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

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