“Anyway, the only thing worse than losing something you care about is not having anything you care about at all.”page 132
Hold onto your hats, everyone. This one is an emotional roller coaster.
I love the opening of this book: the three girls are on a trail ride that involves rearing horses (y’all, if you’re on a horse who rears, please don’t pull on the reins–loop an arm around the horse’s neck), Lisa falling off for the first time, getting chased by a bull, jumping a 4’ pasture fence, and galloping madly through pastures. As a kid I would have lived for a ride like that–minus the fall. As an adult, my heart drops into my gut just thinking about the chaos.
Side note: my first fall was from rearing, too. I was riding a pony named Blondie who reared because one of the barn owner’s whippets jumped up in her face. I landed on my back on a gravel driveway. I was five. It’s been 32 years and it still feels like it happened yesterday.
Lisa is so funny about her fall, assuming it means she’s done riding for good, and then about 30 minutes later she’s following her friends over a pasture fence on a broke to death school horse. Lisa is such an overachiever. I’ve been riding my whole life and my horse is extremely athletic and I’m pretty sure that move would get us both killed but hey, that’s what fiction is for.
I think about the Mountain Trail Overnight trip they go on in this book all the time. I can’t decide if it’s my dream come true or my worst nightmare. I love trail riding but I hate camping. I’m neurotic as hell about horse care and I think I’d just glue myself to Mo overnight in the field, but hanging out with him in the mountains sounds incredible.
We also get some good character insights: Carole demonstrates excellent horsemanship by putting the horses first; Lisa throws a mounted game on purpose after Veronica cheats–tres chic, tres Libra; and Stevie latches onto the fantastical stories about Max’s grandfather.
Before The Worst Imaginable Thing happens, Carole has some really sweet conversations with her dad. I have no experience with being a 12 year old who recently lost my mother, and I’m wondering–is it typical for the kiddo to want her dad to date? Regardless, those two love each other and I love their relationship.
Of course, after returning from the trip, Carole has to deal with another loss. Cobalt, the horse she adores, dies in a riding accident with horrible Veronica, who never listens to Max’s instructions. I’m an event rider, and I know that horses do die sometimes on cross country (where this accident happened), but given the level of riding these kids are doing, it’s hard to imagine a horse as athletic as Cobalt getting killed. But it does happen, and must have been terrifying for Veronica and the other kids who witnessed it. I’d like to think that Max addressed it with all of them with compassion and clarity.
Carole shuts down emotionally after Cobalt dies and tells her friends she’s going to stop riding. I get it. I have a tendency to close into myself when bad things happen, too. She explains to them that she is reliving the experience of losing her mother and doesn’t think she can emotionally handle going through that again. Stevie and Lisa back off, which is an understandable reaction for kids their age. It’s hard to handle that much grief from someone, and Carole seemed to want to distance herself from anything to do with horses.
So Stevie and Lisa go to the library to research Max’s grandfather, which raises a question for me: how do these kids know so much about history? The Russian Revolution, San Juan, Rough Riders? Amazing. Anyway, they wind up doing my favorite kind of historical research: talking to someone who was there. Oral history is the most fun, even though they learned that Max I was kind of a boring guy. Stevie gives herself permission to indulge in her need for drama by making up endless stories about him after realizing that he was just a regular old business owner.
We can’t have the second book in a series of 100+ end with one of the main characters quitting the sport, so of course Carole comes back after another good talk with Mrs. Reg. I like to think that the magic of a black kitten Carole gets to keep is part of it too. In my personal but highly relevant experience, black kittens who show up serendipitously in one’s life can be transformational.
So what did we learn? That the grieving process is important, and people will start to return to normal life when they’re ready, but that doesn’t mean they’re not sad anymore. That we shouldn’t ride into fields we’re not invited to ride in in case they contain angry bulls. That we should listen to our coach’s instructions so we can ride safely. And, of course, that kittens make everything better.
Want to read along? We’ll be posting our thoughts on Book Three: Horse Sense in a week! In the meantime, if you want to write a guest post or just have thoughts you’d like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out the Show Strides series for another great series on horse-crazy kids.