Book Review Winnie the Horse Gentler Book 8: Buckskin Bandit

2019 November 24

In this last book of the series, I hoped to see improvement in Winnie’s attitudes and relationships with her family. Mackall kept me hanging until almost the end of the book.

buckskin bandit horse book review

First, there’s not much of a horse story here. This book has probably the least about horses of any book in the series. A school friend, Kaylee Hsu, doesn’t have her own horse, but over several summers has ridden Buckskin Bandit at the Happy Trails riding stable. When she visits the stable that spring, Bandit is not the friendly horse she’d known in the past. Kaylee contacts Winnie for help.

I could make out tiny scars on his rump and sides. It didn’t take much imagination to picture the whip and spurs that had made those marks.

“Kaylee,” I said, gripping the stall door so hard I felt splinters under my fingernails, “this horse has been abused.” p. 9

It was never clear why the man running Happy Trails would abuse a horse that the stable’s income relied upon. That didn’t make sense to me. The horse is also described as being thin and fearful. From a horse-lover's perspective, it seems like abuse, but quite honestly, I doubt that Bandit’s condition would be enough to convince a humane society he was being abused.

The theme of the book is taken from Romans 12:15. Mackall quotes it from the NLT translation.

When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow.

The Scriptural theme came through pretty strongly in this book. Winnie has a hard time sharing in the joy of others, repeatedly thinking that life wasn’t "fair.”

The girls later discover Bandit hidden in a back pasture at Happy Trails. They use a natural training technique known as Join-Up to gain his trust. This typically requires a relatively small, contained area, but they’re able to accomplish it in the field. That's possible I suppose, considering the horse had been gentle in the past. (See a demonstration of Join-Up in the video below. Note the small pen and tall walls.)

Lizzie’s birthday is on March 23 and Winnie’s the following day. For one day each year, the girls are the same age. Hawk plans a birthday party for Winnie, but Winnie isn’t happy about it. Her birthday reminds her of her mother’s death. The horse she and her mother had been going to look at when the accident occurred was to be a birthday gift for Winnie.

When Winnie receives a school assignment to invent something, she finally has the full attention of her father, who is excited to help her. They work on an invention called the Magnificent Multishower with twelve shower heads placed around the shower stall. Winnie enjoys her father’s attention, but Mr. Willis becomes obsessed with the project, making Winnie work late nights and early mornings  with him.

Winnie’s invention doesn’t win the school competition, but surprisingly her sister’s does. Mr. Willis shifts his attention to Lizzy, ignoring Winnie. The state competition is the day after the school one—the same day as Winnie’s birthday. Mr. Willis chooses to attend the event with Lizzy and cancels Winnie’s birthday party. Is any “normal” person really that bad of a parent?

While Lizzy and Mr. Willis are at the state competition, Winnie finds a surprising ally in her quest to rescue Bandit—her father’s “friend” Madeline. Winnie has resented Madeline up till now. When Winnie tells her about the horse being abused, Madeline reveals that her son Mason’s condition was due to abuse by his father (her then-husband).

“I ran into the nursery. And there was Mason, lying on the floor next to the wall. He wasn’t moving.” p. 164

“Mason’s father had thrown his son against the wall to make him stop crying.” p. 165

Obviously, this kind of horrible abuse does occur in real life, but that’s a pretty heavy topic for the intended age range for this series. :(

Madeline didn’t have a photographic memory, but she didn’t need one. That picture of Mason was burned into her mind as deeply as the picture of Mom’s accident was carved into mine. p. 167

Madeline, Winnie, and Kaylee are joined at the Happy Trails stable by the police and the humane society.

When they return home from the police station, Winnie is surprised. All her friends are there to celebrate her birthday. Her dad had finally come to his senses and realized he shouldn’t have canceled the party. :)

It seems Winnie and her dad are possibly on a good path now—as well as Winnie and Madeline. It wasn’t a totally satisfying conclusion. It almost seems as if there was supposed to be at least one more book for full closure. I was hoping for more of a "happily-ever-after" ending, but it is only a book after all, and the characters aren’t real. :)


Photographic Memory

On another note, Winnie's photographic memory is mentioned in each book in the series. I was curious about that and did some internet sleuthing. It's believed that photographic or eidetic memory doesn't really exist—at least not the ability to retain long-term, fully-detailed images. Apparently, the bold images typically fade within minutes. People who do have better-than-normal visual memories are almost always children, up to the age of twelve. It seems young children have more of a need for the visual. As language skills develop more fully, this visual photography diminishes and is eventually replaced by language.



Mackall referred to this natural training technique when the girls were trying to get Bandit to trust them.

Although trainer Monty Roberts didn’t invent the “Join-Up” technique, he did trademark the phrase. Other natural horse trainers, present and past, have used similar methods. Monty Roberts has a controversial background, most likely exaggerating events from his past in order to sell books—including abuse by his father and his father’s alleged cruel horse-training methods.

But without a doubt, he is an amazing horse trainer. This video demonstrates “Join Up.” Skip to about the four-minute mark to go straight to the section where Roberts actually starts working the horse.

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  • V Watson

    V Watson 1 year ago 0

    Thanks for your comments, Meg. I agree kids are exposed to more now than before. And that is not a good thing! Imagine the difference from my view - I was 8 in 1966! Far different world now.

    I mention the abuse of the baby because I think some/many? parents would want to avoid exposing their eight-year-old to that kind of thing. My goal is to make parents aware. Then, they can make an informed choice about the book. Some of the topics still strike me as strange to include in a horse series aimed at younger kids/girls.

    Regarding photographic memories, there's no doubt some people have stronger visual memories than others. But studies have never proven a truly "photographic" memory. I agree that traumatic memories would be ingrained more deeply and therefore more readily recalled.

    I forget which book it's in, but in one, Winnie perfectly visualizes a list of items the teacher had written on the board and one of the students erased. That's the type of ability, from what I've read, that has never been proven.

    This is a wiki article on the topic. Not the most reliable source, perhaps, but they do link to research studies for further reading.

  • Meg

    Meg 1 year ago 0

    Just thought I’d throw this out there.... as one whose had a photographic memory all my life, it absolutely doesn’t disappear at age 12. :) it’s stuck with me since I was born and 26 years later still has images from my childhood, and unfortunately most long-standing images are either from more hurtful memories or really great ones. Yes there are also short term photos my brain takes that don’t stay forever (like when I need to find something in the house usually my mind pulls up a picture with the object in the last place I saw it), or if you would verbally tell me your name I’ll forget it, but if I read it off a name tag I’ll remember it later from the picture of the name tag in my head. I wish it woulda made me a better student, but I don’t pick how long an image will last, and most images usually pertain to something that is important to me or I am interested in, and most school subjects never made that cut.
    Also I just wanted to say that I was a Winnie reader as a child and also after I “grew up” I reread the series. Keep in mind this book was written in 2004, 16 years ago, and things were completely different back then. For one, very few of my friends had a cell phone, relationships were more face to face instead of cyber. I think the topic of abuse was much heavier then in 2004 then it would be to a reader in 2020. I came from a homeschooled background and have had worked with kids in the community through a Christian youth program, and it amazes me the things kids know now at ages as young as 8-10, learning stuff I wasn’t told until I was 14. Innocence is lost at a younger and younger age, and that breaks my heart. The way that this book portrays the abusive situation does not give glory to the abuse, but rather shows that one persons actions and sin against another has lifelong effects on others. I think that is a very valuable lesson and is something kids need to know in a generation where things such as cyber bullying is super rampant because people feel they can comfortably hit send from their couches at home but say hurtful things they would never say to someone’s face.
    Anyways, just my thoughts on the review.

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