March 29, 2007


The Saddle Club: No. 1, Horse Crazy; No. 2, Horse Shy; No. 3, Horse Sense; No. 4, Horse Power. By Bonnie Bryant. Yearling. $1.99 (No. 1); $4.99 each (Nos. 2-4).

      Girls who see horses as all splendor and glamour – lots of beauty and grace, no mucking out of stalls – will have a good time with The Saddle Club paperbacks. The first is offered at a special low price to introduce girls to the series, but it is in no way inferior (or superior) to succeeding volumes. It features best friends Carole Hanson and Stevie Lake, the top riders in their class at Pine Hollow Stables. The plot revolves around the arrival of a third girl, Lisa Atwood, whom the friends may or may not accept, depending on whether she can manage herself around horses. Lisa is book-smart but not people-smart or horse-smart: “When she was trying to figure out how to tack up a horse or make sense out of her classmates, everything was a hopeless muddle.” Lisa hits it off with Carole more quickly than with Stevie – Lisa and Stevie play some mean (but not too mean) tricks on each other because of what turn out to be misunderstandings. But thanks to some cooperation in math, of all things, all three girls end up fast friends, and that’s how the Saddle Club is born.

      The second through fourth books introduce some new characters and a certain degree of horse-related drama. Horse Shy focuses on a stuck-up, pampered rich girl named Veronica and her high-quality horse, Cobalt, which she pushes too far – resulting in broken bones for both horse and rider. For a horse, that kind of break is fatal, and Carole becomes deeply depressed because of the love she developed for Cobalt when she had a chance to ride him. Cobalt’s death reminds Carole of her mother’s death in some way, so she decides to give up riding – and it falls to Stevie and Lisa to pull her back into the love of horses that they all share.

      Horse Sense has Lisa as odd girl out again: Stevie and Carole are so busy with various duties at Pine Hollow that they have little time for her. Lisa needs to convince her friends that the Saddle Club is as important as anything else they are doing. Then, in Horse Power, the club members decide they want a fourth person to join: Kate Devine, a championship rider. But then they discover that Kate doesn’t want to ride again – ever. And they have to help her through her emotional low points, until finally Carole can say to Kate, “You’ve rediscovered what’s fun about riding” – and the three friends become four.

      There’s nothing profound about these books, which even after four series entries have repeated themselves: the first and third have Lisa as outsider; the second and fourth involve someone deciding to stop riding and being persuaded to continue. The Saddle Club is ultimately about preteen friendship that just happens to revolve, in this series, around horses. The books are unpretentious, even simplistic, but they are pleasant escapism for girls who are equestriennes – or wish they could be.

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