Friday, May 29, 2009

Spring Comes Riding
Betty Cavanna, il. Beth Krush
The Westminster Press, 1950

When she first saw him, Meg was standing alone.

It's September when the novel opens, and Meg Sanderson is a senior in high school, living an idyllic life on a small gentleman's farm in suburban Philadelphia, near the fabulously named town of King of Prussia. Her father is a fiction editor for a Philadelphia publisher, her mother and four sisters are avid equestrians who spend every waking moment riding and taking care of their four horses, and Meg - is tired of it. Tired of being just one more red-headed Sanderson girl who rides, who appears at local shows and acquits herself well, of the press of the sizable family in their shabby-classy old farmhouse, of the labor of caring for a small stable of horses.

Her first rebellion is to sit out the local horse show, while her sisters participate as usual, but she begins to regret her decision when she falls in love for the first time, violently and illogically, with a boy she glimpses riding in the show. Alan Randolph is riding a fidgety young palomino named Romance and Meg is aware, sharply, how very appealing she finds that little coincidence. When Alan comes around looking for a place to board Romance, Meg changes her mind quickly about how tired she is of barn work. But her flirty, femininely overwhelming older sister Joanna has already made a conquest, leaving Meg to fume while Joanna idly adds Alan to her string of dates. The tables turn when Meg takes Joanna's place at a major social event, the Naval Academy Hop in Annapolis, where Meg begins to find herself a place in a world where she's not automatically the person she is at home.

In the brief span from September to Christmas, Meg learns to stand outside her family, finds the confidence to act naturally for better or for worse instead of mimicing her suave older sister, and discovers new things about herself and her family.

Then, with a shocking wisdom beyond her years, Meg realized that Joanna could, and would, do this or anything else that would help her to gain her own ends. Joanna, her own sister, had a ruthlessness that would never yield to sensitivity or pity. A ruthlessness that she, Meg, couldn't ever hope to fight.

Most importantly, from the point-of-view of someone reading with an eye to the horsey plot, Meg progresses from a girl who finds horses interesting but takes them largely for granted to someone in love with a horse. Of course, it helps that she's in love with his owner, and this plot point could easily be read as an echo of her affection for Alan.

It was new to Meg to feel a definite affinity for a horse... And the strangest thing of all was that she felt she needed Romance, needed his animal affection as some girls seem to need a dog's.

But beside that, there's a glimpse of the Devon show grounds, a foxhunting scene, and various other horsey moments in the very East Coast style of everyone being casual country folk who ride well and have impressive professional jobs elsewhere in the city. Meg begins the book not very interested in horses or riding, and ends it much more alive to and in tune with horses, and the action reflects this, going from rather distant descriptions of a horse show to much more intense scenes at a foxhunt.

In summary, not so much a horsey book as a coming-of-age novel with a nice horsey background and plot. Although it's nearly 60 years old, it's not too dated because it focuses so much on Meg's personal struggle with herself. She's a very strong character; I was reminded of all the horsey books, particularly the modern ones, where the heroine is baffled and condemnatory of a fellow rider who isn't 110% into horses, while this old book has a heroine whose loss of interest is believable and sympathetic. The revelation about her sister comes late and is never 'satisfied,' Meg doesn't denounce her or run away or never speak to her again - she just realizes something and goes on.

Tinka - mother's mare
Firefly - shetland pony
Silver - grey gelding
Beau - chestnut gelding
Romance - Alan's palomino

About the illustrator
Beth Krush and her husband, fellow illustrator Joe Krush, lived in Wayne, Pennsylvania and often worked together. Joe, like Cavanna, was born in Camden, while Krush taught at Moore College of Art for many years.

The Malt Shop
The de Grummond Collection
Children's Literature Research Collection at the University of Minnesota (Beth Kush)
Children's Literature Research Collection at the University of Minnesota (Joe Kush)
Moore College of Art & Design

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