John continues to explore what happens when you take popular culture and throw dice at it…
I love horses. But I can never eat a whole one. It’s an old joke, yet it’s true. Spooky, no?
The source material: The Saddle Club began life as a series of tween-skewing book published by Bantam between 1986 and 2001. Presumably intended as a Sweet Valley High-type series for lonely girls named Jacinta, they were ostensibly written by Bonnie Brayant, but were reportedly churned out by a number of ghostwriters. There were 101 titles in the main series, plus spin-off series of Super Editions, Inside Stories, Pony Tales (get it!?!) and Pine Hollow.
The books are set in the fictional town of Willow Creek, Virginia, and follow the adventures of Carole Hanson, Stevie Lake and Lisa Atwood who all ride together at Pine Hollow Stables. The first book is entitled Horse Crazy, which gives some idea of what’s to come. The girls are 12 years old at the beginning of the series, and they remain that way for the next fifteen years. Perhaps Willow Creek is one of those vampire towns.
The books were made into a highly successful television series in 2001 (and by ”highly successful” I mean “highly merchandised” – the show spawned an alarming amount of tie-in product, including a surprising number of half-arsed singles, such as Hello World and Hey Hey, What You Say). The series was an Australian/Canadian co-production – surely a phrase that instills fear in most people - and 52 episodes were produced over two seasons, with a third season reviving the franchise last year (while the third season is considered a continuation, it has been entirely recast due to the original stars unprofessionally refusing to stay 12-years-old for the last seven years - it’s not surprising women can’t get decent roles on Australian television if they insist on ageing).
The Wikipedia page for the TV show claims the characters were brought together through “recognizing their love for horse riding“, which makes it sound a bit like Brokeback Mountain. Only with horses. The article goes on to say ”Throughout the series, The Saddle Club has to deal with Veronica, dressage training, and competitions, as well as the troubles of their friends and staff in the fictional Pine Hollow Stables. Through perseverance and friendship, The Saddle Club always comes through. The Saddle Club also has a mission set before them: get Veronica to take care of Garnet. The Saddle Club wasn’t successful in their attempts to get Veronica to take care of Cobalt, Veronica’s earlier gorgeous horse, due to him being put down because of a jumping accident“. No wonder this article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia’s quality standards.
Based on my intense knowledge of the TV show – the five minutes I just watched on You Tube – The Saddle Club appears to be a handsomely-shot children’s show with virtually no appeal to anyone outside its tight demographic. It also suffers slightly from the “nowhere” syndrome that affects Australian co-productions – while most of the cast are Australian, there’s no indication as to where they are, or why those Canadian kids are living among them. It would appear, however, that we’re probably not in Virginia anymore.
The show has divided critics – or at least, the crazy semi-literate ones you find on IMDB.
Alyssa V from Maine said “I personally get annoyed to death of the acting of the characters Stevie, Lisa, and Carol and whenever they break out in song on the TV show I change the channel for a few minutes and return, I have noticed that the horses jumping are not the same ones that are walking around and that all the horses conformation is practically flawless. Which does disappoint me“.
While Raven Unknown fron Texas took umbrage with an episode featuring the controversial subject of horse marriage. “To me, this show is very unrealistic. Things that rarely happen in life are always happening on the saddle club. Normally, the girls always here something they misinterpret and they go and try and fix it. Normally, like I said, they misinterpret it. I would recommend this show for younger kids (10 and down). There was this one episode I was watching, and they had either a stud or a brood mare coming to the farm/stable/barn/whatever to be bred. Stevie, Carole, And Lisa decided to throw a wedding for the two horses. Max, knew someone who was due to get married, but they had to cancel the wedding. Guess what happened! That’s right! The wedding that the girls planned for the horses got used for Max friends. To me, that is very unbelievable. I don’t recommend this show, but that is only my opinion“. And apologies for the spoilers there.
MELINDA responded with “i am sick of all the ppl his are baggin it out you all need to get i life and i speak for all the ppl who love the show so get over it all u losers who thinks its a waste of time your a waste of time“. Strong thoughts indeed. But perhaps aimless-46 from Kentucky summed it up best: “If you don’t want or need a straightforward story about the values of friendship, personal responsibility, and saddle club hugs; then don’t watch“.
“Saddle club hugs” = Brokeback Mountain. With horses.
The game: Purchased at the truly brilliant Also Fabulous op-shop in downtown Smith Street, Fitzroy, The Saddle Club Show Jumping Game was in immaculate condition. So immaculate we decided it was owned by a girl called Mikhala who guarded it with a ferocious love (finding some long blonde hairs in the box only confirmed this idea). All the original parts were there, even the stickers!
The board represents a show-jumping course with eight obstacles you must clear before completing the course. Charmingly, the game pieces are plastic horses, although they’re not the most graceful of quadrupeds – they tend to fall over when left unattended. They’re also brightly-coloured, which rarely happens in real life, perhaps proving Raven Unknown’s point. This is also the only game we have looked at which has eschewed the traditional “green” piece in favour of a “hot pink” one.
The game play is straight-forward enough – the players must complete the course, including all jumps, as well as collecting cards from the Ticket and Judge spaces. Once they have done this they must roll the exact number to land on the finish line. You can choose to go in any direction and the jumps can be attempted in any order. The “jump” mechanism is also simple – arriving at an obstacle, you take a card to see if you see if your jump was successful. Most of the time, you will fail. Exactly what this does to a small girl’s self-esteem is uncertain.
Looking through the score cards we discovered that the game had not been previously owned by a Mikhala at all, but by Monique. Monique‘s arch-nemesis appears to have been Eliza, although Sinead, Mum, Nanna and Dad have also played the game, as well as Hugo in what appears to have been a severely truncated session. We wondered what became of Monique – the group consensus was that she probably grew up to be the marketing manager for a major bank, finally realising her dream of owning a real horse, but due to her her work commitments she rarely gets to visit it. Did you win, in the end, Monique? Or did you lose?
Does it match the source material? It’s a game about horse jumping, which is a good start. Beyond that, however, it is a fairly generic horse-related game. There’s not a lot to definitively tie the game to The Saddle Club and not any other horse-related drama, such as National Velvet: The Next Generation, or that modern re-imagining of Mister Ed where it’s all dark and gritty and a metaphor for Iraq, or something. I certainly didn’t learn anything about the values of friendship, personal responsibility and saddle club hugs, but I did have a nice time.
Verdict: The test team expected this game to totally suck and were pleased to discover it didn’t. A surprisingly enjoyable game, The Saddle Club Show Jumping Game would be a perfect gift for a small girl with a gymkhana fixation. And certainly more pleasurable to hearing any of The Saddle Club songs ever again. Like this one:
Final thoughts: “I could imagine playing that again”, “I liked the way the horses kept falling over, it gave you something to do with your hands”, “I got the second-quickest time in AM7!”.
Read the previous entries in this series – The James Bond Secret Agent Game, the Thunderbirds International Rescue Game and The Young Talent Time Game. You can also listen to the Boxcutters episode about TV-themed boardgames. Leave your comments below!