Echo is a beautiful bay warmblood colt born in Germany and brought to America by rich, flamboyant trainer Darla Davidson in hopes of making a big profit by selling him to her wealthiest riding student, Tracy Milton. Darla’s penny-pinching indirectly leads to Echo’s being injured in transit, but this isn’t immediately discovered. Elizabeth “Lizzie” Tuttle, 14, helps out at Haversham Farm, her mother’s horse barn, and works part-time at Darla’s much fancier Bristol Acres. An aspiring equestrienne competitor, Lizzie this year hopes to finish in the top ten in the medals finals. Spoiled rich-girl Tracy, Lizzie’s rival, is at first excited about riding Echo, but he soon earns black marks for dangerous behavior. Thanks to Haversham Farm’s good reputation for rehabilitating horses, Lizzie gets the task of reconditioning Echo (with input from horse professionals). A proper diagnosis and careful physicking, training and affection do much to improve the colt—but when Darla’s greed takes over, Echo’s future is in doubt. In her debut novel, Haversham displays her insider knowledge of the competitive, often unsavory world of equestrian competition. (Tenderhearted readers may find a few passages upsetting, but they reflect reality.) Though not every term is defined (for example, “warmblood”), the technicalities are easy to follow. In the young-person–and-horse genre, the standard narrative is that love and patience overcome all difficulties, and Haversham—though at first seeming to enter fully into this cliché—complicates the ending more realistically, perhaps because Echo is based on a real-life horse. On the downside, Haversham’s characters are overly broad: Darla and Tracy are over-the-top caricatures of the spoiled rich, and the Tuttles simply have no faults; they are poor but happy, humble and hardworking, yet they know how to have fun. More subtlety would help, as would an edit to fix some substandard usage.
Somewhat clichéd but also offers a sober look at the horse world’s dark side while appreciating the beautiful bonds that can arise between horse and trainer.