The Saddle Club # 87: Show Jumper
Honestly, this cover doesn’t bother me too much. There are several things I’d like to see tweaked, but overall (and especially compared to “Secret Horse”), I give it a thumbs up. It clearly depicts a scene from the book, including the dreaded “pink” coat. Lisa’s hair should be kept neat under a hair net (despite the near-constant implications in this series that French braids are sufficient) and her helmet does NOT meet safety requirements – it needs to pulled down over her forehead more and include a chinstrap. I would also like her to be wearing field boots instead of dress boots. I wish Samson’s form was a little crisper and Lisa’s equitation leaves something to be desired (to say nothing of the doofy look on her face), but nonetheless, a solid effort in the cover department.
(to be added momentarily - as soon as I can figure out where the book went...I suspect my nine month old son of shredding it...)
I’m not going to go into a massive amount of detail in this summary. The plot of the book is pretty simple, albeit adorned with a steaming vat of melodrama and multiple slaps in the face of realism. The Saddle Club is off to the Macrae Valley Open, where Carole and Lisa will compete in the Junior Jumper division. Before they leave, Lisa lets her mother drag her to the tack store to buy a whole new riding ensemble. They leave with a new riding jacket that will cause Lisa nothing but embarrassment and despair – but at least she puts her foot down about the custom boots. Once at the show, the Saddle Club runs into a trio of girls whose snobbery and malevolence rivals Veronica’s – fitting, then, that Veronica and the leader of this Evil Trio are friends from riding camp. Anywho, Carole and Lisa (and Veronica) all jump clean on day one of the competition, ensuring that they will make it to the second round the next day. Naturally, Lisa cannot bring herself to enjoy this measure of success because a.) everyone is all aflutter about what a stellar horse Samson is, leaving Lisa out of the picture entirely, and b.) she committed the ultimate horse show fashion faux pas and wore a “pink” coat into the show ring. Lisa’s self-esteem really takes a beating – which Veronica and her three evildoing cronies plan to exploit to no end, in order to trounce her in the competition. They drop many a snide remark about Lisa’s experience (or lack thereof) and poor choice in show attire. They succeed in rattling her and Lisa enters day two of the show emotionally in tatters. Somehow, she makes it to the jump off in a daze, but once there, commits a grievous error and getting herself thrown. Feeling like she now has nothing left to lose, she gets back in the saddle, finishes the course, gets a second place and falls to pieces because she cost Samson the blue ribbon. Carole and Lisa scold her for (rightly) being so hard on herself and remind her that if it wasn’t for her, Samson would still be at home in Willow Creek, trotting around the pasture, wasting his life – you know, until a more experienced rider like Red trained him properly and in a more appropriate timeframe. Okay, I added that last part, but it’s implied in the text – I swear. Lisa pulls herself together and the three girls spend the rest of their time at the Macrae scoring famous riders’ autographs, sneaking into the VIP box to watch the Grand Prix event and finding out about the respective past love lives of Max and Mrs. Reg. All’s well that ends well, and I’m left praying that Lisa goes back to counseling.
- Page 2: The book opens with Lisa daydreaming about winning the Junior Jumpers at the Macrae Valley Open. In said daydream, the judge awards her the blue ribbon and trophy while announcing to the crowd something about “this poised young rider” and “one of the most promising horses we’ve seen in a long time.” Boy, Lisa really does live in her own little world, doesn’t she?
- Page 6: My suspicions are aroused – here is my first inkling that this book was not written by the same person who wrote its prequel, “Secret Horse.” In “SH,” we were told that Red was off being a working student in Vermont for a month. Here, we’re told two weeks. Hmmmm. More inklings to come.
- Page 9: “Lisa couldn’t even imagine how high the fences were going to be.” Something you might want to look into before entering a big show with a totally green horse, wouldn’t you say, Lisa? (I mean, seriously!)
- Page 15: Stevie not only likes dressage, she’s a “star performer” in dressage. “Star performer!”
- Page 21: Since Lisa is late for her lesson, Carole and Stevie volunteer to get Samson ready for her. They tether Starlight and Belle to a fence in order to do so. Am I the only one who thinks Pine Hollow has a serious lack of cross-ties?
- Page 24: Lisa says “thanks but no thanks” to her mom’s offer of brand new custom boots. Even though I know Lisa would never have them broken in in time for the Macrae, I would have an extremely difficult time saying no to custom boots. I would eat nothing but Ramen noodles for the next two years if it meant I could get custom boots.
- Page 26: Gah! What part of “I can’t be late for my lesson, Mom” does Mrs. Atwood not understand? Is there a reason they can’t go to the tack store AFTER Lisa’s riding lesson?
- Page 27: I know I said this before, during my review of “Secret Horse,” but Lisa, honey, your mom doesn’t want to buy you all this stuff because she’s proud of you. She’s not even excited about you going to the show because she’s proud of you. She’s excited because she has an excuse to buy a couple of new outfits for herself and she wants to treat you so you’ll fit in with all the other spoiled society princesses.
- Page 29: I kind of resent this attitude of “anyone who knows ANYthing about horses knows what ‘pink’ coats are all about.” I’m pretty sure folks who ride western pleasure or saddleseat don’t know and don’t care. Furthermore, I’ve heard Jimmy Wofford say (while doing commentary for the Rolex stadium jumping) “the ‘pink’ coat means (s)he’s competed for his/her country.” Not to mention that traditionally, only gentlemen in the hunt are permitted to wear pink coats – but there’s no mention of this in the book. Finally, I must point out that there have been several Saddle Club covers that picture riders in red/pink hunt coats – off the top, “Silver Stirrups” and “Stable Witch.” Just sayin.’ Don’t be so condescending, BB!
- Page 34: I will never cease to be amused that Bonnie Bryant (or whomever) refers to lateral work as “dressage moves.” I mean, I can only assume we’re talking about lateral work here (shoulders-in, haunches-in, leg yielding, etc.), but the way it’s written makes you think Carole, Lisa and Stevie warm up by doing tempi changes, pirouettes and a passage or two. Which I guarantee you they do not.
- Page 36: We are reminded that, this being the junior JUMPER division, form doesn’t matter. What matters is clearing the jumps and getting through the course quickly. Just what you’d want to do with a young horse who’s green over fences and going to his first show. *eye roll*
- Page 54 (almost twenty pages with nothing to snark at? I’d better go back and read those again…): Each of the girls have a Walkman to listen to on the drive to the show. My brain automatically replaced “Walkman” with “iPod.”
- Page 61: What the heck is this “pleasure horse class” that Max won a blue ribbon in umpteen years ago? Western Pleasure? Country English Pleasure? Do explain, Max.
- Page 64: Max explains to the girls that the Macrae has been going on all week but they came just in time for the junior jumper division because he thought they “could use the extra practice time.” I would think that, given that this is Samson’s first show, it might be beneficial to let him get used to the warm-up ring, grounds, etc. Just my opinion – but then, I wasn’t in Pony Club, so what do I know?
- Page 66: I have to say this somewhere and it might as well be here. I didn’t show as a junior – I’ve only been riding hunter/jumpers for three years now – but I make it to at least two or three ‘A’ or ‘AA’ rated shows per year and am pretty familiar with the barns and competitors in our area. I have never seen any of our junior riders “act as if they hate one another.” I’m sure this is the case some places, but fortunately, not in the environment where I show.
- Page 72: Two of the snotty Macrae girls are named Belinda and Melinda? Seriously?
- Page 74: I’m starting to get annoyed with Stevie and Lisa for constantly deferring to Carole on all “big horse show” matters. I know I haven’t read *every* Saddle Club book ever written, but near as I can tell, Carole’s riding has pretty much been limited to Pine Hollow/Pony Club events. Sure, a show or two here and there (Briarwood, for one), but when was she supposed to have been learning the ropes about these huge rated shows?
- Page 75: Carole, Lisa and Stevie are wearing “old” riding clothes at the Macrae. To be fair, we’re not talking about their show clothes, but still – whenever I go to a show, I make sure I look well put together.
- Page 87: BB comes right out and says it here – “Carole had been to several major horse shows before…” Where? When? Am I missing something?
- Page 92: There’s something wrong with this book’s rehashing of the “Lisa and Prancer Briarwood” story. We’re told here that Max expressed “reservations” about Lisa taking such a green horse to the show, but “because of Lisa’s hard work and practice” she ended up winning him over. Actually, I’m pretty sure Max’s sole comment was “interesting” when Lisa picked Prancer to ride at Briarwood – even though Lisa had ridden her just once, and that one time happened to be her first time under saddle since the mare recovered from the injury that ended her racing career. In short, Prancer was almost fresh off the track when Lisa started working with her and Max didn’t even try to stop her from taking the horse to a big horse show (can you tell I had some problems with book # 25, “Show Horse?”). Anyone else think Max exhibits a pattern of frighteningly negligent instructor behavior? Thank God he has that lucky horseshoe in his stable!
- Page 97: The dreaded pink coat has made its public debut. Again, I have to wonder about the viability of the information presented here. “Only members of hunt clubs and USET members who compete in the hunting divisions wear pink jackets,” Carole says. Someone should really tell Karen O’Connor that, then, because I’m sure she would be mortified if she found out she wasn’t allowed to wear a pink coat because she rides eventers, not hunters.
- Page 113: Aaaargh! Carole, you have NOT seen “that blond girl on the gray horse” at “a few shows!” You spend all your time at Pine Hollow, riding your horse and cleaning tack! For the LOVE!
- Page 118: Lisa’s attempt to describe to Jock Sawyer the Saddle Club’s training of Samson falls pretty flat if you ask me. She’s like a little child, prattling on…for instance, when Jock asks how high their schooling fences were, Lisa holds out her hand and demonstrates. “This high,” she says. Dear Lord, Lisa. What happened to using units of measurement? Are you “this many,” too?
- Page 121: Oh dear, another one of those situations that makes me want to pull Lisa’s parents aside and ask, “she still sees her therapist, right?” Lisa’s sitting outside Samson’s stall, all woebegone and ridiculously nervous. She’s drowning in a whirlpool of self-doubt, thinking that this is her one chance to make it in the big leagues. If she doesn’t do well this one time, she’s doomed to be a green rider forever and ever, cleaning out stalls and riding in Pony Club rallies.
- Page 124: Just when I thought I couldn’t be more annoyed with the drama and overreacting, enter Mrs. Atwood. I really, really cannot stand this woman. It is unforgivable the way she uses Lisa riding in the Macrae – the realization of a dream, the accomplishment of a goal, the reward of many years of hard work – to try and elevate her social status. Instead of letting Lisa get dinner with her friends and score the autographs of famous riders, she forces her to go to some stuffy French restaurant with three of the most deplorable teenagers on the eastern seaboard – who just so happen to be plotting against Lisa. Mrs. Atwood goes out and buys a dress for Lisa to wear to dinner, insists that she get her hair done at a beauty parlor and won’t hear any excuses. Apparently, she’s “worked very hard to make friends” at the Macrae, the event being about her and all. Ten bucks says Lisa starts drinking in high school.
- Page 128: More Mrs. Atwood ridiculousness. Heck, I’m about to start drinking, just reading about her!
- Page 136: Stevie and Carole have a plan to protect Lisa from Margie, Belinda and Melinda. If the little snots come near Lisa, S and C will bark at them until they go away. That sounds…mature.
- Page 149: It’s day two of the Macrae and poor Samson is confused. Apparently he is “used to either jumping the same course again and again…or getting a day in between to adjust to a different course.” While I understand the whole “green horse is nervous at his first show” bit, this sentence perfectly illustrates why three teenage girls shouldn’t be allowed to “train” a green horse over fences by themselves – and why the junior jumper division is a foolish place to have him make his show ring debut.
- Page 152: Uh, apparently Bonnie Bryant is not aware that if a rider falls off in a show jumping competition, the horse and rider pair is disqualified.
- Page 153: I hate to break it to Lisa – and to Carole, who consoles her – but…yeah, you are too inexperienced to be riding at this level. I’m guessing these jumps are in the 3’6” range and even at the 3’ level your riding has to be very precise. Letting your hands fall to your horses neck and becoming dead weight on your horse’s back while he speeds up and launches himself at a fence is extremely dangerous. Lisa’s lucky she and Samson did not get hurt much worse. Also, where is Max when this talking-to is happening? Worst. Instructor. Ever.
I love jumping. Love it. I’ve been riding and showing in the lower (2'6") hunter and equitation divisions for the past three years and I can say without a doubt that I have never been more committed or dedicated to anything else in my life – with the exception of my marriage and raising my son. This passion created an interesting dichotomy between enthusiasm and disgust as I re-read this book. I enjoy pretty much any book that revolves around my chosen equestrian discipline – but I will also hold said book to extremely high standards in terms of factual realism. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good underdog-beats-the-odds/sickly-foal-goes-on-to-be-a-champion story as much as the next person, and I appreciate that this formula is not repeated ad nauseum in the Saddle Club universe, but when the plot revolves around a simply ludicrous premise and the characters manage to get away with a scenario that, in the real world, would probably get them severely injured, I have to shake my head. Not to mention, there are a few instances of eyebrow-raising interpretation of FEI rules – murky understanding at best, blatant contradiction at the worst.