Nov 20, 2009

Annual Holiday Gift Guide!

Elizabeth, blog correspondent and all around awesome person, apparently always gets her holiday shopping done early. Thus I got an e-mail about all the fantastic horse-themed gifts you can give your loved ones this holiday season. I am here to show you her greatest finds, and add in a few of my own.

Do you have a Saddle Club fan on your hands? I am told this is the exact sweatshirt that Carole gives Stevie in Starlight Christmas, and while I don't know what the significance of that is, if any, you can buy them in a mother-daughter pair. How adorable, I think. Get them here.

Do you have the unyielding desire to decorate your home with the same pattern over and over in the same design probably found at Lyssa's home at Thunder Ranch in Star's Chance? Back In The Saddle has anticipated your needs, and brings you this pattern in the form of coverlets, window valances, place mats, pillow shams, chair cushions, table runners, and sofa covers. Two sizes of sofa covers, just in case you also have a love seat. I officially request that someone buy all of these things, so I can see them in use all at the same time. Please go here to purchase all of them.

Have you ever found yourself immensely critical of the holiday decoration choices of others? Of neighbors and loved ones? Of fellow family members, perhaps? Of course you have! So we bring you ornaments in "palomino, bay and crystal." I'll give you one guess on who the odd man out is in this group. That said, I actually sort of like these, and I have seen a lot of awful horse ornaments on display at Hallmark and on Christmas trees that I have tried not to find fault with because they were the Christmas trees of friends. That's right, I will only silently judge you. No worries. Get the glass ornament ponies here.

There is nothing better than cubic zirconia. Not only can you trick others into thinking they're worthy of precious jewels, but you get to only spend $40 when you should realistically be spending much, much more. It's sort of a win-win! This is another one of those situations where I would like someone to buy the pendant, ring and earrings so I can see them in use all at the same time. I know someone out there is willing to do this. I mean, I once saw a person go to great lengths to buy an entire outfit of solid Pepto-Bismol pink topped off with gold sandals. I know you're out there somewhere, person. Go buy them.

In terms of children's toys, I am sad to say there isn't much out there that really caught my attention. At least not in a way that resulted in an oh-my-god-what-is-that-and-why-is-it-awesome (question mark, exclamation point!) reaction.

There is the Breyer horse with giant fairy wings, Disney princesses come with their own horses now, and Shrinky Dinks. (I love saying Shrinky Dink! It makes me giggle.) But I think the winner goes to Barbie this year:
Yes, that's a horse with a shower. Also, there is a Barbie groom that is sold separately. The shower head actually works, and when wet, the horse's mane will turn pink. Sounds like a beautiful time to learn about mildew, and yet it is pretty awesome. It also comes with ton of accessories, as well as a bucket and shovel, which for some reason really amuses me. $29.98! Thank you, Barbie.

That's your annual toy and gift guide, you guys. Happy Holidays!

Nov 18, 2009

Star's Chance: And then they got lost in Montana.

Star's Chance
Thoroughbred #45
by Karle Dickerson

Will Star ever regain his spirit?

At last, Wonder's Star has recovered from the illness that halted his promising racing career so suddenly. The vet says he'll be back on the track in no time. But Christina Reese is convinced the colt has lost his spirit. She can't seem to communicate with him like she used to. Christina needs help.

When Lyssa Hynde offers to work her magic with Star, Christina takes the colt to Lyssa's ranch in Montana to rehabilitate. But Montana is worlds away from the track, and Christina and Star are lost there. Will Christina and Star learn to take risks and trust each other again?

The last time I read about Lyssa, I remember wishing she would drown in a shallow puddle of water. That desire really hasn't gone away, so I was curious to see how I'd react to Star's Chance, which initially seems like a flagrant device to get Lyssa back into the storyline.

Because we all love Lyssa.

Star's Chance begins with Star having rebounded from death, which seems like a pretty nifty trick because the last we saw him he was practically cast in his stall and only Christina's magical girl tears saved him from certain doom. The vet proclaims him fine, but cautions Chris about taking it easy with Star until he regains his strength. There's no telling if he'll ever bounce back to racing form, and the vet takes it even further by saying there's no telling he'll ever be strong enough to even breed. But what does he know? He is merely a vet! Christina knows what is best for her wonder pony, okay? And he's going to run in the Kentucky Derby next year, because that's what's best for the horse.

About two and a half days go by, with Christina getting ever more frustrated with Star's "lack of spirit" when she rides him. Parker mentions that if Lyssa were here, she would have Star back to his old self in a couple of hours, max. Then he has a most fantastic idea! Perhaps Christina should take Star to Lyssa, who lives on a dude ranch in Montana. Christina is certainly unenthused about this idea, telling him he is "absolutely nuts" and in no way is she taking her wonder pony to Montana to re-enact The Horse Whisperer, just without the death and the sex.

Enter Brad Townsend, because where plot goes stagnant, Brad Townsend has to be called in to stir up the pot. Asked to accompany Parker to a Townsend party, Christina is forced to stand around with people who are just as well off as she is, but have the gall to actually act rich and wear sparkly things. The nerve.

Instantly, Brad appears by Christina to tell her that he's heard about her troubles with Star, this being the third day after Star's been cleared for some light activity. Christina begins to ask how he heard, but he says, "No, it wasn't Parker. But I have my ways." Yes, he reads minds. Stunned, Christina instantly goes on alert, falling back to her default stance as indignant horse loving teen, asking him why he even cares, apparently having forgotten that Brad only antagonizes her because it is basically good sport. Brad insists that selling Star was the best business decision he ever made, taking the time to lift up her hand and point out her blisters and broken nails, because he is a master at deduction.

Christina promises that he'll regret selling Star, and he pretty much tells her that no, he will not. Then he saunters off, his work here done. Game, set, match. Brad Townsend wins at life. Immediately Christina rushes back to Parker, insisting that they have to go now so she can call Lyssa and go to Montana to help Star. Despite having only worked with Star for three days. I think someone has some instant gratification issues.

Because no one in Thoroughbred goes to school, and Ashleigh is a horrible parent, Christina goes to Montana with Lyssa's uncle, subjecting herself and me to every Western stereotype you can think of for the next hundred pages. Star is loaded onto a trailer with cattle, hauled by a truck that could very well fall apart at any second, with the radio station permanently tuned to Western music. Once they arrive in Montana, Christina is ushered into the house, where everything is beige and tastefully decorated in horse themed or Navajo prints. Instantly, some guy named Ray asks Christina if her horse's spirit is broken, and what the hell it totally is not! How dare he kind of be ignorantly astute like that! Only Christina can use similar verbiage to basically say the same thing.

Lyssa tries to placate Christina by saying that Ray doesn't know any better. He is, after all, from Arizona, where jerks come from. Ray continues to try to win Christina over, using common forms of conversation starters that Christina construes as "creepy" behavior. When she's not avoiding Ray, she's on super defensive mode with Lyssa, because despite the fact that she trailered Star all the way to Montana with heifers she ultimately wants nothing to do with Lyssa's supposed advice. Also despite being totally about Lyssa's training techniques back in Close Call.

Eventually, Lyssa demands that Christina take Star out into a reservoir in order for him to fight out his problems with her, because that's what the American Indians do, I guess. Christina isn't having any of that, no matter how many American Indians gentled horses this way. Star is a racehorse, damn it. She cannot hurt him, despite the fact that she's trailered him all the way to Montana for seemingly no reason and is about to take him on a round up type thing in the wilderness, where he will inevitably get lost and wind up roaming the countryside in search of his previously completely insane personality.

So this is what they do. Star gets loose up in the mountains, and Christina speeds off after him. Eventually they all get lost, Christina finds Star predictably injured, and winds up spending the night with him out in the wood somewhere. The next morning, Christina rides Star (sans tack, of course) into a river, where Star completely flips out and does his fight the water deal that brings his old personality back. And then they both climb out of the river and die of hypothermia.

Or not. Lyssa finds them, and all is well. Christina gets to put a checkmark next to Montana on her list of states that she has visited, and Star is set to win the Kentucky Derby. Surely he will not finish, you know, last. Or anything. That would be entirely too unjust.

  • There is one thing I liked about this book: Christina never really admits that Lyssa's advice helped or did anything positive at all. By the end, she's really had it and starts to freak out at Lyssa about how it is entirely useless to train horses to open gates. And Lyssa actually does manage to look a little sheepish about it, because her horse was the one that let Star out to begin with.
  • I really don't buy Parker telling Christina to take Star to Lyssa. I would accept this plot if Christina had dreamed up this idea, and then gotten totally overwhelmed when she finally gets there because she is a mother hen when it comes to her horse.
  • Ashleigh, you suck so much. When Christina calls her mother up to tell her about this round up she's taking Star on, the very round up in which she loses Star, the only thing Ashleigh says is, "Sounds like it will be an adventure." Right about here is when you put your foot down and demand that your daughter bring her damn wonder pony back to Kentucky, because if the magical trick is thrashing around in water, I'm pretty sure you could have done that at home.
  • Three days! She only waits three days before taking Star to Montana. Seriously.

And that was a Thoroughbred book.

Nov 9, 2009

The First Saturday in May

The First Saturday in May
Tagline: Two minutes can last a lifetime.

Documentary time! Again!

So here's the deal: two brothers drop everything for over a year to follow these guys (and these horses): Michael Matz (Barbaro), Dan Hendricks (Brother Derek), Bob Holthus (Lawyer Ron), Dale Romans (Sharp Humor), Kiaran McLaughlin (Jazil), and Frank Amonte Jr. (Achilles of Troy) on the trail to the Kentucky Derby.

It's interesting to watch this a few years removed from the 2006 Kentucky Derby, knowing the stories of what happened to these horses after the Triple Crown trail. For instance, Barbaro and Lawyer Ron are both deceased, Jazil won the Belmont Stakes and that was pretty much all, Brother Derek and Sharp Humor suffered injuries and faded into stud duty, and Achilles of Troy probably has the saddest story of them all. Poor Achilles completely disappeared, and only rumor puts him in poor condition at Aqueduct days after the 22 counts of abuse were filed against his owner in April of this year.

But those stories could not be part of The First Saturday in May, although I think it would have been fascinating had they touched more on why Frank Amonte Jr. got the head trainer job with Achilles of Troy just before the Gotham, considering it was the last race Achilles of Troy was ever in. The only story they follow up on is Barbaro, for obvious reasons.

The documentary itself is much better than I thought it would be. In short, it isn't an overlong, overproduced montage in the same vein of the kinds you see during the Triple Crown broadcasts. It's realistic. Some of these guys are the type to drink whiskey straight from the bottle while playing golf, some of them curse up a storm, and some of them really are just straight-laced family guys. It was sweet to watch Michael Matz teach his son about approaching a horse with confidence (plus, I am sort of in love with Michael Matz), and I did enjoy watching Frank Amonte accost his son for complaining that the dirt they're standing in might ruin his new shoes.

What with the 2006 Triple Crown being so tragic in the case of Barbaro, I was curious to see how they handled the aftermath of the Derby. I am a person who went on Barbaro overload about two and a half years ago. Granted, I always kept up with what was going on with him, but now I just want to move on with my life. If this documentary had been made any other year, it would have skipped straight to the "here's where they are now" section and called it a day. Because it happened in 2006, they give us a two minute Barbaro clipshow that I am almost certain could have felt less pieced together. However, for the purposes of showing how important the Kentucky Derby winner is to American sport, I suppose it works.

In all, I thought it was well done. I sort of want to buy it, but I'm restraining that impulse.

(Next: books! I promise.)

Nov 5, 2009

Shergar is probably haunting some remote part of Ireland.


I enjoy movies that romanticize real life events that were in reality needlessly bloody. The true story of Shergar will undoubtedly never be fully known, although it does look like some fairly recent digging into the matter resulted in some gruesome claims.

Basically, in 1981 Shergar became the European Horse of the Year. He won the Epsom Derby, the Irish Derby, and several other important races before being retired that year. In 1983, he was kidnapped and never seen again. That is pretty much all you can say with 100% certainty about his disappearance, but it is greatly assumed that he was taken and held for ransom by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, or IRA. Apparently they took the horse on the misapprehension that kidnapping a national (Irish) icon would enrage people less than kidnapping your run-of-the-mill wealthy person. Needless to say, after the complete failure that was this ransom attempt, they stuck with snatching people.

There are two running theories on how Shergar was killed: 1) the IRA didn't know what they were doing with a stallion, who possibly went crazy and was subsequently shot hours after being stolen or 2) Shergar was held until it became clear the horse's syndicate had no intention of paying, the IRA had no idea what to do with the stallion, and felt they should kill him as they perceived him to be injured. With machine guns. Yes, with machine guns. The horse's remains have never been found.

Either way you look at it, Shergar died a violent and upsetting death. So, after this enlightening little history lesson, let's look at the movie version.

About a year ago, I decided I had to take a break from books or media that involved the Irish. For those who have followed this blog for some length of time, you know why. For those who haven't, I can't explain myself briefly, so I won't try. Needless to say, there are Irish people in this movie, and I put up with it because this movie was requested and I am happy to put my problems with the Irish aside for a request.

Anyway, the movie is pretty cut and dry up to a point. Shergar is stolen and hidden away in some guy's barn, where he is to stay until the IRA gets their money. (As an aside: apparently the IRA didn't know that Shergar was owned by a syndicate, which amuses me for lots of reasons.) Unknown to the IRA, this guy has a stable worker. I never caught his name, so I will call him Boy. Boy is freakishly obsessed with Shergar. He has yellowed newspaper clippings about the horse on his bedroom wall, which should have been a clue for the guy (I didn't catch his name either, so I will call him The Guy) that keeping a wayward teen in your barn with a stolen racehorse isn't the best of ideas, especially when there are men with guns out there that are willing to kill you for withholding this information.

They proceed to act very, very suspicious. At one point, a police helicopter approaches the farm and everyone runs. Boy freaks and Guy runs into the stable, because this is totally normal, rational behavior! The only one acting normally is the wife (I actually only caught two names in this movie, and neither were hers, so she is the Wife), who curses at the helicopter for scattering her laundry. Damn it all! And then, like complete idiots, the police helicopter away like what they just saw was not at all obviously telling.

Eventually we have another brush with the police, who are out combing Ireland for the horse. This resulted in a British officer having a cow spray manure all over him, which immediately made me annoyed. Poop jokes are never appreciated, especially in dramas. I firmly believe that, as a society, we need to get over feces being funny. Because it is not.

Anyway, the IRA decides that the syndicate is just jerking their chain, so they decide to kill the horse. Except Boy, who dreams of being a jockey and has been having Cindyesque interaction with Shergar for a good forty minutes, decides he's not going to let that happen and runs away with with horse.

Insert dramatic hour long cross country chase! After dyeing Shergar a dark bay color, Boy runs into a tinker (read: Irish Gypsy) and his granddaughter. Joe and Kate. (See, I was paying attention!) We get a moment to kick back and relax, ride horses over the hills, have family moments, and bond. Then Boy rides Joe's mare in a steeplechase, which he wins. Unfortunately for him, the IRA love Irish festivals, and show up with the Guy in tow. Guy tries to warn Boy, but it is too late because the IRA get all besides themselves and tear off after Boy, who rides into the countryside on Shergar.

It rains. Shergar's dye job goes to hell, just in time for the dramatic confrontation between Boy and the IRA. When it comes right down to it, the gunmen fail to shoot the horse. Instead, they hesitate about five times, and Boy jumps Shergar off a cliff. The IRA members decide to be sad about this and walk back to wherever they came from, despite the fact they were all in cars previously.

Ultimately, I was not horribly disappointed in this movie. It had silly moments, it had sentimental crazy moments, it involved the Irish all the time, the Boy rode the horse off a freaking cliff, but mainly I'd say it just failed to entertain me. I mean, I only caught two names. I'd say that's relevant.

Nov 3, 2009

In your head, in your head, Zombie...

The Young Black Stallion

Tagline: The greatest story of friendship ever told.

My reaction: lies!

Weirdly, this movie managed to get Zombie by The Cranberries stuck in my head. The only reason this happened is because the old man character tells the annoying young girl character something about someone bringing "their tanks and their bombs" somewhere to maybe blow something up. And I narrowed my eyes at the television and cried bitter, awful tears. It is stuck in my head now. It is truly horrible.

Anyway, I don't know why this movie was made. Quite frankly, it is bad. It was like a mash up of The Black Stallion and The Black Stallion Returns done in forty-five minutes, and let me tell you, the length of this movie is the only thing good about this. That, and maybe it's pretty occasionally. The rest of it is awful. Awful! Yes, with an exclamation point!

First things first: the main character is a girl. And wow, is she irritating. Plus, she couldn't act her way out of a paper bag, even if she was given a map and a flashlight and verbal cues. She wouldn't be able to find the light of day. I don't care if she is a child, damn it, she was wasting mine and everyone else's precious time. Actually, no one in this movie could act their way out of a moderately large trash bag. I am pretty sure they would all get lost somewhere and die in a desert of dehydration after having convinced themselves they've escaped and are actually successful. The only good actor in this bunch is the horse(s). And even then I feel that someone overdid it with the rearing.

Moving on, the voice dubbing that was mainly used to insert lines of dialogue such as "go, Shetan, go" and "you're such a good boy" and "wait!" I...sort of wanted to smack someone after a while. My favorite: "No, it's really me in person, see?" Shut up, really? You're here in person? Like, right in front of me? People, she was only gone for maybe a day or two. A month, tops. Or however long it takes to tame a wild yearling, which in this movie looks like it took a handful of water and two seconds.

And now, the plot, which is The Black Stallion meets The Black Stallion Returns meets the most annoying girl on the planet. This girl almost immediately gets lost in the desert, and is saved by the Black, who is a yearling and is off roaming the Arabian countryside because some mean man caught his mom. As we know from this movie's bonus features, the Black is really the son of some celestial Friesian (I have heard this is actually supported by the book, much to my horror), and this little girl's grandfather's mare named Gina. Or something. Whatever. The important thing is that the Black led the girl to water, and then she gives him water, which means that they are now super fabulous lifetime friends!

Only she randomly stumbles across her house (goody!) and the Black books it out of there, abandoning her to her grandfather and this small boy who was maybe her brother. Or cousin. Or someone. The Black is gone for a year, only to magically come back because I suppose it took him a year to get over this spooking episode. No matter! Little girl rides out to the Black, hops on his back because he is now tame for some reason, and decides that she's going to ride him in the upcoming festival race a la The Black Stallion Returns and win all the best mares and restart their family breeding stable, which I guess went to shit.

But Grandfather forbids it! This horse is like the devil! The little girl does the most shockingly predictable thing and decides to disguise herself and enter the race anyway, putting Shetan on the line. Her grandfather is too busy cuddling with Gina to really notice what's going on. I have a feeling he was drunk, because he sort of got weird halfway through the festival and abandoned the kids to find a hookah tent somewhere. Ah, parenting.

They race, the girl wins, they bring all the mares and Shetan back to the old homestead, and Shetan kisses his mom because of course he remembers her!

Of course this is not what the book is actually about, because I remember paging through it one day out of boredom and I remember it being much darker, but almost as ridiculous, and it actually was a prequel to The Black Stallion. I am not quite sure what this movie even is.