REVIEW: The Tale of the Dancing Slaughter Horse by Victoria Shade
When Victoria meets Moonshine, an ex-racehorse saved from the slaughterhouse and abuse, she despairs at having to ride such a difficult horse. The pair compete in dressage, a sport that tests the unity of horse and rider as they engage in what can only be called dancing. They compete against horses bred solely for the sport, always struggling to overcome the bias against horses like Moony. As she grows and comes of age, Victoria teaches Moonshine to trust, and Moony teaches Victoria the importance of heart and perseverance. Together, they master many trials and compete in the Junior Nationals in this inspiring and compelling true story of how a girl and her horse changed each other’s lives forever.
I’ve always admired the sport of dressage in which a horse and rider show their superb communication skills through the execution of intricate routines. Top riders spend years perfecting their and their horses’ abilities and the best make it seem as if horse and rider can mind read. Victoria and Moonshine definitely didn’t start out that way but by the end of their years of competition, they’d developed something better – true love and trust in each other.
A lot of young girls go through a “horse mad” period. I know I did from about age 7-10 though I don’t think I ever begged my parents to buy me a horse which could live in our garage. Victoria’s first experience on a trail ride soured her but not for long. Since the story begins around this point in her life and follows her up until her late teens, I think it might be considered a juvenile/YA book. I would recommend that parents check out the first few chapters because her home life was anything but ideal. Her parents went through an acrimonious divorce and her father basically sounds like an abusive ass – to her mother physically and to Victoria and her younger sister emotionally.
Once her interest in riding kicks in, she becomes a “barn rat” at one local and then a more distant riding facility. She’s lucky in her mentors who encourage her and help nurture her talent while she feeds her addiction to horses. After seeing some dressage moves, she knows she’s found her calling. Any fool can jump but it takes something special to be able to do this almost dance with a horse.
Victoria might soak up what her trainers teach her but that doesn’t mean she always understands what the Big Picture is or agrees with them on everything. One such thing is a horse called Moonshine. Abandoned by his owner at the barn, sent by the barn owner to places to be “schooled,” he snaps at and terrorizes everyone who comes near him. With lots of “put upon” sighs, Victoria starts to ride him. It isn’t until after a few months that other riders give her insight into his behavior due to the abusive treatment he’s gotten. Others deride his breeding – he’s a thoroughbred/quarter horse cross – and tell her he’ll never be able to do dressage.
Victoria’s personality responds to negativity with “I’ll show you” and she proceeds to spend all her free time with Moony working to expand and perfect their skills. In a world of European warmblood elitism, she and Moony are the scrappy underdogs. It’s not easy and not without its setbacks and disappointments. World class trainers tell her to get a real dressage horse and disparage her chances to advance with Moony but they keep at it.
And along the way, something magical happens. A “street tough” punk horse who trusted no one and a horse crazy teenager work and develop together and end up going to the US Junior Nationals and maybe, grudgingly, changing a few “set in stone” opinions of what they can achieve. B