Thursday, July 23, 2009

Last Junior Year (1978)

Last Junior Year

Barbara Morgenroth

1978, Atheneum

That's a decision you'll have to make. To consider your horse at this point or your goal. The USET watches the junior riders like a chicken hawk sailing over a field mouse, and you almost have to be a star's going to be nearly impossible to get them to notice you as an adult.

17-year-old Kim Kenyon is feeling the pressure of her ambitions - she wants to be one of the handful of young riders chosen to work with the U.S. Equestrian Team, but in the horse show world, only the years before your 18th birthday really count. Her young horse, Foxy, isn't ready for the big competitions, and neither is Kim, who's making do in a rich man's sport. Good connections, though, give her a chance, and Kim runs with it. But is the Team an illusion?

Brusquely written, with a main character who is flat and unconvincingly bold. Kim stands up easily to an irate and likely unstable barn owner, shows a near total lack of social niceties yet manages to make advantageous connections all over the place. Her first is the young former Team member Jeff Connelly, who despite Kim's snappy feminism manages to be the typical chuckling older guy familiar from so many teen romances of the fifties and sixties. Her second is an eccentric trainer, Emory Reis, who is a major part of the plot and yet is dropped like a hot potato about 2/3rds of the way through the book. The third connection is an alternative Kim, the wealthy Randy Tashlin, a boy her own age whose family has the money and the interest to provide him with the best horses and training, and who becomes a decent associate. Of all the characters in the book, Randy's the most human - he's lazy, loves silent movies, is undermining his own chances of making the Team by refusing to use a pro trainer, etc. He also is dropped without mercy toward the end of the book.

The riding, however, is presented with honest effort, although there is never enough of it.

She had legs; they could do things she hadn't imagined. Before, legs were for staying on and giving elementary aids; now, with constant badgering, she was using them almost independently of the rest of her body. Her hands were developing some flexibility; she had wrists and elbows and shoulders. Not just arms. There were fingers. With just fingers alone, she could get Mr. Reis's horses to flex onto the bit. All the separate parts of her were working, and she could nearly control them.

I am not a good enough rider, or experienced enough horseman, to comment very deeply on the horsemanship and the riding. I suspect that most people do not graduate from 4' jumps to 5' jumps in one lesson. I don't know if Calf Manna is really good for horses; I'm not 100% sure what it is. But one makes a thrilling scene and the other appears to add realism to the horsey background. An engrossing book for any horse-obsessed child, though there is some dated feel with Kim's lip service feminism and scowling, aggressively awkward persona. If it had been made into a movie in it's own era, the young Jodie Foster would have been cast as Kim. One old-fashioned and yet convincing note is the blindness of Kim's parents, who simply wish their daughter would be someone else and refuse to admit she's ever got a point. It's not often seen in modern books, where parents are supportive, or in very old books, where parents are right. It's a very 1970's viewpoint, and it hits home.


Foxy - liver chestnut gelding, 5yo

Barnum - buckskin pony gelding

Tabard - bay gelding

Ace's High

Disney Girl - Welsh/TB chestnut mare, 4 stockings, star

Other Reviews

Whitebrook Farm blog

Other Books

Ride A Proud Horse

Impossible Charlie

Nicki & Wynne

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Morgan For Melinda (1980)

A Morgan For Melinda (aka A Horse For Melinda)

Doris Gates,

1980, The Viking Press

When my father first announced he was buying me a horse, I said "Thanks a lot. The last thing I want is a horse.

Few heroines in horsey lit are as hard to love as Melinda Ross. I distinctly remember the first time I read this book - with it's dreamy cover showing a beautiful horse overlaid with a little girl's head - and being wildly frustrated that the heroine was whining that she didn't want a horse. Even the explanation that follows - her dad always had a dream of buying a horse for his son, but Martin died of leukemia so he has transferred his dream to his daughter, never mind that she's a boy-crazy adolescent with no interest in equines - failed to engage my sympathy as a 7-year-old who spent her free time dreaming of the day her father would suddenly force a horse upon her. I read the book for Aranaway Ethan, the Morgan stallion who, gelded and trained, becomes the way-too-good-for-her first horse of Melinda.

Gates's writing is strong, her depictions of the little property in the beautiful Carmel Valley of California is evocative, and her characters are powerful enough to inspire strong feelings on the reader's part. As horsey lit, the book should satisfy but never quite does. Melinda is a modern and adult-oriented narrator who rarely comments on the horses or her own relationship with them, choosing instead to focus on the human relationships going on - her own with her father, her crush on a neighbor boy, her mentoree relationship with the writer Missy, etc. Against that failing are the clear, vivid scenes of Melinda with horses, from her first riding experience aboard a quiet older horse named Sam to her first rides on Ethan.

On the practical front, Gates does offer some of the most straightforward, unapologetically frank presentations of both the definition of a gelding, and the operation itself. And Melinda's slow progress from terrified to willing rider feels authentic.

I gave Ethan a touch with my heel, I heard Dad cluck to him, and in seconds we were into a slow trot. To my amazement, I wasn't bumping at all! I was riding, actually riding, for the very first time. I don't know how it happened, but suddenly I had got it all together and I was riding Ethan. He and I were going around and around on the end of that longe line as if we were glued together.

One caveat - and something of a spoiler - I dislike the dead elder books, where our Hero bonds with an older/elderly person who drops dead as a final life lesson. It's a grotesque plot device.

Horse/Other Animals

Sam - 12yo brown gelding with cream mane and tail

Mantic Peter Frost - Morgan foal

Aranaway Ethan - 7yo Morgan gelding, chestnut with white star and snip, hind socks

Oakhill's Merry Jo - liver chestnut Morgan mare with star, grand champion park horse

Fancy - white whippet

Other horse books by the author

A Filly For Melinda (sequel)

Little Vic

Sarah's Idea (donkey)

River Ranch (ranch)

North Fork (ranch)

About the author

(1901-1987) Gates grew up around Mountain View, California, first in a small town and then on a prune ranch. She worked as a children's librarian in Fresno; there is now a room named after her at Fresno Public Library.

Doris Gates papers at the University of Oregon

Works listed at above website, which I've been unable to find out more about
A Journey for Melinda:
Problems for Melinda
A Dog Named Arso
Rogue Haven
They Have Tomorrow
Trouble For Jerry
The Dog with the Too-Long Tail
The Dog Of War
The Flag on Catamount Hill
The Picture-Man's Pony

Friday, July 3, 2009

Stall Buddies

Stall Buddies

Penny Pollock, il. Gail Owens

1984, G.P. Putnam's

The bidding was slow. And the prices were low. Too low for a filly from a fine family of trotters. Too low for a filly with a broad chest, a proud head and wide-set eyes. But it was just as the sparrows had said; no one wanted a horse, especially a trotter, that had "trouble" written on her sweat-stained coat.

A Standardbred racehorse named Scarlett is so tense she has trouble winning until new owners provide her with stable buddies. Rufus Jones the Third, a rooster, and Merabel, a goat, give the nervous filly the companionship that she's lacked, and ultimately help her win.

Cute beginner reader book with a pleasant plot and nice illustrations by Gail Owen.

About the Author

According to Penny Pollock's website, she was born Penelope Lee Morrow in Ohio in 1935, but spent much of her youth in the Philadelphia suburb of Swarthmore. She married Stewart Pollock in 1956, and had four children.

About the Illustrator

Gail Owens was born in Detroit in 1939. She began her career at advertising agencies in New York, later illustrating magazine articles and books. She did the illustrations for A Horse For XYZ by Louise Moeri.

du Grummond collection on Gail Owens