________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 15 . . . .April 1, 2005


The Touch of Something Wild.

Colleen Rutherford Archer. Illustrated by Judi Pennanen.
Manotick, ON: Penumbra Press, 2003.
112 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 1-894131-35-5.

Subject Heading:
Horses-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Carole Marion.




Are you a huge fan of horses? Are you interested in find out how to train them, prevent illnesses and injuries, handle them, ride them properly, enter a competition with them...even organize your own? If so, then this is the book for you! If this it too much information and you simply want an interesting horse story with a plot that flows smoothly and effortlessly, then reach for The Week of the Horse by Jocelyn Reekie or Sharon Siamon's Wild Horse.

     It is obvious that author Colleen Rutherford Archer knows and loves horses. She owns and operates a small stable in Ontario, and she has years of experience running a therapeutic riding school, much like the mother in this book. However, the tale she spins is encumbered by didactic details about horses that become intrusive and cumbersome to readers who do not share her passion.

     Seventeen-year-old Kyra Davies and her mother are looking for a new horse for their stable in the Canadian Shields. After exhausting all the ads in their local newspaper, they come across Warrior, a big-boned, iron-gray, undisciplined Hanoverian cross that is not at all compatible with the sensible grade horses required for the therapeutic school they operate. Kyra is mesmerized by his wild temperament and the grace with which he moves, even though she realizes none of the students could safely handle him. She wants this horse and negotiates extra duties with her mom so she can train him herself.

"Couldn't we take him?" Kyra pleaded. "I could train him, and if he doesn't work out for the school, we can resell him."

"My guess is he's beyond your ability to train, Kyra," said Mrs. Davies to her slim, auburn-haired daughter. "I'd have to work with him myself, and I just don't have the time."

"What of I take over some of your other jobs? I could teach the beginner riders."

"Kyra, the horse wouldn't be of any use in the school for a long time. In fact, he might never be of any use to us in the school. What we need is something we can use right now. Besides, it's not just the time. I don't have the money to support a horse that may or may not work out."

"What if I made the money to support him? I could do the stalls so you don't have to pay Dwayne. He's been wanting to quit anyway."

"When are you going to find the time to do that? You're already short of time with your courses, and all the work you do around the barn."

"I'll give up volleyball," said Kyra. "That will give me some free time. And I'll get up every morning at dawn and do the stalls before school. I promise!"

"I'll have to think about it," said Mrs. Davies cautiously. She knew that Kyra was a reliable worker, but she wanted her daughter to concentrate on her studies. She also wasn't sure Kyra would be able to work with a horse like Warrior without getting injured. The powerful animal had obviously picked up a lot of bad habits. Right now, he was pawing the aisle way impatiently.

     Mrs. Davies is raising Kyra by herself, following her husband's death of a heart attack two years ago. She is independent and self-reliant, and the close bond between mother and daughter is evident throughout the story. Kyra is an exemplary daughter, a refreshing change from many of the young adult novels today. Her friends share her interest in horses; peer pressure and competition do not enter into their lives. The book reads like a year-in-the-life of a teenager whose existence focuses around her family stable, her friends who help out and stable their horses there, the therapeutic classes, the competition she enters and runs, and the care and training of the horses.

     The equestrian terms and details used by Archer appear accurate and precise, given her background the authoritative tone she uses throughout the book.

"The first position you're going to learn," said Kyra, as Ashley placed the feet, "is the full seat. The correct full seat has the rider's back perpendicular to the ground, so that you can draw a straight line from the back of the head to the shoulder blade, then to the seat and down to the back of the heel..."

"This is boring," said Jason. "When are we going to canter?"

"Not for a long time," said Kyra, trying not to sound irritated. "Fantom isn't the most forgiving horse in the world, you know, Jason. If you're going to ride him, you'd better do it right."

"Then I want a different horse."

"Let me read you all something before you begin your lesson," said Kyra. It's a list of questions we were asked at the coaching clinic I was at last summer. You'll soon see that there's a lot more to riding correctly than just hanging on to the horse. You're not going to be able to do anything correctly for a long, long time, but at least you'll know what we're aiming for."

     What follows is a long list of questions to which the students are asked to visualize the answers. The profusion of equestrian details certainly detracts from the story line. Even the potential conflicts set up by the author, like Jason's resistance and Warrior's wildness, resolve themselves smoothly, robbing the plot of inherent excitement. It was difficult to see where the story was heading, and it was not clear to this reader until close to the end of the book that Warrior was the thread that wove together the story line.

     The physical layout of this trade paperback may confuse readers. The cover art and pen and ink illustrations give it the appearance of a book for elementary grade students, but the level of details and age of the main character make it more suitable for young teens.

Recommended with Reservations.

Carole Marion is a Youth Services Librarian with the Calgary Public Library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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