Young adult fiction about the sport of dressage is exceedingly rare, which makes Caroline Akervik's book a real find.
The author spent most of her early adulthood as a professional horsewoman, competing through the Grand Prix level of dressage. When she became a wife and mother, she went back to school to become a library/media specialist so that she could share her love of good stories with children she teaches as well as her own youngsters.
An avid reader since the fourth grade, Akervik apparently learned from the best, because she is an excellent writer and storyteller in her own right. Though A Horse Named Viking was written for young adults, it's one that any horse-loving reader will enjoy. Akervik never "writes down" to young adults. Instead, she challenges them with the sort of good writing seldom found in YA books. She also uses technical dressage terms that are defined in the book's glossary, so the reading becomes a learning experience, too.
In her epilogue, Akervik notes that the horse she calls "Viking" did exist, but she has changed his name as well as the names of the people in his life.
"He was exactly as I have described him," she writes, "and knowing him changed us all. He taught us about courage, dignity, discipline and loyalty. Great horses, unlike paintings or sculptures, are fleeting masterpieces. But they are preserved in the hearts and memories of those people whose lives they touched. We were very blessed to have known "Viking."
Viking's story evokes a roller-coaster of emotions in the reader, ranging from laughter at his antics to outrage at his treatment by some trainers and joy in his affection for children.
Viking was branded as a rogue almost from the day he was born. His dam, though beautifully bred, was savage, and her son soon showed the same tendencies. He was passed from one world-class trainer to the next with little success until American rider Anne O'Neil came into his life. Together, they showed the world the "real" Viking.
This is not a predictable, "happily ever after" story. There are nerve-wracking highs and lows, with the only constant being the O'Neil family's love for the horse--and Viking's love for them. It's a moving, satisfying read. Don't miss it.
A Horse Named Viking, by Caroline Akervik, is published by Melange Books, LLC, and is available in print or e-book from the publisher.
Here's an excerpt:
Father and daughter stood there companionably, brimming with anticipation.
"Shouldn't the vet be here?" Charlotte had witnessed a birth before, but the mare's obvious distress disturbed her.
"Dr. Olson is on his way, but Carpia's doing fine. The labor is progressing normally. She's a good-sized mare so I don't see her having any problems delivering this foal. Besides, she's a fighter. Don?t worry."
The mare groaned and a great shudder seemed to pass through her.
"Look, Daddy, Look!"
Moments later, the wet, dark shape of Carpia's foal lay on the ground. He was moving almost immediately, breaking through the slick birth sack. Carpia raised her head out of the straw and turned to nuzzle her baby affectionately. Her ears tipped forward curiously, her dark eyes were velvet soft.
Kurt squeezed Charlotte's shoulder. He ran a breeding farm, witnessed many births each year, but the experience remained miraculous and overwhelming to him.
"She's going to be a fine mother. With a temperament like hers, you can never be sure. I was worried we'd have to foster her foal out. But it looks like I was wrong. She's going to be just fine."
"Look at them. She keeps nuzzling him. She loves him."
The new little one raised his head at the sound of their voices, his eyes bright in the darkness.
"Hello, hello. How's the patient?" The stocky, dark shape of Dr. Olson appeared in the opened doorway.
Kurt immediately went to greet the other man.
Quick as a wink, before anyone could stop her, Charlotte slid the bolt back, and opened the stall door, stepping into the stall. Carpia lunged to her feet and thrust her body between Charlotte and her foal.
"Easy, Mommy. I won't hurt him. I just want to see him." Fearlessly, Charlotte held her hand outstretched with her palm up, fingers close together, so the mare could sniff her.
"Charlotte! What are you doing? Get out of there!" Kurt hurried to the stall door, but Carpia blocked him with her teeth bared and her ears pinned back. He couldn't see his daughter. "Charlotte, Charlotte, are you all right?"
"Yes, Dad. He's beautiful! A colt, just like I said. And he's not afraid of me at all. He looks black."
"Honey, I want you to move slowly. Back away from that colt. Olson, do you have that tranquilizer shot ready?" He sought to peer around the black mare.
"In a minute. You know I don't like giving a mare something right after delivering but," the vet was on his knees by his medical kit, preparing the shot, when Charlotte reappeared at the mare's shoulder. Carpia relaxed her ears as the girl stood stroking her neck.
"You have to see him!"
"Charlotte, get out of there!"
"Daddy, relax, she's fine." Nevertheless, Charlotte obediently stepped through the opened stall door. As soon as she was within reach, her father grabbed her by the arm and pulled her close then slammed the door shut.
"Promise me you'll never do that again. That mare is dangerous. You have to stay away from her. I've been wrong to let you work with her. But after a mare foals, they can become very protective of their babies. You have to respect that and keep away from her. It's not fair to her."
Charlotte tugged herself free. "I'm sorry, Dad. I wanted to get close to him. I won't bother her anymore... The little guy... He's awesome."