Book Review: The A Circuit

I’ve just finished reading the first three books in the A-Circuit series by Georgina Bloomberg and Catherine Hapka, (The A Circuit (May 2011), My Favorite Mistake (February 2012) and Off Course (November 13, 2012).

As you probably know (if you follow the real-life A Circuit), Georgina is the daughter of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and is competing quite successfully in open jumper classes. Here’s a link to her round on her horse High Rise last week, which clinched the Women’s Team win in the Nespresso Battle of the Sexes, a fun event at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida.

Georgina rode hunters until 2001, winning Best Child Rider awards at every major show on the East Coast. When she moved up to jumpers, she continued her winning ways nationally and internationally.

If you’re a young rider, or aspire to be one, don’t let the green-eyed monster whisper in your ear, “Yeah, but it’s easy for her. Her family is rich and buys her push-button horses.”

The best-bred, best-schooled, most expensive horse in the world won’t carry you to the kind of wins Georgina has racked up. The girl has skill and guts, and she’s been part of the A-Circuit for most of her young life. She’s also become an ambassador for horse sports and horse welfare. Chairwoman of the Horse Council of the Humane Society of the U.S. is just one of her many philanthropic titles.

In 2006 Georgina started The Rider’s Closet, a program that has collected thousands of used riding clothes and donated them to intercollegiate programs and other riders in need. A portion of the sale of her books goes to the Equestrian Aid Foundation.

Pretty cool, huh?

Knowing her background, I expected a lot from Georgina’s books–an accurate insider’s view of the A-Circuit, including the relationships of top riders to their mounts, their coaches and their friends, and the nail-biting events that shape the course of their careers. I also expected her to dish a little about the unsavory side of life on the circuit riders behaving badly under the pressure to win or to satisfy their parents or their own egos. We all like a little dirt, along with cheering for the good guys and underdogs to win.

Unfortunately, I think Georgina and Catherine, her co-writer, failed to live up to their potential in The A Circuit. Having spent many years in the horse world, I know that it is peopled with unforgettable characters. I’m disappointed that the authors didn’t dig deeper into their personal experience rather than resorting to the stereotypical Tommi (billionaire heiress), Kate (poor girl grooming so she can ride), Fitz (rich playboy) and Zara, the totally unlikeable daughter of a rock star and actress, neither of which give her any love or supervision.

Tommi and Kate are likeable in their own way, and Fitz has his good moments, but none of them really grow on us in this first book in the series. Kate, who is in danger of becoming as OCD as her mother, should be the heroine of the A Circuit, but she’s just not strong enough. She cowers rather than standing up for herself. What does the suave Fitz see in her–or is this simply another conquest for him?

I kept hoping that Zara–a total screw-up and a danger to horses and people–would learn her lesson, or have an epiphany, or get kicked out of the barn, or be grounded forever by her absentee parents. But she continues to get away with outrageous behavior. In the real world, no coach of Jamie?s caliber would allow her to stay in his barn. I know I’ll keep reading the other books in the series until something happens to her!

The A Circuit sets the stage and gives us vignettes of the principal characters, but doesn’t have much of a story line. Readers are left thinking about the drunken party at the barn during which a horse is hurt and the riders are more worried about who’s to blame than calling a vet. I’d like to see the characters care more about their horses than themselves.

I’m trying to imagine George Morris (Jamie, the coach who runs Pelham Lane, reminds me of him.) allowing his underage students to indulge in wild drinking parties at night while they’re participating in high-stakes shows during the day. I’m also trying to imagine their parents not insisting on some supervision while their kids are away from home.

That said, I was interested enough to keep turning the pages. The ending left me hanging, but intrigued enough to want to see what happens in the next book, My Favorite Mistake.

The A Circuit is available in hardback ($16.99) and paperback ($9.99) from Bloomsbury Publishing.

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