Timber Ridge Riders Series
by Maggie Dana
A valuable horse is dead, and it's all her fault . . . which is why 14-year-old Kate McGregor has put horses and riding out of her life. Forever!Some of us might find this synopsis familiar, because Timber Ridge Riders was once a book series called Best Friends. It took me a while to put my finger on why it seemed like I'd been here before, until I realized I'd read the fourth book in the series, If Wishes Were Horses, circa 1988. Naturally I hadn't read the previous books, as I was a child and had not yet developed crazy quirks like stridently insisting on chronological order. Therefore my memory is hazy, but bells are definitely ringing and I am intrigued.
But her new job as a companion to Holly Chapman, a former riding star who's now confined to a wheelchair, takes her back to the barn where she's forced to confront her guilt. Can Kate keep her terrible secret from Holly, who is fast becoming her best friend? And, more important, can she keep her secret from Angela Dean who lives for only two things--winning ribbons and causing trouble?
Anyway, Kate is a roving teen looking for a job. Her mom is gone, and her dad has basically abandoned her for bugs, leaving her with an aunt who would rather not have this responsibility. Consequently, Kate goes forth and, with the courage and tenacity most of us lack in this economy, lands herself a job as companion for a wheelchair-bound teen named Holly. Kate moves in for the summer and thinks she has it made, right up until she realizes that horse stable they all live on? Yeah, that's going to be a big part of her life, and Kate would rather it not be.
Holly lives and breathes horses, which is not so great for Kate because it turns out Kate is traumatized from having accidentally killed her old barn's favorite horse: Black Magic. In order to get out of being near the horses Holly insists she be around every waking moment, Kate feigns horse phobia (is there a word for that? Equinophobia! Thank you, internets!) and is immediately mocked by the reigning antagonist, Angela, an antagonist name if ever there was one. Angela has problems of her own, of course. Her mother is a show mom on steroids, and it's all she can do to get a couple of nice words out of the woman. Therefore, all will know Angela's wrath, and Kate is right in her path of fury.
When Sue, one of the riders on the stable's equestrian team, is injured out in the woods somewhere, Kate is forced to out herself and leaps aboard Holly's horse, Magician, in order to race for help. Everyone goes ooooh at Kate's sudden and unexpected ability, before going boooo at Kate's lie, and finally landing on awwwww after she tells Holly her tragic tale of woe. But now that Sue can't ride, Kate is the perfect fall back, so looks like everything happens for a reason. Or something.
Only Angela is lurking in the shadows, having overheard everything and plotting mercilessly to make sure Kate can never ride at Timber Ridge! For that would surely mean Angela would not receive the medal for individual accomplishment at the upcoming show, and that means she must do what antagonists do sort of well, but not really. Sweet, sweet blackmail.
Forced to not tell Holly's mother, the manager and trainer of these kids and their horses at the barn, because Angela will then take Kate's horse killer story to her mother, who will then make sure Holly's mom knows the sting of a pink slip, Kate feels trapped and helpless. Thus begins the power struggle.
I will say one thing, I have never seen a more motivated antagonist. You know how lots of middle-grade horse books have "antagonists" who are sort of annoying and might do one or two somewhat ridiculous things that are more merely irksome than they are true sights to behold? Angela falls into the last category. When blackmail doesn't succeed, she moves on to researching the rulebook to get Kate kicked off the team. When that doesn't pan out, she destroys the cross country trails to ensure Kate gets lost. When Kate pops out of the forest despite the bad signage, she wrecks Kate's stall so the team will be docked points for bad stable management. That actually works. But is she done? Hell no! We have stirrups to tamper with, because Angela is thorough.
But I'm not saying Angela makes the book. Kate is rather likeable by herself, and Holly is plucky and enthusiastic. The horse scenes are knowledgeable without going overboard, and while there is a subtle hint of Wonder Pony about Magician, the book certainly tones down the sentiment that seems to run rampant in horse books. (ie, crops are used to effect without anyone crying about it.) By the end, winning is shown not to be all there is in life, which is accentuated by the show results and the battle royale at the end.
Keeping Secrets has reminded me that I really should scour Amazon for more independently published horse books, because where traditional publishing has failed me in so many ways, the indie authors are out there striking out on their own, taking chances publishing houses would probably rather not. Kids with Kindles and a distinct love of horses will devour Keeping Secrets and search for more. Not to mention, I will be reading more so I can compare and contrast with my hazy memory of book #4.
Keeping Secrets is available for Kindles everywhere at Amazon.