Now I am not a huge fan of the modern pony story, I find them on the whole too overly endowed with fantasy, the characters self-centred and pre-occupied with winning, and the overwhelming 'teen' atmosphere of boys, romance and looking good rather cloying. However, I thought I would give some of the 'Stabenfeldt' pony stories a go. I must admit, after reading about half or dozen or so, I am quite pleasantly surprised. OK, the books do suffer somewhat from the usual over-preponderance of fantasy and romance, but otherwise these are amongst the most traditional type and enjoyable modern pony stories I have read.
Here is some info and my views on the ones I have read so far:
THE GREEN HORSE HOTEL, GREEN HORSE SUMMER, GREEN HORSE WINTER by ISOLDE PULLUM
SUMMARY: A trilogy of books about a horse mad teenage girl who is living at a haunted hotel run by her parents. Each book is concerned with a) Jenna's horsy exploits, b) a supernatural plus a non-supernatural mystery, c) Jenna's love life which consists of a love triangle between her and two good looking guys. They are primarily mystery stories.
MY VIEW: Of all the Stabenfeldt books I have read so far they have the most fantasy and teen romance elements within. However, neither of these are not too overpowering and the books are very readable with good solid mysteries at the heart of the stories.
I have written a full review of the trilogy which can be read here
BRAZEN HORSE by ISOLDE PULLUM
SUMMARY: Paula is traumatised when her in-foal mare Bella is attacked and hurt badly. To take her mind off the tragedy, her parents allow her to buy a new horse. Enter Jazz, a brash and brazen Polish horse who has plenty of raw talent but no manners! With the help of a new boyfriend and a local horsy expert, Paula starts to tame Jazz and is hopeful of a possible eventing career for the pair of them. But someone is out to get Paula and prevent her and Jazz from getting on. Is it the horrid Tony, and could he also have been responsible for Bella's injuries?
MY VIEW - This is I feel superior to the Green Horse trilogy by the same author. Why? Firstly the heroine is more sympathetic, she has more faults than Jenna from the Green Horse books, which makes the reader more able to empathise and identify with her. Secondly the romance element is much more subtle and does not take over the horse story at all. Thirdly, this is much more of a traditional horse story with more horsy detail about training, etc, and no sniff of the supernatural! Like the Green Horse series it is very easy to read, but the narrative, from the first person view-point is tighter than in that series. On the down side the story line is not hugely original, but that is not a huge fault. All in all, probably the closest thing you can get to a traditional pony book from a modern author in this day and age!
IF WISHES WERE HORSES by VIRGINIA VAIL
SUMMARY: Cam lives with her large family, helping out on her parents market garden/farm. She has an image of a dream horse in her mind but knows that money is too tight for her to ever have a horse of her own. Although she shares her best friend Lacey's pony, she feels left out when Lacey joins a local riding club. Then one day she ends up rescuing an ugly-looking neglected horse which she buys for 2 cents to save from slaughter. The horse could be a ticket to her membership of the riding club. But she soon finds that the animal, even when it has been restored back to health is far from the wonderful horse of her dreams!
MY VIEW: One of my favourites of these Stabenfeldt books and one of the better modern stories I have read. Admittedly it was originally written a few years earlier and the Stabenfeldt book is a reprint, but even it's original publishing date qualifies it under my definition of 'modern.' This is an extremely traditional story and the bare bones of the plot could easily have featured in a pony book from the 1940s or 50s. There is not a ghost, unicorn or indeed lovelorn maiden in sight! Like all the best horse stories, this is about the relationship of horse and girl and the transformation of said girl through her contact with the equine persona!
I have written a full review of the book which can be viewed here
THE PONY VACATION by GILL MORRELL
SUMMARY: Horse mad girl goes on a riding holiday but once there she feels inexperienced and hopeless next to the other children. She eventually overcomes her fears to learn to ride and enjoy herself, but the holiday is marred by the nasty tricks played on her by an unpleasant boy.
MY VIEW: Nice undemanding children’s story. Believable characters who interact well together. The heroine is sympathetic and there is a satisfying ‘baddie’ to rail against. Very easy to read narrative which flows nicely. There is a very slight element of romance which is very subtle and not intrusive at all, in my opinion the exact level which should be in a pony book for this age level (ie up to younger teens). In fact the book may in fact be slightly anti-romance in that one of the characters who lets a crush on a boy get the better of her, ends up suffering for it! Possibly lack of originality and a slightly unsubtle delivery of various ‘messages’ within the story (ie..learning to get along with siblings) are the only real faults, but all in all a good traditional pony story with none of the modern downfalls of too much fantasy, romance or emphasis on winning.
THE CHRISTMAS COLT by MALLORY STEVENS
SUMMARY– Girl living on family stud farm must raise one of the foals as a family tradition. When it is a year old, it will be sold at auction and part of the money used to buy her a horse of her own. When the foal she has to look after is not that of her favourite mare she is devastated. But she soon learns to love the foal. In fact she gets so close that she cannot bear the thought of losing him when he must be sold.
MY VIEW - Another modern book I really enjoyed. I was prepared to dislike the heroine at first as she seemed to have too much going for her and not much to empathise with. The fact that she really disliked a little Anglo Arab colt was and thought him ugly was particularly incomprehensible! However as the book goes on the heroine becomes much more sympathetic. What begins as duty turns into love as she realises that character is more important than looks. There is little in the way of teen romance or the like to get in the way of the story, as our heroine is too dedicated to her foal to gad about with boys! It is at heart a traditional girl and horse love story with a very poignant part where she has to give up her beloved foal.
LEGEND OF THE ISLAND HORSE by JENNY HUGHES
SUMMARY: Girl and horse go with father to stay on island while he researches a horsy legend for his book. There girl meets cute boy who helps her school her horse. Strange things start to happen and people begin to get hurt. Can this have something to do with the legend?
MY VIEW: A mystery story. Of the Stabenfeldt ones I have read recently, this is perhaps the weakest. It’s hard to put my finger on why. It is competently-written, readable and has believable characters and it manages to handle the modern teen elements of fantasy and romance well. The romance is there but there is nothing cloying about it and there is none of the teen angst about ‘lurve’ which can threaten to spoil a modern pony story. In fact, although there is a romance in all of the author's books, she has in my opinion got the amount and depth which should be contained in a pony book just right. The horse element is interesting, with the horses being trained for eventing in a realistic manner, and the island setting is nice. Perhaps what disappointed me about the story most was the fact that the legend which gives the book its title seemed to be put on the back-burner for most of the book. This was in my mind the most potentially interesting aspect of the plot and better use of it could have injected some extra interest into a rather dull story-line. As with all Jenny Hughes' books this story is very easy to read but perhaps it is not one of her best.
As you can see from the reviews, I had a favourable opinion of most of the books I have read and they do prove that traditional pony stories can be written within a modern framework. Sadly, British publishers do not seem to believe this and our own selection of traditional modern pony stories is pitifully sparse. It is annoying that lovers of pony literature in the UK must buy from the USA to find a decent modern story, especially as ironically many of the authors are British!
Watch this space for more reviews of Stabenfeldt books coming soon......