Apr 12, 2010

Blue Ribbon Series -- When What You Wish For Isn't What You Really Wanted

As longtime readers of this blog may know, I have the greatest love for horse-themed fiction, especially of the young adult variety.  In fact, I have a massive collection of it.  So, it may come as no great surprise that I am a bit of a conoisseur of even the cheesy 80s series of horse books that encompass the Saddle Club series, the Thoroughbred series, the Linda Craig series (which was really mainly a redesign and reissue of the original 60s era books), etc...

In keeping with my contrary ways of liking only things that no one else appears to have discovered, I present the horse-crazy series that I cherished above all other series.  At least when only comparing amongst its peers in the 80s/90s.  If you have never had the occasion to read the Blue Ribbon series, then you really should.  If you look hard enough you can still get your hands on the 5 books that managed to be published before it was clear that no one else was reading these books and the series was abruptly canceled.  They are fairly rare, but over the years I have managed to locate two copies of the entire series.  Yes, two copies -- I somehow forgot that I tracked down the first set and bought the second set before that realization sunk in.

I'm presenting you with the second entry into the brief series because I recently read it during my brief toe-dip into the tumultuous waters that are purchasing a horse.  And ridiculous as it may sound, it kinda soothed my soul.

So what sets this series apart from the others?  It's a bit hard to explain, really.  In some ways it fits all of the cliches.  Three girls whose love of riding forms the basis of a deep friendship?  Check.  One girl -- Dara -- is filthy rich with a gorgeous horse.  She is beautiful and boys trip over themselves to be near her.  Oh, and don't forget, she and her horse make an unstoppable team who win nearly all the blue ribbons.  BUT!  She's new to town and her wealth and status can make her seem snobby.  Will she manage to overcome her haughty demeanor and show the town that she's just one of the girls?!

Kate is more of the tomboy-ish one of the trio.  Her mother runs the local boarding/training operation, where all the girls board their horses and/or ride.  Kate is high energy and talkative.  She is supposedly the most talented of the three, but she just needs the right horse to take her to...gasp!...the Olympics.  BUT!   She still retains too much love for her steady-Eddie horse who just doesn't have the talent to take her all the way.  Will she finally come to terms with the fact that her horse is holding her back?!  Will her competitive side finally show her the way to stardom?!

And finally, there's Jesse.  Her character arc makes up the requisite sad story of the books.  Her mother died recently and the family relies on her to do alot of the cooking, cleaning and taking care of her siblings (are you feeling really bad for her yet?).  They don't have a lot of money and she can't afford to own her own horse.  She previously leased a mare at the farm until the owner decided to breed her and Jesse is left horseless yet again.  Will Jesse ever feel like part of the horsey gang?  Will she ever have a bit of luck?

Hey, I think I missed my calling.  I should be writing back-cover blurbs for young adult books.  Anyway, it's plain as day that this hits many of the typical teen horse book criteria.  However, there are some things that pretty significantly set this series apart from the rest:
  • Boyfriends do not occupy an enormous amount of text.  They're there and the girls all have boyfriend troubles, but they do not take up all of the girls' time.  And the girls do not fight over the same guys.  These are two major things for me.  I always wondered how people could be such good riding when they were spending all their time fighting and chasing boys.  Most significantly they were not riding!  Ugh, I hate that.
  • The girls do 3-day eventing, which means they do jumping and dressage.  And dressage is not made out to be some super tedious means via which they can do the more exciting jumping bits. 
  • Obviously the author knows horses and riding.  S/he (for the life of me I cannot figure out if it was a man or woman who wrote these books -- Chris St. John is like the most vanilla of names) describes things mainly accurately and uses the proper terminology (there is even a glossary in the back for those of the non-horse-obsessed ilk).  No one performs miracles on horseback.  There are no riders suddenly mounting a half-crazy horse and taming it.  People get frustrated.  They fall.  They don't win.  It's like it's breaking every rule of the genre right there.
There are other things as well, but those are the major items I keep coming back to every time I pick up these books.  And the gist of this particular book in the series kinda drives all of that home for me.  Essentially the story revolves around Kate.  Her beloved horse is really holding her career back and her trainer is trying, very gently, to nudge her towards that understanding.  His brilliant idea is to sort of trick her into exercising and showing the horse for him until he finds the right buyer for it (wink Kate wink).  Ah!  But the plan backfires when Kate protests that she doesn't have the time for another horse, but her horseless friend Jesse would LOVE the opportunity.  And so, reluctantly on the part of Jesse, Kate's trainer, and virtually everyone else, Jesse ends up riding this hot powerhouse of a horse.  I can recap every point, but what you mainly need to know is that this ultra-talented horse is the opportunity of a lifetime for a girl like Jesse.  He is brilliant and Jesse and he win all of their shows.  However, the entire time she is riding the horse, Jesse is basically in cold sweats and panics.  There are equal parts of enjoyment and nervous breakdowns when she realizes just how overmounted she is on him.  And when she finally realizes that she would rather not ride than ride that particular horse anymore, she speaks up and explains her feelings.  In the end she understands that sometimes the best horse is not the most brilliant, most talented horse.  Winning is not the end-all and be-all.  Sometimes you just want the flawed horse with whom you share a deep connection.

Besides breaking the rules of the genre, it's just a lovely message.  And one I needed to hear after turning down the purchase of a horse of a lifetime.  I could have bought a horse that would propel me into the primetime, but I chose not to for a myriad of reasons.  Mainly I just didn't feel like it was the right horse at the right time.  Yet, I kicked myself day after day for not taking the opportunity to prove my talent to the world.  And silly as it may seem, this book made me realize that you have to choose the path that makes you happiest.  And happy does not always equal accolades and glory.    

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You captured these books wonderfully. I read them in high school when they first came out and checked weekly at the bookstore for the next one and the next to come out. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when the they stopped hitting the shelf and the series was at an abrupt end. I am so glad that there is someone else out there that experienced them around when I did and still loves them. I am now reading them with my 9 year old daughter who enjoys them just as much! -Lara, Long Beach, California