Dec 27, 2008

A Horse Of His Own just doesn't roll off the tongue.

A Horse for the Summer
Sandy Lane Stables #1
by Michelle Bates

These horsey summer books are endless, aren't they?

When Tom is left a prize-winning showjumper for the summer, things don't turn out quite as he'd hoped. Chancey is wild and unpredictable and Tom is forced to start training him in secret. But the days of summer are numbered and Chancey isn't Tom's to keep forever. At some point, he will have to give him back...

After reading a decent horse book, I have to stumble back into a book that hits every horse story cliché imaginable. It's just routine now. Luckily for me, I picked up the first in the Sandy Lane Stables series.

One thing that stands out about the Sandy Lane Stables series is it isn't solely aimed at the female demographic. Sure, most of the other horse books I've read for this blog include men and boys somehow, proving that men and boys do actually ride horses, but those books are almost always told from a female perspective, and are aimed at girls. Even Dylan's Choice was told by Christina. This series manages to indicate that boys do exist in the horse world, and can be more than just the main character's boyfriend (or horribly beautiful and awesome sort of antagonist, as the case may be).

That aside, I'm not exaggerating about how this book hits (and hits hard) every horse story plot device and contrived storyline ever dreamed up. I should create a list at this point. An abbreviated list could be:

1. Abused horse
2. Main character who takes matters into his/her hands, and is eventually rewarded for it because they are ultimately correct, and those who have every right to be pissed are ultimately wrong
3. Flat antagonist with little to no motivation for bitchiness
4. Miraculous change in said abused horse, suddenly becoming the most fantastic of horses
5. "The Horse of Her Own" storyline, wherein the main character receives a horse for free despite having little to no financial capability to take care of said horse, and everyone seems excited and willing to go along with this completely ridiculous idea.

I'll stop before I get too ahead of myself. This book isn't horrible, but it does fall face first into all of these problems. Luckily for it, I guess I was just in a good mood when I read it, and you can't really rip to shreds such a simple story and feel good about it afterward. Therefore let's move on to the plot.

Tom is super excited, you guys. His bratty cousin is leaving for the summer and she has decided to give him her horse, a "champion" named Chancey. This is falling at a good time for Sandy Lane, who has a lame horse and really needs another lesson horse to fill the void. Sandy Lane isn't exactly financially sound, and Nick and Sarah, the owners, decide to let Tom board Chancey at the stable in return for making him a lesson horse. Tom is thrilled by this arrangement, and goes off to be perfect and the model working student for the stable.

There's a group of working students (of differing riding talent, and Tom is naturally the best) that the series centers around. They aren't really important to mention in detail in this entry, but Alex is Tom's best friend and fellow male, so he's sort of around occasionally when Tom isn't busy being self absorbed with his new horse, who arrives with much fanfare, dashing Tom's hopes to tiny pieces when it turns out his cousin, Georgiana, has ruined him. Chancey is a nervous wreck who can't be trusted as a lesson horse, much to everyone's disappointment. Because of this, Nick goes against his wife's orders and goes to an auction with Tom, buying a somewhat neglected horse because he has an addiction to auctions and should really stay away. He can't, buys something, and then walks it home because they've refused to bring a trailer, thinking that if they can't transport a horse home easily that would dissuade him from buying something.

Nick quickly becomes obsessed with this new horse, and as a result he has little time to help Tom out with Chancey, who is still being a little crazy. Tom, who has promised Nick that he won't do anything stupid (ie. ride the horse alone), decides that the only way he can get Chancey ready for the summer shows is to ride him alone early in the morning, Cindy style. This is what Tom does, and Chancey starts to improve, tricking Nick into thinking he's actually just a preternaturally intelligent/talented horse. Only then Nick catches Tom in the midst of an early morning training session, and Nick is pretty pissed. Tom is sort of an asshole about this, figuring he was justified in his actions, right up to the point that Chancey dumps his ass and sprints off. Nick flat out tells him that the horse shouldn't have been trained alone by a novice (I grinned at this), and they find Chancey and all is well. Tom enters the local show on another horse, but decides to go along with Alex's plan to suddenly switch the horses out just before the show, because Tom is so right and Nick will magically understand what Tom's been doing when they break every rule Nick has set up.

I love these plot devices, because they are so irritating and impossible. That whole "we'll make so and so understand because he was just like us when he was our age" or whatever. It happens in almost every Thoroughbred book, and it happens here. So Tom winds up showing Chancey at the last minute, and wins the show, and because of this Nick actually says that he would have done the same thing. Tom has proved his point, and Nick is instantly not angry. Let this be a lesson to every young person: you can only get out of being punished for breaking rules if you are awesome and victorious always. If you can't win, you're going to get your ass handed to you.

So then Georgiana comes back to ride Chancey in the big summer show. This is apparently her only motive for coming back. She just wants to be a jealous bitch and throw her weight around, so Tom has to give up Chancey. Georgiana, for some reason, keeps riding Chancey at Sandy Lane, being bitchy and impossible while Tom reverts into total perfection mode. Georgiana rides Chancey at the big show, completely failing. Alex comes in sixth, and Tom has the audacity to think this is encouraging for him and the formerly lame horse, Feather. At this point, I always find it irritating when someone else does moderately well and the main character is all "oh, yay, perhaps I have a shot of doing well too!" We know you're going to win, Tom. So do you. And he does.

Moving on, Georgiana has to go be stupid again, riding Chancey out to the beach during high tide, because she's too stuck up and flat to pay attention to the tide sheet that Nick mentioned to everyone earlier. Tom, being perfect, realizes what she's done and goes out to rescue her. He rescues her, and then goes out to rescue Chancey, which involves swimming across a channel to the shore. Everyone is saved, except Tom falls off and whacks his head and falls unconscious. He wakes up at home, where Georgiana tells him out of the blue that she never really wanted to ride, and her father is tired of keeping the horse, so she's giving Chancey to Tom so she can take up ballet. Everyone has a collective yay! moment, and that's that.
  • Tom "crouches" over Chancey's withers during a canter. Not half-seat or two-point...crouching. I find this interesting, because if I tried that in front of my own instructor he'd ask me what I thought I was doing. And then I'd probably fall off.
  • Why is everyone talking about clipping a horse's winter coat when it's mid-May?
So, it's your silly, completely outrageous, not at all possible horse story plot. The usual. The next one is Runaway Pony, where Jess (of the working student group) takes the reins.

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