“I guess that means I’m not a dude anymore, huh?”
“Don’t think you ever really were.”119
Content Warning: The plot of this book includes description of the traumatic death of a dog. Details are glossed over but the incident is acknowledged in this post.
Plot Summary: The girls are heading west to visit Kate at her family’s dude ranch. They have a somewhat off-putting first encounter with the ranch’s wrangler, Eli, who has a secret–a litter of puppies he’s hiding from the tourists. They spy on and continually run into an indigenous girl about their age, Christine Lonetree. The Saddle Club girls have bought into every horrible stereotype about Indians and offend Christine. When the Saddle Club goes on a cattle drive, Stevie falls off and is threatened by a rattlesnake. Christine’s dog saves Stevie but is bitten and dies. Stevie and Christine trauma bond, and Christine takes the Saddle Club on one of her pre-dawn trail rides. The Saddle Club plus Christine throw Stevie a surprise birthday party. Stevie arranges for Christine to get one of Eli’s dog’s puppies.
Hoooooo boy. Okay. I loved the last book, with its opportunities to explore learning about communication and boundaries. This book, while it really makes me want to go to a dude ranch, also makes my skin crawl in some parts. Maybe by 1989 standards it’s woke, but this is 2019 and the way it handles indigenous culture is broke.
We open with our heroes getting awards at the end of Pine Hollow’s summer camp. Carole gets best all around and Lisa gets most improved. Stevie, out of nowhere, is awarded best at dressage. I know this comes up in later books but except for their drill team practice (which all three were good at) there hasn’t been much dressage. But considering the rest of this book, I think I can let that one go.
The girls get on a series of airplanes to head out west, and on the last one an older boy rudely butts into their conversation and makes fun of them for not already knowing everything about cattle. That turns out to be the Bar None wrangler, Eli. Carole and Lisa don’t seem to give him a second thought, but Stevie is irritated by his attitude and rightfully so.
Side note: Men can and should be effusive with their compliments and praise of other people. One thing that bothers me about the Max character, and now Eli, is how it’s cute that they can grimly nod or say “better” and the girls are supposed to take that as high praise. Given how the equestrian community seems to have some bizarre attachment to men who withhold compliments and can be downright abusive to their students, I think this is an area of toxic masculinity that needs to be aired out. Why can’t Max and Eli be kinder people? Or at least not set the standard for young women that “mmhmm” is all they deserve?
That particular rant over, but don’t worry–more to come.
After a SEVENTY MILE TRIP IN THE BED OF A TRUCK (that would get Child Protective Services called on you now), they arrive at the ranch. The Devines are sweet to the girls, and set them up in a nice cabin on their beautiful ranch. Carole, Stevie, and Lisa officially induct Kate into the Saddle Club.
I don’t know a darn thing about ranching, so I can’t speak at all to the accuracy of how the ranch operates, but it sounds lovely. The descriptions of breakfast made me hungry. The Bonnie Bryant Collective really nails evocative descriptions all around in this book.
Things first start to get weird when the girls go into town to run errands for Kate’s mom and there’s an Old West reenactment, during which Stevie meets a cool dog, who runs away at the sound of his owner’s whistle. Impressive. My dogs won’t come to me unless I’m holding food and sometimes not even then.
The next morning, Stevie hears the same whistle and goes outside to check it out. Now we’re really on the down slope. She sees someone riding bareback and assumes that person is a Native American (“Indian” is the kind of word that’s okay for indigenous people to use on themselves, but not a word I’m comfortable using). She then goes on a flight of fancy about why an indigenous person would go riding pre-dawn, all of which are steeped in myths and horrible stereotypes. For more on why this is harmful, read this entire website. When she goes back to sleep, she dreams about lassoing “the Indian and his dog.” No. Writers have choices, and they could have chosen a different reaction.
When the girls meet Christine the next day–because they’re spying on her from their cabin and get her attention–they just trot out all of the stupid things they thought about indigenous people, and then they get offended when Christine bites back. Which she does, and I love her for it. Stevie gets all “reverse racism” about it. You can read more about why reverse racism is a myth here.
They run into Christine again on their cattle drive (a cattle drive sounds fun; I want to rescue tiny newborn calves from rushing creek water and be a hero too). Stevie falls off and is faced with a rattlesnake and has a Tomahawk Ex Machina moment. The sweet dog appears out of nowhere, gets between Stevie and the snake, and takes a snake bite to the nose. It’s horrible.
Stevie surprises Christine with her feelings about the dog. The other Saddle Club girls show up and they bury the dog together. Christine is a much more diplomatic person than I am and is willing to befriend the girls after the way they treated her and immediately after the death of her dog.
Christina invites them on her morning ride and to her home for breakfast, where the girls are all amazement that she lives in a house with a foundation and a microwave and everything. Her mom is my favorite–she’s a potter who makes “primitive” pottery to sell to white tourists and makes high-end pottery to satisfy her own creative need and to display in art shows. She points out that the white people only want to buy the pottery that “looks like it was made by a little old Indian woman in a mud hut,” calling out exactly the kind of objectification the girls were doing to Christine.
An aside: at Stevie’s birthday party, Kate gives Stevie her dressage whip, and everything makes much more sense now. She was a junior dressage champion, not a good junior hunter. Got it.
So at the end of the day, Christine and the rest of the Saddle Club girls are friends, and Stevie manages to hook Christine up with one of Eli’s puppies. The Saddle Club minus Kate heads back east, which is bittersweet.
There’s so much I didn’t get to in this recap, but I think it’s important to focus on how it’s not okay to exoticize or objectify people from other cultures, especially a marginalized group of people. Check out the Water Protectors to learn more about how badly indigenous people are still treated in this country, and keep in mind that the US government has never honored any treaty made with an indigenous nation.
Sometimes it’s the lessons we learn around the horses that are the most important, eh?