The Saddle Club # 86: Secret Horse
This has to be one of my least favorite SC covers – at least out of those done in this particular style. I have…so many questions when I look at the front of this book.
- Who is this horse supposed to be? Spoiler alert: this book is about Samson – Delilah and Cobalt’s son, who is unfailingly described as black. So who is this giant, nondescript chestnut?
- Why is his halter askew/why is he wearing a stud chain?
- Why are the girls wearing tennis shoes to the barn?
- Finally, why are Stevie and Carol looking so…morose and vacant, respectively? Lisa’s expression is the only one I can remotely comprehend. She’s clearly marveling over the horse’s disproportionately large head. Or maybe she too is wondering who the heck the horse is.
“THE SADDLE CLUB HAS A SECRET!
Stevie Lake, Carole Hanson, and Lisa Atwood are hoping to compete in a prestigious horse show. To that end, they’re doing everything they can to stay on stable owner Max Regnery’s good side – including doing extra chores around Pine Hollow, such as exercising stable horses.
Veronica diAngelo is sure she’ll be making the trip to the horse show – just as she’s sure she’ll be bringing home a blue ribbon. And of course Veronica has no intention of lifting a finger to help anyone.
The Saddle Club would love to beat Veronica, but how? She and her horse are tough competition. Then Lisa takes one of the horses over a jump, and he’s a natural. Now the Saddle Club has to keep their secret weapon under wraps and teach Veronica a lesson she won’t forget.”
The Macrae Valley Open is apparently the show of all shows – the kind of competition that attracts all the best riders from everywhere and has the USET members turning out in full force. It’s the kind of show the Saddle Club has only ever dreamed of going to, which explains why we’ve never heard of it before. Well, actually, Carole has but that’s to be expected. Stevie apparently can’t even pronounce it and Lisa gets butterflies at the mere thought – also par for the course.
Once the girls find out that Veronica is going to the Macrae, they immediately swing into “me too!” mode and set out to prove how indispensible they are to Max and the general running of Pine Hollow. You’d think by now Max would realize that his stable would fall apart without the hard work, dedication and know-how of three middle school girls. At least they’re not yet sleeping in the barn like they would be if they lived in the Thoroughbred series. This flurry of barn work comes at just the right time; Red, Pine Hollow’s head stablehand (I always assumed ONLY stablehand) is heading off to a famous rider’s farm to be a working student for a month. Because apparently, being Max’s right hand man/Veronica’s servant for umpteen years hasn’t taught him enough.
Spending their every waking moment the barn has its upside. When they’re not raking the driveway, cleaning endless piles of dirty tack and scrubbing water buckets, the SC girls get to exercise horses. This includes the Prince William of Pine Hollow, Samson. After learning the basics at a nearby trainer’s, Samson has turned into a fine riding horse and the girls can’t wait to try him out.
Lisa exercises the gelding first and after a great schooling session on the flat, she decides, in an uncharacteristic lapse of judgment, to try him over the jumps. Naturally, he’s phenomenal and Lisa starts dreaming of taking him to the Macrae, since that is the logical place to start a baby green, as a junior jumper in an A-rated show. (Note: in the hunter ring, Juniors compete at a height of 3’6” – I don’t know if that is the same height in the jumper division, but I’m willing to bet that it’s close. In contrast, Baby Green Hunters and Pre-Green Hunters compete over fences that are 2’6” and 3,” respectively.)
So, of course, once Carole and Stevie realize how talented Samson is over fences, they throw themselves into “Project Secret Horse” with reckless abandon. The plan seems to be threefold: train Samson over fences, prove their indispensability to Max by making Pine Hollow so clean you could eat off the barn aisle and spy on/befriend Veronica to stay on her good side so she won’t rent out the entire Pine Hollow van for herself – or something like that. I’ll admit, I’m not really clear on the third part of that plan – but then, what good is a Saddle Club project if it doesn’t involve a little espionage at Veronica’s expense?
Meanwhile, Lisa combats some inner demons. She wants to ride Samson in the Macrae but isn’t sure she can or that she’ll be allowed. She also thinks that Carole will probably want to ride the gelding herself and doesn’t want to step on her friend’s toes. Oh, and she falls off Samson during a training session and that sends her into the classic Lisa Atwood spiral of paralyzing self-doubt. Which reminds me – how’s therapy going there Lisa?
Long story short, they debut their plan to Max (earlier than they would have liked, since he happened upon a training session one morning – the one morning he sets foot out of his office in weeks, apparently) and instead of being livid that they jumped his homebred youngster without his permission, he hears out their plan. Lisa gives a little speech, Carole vouches for Lisa to ride Samson, Stevie gets even with Veronica (somehow – doesn’t she always?) and Max agrees to let Lisa ride. It’s off to the Macrae Valley Open which we’ll read about in the very next book!
- Page 1: Huh. Right here on the first page, a reference is made to “stable employees.” Employees, plural. Who are these mysterious employees and why don’t we ever get to meet them?
- Page 3: There goes Red, off to Vermont for a month. I’ll have to ask around – I wonder if one month is the average length of time for one to be a working student…seems like a pretty brief period to me, but then what do I know. I am interested, however, in what Red will do with his newly honed three day eventing skills when he returns from Toby MacIntosh’s farm. Surely he doesn’t need to go all the way to Vermont to become better at tacking up Veronica’s horse for her or teaching the little kids how to pick out a pony’s hoof.
- Page 6: We make it this far before being reminded (a) how the girls formed the Saddle Club and (b) that there are only two rules, etc., etc. Also on this page, Carole mentions that the SC will pitch in to make up for Red’s absence. Pay attention to how much work they do. Red must be freakin’ Superman if it takes three able-bodied girls to do what he can do in a single bound.
- Page 9: Ugh, how could I have forgotten Danny’s show name. Who names a show horse “Go For Blue?” I mean really.
- Page 12: Here’s where the scheming begins. Call me naïve, but if Carole, Lisa and Stevie want to go to the Macrae in the Pine Hollow van, why don’t they just…ask? I know if I wanted to hop on board and go to a horse show, all I’d have to do is say “sign me up!” cut a check and pack my trunk. Pony Club must be different.
- Page 16: If Carole wants to live up to the expectation that she will make “the Team” (USET) someday, girlfriend had better get a move-on in the junior division at rated shows! Scrubbing water buckets is only going to get her so far in life.
- Page 18: Oh dear God, Stevie just found out that some riders – gasp! – pay someone ELSE to braid their horses for them!
- Page 20: Lisa wonders aloud if Prancer’s girth will fit Samson. This launches Carole into a mini-lecture on tack fit and conformation. Boy if I was this girl’s friend in real life, I’d learn to tune her out in a hurry.
- Page 24: Lisa’s out hacking Samson and after twenty minutes of “dressage” (because that sounds more impressive than “shoulder-ins, leg yielding and collection/extension,” which is, I guarantee you, the closest Lisa gets to doing “dressage”), she decides to take Samson over a jump. Here are my thoughts on this: (a) This horse doesn’t belong to Lisa, nor is he a school horse, (b) he is Max’s horse and he is young – she does not have permission to jump him and (c) there’s no one around – you wouldn’t catch me jumping a horse I’d never ridden before unsupervised.
- Page 26: After trotting and cantering Samson over the small jump “several” times, Lisa decides, in her infinite wisdom, to jump the brush jump that is alternately described in this book as “big,” “huge,” and one that “only the best riders at Pine Hollow” practice over. *head smack* Oh dear, oh dear, Lisa. If anyone ever pulled a stunt like that at my barn, you can bet they’d be out the door in a heartbeat. I don’t want to overstate this but let’s be logical here: you’re on a horse for the first time, you don’t know how much training it’s had, you trot it over one fence and it completely over-jumps, proving that it’s completely green. Naturally, the next step is go galloping pell-mell toward the biggest jump on the property just for the thrill of it.
- Page 36: In a nice little blip of continuity “an Olympic horse” Carole has ridden is mentioned. Based on the context, I can only assume we’re talking about Southwood.
- Page 37: Apparently, “Max doesn’t need another show horse.” I wasn’t aware that Max actually HAS any show horses. Doesn’t the man run a Pony Club branch? Who rides these “show horses,” I wonder?
- Pages 39 and 42: Lisa never learns. Just once I’d like her to say, “Actually Mom, these Greek vases are about the most boring things I’ve ever seen” and “You know Mom, Veronica’s a bitch.” But oh no, we mustn’t make waves. It’s always “maybe you’re right, Mom.”
- Page 52: Here is the only time you’ll read about any of the girls second-guessing their decision to train Samson as a jumper. Carol wonders if what they’re doing is “stupid and reckless.” In a word, yes.
- Page 56: Oh man, Carole tells Lisa that “no matter how talented a horse is, you don’t want to rush him.” Yeah, ‘cause you guys are really going at a snail’s pace here. From totally green over fences to junior jumpers at a top-rated show in about a month – that’s standard, right? Riiiiiight.
- Page 58: Again, I’m a little flabbergasted at the amount of work these girls are doing around the barn. From sunup to sundown, sometimes staying after dark…I’d love to see their tans at the end of the summer.
- Page 83: No, Carole, Lisa isn’t “very sensitive to other people’s feelings,” she’s a doormat who doesn’t have the stones to come right out and ask for what she wants. “Hating conflict” doesn’t even scratch the surface, darlin.’
- Page 84: Geez, just how big IS the brush jump? BB makes it sound about five feet tall!
- Pages 85 thru 87: These three pages pretty much convince me that everyone in this book is totally clueless. Lisa lets Samson get too strong during her ride because she doesn’t want to hamper his enthusiasm. So, like green horses are wont to do, he blasts over a fence and jumps Lisa right out of the saddle. At no point do Carole or Mr. Grover (an actual horse trainer) call out to her to collect him or slow him or any variation of “whoa!” Then when Lisa (rightly) says that the mistake was hers, Carole brushes it off and basically says it happened because Samson is green and this was bound to happen eventually. Because God forbid we shatter Lisa’s confidence.
- Page 103: Why is Stevie surprised that Veronica’s bedroom is one giant display of ostentatious frivolity?
- Page 112: I actually really enjoy Stevie’s response to Carole and Lisa asking why she doesn’t want to ride Samson in the Macrae. I have the feeling that writing Stevie must be very enjoyable.
- Pages 115 thru 117: Max discovers what the Saddle Club is up to. Dun dun DUN! Lucky for them he’s not mad – although I can’t fathom why. I also can’t fathom how he didn’t figure it out earlier.
- Page 119: Ha ha! Max is “a horseman” who is “responsible for his horses and his students.” Again, I have to ask how he didn’t figure out what the girls were doing, responsible hands-on horseman that he is.
- Page 121: I can’t really explain why, but when Lisa says “Samson by Cobalt out of Delilah” I grind my teeth a little. She knows that his sire and dam aren’t famous, right? I mean, they’re both really nice horses and everything, but what does she think she’s proving by throwing that out there? Maybe it’s just supposed to add an unnecessary flourish to her little speech.
- Page 138: I get a migraine just reading Mrs. Atwood’s dialogue. She. Is. Such. A. Moron. Her daughter just told her she gets to achieve a life goal and ride a fabulous horse that she’s been helping train herself in a hugely important show and the woman goes on and on about how important a society event this is and how she’ll need a haircut and if Lisa wins “the trophy” she’ll get to go to the winner’s circle (Mrs. Atwood clearly doesn’t realize this isn’t the Kentucky Derby), and on and on. Again, can I get a “cram it, Mom!” Lisa?
- Page 141: No, Lisa, you didn’t “get into a fence wrong,” you let the horse get too revved up and it got you dumped.
- Page 143: Carole mentions that once, at one of these top-rated shows, a girl cut Carole off in line at the toilet even though she knew Carole was on deck to ride. I have a question and a comment about this – when did Carole go to all these fancy schmancy shows? I know I haven’t read EVERY book in the series, but I don’t seem to remember a lot of A-rated horse shows in between riding camp, Pony Club rallies in England, teaching a movie star to ride, learning to wrangle cattle, etc. Oh, and I guess that’ll teach you to use the bathroom before you leave the stabling area, won’t it Carole?
- Page 149: Veronica can’t join the group at TD’s because she’s at home with her coach, discussing “strategy.” What the heck kind of show jumping “strategy” is there to discuss when you haven’t even seen the course?
- Page 150: The girls act surprised that making a living in the horse industry is tough. Carole’s in for a rude awakening when she’s not able to simultaneously be a vet, a trainer, a competitive rider and a breeder isn’t she?
You’d think, with the amount of sniping I did throughout this book, that I hated it. Well, you’re kind of right, but not totally right. I don’t understand how the girls pulled off Project Secret Horse for as long as they did. I can’t believe we’re supposed to buy that a horse that’s never jumped before spends a month being trained by three 13 year-old girls and is suddenly ready for the big time. I’m really confused as to why Stevie needed to spy on Veronica/pretend to be her friend. Oh and Lisa got on my nerves. All that being said, I like Saddle Club installments where the minor characters are kept to a minimum and the plot revolves mainly around Stevie, Carole and Lisa. Stevie has some great moments in this book, and Veronica is deliciously snooty. If this book was a movie, I’d be able to look past the inconsistencies and occasional lapses in credulity because I liked the characters. Most of the time.