Stablemates 1: Rebel of Dark Creek
by Nikki Tate
Sono Nis Press
154 pages, 1998
Another children's horse story? Just what the world needs. Just how many permutations of Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka can there be?
Anyone who thinks this, however, is seriously underestimating the passion that young people have for horses. A constantly-growing supply of kids who eat, sleep and dream horses. For these dreamers, stories about horses are a ready source of mind candy. Books about horses are fodder for those dreams.
Rebel of Dark Creek is good fodder. Some aspects of the tale are conventional to the genre: young girl wants horse. Must overcome all obstacles to be with horse of her dreams. Author Nikki Tate's approach, however, lifts the story away from the conventional.
Tate brings an obvious knowledge of horses to a very 90s tale. This equine expertise is one of the things that will make this book a hit with horse-savvy youngsters. Tate knows the difference between a bay and a chestnut and that an even gait has nothing to do with the paddock. Kids who know horses will recognize the accuracy. Those who don't will delight in learning more inside stuff. Despite all of this good background, the story is the star. Which is just the way it should be.
Jessa Richardson is a grade six student who "eats, sleeps and dreams horses." Her room is covered in horsey things, including 16 horse shoes. More, she thinks, than the average horseowner bothers to keep around. She even has lessons once a week at a local stable, but there's just no chance that she'll be able to get a horse of her own.
While there seem to be lots of horse facilities in Jessa's community, Jessa just doesn't have the money to buy and then keep a horse. Her parents are divorced and her mom is studying to be a bookkeeper.
Desperate for a horse, Jessa contemplates writing to her father:
She fished a pen out of her pencil case and began to write a letter.
Jessa's relationship with her mother feels strong and warm, but the big strain of living in a single parent family is present here: there isn't a lot of money for extras. Like a horse. Or even a car without rust that doesn't backfire and embarrass its young passenger.
"Jessa, if we can just hang in long enough for me to get my accounting designation we'll be laughing. You can have your horse and I can buy a decent car."
Jessa's challenges and problems ring true: these are the kind of things a lot of young people must deal with. Things they can relate to. Perhaps more importantly, Jessa faces her challenges head on. Overcoming her obstacles to make her dreams happen in a way that is neither trite nor saccharine.
Tate's story is told simply, yet with no trace of simpleness. Her language manages to be both plain and rich and it's easy to imagine a youngster becoming quickly engrossed in the tale she tells.
It's a refreshing story. Modern problems, yes. But there is no horror here. No real ugliness. Girl wants horse. Girl meets horse. Girl falls in love with horse and finds a way to make it all happen. Girl learns to deal with the reality of dreams coming true. It's the kind of book that pleasant dreams are made of. No preaching. No covert moral tale. But enough real life to make the story comfortable and the characters recognizable.
Rebel of Dark Creek sets the scene for a series of StableMates books by Nikki Tate for Sono Nis Press. If Tate can maintain the pace and quality she sets in book one, a lot of horse mad youngsters will have fodder for their dreams for a long time to come.