Dec 14, 2014

Is Headed For the Win heading towards the trash? Well...

Headed for the Win
by Rachael Eliker
July 2014

Nadia Wells has spent her life trying to convince her parents that horses are a necessity but despite her best efforts, they see them only as an extravagant luxury. After landing her dream job mucking stalls in exchange for riding lessons, a wealthy philanthropist recognizes Nadia’s talent and decides to invest in her. Purchasing a mare nicknamed Winny, Nadia is sure she’s bound for equestrian greatness but on the cusp of their most challenging three-day event yet, Winny bucks Nadia off in front of a crowd of her peers. Humiliated and fuming, Nadia makes a birthday wish that she could better understand her horse. The next morning, she wakes up to discover she has four hooves and a tail swishing between her legs: she and Winny have switched places! If life as a teenage-girl-turned-show-horse wasn't hard enough, Nadia has to figure out a way to tell the dashing Mike how she feels or risk losing him and the competition to the talented, gorgeous and spoiled Gretchen. Will the pair concede defeat or work together to overcome the impossible and be headed for the win?

The Summary:
I don't know why more authors don't write the book summaries for their books. They tend to be 100% accurate, because hey, they wrote the book. Shock and awe.

The Cover: 

Kindle books tend to lean towards using real pictures of horses because most authors can't afford to hire any artist worthwhile, and they like their own work too much to employ the likes of later Thoroughbred artists. This cover gets bonus points for depicting a horse that looks much like the one in the story, though were I to nitpick I'd point out that the fictional horse has three white stockings. No big deal though.

The Plot: 

Meet Nadia Well, your more or less average horse loving teen who, like many, was cursed into a family that supports her love but cannot afford to buy her a horse of her very own. Her parents land her a job at Stoney Brooke Stables as a working student, cleaning stalls and caring for the horses in exchange for lessons. She finds a kindred spirit in her employer Danika, and immediately falls for the other stable worker, a young man named Mike who doubles as a farrier because that's a part time job that you work around shoveling shit and not a full time profession. 

We also meet Gretchen, a rider Nadia's age who has her own horse and perfect blonde hair and her life is just perfect and she has everything and appreciates none of it and don't you just hate her guys. Hate her. Do it! Nadia never shuts up about how awful Gretchen is, so you know Gretchen is a terrible person. If for no other reason than she keeps dry humping Mike, and that's Nadia's not boyfriend, dammit!

Anyway, Danika decides that Nadia will have a horse of her very own, because after a few weeks worth of riding lessons it's clear she's Olympics bound. Danika introduces Nadia to her old riding instructor, Ms. Deiderich, who has nothing better to do with her time and money than buy dumb teens horses. Nadia actually faints from this news I shit you not.

So off we go to look at horses, during which we hear a long boring story about how Danika used to have a best friend named Helena, but they hated each other at first because they competed against each other both at shows and over the handsome young lad, Chuck. Helena married Chuck and later died competing, leaving Chuck to crawl into a bottle for a while. They arrive at Chuck's farm and buy a horse off of him, Headed for the Win, or Winny for short.

Winny is a blood bay mare with three white stockings and a star, underweight with a scar on her flank that she doesn't like touched. Turns out she was abused and sent to a kill buyer auction where Chuck saved her. Before long Nadia and Winny are jumping four foot fences together because of course they are, then they're off to their first level one show. I will hand it to the author, Nadia fucks up her Dressage test due to nerves and doesn't place.

The next stop is the Gallant Meadows show some months later. Where Nadia will be completing at the Preliminary level. If you need to walk away for a bit to come to terms with that declaration, please feel free. I'll wait...


Back? Okay. So as Nadia is schooling Winny, she gets frustrated as her horse decides to mare up like every show mare ever and whips her hard on her scarred flank, getting bucked off for it. Nadia is fully prepared to sent Winny to the glue factory, being a pissy shit for the rest of the day. Well, until Mike shows up late at night with a cupcake because it's her birthday. Her wish? 

"I wish I could understand Winny."

A wish that should have delivered Dr Doolittle plot instead results in her waking up the next day having swapped bodies with her horse, Freaky Friday style. Finally. 

Now we get to the surprisingly boring meat of the story. Winny has no problem passing as human, she explains to Nadia her abusive past and flirts with Mike on Nadia's behalf. Folks, you know you're a loser when your horse is trying to get you laid. But, oh no, Gretchen is still around trying to flirt with Mike! 

No time for that nonsense though, it seems Winny is in fact really terrible as a rider. But sneaking out at night riding around for hours causes the two of them to form some sort of bullshit spiritual connection or something. They are ready to compete!

On the day of the competition, Gretchen randomly tells Winny that her family is a hot mess, since her mom is dead, her dad is an alcoholic, and her grandmother is all mean and shit. Character depth in our antagonist? The devil you say! In spite of their newfound sympathy, Winny and Nadia are determined to beat Gretchen because winning is the most important thing.

They get through the Dressage test and the cross country, with Nadia spooking and near shitting a brick over a plastic bag, a judge's hat, the shadows in the woods, and a creek. At this point they're tied with Gretchen for the lead, but they come across Gretchen dry humping Mike again and it pisses Winny right off. Telling Nadia she deserves better she proceeds to be a real shit to Mike. Wingman to cockblocker in an instant, this horse.

Nadia manages to sneak out of her stall that night and finds Mike bumming around, being a pouty lamewad. He tells the supposed horse that he really loves Nadia, but he doesn't know what to do about it. He also says he thinks of Gretchen as a sister and then kisses horse Nadia on the nose. It's really uncomfortable to read borderline bestiality.

The next day, Nadia's family show up to watch the show jumping. Chuck shows up to drop exposition, turns out he's Gretchen's drunk dad! And Ms. Deiderich is her scary grandma! And then Gretchen shows up with Mike in tow. Gretchen immediately starts dry humping Nadia's older brother Peter, because turns out she just thinks of Mike as like a brother. Bully for all!

While warming up for the jumping, a Friesian stallion runs wild and kicks Nadia right in the shoulder. They decide to compete anyway, numbing her leg with cold water and jumping clean, resulting in a jump off with Gretchen. Gretchen goes clean, so Winny and Nadia have to beat her time. Over the last jump, I shit you not, they get struck by lightning, somehow cross the finish line, pass out and wake up switched back. And they won, because fucking duh.

So Nadia makes out with Mike a bit, gets a trophy, becomes sort of friends with Gretchen, who owns Peter now so she's all about helping Nadia get laid, and has an all new perfect understanding of her horse. And at last, I am done with this fuckery.

Points of Interest: 

  • Nadia is a hard character to sympathize with when she's constantly pointing out how Gretchen is spoiled and rich and has everything Nadia ever wanted when some rich bitch just bought her a horse of her very own. Seriously Nadia, you have a very valuable horse and a ridiculous amount of gag worthy "natural talent" so shut your pie-hole.
  • Likewise, Nadia frequently refers to herself as "just a lowly stablehand." No one looks down on her for it, not even our antagonist really. Once we see Gretchen ask Nadia to take care of her horses for her, the rest of the book Gretchen grooms and cares for Isis herself. The only thing Nadia has to do is feed and clean stalls. You know, stablehand things.
  • I don't think the author really wanted Gretchen to be the antagonist, but Nadia paints her as one the whole book until the end. It's very interesting to see the author and the main character at odds, but it makes Nadia come across as a brat.
  • This author owns a Thesaurus, occasionally her descriptions get pretty over the top. Mike's eyes are not blue, they are bachelor button blue, with a ring of green around his pupils like stalks of grass and leaves.
  • Considering I bought this book solely based on the premise of a horse and person swapping bodies, I was thoroughly perturbed that it took 'til Chapter 12 to happen. Also, Winny's easy transfer to acting human was very disappointing. We ALL wanted to see Winny - turned - Nadia running around half naked, screaming and pooping as she went.
  • Why is Nadia still able to understand humans as a horse, but Winny can no longer understand horses?
In Conclusion: 

I don't think this is a terrible book in general, especially not for an author's first. I would have like to see more polish. Why did it have to insist Gretchen was an antagonist, when really Nadia was her own worst enemy. The book didn't need a bad guy. I had a hard time dealing with how easily everything came to both Nadia and Winny, especially Winny adjusting to being human. And I really didn't care about the romance, though I will give props to the author for what felt like a genre savvy moment where Nadia questions why she gives a shit about Mike when all she's ever cared about was horses. I don't know if it was intentional, but considering most main characters in horse books are complete neuters, it made me smile watching Nadia's confusion over her nethers tickling.

I did have a good time reading this book, even as I facepalmed. I'm now following the author, and I see a lot of potential for a second book, especially if she gets an editor to really help tighten things up.