In Dayle Campbelle Gaetz’s Taking the Reins, we are introduced to Katherine, a capable, independent British girl whose family has settled on a struggling farm in the colony of British Columbia, circa 1862. She has a gift for handling horses and skilfully uses this knowledge to help her family throughout this fast-paced Young Adult novel. Emma, another fourteen-year-old recently arrived from Britain, meets Katherine when her father buys her a horse and expects her to learn how to ride it.
Emma’s largest obstacle is her fear of horses. As she overcomes this fear, she also overcomes her shyness and reluctance to befriend people, as her tumultuous voyage to Canada taught her to be wary and mistrustful of strangers. Meanwhile, Katherine’s reluctance to adhere to her parents’ wishes and her drive to act on her own when adults refuse to listen to her are refreshing in so young a heroine. These two stories together create relatable themes and an enjoyable story for young adult readers.
Unravelling the mystery behind Emma’s past and her stubborn desire to learn to ride a horse on her own terms alongside the disparity between the girls’ education and working conditions creates a delightful and educational first-person exploration of 19th-century Canadian life. Taking the Reins is a superb book for anyone who likes stories of friendships in adversity and of course, horses.
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