Feb 10, 2009

The Saddle Club #17: Mystery at Pine Hollow!

The Saddle Club #17: Horsenapped
By: Bonnie Bryant
Published: August 1991

Stevie, Carole, and Lisa are best friends and horse-crazy members of The Saddle Club. The three are looking forward to the combined-training event at Pine Hollow Stables, when all riders will compete in dressage, cross-country, and stadium jumping. It's a horse lover's dream!

When snooty Veronica blames her bad performance on her horse, Garnet, and storms out of the ring, Carole follows, fearing Veronica's threat to give away her horse. But horse and rider have disappeared.

Later, when Lisa finds a $10,000 ransom note in the stall, the possibility becomes all too clear: Garnet has been horsenapped!

Who would have thought that The Saddle Club would ever feel sorry for Veronica ? The girls resolve to catch the horsenappers and soon find themselves in a daring escape that puts all their hose-riding skills to the test.

Some of you may have noticed my lack of motivation to keep snarking the early books in the series -- after all, they are sweet in a sort of 1980s, Bonnie-Bryant-hasn't-ridden-a-horse-since-she-was-ten kind of way -- so we're jumping straight to the good stuff: the later books. Well, not the really good stuff. The really snarkable ones are later, where there are people with names like Tiffani and Arab princesses and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or whatever was going on at the very end of the series. I can never keep any of those books straight, which is probably why I'm reviewing this one -- one that I read when I was little -- and not those.

So. It's summertime, and Max doesn't have enough to do with himself, so he's throwing a three-day combined-training event/competition/show at Pine Hollow for both the adult and young riders. Combined training includes three events: dressage, cross-country, and stadium jumping. Three events, three members of the Saddle Club. Get where this is going? I hope you're all following along.

The girls are looking forward to Alicia Downing, one of the grown-ups, whose horse is called Bodoni (like a Budyonny, get it, except that Bodoni is a Thoroughbred) and is a full brother to Cobalt, Carole's beloved horse who kicked the bucket when Veronica snapped his leg like a twig. Unfortunately, Alicia never turns up to ride, and Bodoni's gone. Same with Bill Feeney, another grown-up, who rides a Thoroughbred named Saturday's Child. In fact, the only person who does turn up is Donald, the new stablehand who is always rushing around like he has ADHD.

Then it's the girls' turn to ride. Stevie does wonderfully, and everyone's favourite Veronica diAngelo does abysmally. She makes a great big noisy fuss, blames the whole thing on Garnet, drops out of the competition (we should remember this from the back cover), and marches off. After Lisa and Carole finish their rides, they go to check on Garnet and find a ransom note stuck to Garnet's stall with bubble gum: "WE HAVE YOUR HORSE. IF YOU EVER WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN, GET $10,000 CASH AND WAIT FOR ANOTHER NOTE FROM US. DO NOT CALL THE POLICE OR IT'LL BE CURTAINS FOR THE NAG!"

The girls inspect Bodoni and Saturday's Child's stalls and find not only no horses, but bubble gum there as well. They conclude that all three have been "horsenapped" and of course they'd better not call the police, because how much fun would that be? They decide to investigate on their own first. Carole rides Starlight to Alicia and Mr. Feeney's houses, where she finds no horses there, either.

The second day of the event is cross-country, which is not as exciting as the next plot development: Veronica didn't answer the phone this morning, so the obvious conclusion is that she's been kidnapped too. After their cross-country rides, the girls figure that the kid/horsenappers must be hiding out in a farm in the woods somewhere, away from all the riders who are traipsing through the woods on the cross-country trail. They ride off to check it out, but before they can get very far they run into Donald the stablehand, who drags them back to Pine Hollow. The girls go to TD's to get some ice cream, where they run into -- guess who -- Veronica! Apparently she hasn't been kidnapped at all, and instead was at the mall buying garnet earrings (garnets, get it?).

The last day of the event is show jumping, which is also not as exciting as the eureka: Stevie realizes that she keeps seeing Donald, running around being all ADHD, and chewing bubble gum and leaving the wrappers around and tacking up ransom notes and selling it four for a penny (oh, no wait, that was Henry Huggins). Anyway, they ride out to the woods again, and find the horses and some horsenappers at an abandoned farm. Since the girls have been to Kate Devine's dude ranch twice, which makes them all professional cowgirls, they round up the three horses -- Garnet, Sat, and Bodoni -- and herd them back to Pine Hollow. Unfortunately, they are not good enough cowgirls to stop all six horses from running into the show ring while one of the grown-ups is doing her stadium jumping.

After the police come and arrest ADHD Donald and the other horsenappers, Max gives out ribbons. The girls each take a first, second, and third in one event, but Carole ends up as junior champion, which really makes no sense mathematically if all three of them have the exact same scores. The book denoues for a little bit while the police read out Donald's Exposition Rights and scold the girls for saving the horses themselves, and then the diAngelos make an appearance. Mrs. diAngelo shakes each girl by the fingertips and says nothing. Veronica says she didn't want Garnet back, because "the darned horse cost me a blue ribbon." Mr. diAngelo, to his credit, acts kind of embarrassed and announces that he's going to give the girls five hundred dollars as a reward (I hope that's each), and the girls decide to take it since it'll really piss off Veronica, and after all, what else can you ask for at the end of the day?

Overall, this isn't a terrible book -- it's early enough in the series that the horsenapping plot isn't old (get back to me after Mystery Ride and Western Star and we'll talk), and the girls mostly figure it out by prancing around in the woods, which is what they generally do anyway. It's also a very funny book. It's full of zingers, such as "I was actually referring to the fact that being kidnapped probably isn't exactly swell fun" (I totally need to use the phrase "swell fun" on a regular basis). In fact, it's kind of like an episode of 30 Rock -- it's a little crazy and unbelievable, but funny and full of one-liners along the way.

My real problem with it is that it doesn't really make sense in the context of the other books. Alicia, Bill Feeney, Bodoni, and Sat drop out of nowhere into this book and then are never heard from again. Donald was never introduced prior to this book, a sure giveaway that he's the evil-doer (see the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Conundrum" for another fine example of this crappy storytelling). Pine Hollow never sponsors a three-day event again (well, not until all those later books whose titles I can never remember), and I really don't buy Lisa as a good enough rider to take a second in dressage and a third in show jumping, although granted, BB never breathes a word of any other young riders except Veronica, who drops out.

Points of Interest:
  • Stevie orders a dish of vanilla ice cream at TD's, but what she actually meant to order was vanilla and pistachio with blueberry and pineapple topping.
  • Mrs. Reg tells no thematically relevant horsey stories in this one.
  • The cover art is by George Tsui, who took over from Rob Sauber and did the art for books 13-25. It's actually not bad, if you can overlook the dark and stormy night in the background, Carole's hideous chartreuse shirt, and the fact that Carole looks way more Hispanic, or even Mediterranean, than African-American. On the other hand, I guess her chartreuse shirt matches the design of the front cover (yet another reason they should never have dropped that horseshoe design). Also, I assume that's Garnet in the background. Is it me or is she abnormally small compared to the horsenapper?


Bookworm said...

I love the Saddle Club! (:

RiverHeightsFangirl said...

This is really off-topic, but if you want to torture yourself to a HORRIBLE travesty of a movie, watch "Racing Stripes" with Hayden Panneterie (sp?). It's about a zebra...who wants to race, and a girl who can't be a jockey because her mom died, and her dad, who's afraid to let her fulfill her dreams. It actually could've been a cute 'Babe'-type movie, except they overloaded on the in-your-face cute factor, and had rapping flies that fall in horse poop, make poop jokes and fall into coffee...and well...go. GO!

Mara said...

Thanks! You just motivated me to update my Netflix queue.