Taking part in another Blog Hop, this one from Christine at Horse Country Book!
From Chapter 3 of my upcoming novel Five Stride Line (Pony Jumpers #5):
“There’s a Pony Club rally tomorrow,” I told Katy the following afternoon as we groomed our ponies before our ride.
“Ugh, I know.” She ran her body brush over Molly’s gleaming hindquarters. “Mum’s trying to make me go because they have some coach coming to do a desensitising clinic and she thinks it’s the perfect time to take Rascal back to his owners and show how much improved he is.”
“Rebel,” I corrected her for the thousandth time. “His name is Rebel, not Rascal.”
Katy looked at me. “What?”
“The roan pony that you’re schooling,” I clarified, and she nodded. “His name’s Rebel.”
“No it’s not.”
I grinned. “Yeah it is. Squib used to graze with him, remember?”
“Really?” Katy looked confused, then shrugged. “Oh well, same difference. Either way it’s a stupid name for such a well-behaved pony. I’ve got no idea what those muppets who own him were on about when they said he’s naughty. He hasn’t put a foot wrong since he got here.”
“Nervous riders make nervous horses,” I said, remembering how petrified Alyssa was of her pony.
“If she doesn’t want her pony to go forward when she puts her leg on, she should buy a tricycle,” Katy said. “I can’t stand kids who scream and grab at the reins the second their ponies move faster than a snail’s pace. Poor Rascal, having to go back to them.”
“So he is going back?”
“Yeah, I’m sick of riding him and I think they’re sick of paying me when every time they ring up to find out how he’s going I just say the same thing. As well-behaved as he was the day he arrived. Which he has been, but as soon as they get him back and he puts a toe out of line, they’re going to accuse me of lying or being a useless trainer, and send him to someone else, throwing more money at the exact same problem. Yet somehow buying the kid some lessons never crosses their mind.”
“The funny thing is, her little sister would be able to ride him,” I said, thinking of Carrie’s bubbly enthusiasm. “But Sandra would never allow it.”
“Ugh. Parents are stupid,” Katy muttered, just as her mother appeared around the side of the building, leading the roan pony we’d been discussing. I’d have been mortified if my mother heard me say anything like that, but Deb seemed to take the insults for granted.
“I hope you’re talking about your father, not me,” was all she said as she tied Rebel to a ring in the wall and started taking his covers off.
“Actually I was talking about the people who own Rascal,” Katy told her mother.
“Rebel,” I said, but my correction fell again on deaf ears.
“They’ll be here in half an hour,” Deb told Katy, who looked stunned.
“Rascal’s owners. They’re coming to have a ride and see how Alicia gets on with him, if there’s any improvement. I told you that last night.”
“It’s Alyssa,” I interjected, but neither of them heard me.
“You did not! You said I had to take him to Pony Club, not that they were coming to ride him.”
Deb sighed and started explaining that the owners thought they might want to take him to Pony Club themselves, and she’d had to convince them to come and ride him again first. Katy made a lot of grumpy interruptions and I just listened wryly to their argument as I finished picking out Squib’s hooves, checking carefully around his white line for any embedded stones. Katy’s arena had quite a bit of fine gravel mixed into the surface, and it was notorious for getting trapped inside Squib’s white line, which could cause bruising or abscesses if I wasn’t vigilant about it.
Once his hooves were done, I lifted Squib’s saddle onto his back, setting it too far forward and then sliding it back to make sure the hairs under his saddle blanket didn’t get ruffled the wrong way. Reaching under his belly for the girth, I pulled it up snugly but not too tight, then gave his solid neck a firm pat.
Deb went off to get some brushes for Rebel, and Katy looked over at me with a pained expression.
“Ugh. Now we can’t go over to the Fitzherberts’ today, because we won’t have time to ride there and back before these people turn up to see Rascal or Ratbag or whatever you said his name is.”
“Rebel,” she repeated, looking at the pony with some scepticism. “I’m never going to remember that. I guess we’ll have to ride these two in the arena.”
I pulled a face at her. “Squib wanted to go for a hack.”
“Well, tell him that we can’t always have what we want,” Katy replied curtly. “Sometimes life just bites you in the butt and you have to get used to it.”
“Speaking of that, have you heard from Tess?” I asked, but Katy shook her head.
“Nope, not since Dad dropped her home a fortnight ago. You?” I shook my head as well, and she looked concerned. “I hope she’s okay.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We were quiet for a while then as we finished tacking up our ponies, both lost in thought. Tess was another rider who competed at lots of the same shows as we did, usually riding her sister Hayley’s outgrown show jumping pony Misty. Misty was even more of a handful than Squib on his worst days, and Tess didn’t look like she had much fun riding him, but she’d been bullied into it by her sister. I didn’t have much time for Hayley, who had a mean streak, but she’d started having unexplained seizures lately and I knew Tess was worried about her. Personally I thought it might provide a good wake-up call for Hayley to have to deal with her own weakness, since she was always so busy calling everyone else out on theirs, but I didn’t want to say that out loud and appear heartless.
“You forgot your martingale again,” Katy told me as she put her helmet on and snapped up the chinstrap.
“I thought I’d try riding without it today,” I replied, keeping my voice casual. I’d never ridden Squib in anything other than a snaffle bridle until I’d first met Katy, and although the martingale and copper roller bit that she’d added to my tack had helped me keep my pony under control, I didn’t want to rely on them forever.
Katy rolled her eyes. “Suit yourself.” She swung gracefully into Molly’s saddle, used her foot to push her offside stirrup down then leaned down to tighten her girth. “But don’t come crying to me when you have pick his mane out of your teeth.”
“We’ll be fine,” I assured my friend, rubbing Squib’s head affectionately as I tightened his girth another hole and picked up my own helmet.
There was no malice in my pony, just a lack of training. And as his owner and rider, it was my job to train him so that he didn’t need any artificial aids to keep him under control. Horses are remarkably sensitive animals, and I’d watched countless videos in the past few days of riders who’d trained hot, excitable horses that were considered unruly or dangerous and made them into balanced, relaxed and willing partners, simply by removing unnecessary tack items. Squib butted me with his nose, and waited as I swung myself into the saddle and followed Katy into the arena.
* * *
The full novel will be out on 8 August 2015. In the meantime if you haven’t already read books 1-4 in the Pony Jumpers series, you can get all 4-in-1 in a discounted box set on Amazon!