Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Paddock of Dreams: The Truth about Horses, Friends, & My Life as a Coward by Sarah P. Gibson

So, you think you love horses? Loads of people say they do, especially to me. Usually, though, it's new girls at school. When they find out my family owns horses, they sit next to me at lunch and try to be nice. They munch away on their sandwiches, looking all dreamy-eyed.

"So, Sophie"--one will begin by stating the obvious--"you have horses."

I nod and keep eating.

"How many?" she will persist, and I know that even though she's sitting right beside me, she's actually far away--riding a galloping horse, usually pure white, across a field of waving grass.

It's time to snap her out of the spell. "Two and a half," I answer.

"Oh--a pony! Is it a small one? The kind you can drive around in a cart?" she gushes.

"Well..." I hesitate. "We used to drive her around in a cart," I admit.

Now here is where I usually tell the story of Heidi and the Pony Cart.

The story of "Heidi and the Pony Cart (Or, How Not to Make Friends)" ends badly, with a runaway pony, Really (short for, the family learns too late, Really Mean,) racing across the countryside until at last too winded to run, she stops momentarily and Sophie and Heidi bail headfirst out of the cart, only to see it disappear in another wild circuit of the area.

After Gramp fetched us home, my mother offered Heidi ice cream, petting the new kittens, and even going sailing, but Heidi stayed quiet. She didn't blink a lot, either, as I recall. We never played together again.

Really is no prize as a saddle pony either. Anyone foolish enough to climb upon her back gets bitten, bucked off, or scraped off on the nearest fence. If these capers fail to dislodge the determined would-be rider, Really just drops to the ground and attempts to roll over on the brave equestrienne. Sophie is no fool; she refuses even to try to ride Really, but then Melissa Maloney moves onto the island and seems determined both to be Sophie's friend and ride her pony.

"Look, Melissa," I confessed, "they forgot to tell us the second part of this pony's name when we bought her. Honestly, she is Really Mean, and the truth is, no one rides her."

"Oh, yeah?" Melissa pondered this for a while. "Well, could I try to ride her?"

And with that doughty statement, Melissa's and Sophie's career as daring riders of dangerous, dumb, and downright disturbing horses begins. Really pulls all of her tricks--wheeling around to bite Melissa's legs, slamming her legs into the paddock fence, bucking her off into the manure pile, and finally doing her famous stop, drop, and roll maneuver. Battered but not broken, Melissa gets up and gets back on nine times.

"Geez, Louise!" Melissa said, gasping for air. "That is one REALLY MEAN pony!"

I hopped down from my perch on the fence and faced Melissa. "You're all right, Melissa Maloney," I said.

But Sophie's optimistic mother is not easily dissuaded from her dream of equestrienne daughters, and believing that they only need to find the right horse, goes on to buy two more--Sweetheart, who is a real sweetheart in the paddock but once outside tries to swipe riders off on every tree limb, and Fancy, a monster eighteen-hand cowhorse who is dumb as a rock and as big as Gibraltar.

Sophie tries to remain determined never to mount any of these beasts, but finally, watching Lawrence of Arabia with her dad one night, even she is suddenly taken with the vision of herself galloping along the island's sands on her snow white steed, (who looks a little like Sweetheart) hair streaming behind her and the wind in her face. But getting to that point involves a lot of hilarious horsey adventures for Sophie and Melissa, not the least of which is their Halloween night attempt to round up a wild moose which they mistake in the darkness for a runaway Fancy.

The Truth About Horses, Friends, & My Life As a Coward is the perfect antidote to the sometimes sappy girl-meets-horse genre which nevertheless ends with a sort of friendly truce between Sophie and her mounts. A great story of middle school friendship and taking on your fears with self-deprecating humor and not a little courage, this one is a laugh-a-minute read which even (or perhaps especially) non-horse lovers will love.

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