I've played all of the Horsez/Pippa Funnell games, and this one is by far the best of the lot. The storyline, while not the epitome of realism, it fun and engaging. Flora, the protagonist, is a willful rider who's story you follow as she joints an Italian Riding Academy. She's a real laugh, stubborn and hot-headed without taking it to the point you dislike her. As well as horse care and engaging in dressage, showjumping and cross-country training, you get to interact with Flora's riding classmates, train a foal, as well as researching for dressage and foal care in the library and shopping for yourself, outfits and your horse.
I really liked the weekly schedule timetable. Simple and effective. You get full control over what you want to do, and at set intervals adventures pop up. These are really challenging, really keep you on your toes and working to get a result - it's not for seven year olds, I'd recommend an age of at least ten to handle the difficultly.
Gaming wise, the dressage is by far the best of any of these games, this one is the winning formula. Movements are carried out by pressing the arrow keys and control button at the right time in the indicated sequence. There's no having to follow tracks on the ground (the actual horse movements are automatic providing you get the keys right) and a great bonus, not having to memorize the sequence THEN apply it - you press as the indicator scrolls right in front of you. Brilliantly done, after a little practice to get timing right and a good concentration it's possible to score over 9 each time.
Showjumping is nicely set up too, not too complex, but not too dull so it bores you. Unlike the next Horses (#4, Secrets of the Ranch) jumps are not restricted by speed, you simply have to take off in the right place, during the green indicator bar.
Cross-country is much of the same as Showjumping except with a better takeoff indicator. Stabilizing the speed at one set pace before jumping and a successful jump allows a faster gallop for a short period. This was very useful between jumps, and required good use of timing, which just takes a few tried to adapt to.
The storyline is very nice, with pleasant cutscenes and interesting chaarcters. Most of the familiar faces from the second Pippa Funnel Game, Take the Reins, return - Estaben, Spike, Ginger and Kiew. Romantics (remember the teen-girl age bracket here!) will cheer on Flora as she not only partakes in riding competitions but wins the heart of a certain teammate ;)
The graphics are gorgeous, particularly the background scenes. Detail to culture and environment is impeccable - you really get the feel of being in Italy, China or France as each section progresses from place to place. The accents I find particularly enjoyable. Some of them are a bit stereotypical - you can tell Sameul is a 'cool DJ dude' by the way he speaks - but you could easily recognize which character as which by the sound of their voice.
A few faults - during cutscenes background music almost overwhelms the speaking, despite changes to the sound settings. A map would be very useful for walks on horseback - the maps do have some tricky spots, especially for directionally challenged people like me, who can't tell where things are in relation to one another and have to gallop around frantically, looking for the current goal.
I played this on Windows 7 with no loading problems or bugs, though I either cannot load or cannot play due to game bugs #1 or #2 (Stud Farm Inheritance and Take the Reins) and have to go back to using a computer with XP for the,.
All round a very enjoyable game - Flora and Miguel to appear again in Secrets of the Ranch (Although apparently the game designers opted to rename Miguel 'Micheal' although pronunciation of his name was fairly obvious since it was being spoken by chaarcters all the time... can;t argue with some people though!) but only as secondary chaarcters. I'd adore another game set from Flora's fiery perspective - this game barely keeps be occupied for a week, needs to be longer!