Sep 6, 2008

Can you ever love something TOO much?

The Saddle Club #2: Horse Shy
Bonnie Bryant
Published: November 1988

The summary:

The three members of the Saddle Club -- Carole, Lisa, and Steve -- are the best of friends, bonded by their special love of horses. Now they're together on the long-awaited Mountain Trail Overnight, riding through the pine forests, swimming in mountain-water ponds, sharing a tent under the stars. ... They are having such a perfect time that nothing -- not even Veronica, the richest and snobbiest girl at the stables -- can spoil their fun.

But the impossible does happen. A tragic accident, caused by Veronica's carelessness, makes Carole lose the one thing she loved most in the world. Is her grief enough to make her give up riding forever?

The plot:

The book opens up with the Saddle Club out on a "practice" trail ride for MTO, since Lisa has only been riding for about three days. They manage to end up in absolutely the wrong field, where they come face to face with a bull. The only way to get out is to jump the fence, despite the fact that Lisa has been riding for about three days and Max doesn't allow his students to start jump classes for a year.

There are eleven people on the MTO: the Saddle Club (3), Veronica diAngelo, Meg Durham, Lorraine Olsen, Betsy Cavanaugh, Joe Novick, Adam Levine, Red O'Malley the stablehand, and of course Max himself. All of these kids seem to be about the age of the Saddle Club, which suggests that you have to be a certain age to go (clearly it has nothing to do with experience, since Lisa has been riding for about three days). We get some Quick Character Development on Mrs. Atwood (hovers, warns Lisa about things like "not going too close to the edge of the mountain"), Mrs. diAngelo (brings Veronica a set of expensive Hermes saddlebags and a bag of Perugina candies), and Carole (leaves her backpack and sleeping bag at home).

They drive up into some mountains and get this MTO started. They trot and canter. We learn that you should not give a hot horse a lot of water to drink at once. Carole and Red take care of Veronica's gorgeous stallion, Cobalt, when Veronica refuses to do it herself. They play horse games; make up stories about Max's grandfather, Maxmillian Regnery I, who founded Pine Hollow; try to get Max to tell them the real story about his grandfather; watch the deer grazing with horses; go swimming in mountain lakes; prance through rainbows, wear sparkly outfits, run from forest fires ... oh wait, wrong book. Anyway, it's kind of like Girl Scout camp on horseback, and really kind of sweet, even though Carole's horse, a palomino called Delilah, is being a bit of a cranky brat.

Except for the time that Max has all of the students, except Lisa-the-three-day rider of course, working on a small jump course, and Veronica gallops Cobalt up to a jump. Max rips her a new one for expecting Cobalt to "fling himself over a jump." Lisa has only been riding for three days, so she has no idea that this is a bad thing; she thinks Max was just looking for an excuse to yell at Veronica. Stevie sets her straight with a minimum of insults.

Back at PH, Carole exercises Cobalt. She loves this horse. He's a sweetheart and a beauty. Running fast and jumping high are in his bloodlines. Etc., etc. You can imagine how this is going to end.

Carole's dad has a business trip to North Carolina, so he takes Carole so she can spend some time with her mother's sister, Elaine, and her cousins, who are all young boys. Carole's mother was mentioned very briefly in the first book, as having died "six months earlier from cancer," but this one goes into a little more detail, especially about how hard Colonel Hanson finds it to be a single parent and Carole's willingness to reassure him that he is a terrific father. It's nicely done and not too anvilicious.

As soon as they get home, Stevie calls from PH, telling Carole to come immediately.

As they neared the stable, Carole could hear the terrible whine of a siren. An ambulance pulled out of the driveway and turned toward the hospital, lights flashing, siren wailing. The diAngelos' Mercedes was parked carelessly in the lot, its doors left open.

But the only things Carole really saw were the veterinarian's pickup truck and the county vet's wagon. That was when Carole knew the worst. Two veterinarians always had to sign a certificate before a horse could be destroyed.

"Cobalt!" she screamed, jumping from the car almost before it stopped.

Lisa and Stevie came running out of the stable. Lisa reached Carole first and put her arm around her. Stevie had tears streaming down her face.

"It's too late, Carole," she said. "He was too badly hurt! They had to do it. He would never heal. It was that long bone in his foreleg -- it was shattered. He just lay there. And then it was over."

Yeah, that about says it all. The next day, Lisa and Stevie tell Carole how Max had them jumping again, and Veronica brought Cobalt down the hill at a gallop and expected him to make the jump and land on a downward slope. Carole knows that "they did the right thing. Cobalt's life was over. He was born to run with the wind, not limp," but she tells Stevie and Lisa that she's quitting riding forever.

Stevie and Lisa do some research on Max's grandfather. There's no info in the papers, and Mrs. Reg, Max's mother and Max I's daughter-in-law, won't give up anything. They finally run into this old guy, Mr. Thompson, who took riding lessons from Max I. Apparently Max I was the strictest, most boring guy ever, and all the stories the students make up about him are much more fun than he ever was. They also spot Veronica, with a cast on her left arm, reading a book about horsemanship and practicing her jumping skills with a chair in the library. It's less weird than it sounds ... no, I take that back. It still sounds very weird, but it does make some sense: Stevie says that "Veronica's had a zillion lessons and a fabulous horse, but she never listened and she never learned. She thought she was too good to make a mistake, but she was wrong. She knows that now. Cobalt's life was a horrible price, but at least she learned something from it."

Meanwhile, Carole agrees to come back to PH not to ride, but to help Mrs. Reg sort out the extra tack that they took on the MTO. While she's there, she sees the newest litter of PH kittens, including one feisty, determined black kitten. Mrs. Reg also busts out her first long, rambling, seemingly-unrelated-to-the-situation-at-hand-but-clearly-has-a-hidden-meaning horse story, about all the different horses she's ridden in her life, but she's never had a favourite.

Another Saturday. Colonel Hanson is heading out to play tennis and then go on a date with a woman named Barbara Lerner, which Carole takes much better than I would if my mother had died seven months ago. Carole reads a scintillating textbook about pyramids, then, without thinking, takes the bus to PH, where she sobs and then falls asleep in Cobalt's stall. When she wakes up, she hears Veronica arguing, with her father, who desperately wants to buy Delilah for "Ronnie" (HAHA). Veronica, to her credit, says that the insurance money they got for Cobalt doesn't have anything to do with it and that she doesn't want another horse until she can take care of him.

Carole realizes that not only has she come to the stable wearing riding clothes, she's ready to ride again. As she heads off to find Max, she sees Mrs. Reg trying to get the feisty little black kitten down from a rafter in the tack room. He's so contrary that Carole decides that he should be named Snowball, but there's no famous horse named Snowball, so Mrs. Reg suggests that "if he's not a stable cat, he doesn't have to have a stable name" and that Carole should ask her dad if she can have him.

Carole tells Max she wants to rejoin the class and Max of course says yes, but that she won't be riding Delilah. Carole takes that to mean that Mr. diAngelo bought her after all, but that's not it: she's pregnant, and Cobalt is the babydaddy.

Everyone is thrilled to see Carole again, and she figures out the message behind Mrs. Reg's horse story:

"What made you decide to come back?" Lisa asked.

"There were a lot of things. I think you were right in a way when you said I was horse shy. But not just about any horse -- it was Cobalt. It hurt so much when he died that I was afraid I might get hurt again if something like that happened to another horse. But when I saw what Veronica had learned -- well, I thought if there's hope for her, then there's hope for me. Anyway, the only thing worse than losing something you care about is not having something you care about at all. I learned that when Mom died.

Stevie and Lisa sat quietly. "There was something else," Carole continued. "I finally realized that no matter how much I cared about him, Cobalt wasn't mine. He belonged to somebody else."

"But you rode him more than Veronica did!" Lisa reminded her.

"I did, that's right. And I rode him better. But Mrs. Reg had the final lesson to me, though she didn't say it in so many words. There are lots of horses, some good, some bad, most mixes of good and bad. And I want to ride them all!"

And that's it. They eat ice cream, they schmooze, they dance, everything's fine. Yay!

This one is too sad for me to be really negative about it. I am always surprised at how early Cobalt was killed off (of course, back then BB thought there were going to be just four books) and how much personality he had (albeit, slightly conflicting personalities, such as difficult/sweet, beautiful, kittenish). And he continues to be a very personality-filled horse through the rest of the series, especially after Delilah gets pregnant and barefoot and basically exists to be the foal's mother.

Points of Interest:
  • I am now 25 and have still never seen anything from Hermes, nor have I figured out what Perugina candies are. I must lead a deprived life.
  • When Max breaks everyone into teams for horse games, he puts Carole, Stevie, Meg, Lorraine, and Red on one time, and Veronica, Joe, Betsy, Lisa, and Adam Levine on another. Like, really? Carole, Stevie, and Red on one team? In what universe is that fair?
  • 'K, so Cobalt dies jumping a downhill slope, exactly what Max reamed Veronica for on the MTO. I can't imagine a downhill slope being the best or safest place to teach a bunch of twelve-year-olds to jump, not to mention that there are plenty of other (flat) places around PH to set up jumps, and did he really think Veronica listened to him at all when he yelled at her the first time? After it happened, Veronica told her parents that it was Max's fault, because he shouldn't have set up the jump that way. Well, I certainly don't think it was Max's fault, but I'm not sure he should have set up the jump that way either.
  • Another PH tradition is to name the cats after famous horses, like Eclipse (a Thoroughbred), Copperbottom (a Quarter Horse), and Sir Archie (also a Thoroughbred). Mrs. Reg things it's "about time to use some of the Standardbreds," and suggests Messenger, Hambletonian, Dutchman, Yankee, and Dan Patch. This is a much cuter and more realistic tradition than the soda whip, and it's nice to know all the cats aren't named Seattle Slew and Affirmed (or Just Victory and Canady Red). Plus, can you imagine PH in the year 2060, when they'd have to have cats called Afleet Alex and Funny Cide?
  • I particularly enjoy how Carole thinks that "People who told horse stories usually told about the unlikely undersized weakling foal who grew up to take blue ribbons at the National Horse Show. Real life, Carole knew, wasn't like that." Or the Kentucky Derby, perhaps. Roses, then, not blue ribbons.
  • Veronica actually never objects to being called Ronnie; Carole is the one who is surprised that Veronica would let someone call her that.
  • This was the second book reprinted in 2007-2008. As far as I know, they made no text changes, like tape players to CD players, the way they did in the first book.

2 comments:

Molly said...

It's interesting how Veronica's attitude went from this back to snotty bitch. I guess they assumed that since it was going to be a long-running series, they needed an antagonist, but...meh. Also interesting how she went from not knowing anything about riding to being the best rider in the stable after Carole the perfect. The chronic inconsistencies in her personality really annoy me, though. She's much less interesting when she's a caricature of a Plastic.

I totally googled Perugina candy just now. They really don't look that impressive for the price, at least not the hard candy.

Nearly all of the horses went from realistic to one-note characters, not just Delilah (they never did make up their mind about her - in some books she was an intermediate level horse, in others she was a beginner's horse). Pepper went from quiet but fussy to Patch 2.0. Prancer went from being a lamb to kind of psychotic and difficult to handle (basically, the skill level needed for her was adjusted to fit Lisa's skills).

Did you ever notice that Samson was the only character to age in these books? Funny. And really, only Lisa's skills ever progressed in any meaningful way.

I like to think that by now Pine Hollow would have had a kitty called Hoof Hearted.

sundae_mourning said...

i loved Delilah in the early books, and it always annoyed me that she went from being a spirited, challenging mount with lots of personality to a dull beginner horse. the transition just seemed too abrupt and awkward for me...she became a completely different horse.