Denny Emerson had a funny Facebook update today: “I’m actually not joking even a little when I say I believe in child labor. Laziness ruins more dreams than just about anything.”
We know that child labor (the more benign, jokey version we use when talking about kids mucking out stalls in exchange for riding lessons, not the New York Times/United Nations version used to produce plush animals and sneakers) is the key to creating a great horseman. Or even a semi-functional horseman. Just ask any one of us who grew up as a working student, or just running errands for our trainer in exchange for basking in their professional glow, scribbling out homework on the school-bus because we wouldn’t actually get home until after seven o’clock that night, giving up every possible extracurricular activity and leaving glaring blank spots on our college admissions applications that would cause guidance counselors to glower at us from over their spectacles and suggest that, just possibly, we should think about an alternative career to “Horse Trainer.” What about vet school? Couldn’t you have participated in the Chemistry Club?
Of course not. We were too busy living our pre-vet training at the barn to be bothered with anything theoretical performed in a high school classroom. And anyway, those goggles looked ridiculous.
Bubba Goes National is one of those great books that reminds kids that hard work is part and parcel of living the dream, and that living the dream is generally comprised of about .5% victory gallops around the arena with a cheering audience and a fluttering rosette, and 99.5% mucking out, wrapping legs, throwing hay, cleaning tack, eating gas station ham sandwiches in the cabs of trucks on long-distance show trips, and, yes, running errands and acting as a human punching bag for whatever rich riding student wants to make your life miserable on that particular day.
But that’s what gets you what you want, and all you want is all that matters: a horse of your own, a shot at the show-ring, a chance for that fluttering rosette… so it’s all worth-while.
Leslie, the thirteen-year-old heroine of Bubba Goes National, is one of those working students, managing to balance school and what is basically a full-time job taking care of horses at her trainer’s stable. Oh, how well I remember those days! The constant work, the warring feelings: inferiority to the boarders and students who paid their way, vs superiority because you were so close to the trainer, you were practically best friends (albeit with a big age difference).
This is a kid’s book in the grand old tradition of The Saddle Club, but in this one, there’s no club. Leslie’s mostly on her own. Her father is a struggling widower, she doesn’t have any classmates who are interested in horses, and she scarcely has time to socialize with her riding buddy at the stable. Her most constant companion is her trainer, Helen, who takes care of her like a mother. Leslie is passionate about saddle-seat and Arabians, which is one of the equestrian worlds I have never ventured into. (I have worked with racing Arabs and dressage Arabs, but I’m not sure I’ve ever even seen saddle-seat in person.) There are Arabs and equitation patterns and vests and ties all over the place, and it’s interesting stuff: how do you ride an equitation pattern in a suit? Impressive.
There’s also a villainous fellow rider, up to nefarious tricks as she tries to sabotage Leslie’s growing accomplishments in the show-ring, but she really doesn’t figure into the story-line as much as villains do in most horse stories. Bubba Goes National focuses more on Leslie’s emotional journey: growing up, falling for her first crush, watching her father’s first romance after the death of her mother, and rescuing a horse of her own. Because of its thoughtful look at the relationships of young teenagers, Jennifer Walker’s book takes a different path than traditional horse stories, and that gives it real appeal and emotional value to young riders and readers.
It’s also a valuable reminder that yes, it’s all worthwhile! Muck those stalls, girls! There’s no better way to chase your dreams. Oddly enough.
Bubba Goes National, the first of the Riders of Green Meadows series, is available as an ebook and a paperback from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.