the Holy Spirit, and blah blah blah .. something more meaningful.. yadda yadda. (I guess that means atheist writers are just shit out of luck or something.) I think The Golden Filly series is really a lot more about God and religion than High Hurdles seems to be. High Hurdles is more about relationships, since the only really churchy person I can think of in the books is DJ's grandmother, whereas Tricia spends half her time in The Race having a 'Come to Jesus' moment. My gut feeling is, because the High Hurdles books were written a number of years after The Race, Lauraine decided to focus more on DJ's relationships with her friends and family rather than making the Christian thing point and center.

Thirteen-year old DJ Randall wants nothing more than to compete as a show jumper in the Olympics. After years of riding and working with horses, she’s ready to start contending. Only once obstacle stands in her way—she doesn’t have a horse!

Together with her best friend, Amy Yamamoto, DJ puts her plan for earning horse money into action. But just when it seems as if buying a horse is a real possibility, everything goes wrong. DJ’s grandmother, who has always lived with DJ and her fast-track mother, announces she is moving out.

Horrified at the prospect of living alone with a mother who doesn’t understand her dreams, DJ fights to prevent the move. Without Gran’s support, DJ may never realize her Olympic ambitions!

All DJ needs is a chance…

Look, look right there at the synposis. I mean, wow... there's not even any mention of any Higher Power (namely God) anywhere in the entire thing. It's almost like The Race couldn't wait to throw out any messages from the Divine, but Olympic Dreams focuses instead on the tale of DJ's woefully inadequate life because she doesn't have a horse, and can't be in the Olympics then. Look, DJ honey, I don't know if anyone's told you, but you're probably better off getting a rich sugar daddy sponsor and doing what 3/4ths of the Olympic equestrian teams do and ride someone else's horse.

Nonetheless, we must begin our story with DJ's dream. To ride in the freaking Olympic games, whoohoo! DJ (Darla Jean -- I can see why she has a nickname) is sitting in her room, oogling a poster of a jumping horse. It's her dream to be the rider on that horse, and she's thirteen years old, with a birthday coming up. And as it turns out, she's gotten distracted by the poster because she leaves her best friend, Amy Yamamoto, waiting downstairs for quite some time -- and she's got a lesson to teach in a half hour. Yikes! The girls have to fly! Well, bike really really fast anyway. But that doesn't stop them from talking about how much DJ wants her a horse of her own. The thing I really have to admire about DJ is that she says straight up that her mother can't afford lessons, but instead of being one of those spoiled whiny little asshat kids (like say, Nickie the Whiny Baby) who throw shitfits about not getting riding lessons, DJ goes out and trades work for lessons at Briones Riding Academy all on her own. She just comes across as more self-sufficient compared to other adolescents in most horse books, and as such, her whinging about how she doesn't have a horse of her own can mostly be forgiven. So once they arrive at the Academy, DJ goes for some lovin with her favorite horse, a sorrel gelding named Diablo. See, Diablo has these owners -- yeah, the absentee kind who seem fully willing to pour hundreds of dollars into care for an animal but never seem to show up and get on its back. Sheesh, people, just buy Breyer models or something!

DJ has a group of beginner riders; two little girls, plus one that has asthma, so she misses the lesson that day. And they're only a few years younger than her -- it just rubs salt into the wound that they have their own horses. But nonetheless, DJ bucks her chin up, and buckles down for a snazzy good lesson with Diablo, the Appendix Quarter Horse Wonder. And it just gets better because DJ wants to learn how to jump, and Bridget, the barn manager/trainer/owner-whatever says she's only been waiting for DJ to ask, and offers to let her ride some old jumper. And then James, Mr. Spoiled Rich Kid with the Super Pretty Arabian Filly shows up, and DJ has some bad thoughts about him -- mainly along the lines that he's a stuck up little prick who needs to be strangled and buried in a hole.

And then it's off for home after cleaning the tack, and DJ solicits her grandmother for money for the entry fees. DJ's grandmother is really how I see my grandparents; loving, caring wonderful people who care deeply for their grandchildren. That they happen to be fervently religious is just a facet of who they are, and they don't push their beliefs off on their grandkids (it's like they understand my inability to sit still in a church and so are more than willing to let me stay home when we go visit them.) Anyway, DJ's Gran is just like that. She gives DJ the money she needs, and DJ skips off to her room to draw pictures of horses, happy as a lark.

But her world trembles the next day as she arrives at the Academy and finds Diablo's stall gate open, and the stall empty. Oh noes! Luckily, she runs into Bridget's office and before she can work up a really good cry, Bridget tells her that Diablo's owners came and took him away, post haste because they were moving. Of course, Bridget's not too happy about it herself since she didn't get her 30 days notice, but she gives DJ an envelop from the owners. Inside is $100 which while not loads of cash, is certainly enough to help DJ towards her horse fund. Come to think of it, if only DJ was looking for a horse 13 years after 1995, she'd probably have enough right there to buy at least half of one, if not more, considering the horse market these days. And i really have to hand it to her, she's pretty emotionally bummed out about Diablo being gone, but she gets her act together, and gets ready for her jumping lesson.

And amazingly, she doesn't turn into a star jumper in just one lesson; she miscounts strides, she gets left behind, she uses too much leg, but hey, she gets her act together and rides a decent fence which is enough to satisfy her trainer. And then she gets to work c leaning stalls before going home. Right when her mother gets home, and practically runs over her bike. Ooops. But, Lindy has the grace to apologize, and DJ gets to pour her pity parade out to her mother about Diablo moving away. Of course, it's just not enough to make her mother actually go out and buy a horse, sure she sympathizes, but hey, what's she gonna do. So things get a little heated between DJ and her mom, and Lindy actually flounces out of the room in a huff. And DJ of course has to inadvertently eavesdrop on her mother and grandmother talking about her, but then it gets too quiet, so she wanders back to her room.

I'm giving DJ some more credit, but she does try to make the next morning a better day. I know she probably thinks life is pretty crappy, but she throws herself into a nice hour long lesson, and even comes up with this idea of pony rides at birthday parties as a way of making money. What she and Amy will do is borrow a pony from the stables, lead them around, and Amy could take pictures of them. What a plan! They'll be rolling in dough before you know it! In the mean time, DJ's birthday arrives, and there's a birthday party for her in the tack room, and she sees candles, and something in her brain snaps and she remembers a terrible fire she experienced as a little kid. Yeah, apparently flames are a no-go for this kid, she's go primal or something. And DJ's mom shows she's not that big of a grouch because she and Gran buy DJ a nice show outfit for her birthday. But of course, Lindy drops a hint that she's trying to get her mother matched up with a policeman. Which makes DJ uneasy for some reason.

Moving along, DJ, Amy and DJ's students go for a trail ride in Briones State Park. Now, I did some looking, and couldn't find a Briones State Park, but I found a Briones Regional Park and the place sounds positively gorgeous. Someday, when I have a trailer, I think Mitch and I will take a ride up there. It's around his old stomping grounds, when he used to be a carriage horse for Fancy Ferriage. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't pulled a wedding carriage in the area. DJ amuses me in that she has a beesting kit in her saddle bags. After I was stung 30 times on a horse camping trip last summer, I took to carrying an EpiPen just in case. Also, DJ reminds me of me; toting around an emergency kit and all. Only, I keep my stuff in a fanny pack on me. Just in case. Thus, everyone has a nice ride, and everyone is happy.

There's a horse show a few days later, and DJ runs around helping people while feeling just a little bit sorry for herself that she doesn't have a horse to ride. Gray Bar, Jame's gray Arabian filly, goes batshit loading (thank you Jeebsus that my horse is an easy loader!) and thus she goes batshit again in the ring, and James is a prick and blames DJ for it. Asshole! DJ keeps herself busy and thus doesn't actually miss riding in the show as much as the thought.

And the next day, DAj and Amy have the first of their pony birthday parties. Unfortunately, they don't become instant millionaires overnight, and it's hardly a rousing success because a little boy tries to feed Bandit a pink flower, a little girl goes postal about wearing the cowboy hat and the pony takes a shit in the driveway. And just when they're about to clean up the manure, the mother of the birthday child shows up and announces cake and ice cream, which starts the mad rush for the house. And get this, three -- not just one -- three children step squish squish into horseshit and run into a house with white carpet. Mother freaks. Yeah, well, listen lady, you have a child, white carpets should have been the least of your concern. Luckily for Amy and DJ, they still get paid, and it's time to bring Bandit home so DJ can hustle her butt back to her house for the dinner with the copper. Who turns out not to be too bad for an old guy. And the best part is, he's got a horse. A horse named Major. But then what turns out to be bad about him is that Gran seems to really really and I mean really like him. Doh!

this really peeves DJ off. I mean, how dare her widowed grandmother who has spent the last decade caring for her, fall head over heels in love with a man. It's positively obscene! And it gets worse the next day because they're already going out on dates even though they've only met each other a few hours earlier. And DJ gets accused of stealing a bridle and a saddle, so she flips out like ninja. The pony party seems to go better this time, and the girls even get lemonade. And when DJ gets home, she finds out her grandmother clearly is so lovesick, she doesn't even pay attention when DJ says she slapped some little kid upside the head. Clearly, Gran is coming down with the LoveBug Fever and doesn't give a shit about anything else. Crikey!

DJ evenbtually runs into James. Turns out, he's the one that said she stole the tack. So she threatens to cut the bitch. Unfortunately, Bridget finds them in a stall, and puts both of them on probation. This doesn't help DJ much because she's already had a fight with her mom that was probably nearly homicidal, and her grandmother keeps dating the policeman. DJ goes home, sulks, and finally has a Come to Jesus moment, which is the first time it's happened (and it's page 101) which is a vastly different scenario to Tricia who can't seem to stop her prayerfests long enough to take a breath. And she goes to bed feeling sorry for herself.

Things just don't get better the next day because Meg comes up lame, so she can't have her jumping lesson, and their pony parties all get canceled because of chicken pox. And DJ has to go to a barbecue at Joe the Policeman's house, where she meets his kids and grandkids. And then holy shit, but Gran just about shatters her world because Joe has a big announcement to make ... that he and Gran are gonna tie the knot. NOOOOO! Say it isn't soooooo! DJ is so heartbroken by this, she up and leaves the party, forcing her mother to come chasing after her in the car. DJ's mom lays the smackdown on her, no teaching lessons and no riding for pleasure for two whole weeks. But DJ still has to go to her job and clean tack and muck stalls. And Gran and Joe call the wedding off, which serves to infuriate Lindy. Well, shit!

DJ feels like shit, and so she wakes up in the middle of the night and contemplates runningoff with her life saving of $382. But before she can do that, she has to go to work at the Academy. She workrides a new horse named Patches and leaves Bridget a note. She then goes and gets all her money out of the bank, and prepares to run off. But before she leaves entirely, she goes back to the Academy to say goodbye to some horses and runs into James. James' life isn't hunky-dory either, sure his parents are rich, but his mom's an absentee mother and his dad is a drunkard. And they want to ship him off to military school because Daddy Dear thinks James needs "discipline" so he's pretty bummed about that because he can't see his horse. And worse, his father's going to sell her! Oh noes! And James finally confesses that he's just jealous of DJ and he hid the saddle, and all that shit. Well, at least they seem to be friends now.

DJ goes home, and her mother finds her with a sleeping bag and a backpack full of her world goods. Oh great, she's gonna get the smackdown now. But yeah, anyway, Gran's still going to marry Joe, and they're buying a house right near the Academy. Bridget grounds DJ from riding period for a month, but says she'll give her plenty of other work. James tells DJ they're not selling Gray Bar, but that she's going with him to the military school. DJ goes to the wedding and afterwards Joe tells DJ that since he's retiring, the horse he rides on patrol is also retiring, and that he'll sell him to DJ for $400 so she'll finally have her own horse. Hooray!

I don't think there's a lot of points of interest for this book. At least, I didn't pick up anything while reading that seemed particularly noteworthy.

So, that was Book #1 of the High Hurdles series. Like I said before, the God thing really got toned down from the Golden Filly series. Don't get me wrong, it's still there, but not so in your face preachy-like. DJ only prays to go maybe twice, and both times they come pretty late in the book. Earlier I compared Gran to my own religious grandparents, and she seems to always be reading a Bible, but she doesn't stand there preaching at anyone. Even when her own daughter starts screeching that she doesn't want to be preached at, Gran didn't come across as a religious fanatic or anything like that. I think it added it's share of layers to the relationships in the book, and really, it was an enjoyable read without coming across as some kind of Christian doctrine in disguise. Book #2 is on request, so hopefully I'll get that within a day or two. But for right now, I think I'm going to take advantage of the fact that I requested some other books from the library, and get some non-horsey reading in.


Narmowen said...

Wow...the cover of this looks quite a bit like Thoroughbred #6...I think Samantha's Pride.

sundae_mourning said...

the back blurb made absolutely no mention of the God-loving contained inside this book, so i didn't even realize it was the same author until i got well into it. i like DJ way better than Trish, though she does get a bit more religious as the series goes on and she starts getting what she wants. though something that's always bothered me about this series is how everyone she meets along the way magically is just as religious and loves Jesus as much as her grandmother does.

molly said...

I really liked DJ in the early books in this series. As it progressed, she got on my nerves a bit, though I can't specifically remember why. However, I had all of the books in this series and read them all multiple times, whereas I had one of the Golden Filly books, read part of it and never went back to it. "Jesus...Jesus...cancer...Jesus...are there actually any horses in this?!"

One thing that bugged me, though. Why the hell is a woman named Bridget Sommersby FRENCH? Maybe Lauraine was trying to avoid stereotypes - I did always like that Amy's last name is (I think) Japanese, but there's no real mention of her ethnicity, unlike the forced JESSI IS BLACK BUT WE DON'T CARE! tone a lot of books take - but for some reason, it annoyed the hell out of me.

Anonymous said...

i read all the books and whoever wrote this is lying big time because she soesen't curse in these books

Anonymous said...

well molly i don't know what you were saying when you said jesus jesus cancer jesus and my friend's name doesn't sound french but she is and amy is native american and please stop cursing but to everyone who loves horses because i do answer yes or no or a little

Anonymous said...

I don't think I've ever read a better picker upper kind of book series. These books are SO happy right up until book nine. Very cheery, even when DJ is upset about something. Her life gets very good very fast so that can be a bit annoying but overall I enjoy this series. The horse stuff is relevant and the way she ages over the series makes sense.