"How can a spotted mare change a life?"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted August 7, 2014
Young Adult Sports | Young Adult Contemporary
Meg Traherne has a summer of competing in shows on her
horse to look forward to, but in a heart-stopping moment
that changes. Left adrift, she falls back on her good
friend Slate. Slate however will have to sell her horse
when she goes to university, and she's tired of weariness,
sweat and dirt, of broken fingernails and hat hair. Maybe
it's time they both did something different.
APPALOOSA SUMMER is set in Ottawa, where Meg now self-
reliantly accepts a B&B job on an island off the town of
Kingston as she can stay alone in her family's holiday
cottage. She's sixteen and looking forward to earning her
own money. Nobody notices when she dares to drive a few
blocks by herself - there's no permanent police on the
island - and she observes that the rugged, tractor-driving
country lads up here are fine viewing. Jared, in
particular. Then she helps Jared with cattle on her day
off, and her pay turns out to be a mare someone's tired of
keeping. Meg can't believe people give away horses. On the
other hand, Salem is an Appaloosa, and she knows judges
don't like spotted horses in the show ring.
Salem turns out to have quite a few tricks up her sleeve,
and the little black mare with the spotted blanket on her
rump impresses even the unwilling Meg. Now what can they
get up to together? With summer storms, plenty of hard work
and friendship, and helping other people instead of moping
about her own life, Meg becomes a different person by the
end of the APPALOOSA SUMMER. Tudor Robins has planned two
more books to make up the Island Trilogy and if they
anything like as good, with as much attention to detail as
the horse training and riding detail in this first story,
they're books I definitely want to read. Young adults who
like horses are in for an absolute treat.
Sixteen-year-old Meg Traherne has never known loss. Until
the beautiful, talented horse she trained herself, drops
dead underneath her in the show ring.
Jared Strickland has been living with loss ever since his
father died in a tragic farming accident.
Meg escapes from her grief by changing everything about her
life; moving away from home to spend her summer living on an
island in the St. Lawrence River, scrubbing toilets and
waiting on guests at a B&B.
Once there, she meets Jared; doing his best to keep anything
else in his life from changing.
When Jared offers Meg a scruffy appaloosa mare out of a
friend's back field, it's the beginning of a journey that
will change both of them by summer's end.
I’m staring down a line of jumps that should scare my brand-
breeches right off me.
But it doesn’t. Major and I know our jobs here. His is to
combination, determine the perfect take-off spot, and adjust
stride accordingly. Mine is to stay out of his way, and let
We hit the first jump just right. He clears it with an
arc, and all I have to do is go through my mental checklist.
down. Back straight. Follow his mouth.
“Good boy, Major.” One ear flicks halfway back to
comment, but not enough to make him lose focus. A strong,
stride to jump two, and he’s up, working for both of us,
perfectly balanced as we fly through the air.
He lands with extra momentum; normal at the end of a long,
line. He self-corrects, shifting his weight back over his
Next will come the surge from his muscled hind end; powering
up, and over, the final tall vertical.
It doesn’t come, though. How can it not? “Come on!” I cluck,
my heels along his side. No response from my rock solid
The rails are right in front of us, but I have no horsepower
nothing — under me. By the time I think of going for my
too late. We slam into several closely spaced rails topping
gate. Oh God. Oh no. Be ready, be ready, be ready. But how?
no good way. There are poles everywhere, and leather
dirt. In my eyes, in my nose, in my mouth.
There’s no sound from my horse. Is he as winded as me? I
speak, or yell, or scream. Major? Is that him on my leg? Is
it’s numb? People come, kneel around me. I can’t see past
can’t sit up. My ears rush and my head spins. I’m going to
“I’m going to …”
I flush the toilet. Swish out my mouth. Avoid looking in the
Light hurts, my reflection hurts, everything hurts at this
the afternoon, when the headache builds to its peak.
I’ve never lost anybody close to me. My grandpa died before
born, and my widowed grandma’s still going strong at ninety-
She has an eighty-nine-year-old boyfriend. They go to the
play the slots.
If I had to predict who would die first in my life, I would
in a million years, have guessed it would be my fit, strong,
But he did.
Thinking about it just sharpens the headache, so I press a
against my face, blink into the soft fluffiness.
“Are you OK?” Slate’s voice comes through the door. With my
dad at work, Slate’s been the one to spend the last three
distracting me when I’m awake, and waking me up whenever I
a sound sleep. Or that’s what it feels like.
“Fine.” I push the bathroom door open.
I nod. Stupid move. It hurts. Whisper instead. “Yes.”
“Well, that’s a big improvement. Just the once today.”
She follows me back to my room. She’s not a pillow-plumper
smoother — I have to struggle into my rumpled bed — but it’s
have her around. “I’m glad you’re here, Slatey.” I sniffle,
taste salt in the back of my throat.
I’m close to tears all the time these days. “Normal,” the
said. Apparently tears aren’t unreasonable after suffering a
to the head hard enough to split my helmet in two, with my
dropping stone cold dead underneath me in the show ring. I’m
sick of crying, though. And puking, too.
“Don’t be stupid, Meg; being here is heaven. My mom and
going completely over the top organizing Aggie’s sweet
There are party planning boards everywhere, and her dance
are always over giggling about it too.”
“Just as long as it’s not about me. I don’t want to owe
“‘Course not; you’re not that great of a best friend.”
The way I know I’ve fallen asleep again, is that Slate is
“Huh?” I open one eye. Squinting. The sunlight doesn’t hurt.
fact, it feels kind of nice. I open both eyes.
I struggle to get my elbows under me, and the shot of pain
head tells me I’ve moved too fast.
She’s nodding, eyes wide.
“Like our Craig?”
First my mom canceled her business trip scheduled for the
the accident; now our eighty-dollar-an-hour, Level Three
coach is at my house. “Are you sure I’m not dying, and you
haven’t told me?”
“I was wondering the same thing.”
“What am I wearing?” I blink at cropped yoga pants and a t-
got in a 10K race pack. It doesn’t really matter — I’ve
Craig when I’m not wearing breeches and boots; never seen,
imagined him in the city — changing clothes is hardly going
Slate leads the way down the stairs, through the hallway and
the kitchen, where Craig’s shifting from foot to foot,
calendar on the fridge. He must be bored if he wants the
my dad’s Open Houses, my mom’s travel itinerary.
“Smoking,” Slate whispers just before Craig turns to me.
technically, she’s right. His eyes are just the right shade
emerald, surrounded by lashes long enough to be appealing,
stopping short of girly. His cheekbones are high and
just like his jawbone. And his broad, tan shoulders, and the
hips holding up his broken-in jeans are the natural
somebody who works hard — mostly outside — for a living.
But he’s our riding coach. Craig, and our fifty-five year
vice-principal (with halitosis), are the two men in the
won’t flirt with. I don’t flirt with him, mostly because
met a guy I like more than my horse. Major …
“Hey Meg.” Craig’s quiet voice is a first. The gentle hug.
back, eyes searching my head. “Do you have a bump?”
I take a deep breath and throw my shoulders back. “Nope.”
knuckles on my temple. “All the damage is internal.”
Craig’s brow furrows. “Meg, you can tell me how you really
I can’t. Of course I can’t. Even if I could explain the
losing my three-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week companion, the
“saving” him from the racetrack only to kill him in the
and the take-it-or-leave-it feeling I have about showing
of that is conversation for a sunny springtime afternoon.
Still, I can offer a bit of show and tell. “I have tonnes of
bruises. And I’ve puked every day so far. And, this is weird
look.” I use my index finger to push my earlobe forward. “My
caught on something and tore right through.”
The colour drains from Craig’s face, and now I think he
“Meg!” Slate pokes me in the back. “Sit down with Craig and
Craig pulls something out of his pocket, places it on the
brass plate reading “Major”. The one from his stall door.
the rest of his things in the tack room. We put them all
Yeah, because you wanted to rent out the stall. I can’t
There’s a massive waiting list to train with Craig. And my
the consideration to die right at the beginning of the show
Some new boarder had her summer dream come true.
I reach out; turn the plaque around to face me. Craig’s
too well — tears in one of his lessons result in a dismissal
the ring — so now, even with a concussion, I can’t cry in
him. Deep breath. I rub my thumb over the engraved letters
R. “There was nothing that horse couldn’t do.”
Craig sighs. “You’re right. He was one in a million. Have
thought about replacing him?”
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