“The little black colt was almost a rebirth, for Cobalt and for Carole.”

109

Plot Summary: The Saddle Clubbers are now in summer camp at Pine Hollow. Delilah is soon to give birth to Cobalt’s foal and it’s all Carole can think about. Her possessiveness over every newborn foal in the state is alienating her friends. Max asks Stevie to plan a gymkhana for the young riders and she way overcomplicates things. Lisa wants The Saddle Club to have rules to keep members from getting their feelings hurt, so she writes them. Lisa makes a new friend at the barn, a French girl named Estelle, who talks a big game. Carole and Stevie are busy so Lisa just hangs out with Estelle and invites her to join The Saddle Club. Estelle turns out to be a phony, and our original three realize they’re better together just in time for Delilah to go into labor when they’re alone in the barn.

Hi everyone. How are we feeling? Have we recovered from the wild ups and downs of Book Two? Bonnie Bryant (who I am assuming is a collective, not an individual) gives us a bit of a reprieve from trauma–but thankfully not from drama–in book three.

We open on our heroes at Pine Hollow summer camp, which sounds a lot like normal Pine Hollow but for more of the day. In other words, the dream. The omniscient third person narrator (hey look I remember something from high school) lets us know that Lisa is starting to wish she could cut her hair into spikes and buy thrift store clothing, to which I say: come sit by me, sweet summer child. I got you.

It Me.

Carole is understandably excited that Delilah is pregnant with Cobalt’s foal and will be giving birth at some point in the near future. Not only is Delilah the horse she rode regularly in lessons, but of course she had a special relationship with Cobalt before his death. Unfortunately, her attachment to the process means she can’t see that she’s hurting her friends’ feelings when they try to share her excitement. She assumes she’ll be the only Saddle Club member at the birth, even though Stevie and Lisa are very excited about it too.

Thus is the rift created that drives the plot for the rest of this book. Lisa is especially hurt by the interaction, and after what she considers an unproductive Saddle Club meeting, she decides to write rules. She even brings out a brand new notebook for the project.

Y’all. If I might go meta for a moment. When I decided to do this project? Brand new notebook. I see you, Lisa.

Also, I’m choosing to believe that her dog, Dolly, is named after Dolly Parton. You can’t change my mind.

Lisa’s rules are the second blow to the three-way friendship. In the last book I presumed she might be a Libra, but now I’m thinking perhaps Capricorn. The girl loves structure, but what she doesn’t see is that penalizing and fining people for being late or not showing up to what is really meant to be a friendly hang out isn’t the way to cement the bond, which is what she really wants. 

Meanwhile, Max asks Stevie to design the gymkhana games for the younger students to coincide with the three-day event he’s planning. I get why he asked her–she’s a creative thinker, she likes to have fun, and she really needs things to do. But Stevie also doesn’t bring practicality to many of her engagements, and thus she decides it has to be The Best Gymkhana Ever instead of just a fun games day. 

So now we have all three Saddle Club members going to the extremes of their personalities, pulling away from each other. What better time to introduce a controversial new character? Estelle is another 12 year old who’s participating in Pine Hollow’s summer camp, and despite her inherent glamour–she’s rich and French–she hasn’t been snapped up by the Mean Girls. Where is Veronica? 

Lisa is a kind person who really needs a buddy, so she and Estelle latch onto each other. Estelle wows Lisa with (tall) tales of her home in France and all of her fabulous horses, and she seems to welcome Lisa’s company in a moment when Lisa feels left out. Estelle, however, serves only to everyone else with her incompetence.

Estelle is a lot like Lisa’s mom, so it’s interesting that she’s introduced in the same book in which we start to get glimpses of Lisa’s desire to rebel. Both Estelle and Mama Atwood have a tendency to embellish past the point of believability out of some desire to fit in with the cool kids, and both seem to want Lisa to play along in ways that aren’t in her own best interests.

With Carole and Stevie off doing their own things, Lisa decides to pass her Saddle Club rules and invite Estelle to join without consulting either of them. She knows, really, that this is a mistake, but it seems to be one she can’t stop herself from making. 

Fortunately for our buddies, we have a foal ex machina moment. The three girls are left alone in the barn after a drill team practice (I made my Breyer horses do so many drill team exercises after I read this book for the first time) when they notice that Delilah is in labor.

Have you ever watched a foal being born? It’s an incredible (if nerve wracking) experience. It brings the girls back together with a project that’s both high stakes and emotional, and turns out to be successful. Delilah’s foal, Samson*, is healthy and beautiful and seems to bring Carole a great deal of peace. The experience of preparing Delilah for a safe delivery helps them overcome their rift.

A foal I helped deliver many years ago

(*Listen, I’m not a biblical scholar, but I did major in English at William & Mary and thus was forced to take The Bible as Lit. Samson had a ridiculous life. Superhuman strength, yes. Defeating the entire Philistine army with just a donkey jaw as a weapon, sure. But his lover Delilah deceived him, had servants cut his hair and gouge out his eyes, and sold him into slavery. He ultimately died in a mass murder/suicide. Yikes.)

Carole and Stevie threaten to leave The Saddle Club if Lisa doesn’t rescind her invitation to Estelle. They get a little annoying when they tell Lisa all the reasons Estelle is lying to her. I mean, I call horses white all the time. I know all the stuff about how there’s no such thing as a white horse, but come on. Also, horses do feel it when you yank on their manes, and ponies will absolutely try to kick at their riders. It is true that horses don’t throw up, though, which is too bad. A lot of good horses would still be alive if they could.

My childhood pony, Pickles. I called him white. Sue me.

Lisa hears their words. She gets major props from me for confronting Estelle about her lies, which is hard to do. These are kids, not adults who’ve been to therapy and had training in conflict management.

Whew. Now that the band is back together and the foal is healthy and the enemy has been evicted, I have one remaining question: why on Earth has Max decided it’s his mission in life to coach a drill team comprised of middle schoolers?

Will the drill team get the girls college scholarships in six years? Will the gymkhana involve fireworks and a flying trapeze? Is Samson doomed to a life of war and enslavement and Oedipal tendencies? Tune in next time! Meanwhile, check out Show Strides: School Horses and Show Ponies, for an updated look at life at a riding school.

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