Girls and Their Horses Is a Delicious Thriller for the Saddle Club Set

Books Reviews Eliza Jane Brazier
Girls and Their Horses Is a Delicious Thriller for the Saddle Club Set

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that there’s nothing quite like girls and their horses. Whether we grew up with them or wanted them or just spent an exceptional amount of time reading every book in the Saddle Club series multiple times, almost every woman, at some point, has gone through a horse phase. So perhaps the real surprise of author Eliza Jane Brazier’s latest novel, Girls and Their Horses, is that it hasn’t existed before now, the sort of addictive, messy, perfect-for-summer thriller that every one of those horse girls, both past and future, will immediately embrace. 

Set in the high-stress world of competitive showjumping, with all its overbearing parents, toxic coaches, and mean-girl cliques, Girls and Their Horses is part murder mystery, part coming-of-age tale, and part delightful voyeuristic dive into the dark corners of a world most of us have, at one point, probably longed to see. As a result, every horse girl in your life will thrill at this biting, satirical gem, which thoroughly eviscerates both the extravagant lifestyles of the 1% and the hyperspecific weirdness of horse culture all at once. 

From overzealous barn mothers who push their children to compete and backstabbing, often toxic relationships formed between the girls who train together to the severe class divides that tend to mean only certain types of people get to ride, the story is both an uncomfortable expose and a thoroughly enjoyable guilty pleasure. A propulsive, addictive read, there are moments where Girls and Their Horses feels like it was engineered in a lab to be read poolside by bookclubs everywhere. 

The story follows the Parker family, who relocates to ritzy Rancho Sante Fe, California when dad Jeff suddenly becomes a billionaire. The Texas transplants immediately assume that their newfound nouveau riche status will fix all the problems in their lives and relationships with each other. And mom Heather is determined that their money will give her daughters, Piper and Maple, all the things she herself missed out on, including and most importantly: Horses. She’s eager to sign them both up to train at the swanky nearby Rancho Sante Fe Equestrian Center nearby, but although eldest daughter Piper is a natural rider, she resents her mother’s overbearing demeanor and younger sibling Maple is timid and afraid of horses. Undeterred, Heather essentially forces Maple to begin lessons with the club’s megalomaniacal head trainer Kieran, decking her out in the most expensive sort of riding gear and buying her a horse that literally costs a million dollars. If you can’t be the part, you at least have to look the part, right?

Along the way, they become entangled with the rest of the barn’s employees and regulars, including handsome womanizer Douglas who rides professionally, and ex-addict Pamela, Kieran’s right-hand barn mom who is both broke and lying to everyone about her financial problems. Always on the lookout for rich clients to exploit, she’s hoping to manipulate Heather into using her money to up the status of their operation by paying for a better—read: more expensive—class of show horses. Pamela’s chaos gremlin daughter Vida is charged with babysitting (read: sucking up to) Maple, but may or may not be working to sabotage her out of jealousy that Heather’s wealth gives the younger girl so many more opportunities than she herself has. 

Soon, strange events around the barn—spooked horses, broken equipment, sudden falls that seem as though someone engineered them—have everyone on edge, until someone finally turns up dead. (This isn’t a spoiler, the death is revealed on the novel’s first page before the story rewinds backward to six months earlier.)  Brazier smartly declines to reveal the victim of the story’s central murder investigation until three-fourths of the way through the novel, allowing suspects, motives, and potential murder scenarios to pile up to an almost unbearable degree. There’s a point in this book where you’ll fully believe almost any of its primary characters could be dead by the end of it, and that half as many of the rest could have done the deed.

 As a result, the pages positively fly by—don’t be surprised if you finish this one within a day or two—and the story includes everything from underage drinking and unplanned pregnancies to animal doping and equipment tampering, and that’s on top of the whole murder mystery chugging along in the background. But what’s perhaps most remarkable about Brazier’s writing is that her characters, no aren’t one-dimensional stereotypes. Sure, there’s plenty of cathartic commentary about the general ridiculousness of rich people problems, but rather than settle for upper-crust caricatures, the author works hard to make her characters’ decisions are, if not outright sympathetic, at least understandable ones, whether they’re riders trying to buy their way into a world they could never otherwise reach, scammers trying to make good, or former favorites trying to hold on to what they once had.

Despite the fact that Girls and Their Horses is set in a very specific world where danger and the threat of harm seem to lurk on the other side of every jump, the emotional themes it explores are fairly universal ones. An exploration of everything from helicopter parenting and the dangers of trying to live vicariously through someone else’s accomplishments to whether winning at all costs is worth it if it turns you into something you don’t recognize, Girls and Their Horses deserves a spot in the winner’s circle of the summer reading stakes.

Girls and Their Horses is available now wherever books are sold. 

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

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