“Riding is a friendly sport and if you never talk to anyone about it, you’re missing half the fun.”


Plot Summary: Carole makes friends with “championship rider” Kate Devine, but learns that Kate has given up riding. Carole falls in love with Kate, but this is a mainstream novel about pre-teens from the late 1980s so the author doesn’t come out and say that. What is made explicit is that Chad has a crush on Lisa, which leads him to taking lessons at Pine Hollow, which drives Stevie nuts. Lisa’s mother allows her thirteen year old to go on a date with him but it turns out to not be fun. The Saddle Club gears up for the Pine Hollow gymkhana. Chad falls off and hurts his arm, so Kate ends up filling in and rediscovers her love of riding–just in time to tell Carole she’s moving across the country.

We open on our heroes in Carole’s bedroom discussing whether they’ll ever ride in a horse show, which they seem to take as Madison Square Garden (I hope they got their chance before the National Horse Show moved). There’s quite a big step between any horse show and the top of the sport, but let’s set our sights high, I suppose. Plus, this talk of glitzy shows sets us up to meet your favorite new character and mine.

The next day, Carole and her father hang out at Quantico with some military friends of his, and Carole meets her new crush, Kate Devine. Kate is kind and easy to get along with–she’s kinda written as though she’s 25–and Carole insists on dragging her to the barn because she can’t read a room. She goes on forever about horses, not realizing she’s talking to someone who knows more and has done more than she herself has. She realizes her mistake on the drive home, and we first hear Kate referred to as a “championship rider.”

Pause. I don’t want to pick on these books because I love them, but I have to get this off my chest: no one says “championship rider.” It’s not a phrase that means anything. A championship can be anything from a local show end-of-year walk-trot class to the American Eventing Championships or big series finals in the hunter/jumper or dressage worlds. Kate is 14, so if we’re to make sense of it, she probably had a great children’s or junior hunter career. The book implies she was an event rider, but that makes even less sense. No 14 year old eventer kid was being written about in magazines in 1988 (and at that time I think you had to be 15 or up to even go preliminary), and the AECs hadn’t been invented yet. So I’m going to grit my teeth and let it go for the rest of the recap but I had to drag you all here with me. I’m going to assume that she was doing the hunters or eq and move on with my life. Harumph.

A random old pic of Mo to remind me to breathe.

Stevie is incensed to learn that her doofy older brother Chad is going to attend the upcoming week of Pine Hollow’s summer camp and she immediately makes it clear that she’s not going to help him with his chores. He seems unbothered. I get it–she’s in the middle of four kids and needs to assert her own identity, especially because she likes a lot of the same things her brothers do. The Bonnie Bryant Collective irritates me endlessly when they talk about Stevie’s appreciation for adventure movies “more suitable for boys than girls,” because that is icky and I remember bumping on that when I read the books for the first time. Movies, like colors and clothing, are for everyone. 

Chad is only interested in riding to get close to Lisa. Lisa picks up on his crush relatively quickly, as does Carole. It makes Lisa uncomfortable, which of course it does. There’s nothing worse than a boy with a crush on you. That’s my truth and I’m livin’ it. Carole gives Stevie some great advice for butting out of the Lisa/Chad ‘ship (Lad? Chisa?) and Stevie ends up handling all of it better than I’d have guessed, given her tendency to make everything about her all the time.

Carole’s crush on Kate goes unremarked on by everyone, and when she visits Pine Hollow she quickly becomes friends with Lisa and Stevie. It’s always nice when our friends approve of the people we like. Her arrival coincides with the three-day event Max is hosting (remember how I thought he had lost it when he decided to start a drill team? I think trying to run a gymkhana for kids during a three day is even more bananas). The kids all go watch together, which is when we learn that Kate used to be an event rider, but I already said I don’t buy it and I wouldn’t obsess so moving on…

Chisa are going on their date. Chad displayed some tendencies he’s going to need to unlearn. It’s fine to suggest a particular movie for a date, but he didn’t ask her about her opinion or what she would like to do. He talks about the movie franchise endlessly instead of trying to get to know her better, even after poor Lisa spent time thinking of several topics of conversation, and if that ain’t always the way. It’s adorable that Lisa didn’t understand why her mom was concerned about her going out with a boy. Thirteen is pretty young. I definitely wasn’t going on dates at that age, but what do I know.

The good news is, Lisa realizes Chad isn’t the guy for her so we don’t have to suffer through a hetero teenage relationship (yet). I appreciate how Lisa doesn’t think she has to pretend to like what Chad likes to get him to like her–a trap that a lot of people fall into that can go to a codependent place. She also doesn’t malign Chad for liking mummy movies and video games. It’s healthy. Gold star for Lisa.

Gymkhana fun ensues. The Saddle Club Plus Chad team doesn’t win every race, but they win the first day overall. They don’t win the second day, and Chad gets hurt, which means they can’t ride on the third day. So sad. 

But wait! We have a skilled rider in our midst who isn’t already committed to a team! Max agrees to let Kate ride on her girlfriend’s team with a couple of handicaps to keep it fair, which makes sense given that she replaced a team member who could barely post. Our faves take the third-day and overall win for the three days of games (those poor ponies, holy cow). 

The heartbreaking denouement of this installment comes when Kate tells Carole that her family is moving out west to a dude ranch her parents bought upon her dad’s retirement. Apparently Kate’s sudden lack of interest in competitive riding–it sounds like she just got burned out–put a potential kink in the works for that plan, but riding in the games made her realize she could have fun with horses without the pressure of the show ring. I’m all about that, but if her parents were so invested in their daughter’s competitive success that they wanted to invest in a horse property, wouldn’t they stay somewhere on the east coast and buy something set up for showing? The mind, it boggles. But it works out in the end, because Kate can do dude ranch things and not horse show things.

It’s sad that distance in a pre-Snapchat era is going to separate Kate and Carole (Carate? Katole?), but of course it will be temporary because it would be rotten of the Bonnie Bryant Collective to introduce a character as awesome as Kate only to never bring her back. 

So what have we learned? That kids don’t have to try to like each other if they have nothing in common; that riding should be fun regardless of discipline; that Veronica doesn’t have to have any lines to be the worst? Tune in next time to see how camp is progressing and whether Carole is turning to ice cream to squelch her feelings of missing Kate #Carate5ever.

If you want to know what it’s like to be a kid in the hunters, pick up Show Strides. The second book, Confidence Comeback, is out now on Kindle and Audible!

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