#1: Totally Horse Mad
by Kathy Helidoniotis
Published: 2003 (AUS), 2008 (USA)
I had a great idea. Maybe I could buy Princess. Then she'd really be mine, not just a horse I rode once a week ... I made up my mind. If it was the last thing I did, I was going to get my very own horse.
The only things that stand between Ashleigh Miller and the horse of her dreams are a whole lot of dollars that she doesn't have, parents who don't know one end of a horse from another and a city backyard the size of a shoebox.
Ashleigh can't believe it when her parents announce that she will really have a horse of her own, but at a price she could never have imagined. She will have to say goodbye to her best friend, Jenna, South Beach Stables and her favourite horse, Princess. Ashleigh and her family are leaving the city and heading for Shady Creek, a small country town. And that's where the adventures in this Horse Mad series really begin.
I have to say this first and foremost: if I hadn't seriously started skimming (like, picked up one sentence every ten pages) at page 165 in this 229 page book, Totally Horse Mad would have broken me. If I had gone on reading past the point of no return, right now I'd be huddled in a corner, sobbing and swearing off horse books for the rest of my life.
Now that I've blurted that out, let's discuss the book. Totally Horse Mad is an Australian series recently transported to us Americans. It's not Americanized in any way, and to help us understand you cute Australians, we're given a helpful glossary of Australian slang in the back of the book. Because I guess you guys have a lot to say about chooks and mozzies and such things. However, what sort of amuses me is the inclusion of words such as beanie, gymkhana, heaps and nag. It's not like this is a glossary for the stupid (or ignorant, or young, or American). It's definitely termed as a glossary of Australian slang. People, since when are gymkhanas specific to Australia? Granted, okay, American English sort of absorbs everything, but I am damn sure nag and beanie and heaps do not belong on this list.
So we've got another Ashleigh. She lives in a city somewhere, being all busy with her special Australian gymkhanas, apparently. Eventually Ashleigh takes it into her head to raise funds for her own horse, but because she is eleven she cannot legally work anywhere and is left with only one option: irritate the crap out of everyone and pester them to give her a few bucks for jobs she should be forced to do for free. At one point she tries to get a few bucks out of her teacher in exchange for cleaning off his white board. Seriously, if anyone had ever tried that with any of my long suffering teachers, they would have gotten their ass handed to them. Anyway, she and her best friend, Jenna, decide that their best option to raise cash is to hold a garage sale. Being a self-absorbed horse story main character, Ashleigh doesn't bother to sell her things. God no! She's going to sell keepsakes and things like autographed pictures of Mick Jagger...things owned by her parents, of course. When her parents get home, they appropriately have a fit. Ashleigh doesn't get what their problem is. She's just trying to spring clean. They should be thankful! Well, whatever. Things aren't working out very swiftly in her attempts to get a horse, so her parents have decided to step in and shove the plot forward by announcing they're moving to the country, and because of this she can have her damn horse.
Ashleigh is a little upset about this moving thing until she hears about the horse, and then she's so thrilled that when she announces this to Jenna and gets a completely stunned and hurt reaction she is totally confused. She would be, because she is that self-absorbed. But, she's getting a horse! Everything is right with the world! Jenna storms off and Ashleigh moves off to the country, where she immediately comes across this special riding club. She attempts to impress them by saying she's the "Under 12 Champion" back at the city, and in response the kids stick her on a horse they know will throw her. And then they mock her. I was so rooting for them.
Ashleigh slinks home and nurses her bruised mega ego. How best to heal such an ego? Horse shopping! The following is supposed to be comical: three horses are visited, all three are totally wrong. One is a Shetland. One is ancient. One is plain mean. Does Ashleigh want all of them? Yup. Does she get any of them? Nope. Does she whine about this? Oh, man. Great, comedy. I get it, I really do. I also get that she's excited about a horse, but it makes no sense because after this she looks online and is picky about which ads she should take seriously, totally contradicting her insane/eager previous behavior.
But then she randomly decides to buy a horse, sight unseen, off the internet and the horse arrives at their house to the complete surprise of her parents. Ashleigh again plays stupid. But she took care of it! She's responsible! Never mind that she can't pay for the horse in full, or anything. Her parents put their foot down and send the horse packing. What's more, they inform her that they're unable to finance a horse at this moment, what with real life pressures like a mortgage and job shortages and moving expenses, effectively ruining Ashleigh's life. OMG, she hates it here! Her parents suck! Her family sucks! They are liars and meanies and life is not fair. You know what, Ashleigh? Good for you. You've discovered the number one way to get a horse: freak out and blame everyone for everything.
So what happens? A horse! Of course there's a horse. On a trail ride with her local friend, Becky, they stumble across this neglected chestnut mare. Ashleigh falls in love immediately, but the vet has to warn everyone that the mare might not make it. They might -- horrors -- have to put the mare down. Cue crazy shrieking from Ashleigh. No! Absolutely not! What's Ashleigh going to do in order to make sure the mare isn't put down? She offers up the little stable on her property, totally sure her parents will let her have the horse, despite their earlier talk about how they can't afford a horse quite yet. And naturally everyone goes for this idea, the vet because she's apparently an idiot and her parents because they're clearly afraid their daughter might kill herself if they say no.
Who gives an eleven-year-old kid a starved horse? I was totally shocked by this development. What's even better, the horse does worse in Ashleigh's care and Ashleigh, scared that the vet will put the horse down if she says anything to anyone, says nothing. I don't even know what to say about this whole development anymore. I think we can all imagine appropriately enough. It was awful. For the first time in my history of reading horse books, the main character, due to being a total idiot, neglects an already neglected horse. I am not kidding. It was that awful.
But this is all explained away because the horse hasn't been dewormed properly, or something. Yeah, right. Whatever. Finally the vet comes back and drenches the mare, and a few weeks later she's doing swimmingly. Ashleigh names her Honey (Totally original for a chestnut! Just like it's so original to name a palomino Sunshine, or a black horse Midnight.) The vet gives her Honey's owner's contact information and tells her that the mare's real name is Argonaut. The hell? Honey is such a better name! I mean, Argonaut is like being called Sweet Missy Hee Haw or something completely awful. (As you can probably tell, this is where I started to lose it.)
Ashleigh calls the owner, who is awesome because he's all "Screw you, kid. Take the horse and never call me again." Sweet joy! Ashleigh has her horse! Blah blah blah. After this we can all focus on Ashleigh teaming up with Honey and focusing on kicking some major antagonist ass. I think they come in third or something. But rest assured those evil antagonists got theirs. Maybe. I don't know, and I don't care to know.
- When Ashleigh is looking at the horse classifieds online, she types in "horses for sale" in some search engine and gets over a thousand hits. Then she types in "Australian horses for sale" and gets only 27. I just found that humorous. Mainly because I'm a librarian.
I have the second book in this series, but I don't know if I can convince myself to read it. So I guess I'm going to get rid of it. Which brings me to the other part of this post: book giveaway! You can be the lucky recipient of two free horse books: Totally Horse Mad and Horse Mad Summer (in which Jenna comes back and proves she's worth Ashleigh's attention by taking riding lessons). If you want to throw your name into consideration for these, just say so in the comments. I'll give this until the end of the month, and then I'll do some random draw or something. Winner to be announced on March 1!