“When you had friends like The Saddle Club, you were never alone.”


Plot Summary: Carole manages to save the day when greenhorn cutie Scott gets in trouble on a tourist trail ride. He catches feelings but she’s a one-woman girl and doesn’t return his affections–in fact, it makes her uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Stevie and Lisa think they’re being booked for their first modeling gig, but it doesn’t go the way they thought. That’s about all we get from them in this Carole-heavy installment. The young Ms. Hanson is also dealing with her dad’s overbearing girlfriend and fears that she might get stuck with a less than ideal stepmom. Somewhere in this book they ride horses. I think.

Listen up, everyone. Carole Hanson is a 12-year-old badass. First, she saves a boy’s entire life when Patch hears thunder and runs away with him on a trail ride. Then, she’s like NOT here for his affections. She had a job to do and she did it and now she has more than some boy to focus on. Next, that same boy is not going to teach her to dance at an officers’ ball she opportunistically took him to. Finally, she eventually does get up the guts to just tell the kid it’s not happening. Dang. Love her.

This book is a great examination of boundaries and communication. Stevie and Lisa, for instance, get recruited by a photographer to help with a tack catalog shoot. They think they’re going to be models in the glamorous sense, but they wind up being photographer’s aids. I’ve been a photographer’s aid, and I’m here to tell you it’s as hard as they make it sound in the book. I’ve been in countless photos from which I was tidily erased in editing. But hey, if you can make a horse stand still, there are people out there willing to pay a decent hourly rate.

It’s disappointing to them that they weren’t launched straight from Young Riders to Vogue, but I for one am relieved. I don’t want Stevie and Lisa to live that life. It isn’t easy, and I would like to think that they grew up without the inevitable body image issues. But I blame the photographer for this one. She’s the adult professional and she should have explained to the kids very clearly what the job was.

But back to our dear Carole, who is dealing with two people who want a different role in her life than she wants for them. Her dad is dating Lynn Blessing, a “nice” woman who doesn’t listen to a word Carole says. She takes Carole dress shopping and pays no attention to Carole’s feelings, which range from lack of interest to outright discomfort.

I know so many people who endured this as kids from parents, stepparents, and other adults in their lives. It makes my skin crawl. Lynn is described as “nice” and “well-meaning” but she’s neither. She’s trying to force Carole into her image of what a young adolescent should be without respecting her at all. For some kids, including those who don’t adhere to “traditional” gender roles, this can actually lead to quite a bit of depression and anxiety.

I think Carole’s dad makes a lot of mistakes in this book, but to me, this is the worst one. She doesn’t want to go dress shopping with another adult she’s uncomfortable with and he puts his foot down? No. Absolutely not. This one hits me where I live on a few levels and I don’t like it.

A foal I photographed

Meanwhile, Carole is trying to figure out how to get Scott to stop having a crush on her, which isn’t possible. People are going to feel how they feel. What she can do is set a boundary and tell him she’s not interested in dating him–and by the end of the book, she does–but instead she tries to find ways to make him lose interest.

I don’t want to be hard on Carole about this, because she clearly isn’t having good boundaries modeled for her at home. If she can tell her dad that she doesn’t want to go dress shopping or to a dance and he passes it off as something she has to do to make some other adult (Lynn) happy, how in the world is she supposed to know she can tell a boy to go away? She can’t be expected to know that.

Scott isn’t a bad kid, although I don’t love him showing up at Pine Hollow to look for her. That’s her safe place. But he is kind and helpful generally, so I think he’ll turn out fine. And when she does ultimately tell him no, he takes the news graciously and agrees to be her friend, which is a terrific model for handling rejection.

Okay back to Mitch. I’m still mad at him. He stays at the dance so he can win airline tickets even though Carole sprained her ankle running away from the scene when it occurs to her that he and Lynn might be planning to get married. He’s a colonel in the military. He can afford two airline tickets. He doesn’t need to win them at the expense of his daughter’s physical and emotional well being.

He does redeem himself a little bit by telling Carole that he’d talk to her before he got serious enough about someone to consider marriage again, but that doesn’t quite make up for the rest of his mistakes here. Parenting is hard, I know. Every parent blows it sometimes. That doesn’t mean the way he handled all of this is okay.

me n my ol pal Mo

Horses. Right. The reason we’re all here. The girls do get to go on a trail ride/picnic and talk, which sounds lovely. Because this has come up before, though, I have to point it out: let horses drink as much water as they want regardless of how hot they are. The research has debunked the old myth that hot horses get stomach cramps when they drink cold water. They don’t! In fact, drinking cold water helps them cool off faster.

In the end, it all works out okay. Both Hansons learn how to do a break up. Stevie and Lisa decide that the best use of their money is to treat Carole to a trip out west to see Kate, whom Carole is still thinking about all the time. Mitch gives Carole the tickets he won in the dance contest, so all three of them can go. Yay!

Stay tuned to find out if the girls decide to take up western riding and ditch Pine Hollow after their trip out west. Let’s hope they get to send more time riding and less time dealing with inappropriate boundaries. And most importantly, Carate Time!

Need more stories about horse-crazy kids? Check out the latest Show Strides installment, Confidence Comeback.

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