Very Young Rider

very young rider

Very Young Rider

Submitter: While in the much-needed process of updating our sports non-fiction collection for kids, I was flipping through this book, since it seemed to be in fairly good physical condition. Our library acquired it in ’84. Though obviously dated, the photos and content didn’t seem too bad at all, and since we have a small collection and budget I was debating holding onto it for a smidgen longer until I found a good replacement. That is until I came across this excerpt (which we have also included for your enjoyment):

“I love cotton candy but it’s so fattening. When I get older like Debby, I’ll have to go on a diet. Debby’s always on a diet or else George gets after her. Once she went on a pure liquid diet and almost fainted in school. I have to watch my weight now a little bit. You don’t want to get too heavy for your pony. There’s nothing uglier than a fat rider on a horse.”

The book swiftly rode out the gate and leaped over the fence into discards.

Holly: Yeah, that’s probably not the message today’s young riders should hear.  Buh-bye, Young Rider!

  1. Comments open! Sorry giant fail on my part. I swear I check the appropriate box …. running and hiding now!

  2. Too bad about the one paragraph. It sounds like it would’ve been a good keeper for the small collection/budget…

  3. A note from a rider: this book is considered a bit of a classic, (was even on Horse Illustrated’s best 30 horse books) and honestly, the show world is fierce. You could easily lose ribbons and catch rides by being overweight. Even George Morris, who literally wrote the book on hunter-seat equitation very recently commented in a horse magazine in which he has a coloumn where he critques riders, the this one lady might ride better if she lost weight.

  4. @neigh: yep, it’s realistic. And a classic. It’s too bad there isn’t a modern edition of the book.

  5. I loved this book as a kid! I also loved the ballerina one. I never did either myself, but it was fun to dream.

  6. I think this book may have been part of a series. I remember having a book called “A Very Young Dancer”. I loved this book because is was a behind the scenes peek at a girl in the School of American Ballet, which feeds into the New York City Ballet, and documented various aspects of the life you wouldn’t really think about. I remember it described the height restriction on dancers; you couldn’t continue in the school if you got too tall or stayed too short. Despite being a potential minefield for weight issues, I don’t remember anything terrible about weight.

  7. The book is a classic, as stated above, and all-too correct about the judges looking at the rider’s habitus as well as the horse’s. I was steered out of hunter/jumper and into western pleasure because I am more-or-less pear shaped. Well within my healthy weight, but not “built” to look good on a hunter/jumper in a show. To which I said “thpppth.” I’ll ride what I like and the judges can go jump in a watering trough.

  8. I have another book in that series — A Very Young Dancer — and the pictures are similarly dated. Worse, the language is similarly eating disordery. Way to make young girls feel good about themselves, Jill.

  9. I remember this series from my childhood- I had this book and the ice skating version- and loved them. While I’m acutely aware of fat politics and the horrible ways in which weight is demonised in our culture, I’m less offended to see it here, because it’s in an athletic context. Apart from that last line about ugliness, which is just wrong and judgemental, weight consciousness in athletes is a different issue than weight issues in everyday life. Were she talking about not eating normally, it would be worrisome, but cotton candy’s a luxury food anyway, and I don’t think an athlete pointing out that it may not be her best choice is quite the same as endorsing eating disorders.

    That said, it’s a shame there isn’t a more modern version of this series. Kids today might find the 70’s images more amusing than informative.

  10. ‘There’s nothing uglier than a fat rider on a horse’ – I had more consideration for the poor horse who get an overweight lady on its back…

  11. As others have stated, this books seems to be part of a series. We have several “A Very Young…” books (circus performer, dancer, figure skater, etc), although I had not realized the eating disorder-inspiring message contained in the text. It would be terrific if the series was updated because they are really terrific otherwise.

  12. First, you stay thin to please your horse. Gets you in practice to please your man. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Yes, these books are lovely inside looks at the performance/competition world. Jill-update, girlfriend!

  13. My 2 cents…. I am now 44 and spent the better part of my adult life riding and training horses. Because i am small, my specialty is training ponies. Whenever i teach a rider, young or old, i stress the importance of, and the responsibility of the rider to remain fit for her mount.

    I am not sure i would weed this book because it IS a classic. I believe today’s young adult would be able to realize that the statements in this book pertaining to weight are a little ridiculous. How truly damaging is that particular expert in this book when girls today are bombarded by over-sexual images in all media outlets.

    Too bad you didn’t post any cute pony pictures! – Liz

  14. How truly damaging is that particular ***expert in this book when girls today are bombarded by over-sexual images in all media outlets.

    *** EXCERPT

  15. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it that’s written by Vonnegut’s widow. She wrote a series of children’s books.

  16. I think the problem with the wording is that it isn’t framed in an athletic context, even if the book is about an athletic pursuit. It would be better to say that I will have to make sure I eat a healthy diet as I grow older, rather than saying I will have to go on a diet.

    There is something wrong with an equestrian coach, no matter how experienced, giving dietary advice, unless he or she has some credentials beyond winning a horse show. As a librarian, you wouldn’t give medical or legal advice, so why wouldn’t you refer patrons to an expert in dietary matters as well? I would fully agree with weeding this book.

  17. There’s a difference between forgoing cotton candy and going on a liquid diet that makes you faint.

  18. I weeded that title a couple years ago. I too wanted to hold onto it until I had replacements, but it was sooo dated!

  19. I loved this book as a kid. And I grew up to be a very old, good, and overweight rider. I don’t remember the dieting advice in it, but it was pretty much a common reality of teenagers I knew – not just the athletes – that starving yourself was what was necessary for existence. Doctors encouraged it. Parents encouraged it and coaches and trainers for SURE encouraged it. They probably still do. The “George” of whom she speaks is George Morris, a trainer and teacher and chef d’equip of the Sydney olympics who constantly tells little girls they are too fat. Unless you are anorexic, he will tell you you are fat. He teaches Hunters, which is very beauty pageant like, and the way around that ridiculousness, as another poster suggested, is to choose another riding discipline. Good riding counts way more than weight in terms of your horse’s carrying ability, so don’t let that kind of criticism scare you away from taking lessons.

    Yes it should be weeded because of that paragraph, but that is unfortunate, because otherwise it is a really nice book.

  20. I will admit that I still own this book–I received it as a gift when I was a little younger than the narrator, and I can’t bear to get rid of it! I agree that it’s out of date and we need something newer in the public library, but I like the way it’s structured, where you can see how the narrator trained and cared for her horse, and then the example of the older sister gives you a look at more advanced competition. Maybe they can re-word that bit about being too heavy for your pony to say that you need to get a bigger pony or upgrade to a horse as you grow–no one wants to crush their pony, right?

  21. a) no person is ever going to crush a horse. that’s not going to happen. don’t act like that’s a realistic consideration.
    b) cotton candy is just sugar. so by definition it is not fattening.
    c) promoting eating disorders is never ok.
    d) I feel a little creeped out by these “child prodigy” books. they always made me feel inadequate, as a kid, for not having a professional career, yet. I think there’s a reason there isn’t an update.

  22. This has actually got to be one of my favorite books of all time, so I was shocked to see it here! I actually remember staying up late one night when I was about seven and painstakingly copying the words by nightlight from the library book I had to return the following day. The other day I even pulled the copy I eventually found at a used bookstore (years before Amazon made such finds a click away) off the shelf for a shot of nostalgia.

    Despite the admittedly dated photographs (which don’t really seem as dated now as they were when I first read it in the eighties, and bellbottoms were considered revolting), this book remains a valid and exciting view into the behind-the-scenes world of young riders who show competitively. Just as Krementz’s other works give kids a peek into the lives of competitive gymnasts, circus performers, ballerinas, etc., it’s a fascinating look into a world that requires intense dedication and hard work, and in which not everyone has the financial reserves or physical capabilities to participate. Sure, maybe this passage sounds a little harsh, but aren’t we all saying that most kids eat ridiculous amounts of junk food, and need to make healthier choices (I mean, she’s talking about needing to not eat so much cotton candy, after all!)?

    This passage isn’t attempting to delineate what makes you a good person, or more happy, or something; it’s in regards to developing athletic fitness to better excel at a sport that requires it. I think pro-weeders might be reading this isolated passage through their own (eating disorder- and bullying-sensitive, non-equestrian, and perhaps “kids-are-too-fragile-and-need-us-to-protect-them-from-scary-thoughts-or-possible-self-reflection”) eyes, and not as kids might read it. I always read the comment about her sister nearly fainting from being on a liquid diet, as a condemnation of how idiotic such diets could be, and not as some sort of endorsement. It’s a pretty basic fact of most high-level athletics (and life in general) that you should try to eat foods that are good for you, and cut back on those that aren’t.

    Just throwing in my two cents as a rider who loved this book and didn’t get a negative, eating-disorder-y vibe reading it, despite being kinda chunky growing up:) There are too many good lessons in this book about hard-work, responsibility, dedication, and the fun of riding, to toss it out because one line makes us nervous as introspective, empathetic adults. It’s not like kids have never heard anything like this before from peers, TV, their parents, or even other books, or that it’s really so shocking a statement, especially considering what other negative messages are being broadcast to them every day.

    Keep it! Keep it!!

  23. I’m amazed that there is this much criticism about a statement made by a nine-year old in a book talking about what she does on a daily basis. It would be a great lesson for teaching healthy eating which is what the paragraph is about. Awful book? No Realistic portrait of our society? yes

  24. Does this really need to be weeded because of that one paragraph? Unfortunately, you’ll find that sort of thinking in a lot of books. It doesn’t seem feasible to make that a criterion for keeping or not keeping a book.

  25. Oh please… this is not a “bit of a classic.” It’s an undisputed total classic and highly collectible. Copies now go for over 100 bucks. Jill Krementz was Kurt Vonnegut’s wife. Only utter cluelessness would put this gem into the discard pile. The willingness to be offended by this is more offensive than anything a nine-year-old might have to say about cotton candy.

  26. I owned and loved this book as a horse-crazy little girl. Our family was too poor to own our own house, let alone the horse I always wanted; for me and countless other kids, this book was a treasured window into a daydream world (and to my knowledge, none of us became anorexic or bulimic as a result). It’s a shame to see thin-skinned, literal-minded political correctness eliminate a classic (to say nothing of letting it dictate weeding guidelines).