It is interesting to go back and read an earlier novel by an author whose later work you have so enjoyed. Water for Elephants was such a strong and powerful story with rich character development. It clearly shows how far Sara Gruen has matured in her writing style. I would have been a reluctant reader of Water.. had I read Riding Lessons first.
Annemarie Zimmer was an Olympian hopeful equestrian when a tragic accident destroyed her dreams and nearly herself. In a jumping accident her horse, Harry, injures her and himself. He is euthanized and she is in a coma for weeks. She gives up riding and becomes a journalist, marries Roger, and is mother to Eva. As the story commences Annemarie loses her job, Roger announces he is leaving her for another woman, and Eva, a fifteen year old, declares she is quitting school. Shortly thereafter she receives a call from her mother, Mutti, that her father is suffering from ALS and does not have long to live. Annemarie and Eva return to the family horse farm to help out and to start a new life. Needless to say, life really doesn't get much better. In one catastrophe after another, Annemarie manages to catapult the farm to the brink of bankruptcy, alienate her daughter, and drive a wedge between herself and a former boyfriend, now veterinarian, Dan Garibaldi.
Dan runs a rescue shelter for horses and acquires a horse that is remarkably similar to the brindling, Harry, that was so close to her heart. Annemarie crusades that this is really a brother to Harry and risks all to prove it, including her own arrest. She will stop at nothing to prove the horse is Highland Hurrah. She watches as her father's health deteriorates and finds it hard to relate to both her mother and daughter.
Riding Lessons is a novel about relationships - between mother and daughter, Mutti and Annemarie and Annemarie and Eva, between husband and wife, between men and women, and between horse and rider. Annemarie is not a particularly likable character. She seems egocentric and unable tor not willing to relate to her mother's pain or her daughter's situation. She is short-tempered, and sulky, feeling so sorry for herself.
The read was very quick. Gruen's craft at this stage in her career was superficial writing without much depth or characterization beyond two dimensional. It required little involvement on the part of the reader and I was able to read most of it in a 5 hour car trip. If you want a quick romance that has a good dose of horses in it, this would be a book for you.