This month I read Canterwood Crest’s first novel, Take The Reins, by fellow horse-nut Jessica Burkhart. I don’t usually care for Young Adult horse books. But I loved this one. Here’s why.
Canterwood Crest’s first novel opens with a nervous Sasha’s internal debate on lip gloss.
I paused in my reading.
I was looking for a horse book, here, after all. There was a picture on the front of a girl (admittedly, a little sloe-eyed for a tween) wearing a hard-hat and holding the reins of a horse. I wasn’t particularly interested in the emotional dilemmas of a middle school boarding school student, at least, not the ones that didn’t pertain to horses. And in my experience, horse girls just didn’t worry about lip gloss.
What experience? Well, I grew up around horses. From elementary school to high school, I was surrounded by other horse-crazy girls. We walked or begged rides from school to the barn every afternoon. We rode hard, critiqued and insulted one another, and helped each other up when we got dumped. We did our homework (when we remembered) sitting around the stable picnic table. We got home late, ate leftovers from the family dinner we’d missed, showered, and collapsed into bed. On weekends, we worked twelve-hour shifts at a nearby breeding farm, mucking out stalls and stacking hay bales. There was no time for lip gloss. There was no time to worry about boys, or popularity. There was no time for anything. Except horses.
So, Miss Sasha Silver, why on earth are you worried about lip gloss? You’ve just been admitted to Canterwood, a top-tier boarding school with an elite equestrian team; boys shouldn’t even enter the picture.
Maybe things have changed for girls, or maybe Sasha just got lucky that she could have both. Because she determines that at Canterwood, she’s going to be horsey and popular. And it’s a good thing, too. If she just relied on her equestrian teammates to keep her sane, she never would have made it through her first month.
In some ways, Take The Reins is the most accurate horse story ever written. Everything is perfect in life, except for the horse part. Sasha’s roommate is perfect and amazing. Sasha’s schoolwork is challenging, but she’s capable. Sasha’s crush actually seems like he’s into her. Socially and academically, Sasha is succeeding.
But in the stable, she hasn’t been there ten minutes before she has got herself her very own nemesis, a talented rider named Heather, who doesn’t want any competition for a coveted spot on the advanced team. Heather quickly proves that she is willing to go to insane lengths, even putting her own horse in danger, to stop Sasha from challenging her supremacy as top rider. Her tricks are cruel and clever, and somehow Sasha finds it impossible to prove to the riding coach that the girl is causing trouble. And so Sasha’s Canterwood life, so attractive on the academic end, seems to be collapsing around her at the equestrian end.
As I read about Sasha’s determination to protect her horse, stave off attacks from Heather, and balance riding with studying in order to prepare for the advanced team auditions, Take The Reins suddenly became very realistic to me. All the girls in Canterwood’s equestrian team loved their horses, loved riding, and were desperate to prove themselves. That much is familiar. I knew these girls. I’d grown up with these girls. I’d been these girls. And after I realized that, Take The Reins was a page-turner to the very end.
The entire Canterwood Crest series is also available online from Amazon.com: