Review: Stake Night by Susan Archer

May Contain Spoilers

I borrowed Stake Night using Kindle Unlimited because it is about Saddlebreds.  I was wondering how accurate the author would be portraying the run up to showing at the World Championship show in Louisville, and because I love reading about horses. There aren’t a lot of books about the saddleseat disciple, so I was eager to give this book a spin.

Stake Night follows several characters, both trainers and amateurs, through one show season, ending with the Five Gaited Stake at Freedom Hall. Now, while I have never been privileged enough to show in Freedom Hall, I have been able to attend the show, which is an experience I recommend for anyone interested in ASB (American Saddlebreds), or in saddleseat riding. Unfortunately, I will never be able to scrape together the kind of cash necessary to be competitive at the ASB World Championship horse show. While I started my show career with a saddlebred, I now have a Morgan, and while she isn’t fancy enough to compete at our big show in Oklahoma, she does pretty well at smaller shows. Between both horses, I have shown at some of the venues showcased in the book, and I felt right at home with all of the training methods and equipment.

What I wasn’t so fond of was the author’s writing style. Third-person present tense is my least favorite POV.  Normally I can’t stand it; when I do encounter it, I usually put the book aside, never to pick it up again.  I persevered, however, because, well, horses. Once I got going, I did become engaged in the story, but the writing style continued to be distracting; dry, clinical, and not overly compelling.  There was a distance kept between the reader and the characters, and I found that frustrating.

If you are at all interested in knowing what it’s like to show a saddleseat horse, I highly recommend Stake Night.  Keep in mind, though, that it is all about showing horses. There is little else here. Once show season starts, it’s just like my life. Horses, horses, horses.  Working to get the horses fit, trained, and ready to compete at one fairground after another. Which horses will be there, what will the competition be like, should we show in this class or that class. Coaching at the rail. Steady up! More snaffle! Stay ahead of the horse!

All of this was familiar, and while the writing style left me somewhat cold, I couldn’t wait to get to the end and find out which horse reigned supreme. The ending was a bit unbelievable, and I can’t say more without giving the end away. There is a sequel, and I will read it as soon as I get another break in my review schedule.  I have to find out who is going to win next year!

Grade: 3.25 stars

Review copy borrowed using Kindle Unlimited

About the book:

Stake Night is the story of a single year in the glamorous and competitive world of show horses, where the rewards are large and so are the lengths to which people will go to win. For the owners, it is about wielding power through money in their quest to proudly hold the prestigious World Championship trophy. For the riders, it is about demonstrating technical skill and nerve by out-riding their competitors and maneuvering their horse in the frenetic ring so the judges notice it. For the trainers, it is about finding the key that makes your horse out-perform others that might actually be more talented and achieving the professional recognition that leads to new clients and financial security. For everyone, it is about settling scores and finding a way to win the championship.

The central character is Jennifer, a young, relatively unknown trainer. She can’t believe her luck when a rich client brings her the reigning world champion horse and tells Jennifer to prepare the horse for her timid daughter to ride. Jennifer quickly learns that this horse and rider are a dangerous and doomed combination, and she must move carefully to find an alternative that keeps her important client from leaving the barn and ruining Jennifer’s chances to finally join the ranks of the most well-known and respected trainers.