Pony of the Year is approaching fast, and everyone in Tess’s family is determined to see her compete in the prestigious event – everyone, that is, except Tess herself. She has never liked riding the exuberant show jumper Misty Magic, and a crashing fall during training leaves Tess bruised, battered…and terrified of getting back into the saddle.
While her sister Hayley’s future hangs in the balance as she prepares to undergo invasive surgery to try and save her life, Tess is blindsided by the revelation that the one person she thought she could count on may have been lying to her all along.
Can Tess find a way to conquer her fears once and for all, or will she let her sister down when it matters most?
“You made it!”
AJ came bounding across the grass towards our truck as we drove in, dressed in her summer horse show uniform of shorts, paddock boots and a singlet top covered in hay, horse hair and slobber marks. A layer of dirt covered her from head to toe as the Hawke’s Bay sun was out in full force and the recent drought conditions had baked the ground dry. Thousands of hooves had now stirred up the dust, covering horse and human alike. I climbed down from the cab and she threw her arms around me as soon as my feet hit the grass, squeezing me tight. She’d definitely made a full recovery from that broken collarbone, because her hug was as bone-crunching as ever.
“Talked Mum into it somehow,” I grinned.
Actually, Mum had readily agreed to the plan, probably relieved that I hadn’t renounced show jumping entirely, although she hadn’t been so thrilled about Jonty accompanying me, and it had taken another, much longer phone call to Katy’s mum to convince her that I was going to come home with my virtue intact, so to speak.
“You can park in there,” AJ told us, pointing to a narrow space between Katy’s truck and the chain link fence that bordered the car park. “It’ll be a bit of a squeeze, but we figured you only had to get yourselves – I mean, ourselves,” she edited with a wink, “in and out, and not worry about ponies and tack and stuff. So we thought that’d be enough room, and believe you me, we’ve had enough trouble trying to stop people from parking there already, including one enormous polo truck that took like ten horses. No idea how they thought they would fit, but they seemed determined.”
“Thanks for chasing them off,” I told her.
“Oh, that was Katy, not me. She’s surprisingly fierce when she wants to be,” AJ laughed as Katy appeared.
She was still wearing her riding clothes, a hot pink sleeveless shirt and breeches that had probably been white this morning, but were now closer to tan.
“Hey, you mess with the bull,” Katy said, giving me a quick hug that was only slightly less bone-crunching than AJ’s had been. “They tried to park there after dark, the idiots, so after that we just set up a tent and left a small light on inside it all night so people could see it and would be too scared to park there in case they flattened someone’s family member.”
I laughed. “Good job. How’s Misty?”
“He’s fine. Excited, right up on his toes and he can’t wait to jump tomorrow,” Katy grinned. “How’s Hayley?”
“Doing well, apparently,” I told her. “She’s still in Auckland, so I haven’t seen her, but Mum said she’s on the right track.”
“Awesome. I’m so glad.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Jonty had jumped down from the cab and was directing Dad as he backed carefully into the narrow space. Mum usually drove the truck, and while Dad was a good driver used to handling various farm machinery, the truck was bigger than his tractor and much less forgiving of being backed into something.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” AJ said. “This is going to be awesome. Susannah’s parked next to Katy, but I think she’s still out competing. The metre-fifteen has been running for literally hours already. If they don’t get their act together, they’ll have people jumping in the dark like they did last year.”
“And not under lights, like at proper shows,” Katy added with a roll of her eyes. “Literally in the dark, until they had to cancel it for safety’s sake. I had Forbes in one of those rounds and he almost killed me.”
Dad looked relieved as he parked the truck and climbed down, wiping sweat off his brow. “Bloody unwieldy thing,” he muttered.
“Hey, at least it’s got power steering,” I told him. “The first truck you bought us didn’t, and Mum was forever bumping into things and getting stuck.”
“Thanks Tess, I do remember,” he said, coming over to us and saying a quick hello to my friends. “Right, you sorted?” I nodded, and he held out the truck keys, dropping them into my palm. “Don’t lose them.”
He gave me a hug, told me to behave myself, said goodbye to Jonty and walked towards the gate, where Hugh was going to meet him with the ute and give him a ride back home.
AJ and Katy almost immediately fell into an argument about whether we should go and see if Susannah had jumped yet, or whether mucking out Katy’s yards and feeding her ponies took priority. By the time we’d collectively decided to go and watch Forbes jump now then all pitch in and do the mucking out later, Susannah had appeared.
“Did we miss it?” AJ demanded. “We were just coming to watch!”
Susannah pulled a face and dismounted. “I’m glad you didn’t. It was horrible. Hi Tess, hi Jonty,” she added as she ran up Forbes’ stirrups.
“What’d he do?” Katy asked as the four of us followed Susannah curiously back to her truck.
She tied Forbes to the ring on the side of it and unbuckled his girth. “Usual shenanigans. Napped at the gate going in, threatened to refuse at every jump that had fill in it, and took three rails. On the bright side, he didn’t rear, so…” She shrugged as she pulled the saddle off his sweaty back. “He was just fed up. The class is running so late, and someone fell off when I was three away and it took her about ten minutes to decide to stand up and walk out of the ring.”
“Ugh, I hate when people lie there like they’re dying for hours and then just get up and walk off,” Katy grumbled uncharitably. “Like you’re either fine or you’re not, and you know that when you hit the ground, so don’t flail around down there wasting everyone’s time.”
“You’re both horrible people and I’m ashamed to know you,” AJ said breezily, rolling her eyes at me. “I hope you both fall off tomorrow and learn a valuable lesson about empathy.”
“Thanks best friend, it’s nice to know I can always count on your support,” Katy replied.
“Anytime,” AJ assured her. “Come on then, let’s go get those yards mucked out like you were so desperate to do a few minutes ago.”
We left Susannah to untack Forbes and walked over to the yards to see Misty, Molly and Puppet. Misty’s head was buried past his eyeballs inside his hay bag, snuffling out every last piece of hay.
“He’s such an egg,” I said, smiling at him. “Misty, you weirdo. What’re you doing?”
At the sound of my voice, he lifted his head. The hay bag was caught on his halter, and it stayed over his muzzle, muffling his welcoming whinny. He shook his head firmly, the hay bag fell away and he paced to the corner of his yard and stared at me as though he could hardly believe I was there.
“Aw, he’s missed you!” AJ beamed.
“Apparently,” I replied. “He’s never looked pleased to see me before in his life. Funny he should start now.”
“Not really,” AJ said. “He’s been away from you for over a week, and probably thought you’d sold him or something.”
I reached Misty’s yard and ducked under the railing. He bunted me hard with his head, then proceeded to search me thoroughly for apples or carrots. It didn’t take him long to sniff out the peppermints in my pocket, and I fished a couple out for him. He snatched them off my palm with a sharp nip that made me wince.
“You bully,” I told him, looking at the blood blister that was forming. “You ever hear about not biting the hand that feeds you?”
Misty was typically unfazed by my scolding, pushing past me to greet Jonty at the gate and molest him for treats as well.
“Get out of it,” Jonty told him affectionately, pushing him backwards as he brought the muck fork and skip bucket in. “I see your manners haven’t improved while you’ve been away.”
Despite his antics, Misty genuinely seemed pleased to see us. He chewed at my hair while I struggled to untie the hay bag that Katy had secured to the rail with about ten thousand knots, and I had to offer him another peppermint to convince him to let go of my ponytail once I was done.
“Demon child,” I told him fondly as Jonty and I exited his yard.
Misty batted his eyelashes at me and I rubbed his broad forehead before following AJ back to the truck to fetch another bale of hay.
“The Pony Jumpers series gives you thoroughly enjoyable, character-driven stories loaded with authentic content: just what we have come to expect from this author.”
– Jane Badger, author of “Heroines on Horseback: The Pony Book in Children’s Fiction”
And while you’re here, why not read some equine excerpts from other authors?