Pony Jumpers series

Which Pony Jumpers character are YOU?

When I discovered Qzzr.com, I already had my first Pony Jumpers quiz written. But I quickly realised that on Qzzr, you can make quizzes with outcomes, such as “You’re a Hufflepuff!” Since then, I’ve been biding my time (aka trying to find the time) to write a “Which Pony Jumpers character are you?” quiz. Last night, at 1am, I finished it.

So without further ado, CLICK HERE to find out which Pony Jumpers character is most like you!

Preliminary results after 68 people have taken the quiz has Susannah in the lead, a fact that would completely astound her if she knew! I’ve taken the test three times, giving slightly different answers on each occasion, and always come up with Tess. Which isn’t surprising really, as if you’d asked me beforehand which character I was most like, I wouldn’t have even had to think about it. Tess is my girl, but I love them all…even Katy, as difficult as she can be at times 😉   (On that note, I cannot wait to get my teeth into book 10, which is the next one from Katy’s POV. I know I haven’t written all the books yet, but that one is destined to be one of my favourites, I swear…)

you-are-susannah

Pony Jumpers series

A Pony Jumpers quiz!

test-knowledge

Are you a PONY JUMPERS super-fan? Put your knowledge (and your memory!) to the test in this fun quiz!  Click here to start!


How did you go? Did you get stuck on any of the questions, or are you a pro? The quiz software doesn’t seem to give you a chance to review your answers, so if you’re wondering what the correct answers are… scroll down to find out! (But no cheating…take the quiz first!)

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Q1 – this one was pretty easy: AJ’s pony is named Squib. Almost everyone who took the quiz got that right with a 97% success rate – though a couple of people thought it was Squirt.

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Q2 – In DOUBLE CLEAR, it is Katy’s pony Molly who is almost sold. 89% of people got this one right, with just a handful thinking it was Forbes (he isn’t sold to Susannah until the following book).

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Q3 – Susannah’s parents are originally from South Africa. Her brother moved there after he was kicked out of home, and her mother is still considering moving back to join him. 86% of people got that correct, but a few thought they were English.

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Q4 – Tess’s dog (Colin) is a blue heeler (also known as an Australian cattle dog). To be fair, this one wasn’t explicitly outlined in the book, but he was frequently described as having a light, mottled coat. This was a pretty tricky question and only 33% of people got it right, with most people identifying him as a ‘border collie’. The majority of the working dogs on Tess’s family farm are actually Huntaways or heading dogs (border collie mixes). Colin was sacked from the working dog team for being a bit useless, so he has become her pet.

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Q5 – AJ’s siblings are Aidan, Anders, Alexia and Astrid. (There was a bit of a trick in there with one option being Aidan, Anders, Alexis and Astrid – an easy mistake to make, especially as they call her Lexi more often than not, and 45% of people were tricked, but 44% got it right!)

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Q6 – Katy bought her new horse Tori from Little River stud farm. Tori’s show name is Victorious LR (LR stands for Little River). The stud is, of course, entirely fictional. 62% of people got this one right.

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Q7 – Susannah’s new vet is named Lesley. I named her after a friend of mine who is also exceptionally capable and someone I very much aspire to be like. Only 59% of people got this one, with the other results fairly evenly split.

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Q8 – Tess falls off Misty once in EIGHT AWAY. It happens at the very beginning of the book, during her lesson in Chapter 1. After that, she doesn’t get back on him until the end of the book so she doesn’t give herself too much opportunity to fall again! There was a 50% success rate on this question, with an even 19% split between she doesn’t and three times – readers are obviously either very confident in Tess’s ability, or not very confident at all!

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Q9 – The horse that is NOT mentioned in JONTY is Spider. Unless you’ve read the book, this was a tricky question – Taniwha has shown up before but Bonfire and Whisper were only in this book. Spider is a pony from my first novel FLYING CHANGES (and its sequel AGAINST THE CLOCK). 74% of people actually got this one right, and only 3% thought it was Taniwha.

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Q10 – Tess is the main character who lives on a working farm. 90% of responders got that one right, with 7% thinking it was Katy.

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Q11 – 75% of people knew that it was Susannah who has long blonde hair and icy blue eyes. AJ has blonde hair and blue eyes as well, but her hair is described as being short (I’ve never actually said how short, I picture it as being just barely long enough to tie into a ponytail).

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Q12 – It’s AJ & Katy, of course, who are best friends. 92% of people got that one right!

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Q13 – The name of Jonty’s goat is Murray. If you’ve read JONTY, you’ll know where he got the name from! The other names are also characters who turned up in that novel, but Murray is the only one who had a goat named after him – such a privilege! Murray the goat was only mentioned in passing in JONTY, but had a full scene of mischief making in EIGHT AWAY and you haven’t seen the last of him yet! 85% of respondents got this one correct.

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Q14 – Katy is an only child. 85% of respondents got this one right as well, with a small number picking Susannah – she does have a brother, but he is estranged from his family. For AJ and Tess, there’s no escaping their siblings, whether through the number of them (four, in AJ’s case) or sheer force of personality (in Tess’s case).

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Q15 – And finally, the character who did not appear in DARE TO DREAM was AJ. Katy, Susannah and Tess all feature in that book, and its sequel DREAM ON, although Susannah has the largest part in both of them as a reasonably main character. Katy pops up on occasion with a few lines of dialogue, and although I don’t think Tess actually gets any lines, she’s there in the background. 70% of people got this one right, with 23% failing to notice Tess’s presence.

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Overall, 61 people have completed the quiz so far, with an average final score of 72%. That’s pretty good!

Keep your eyes peeled for the next quiz to find out which PONY JUMPERS character you are!

The free stock images that accompany this post were sourced from pexels.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonty · Pony Jumpers series · Thoughts · writing

Let’s hear it for the boys

for-the-boys

It is a truth universally acknowledged that although a majority of top professional riders are male, equestrian sports in general are dominated by women. Perhaps as a reflection of that, the majority of equestrian fiction, especially juvenile or YA equestrian fiction, is told from a female perspective.

As someone who has read countless pony books over the years, and with over 200 volumes on my bookshelf with an almost comparable number on my Kindle, I can think of fewer than 20 that are told from a male perspective. From classics like Walter Farley’s Black stallion series and Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka trilogy, through to contemporary novels such as Sheena Wilkinson’s brilliant Taking Flight and Grounded, there are some excellent equestrian novels with a male protagonist, but they remain the exception, rather than the rule.

Boys don’t ride

Even in looking for an image to use on this blog post, I discovered that typing “boy+horse” into a free photo search engine brings back markedly fewer results than “girl+horse” does. Why are boys so outnumbered? At my local Pony Club, we currently have eight boys enrolled, ranging in age from six to seventeen. That seems pretty good, but when you take into account that we have fifty-five riders enrolled at our branch, that’s a fairly low ratio! Most of those boys are under the age of ten, and it will be interesting to see how many of them choose to continue riding as they get older. (We did have one sixteen-year-old boy last season who has since decided to focus on soccer instead of show jumping. Just as girls often leave the sport for boys, boys leave the sport for, well, sport.)

In my experience, boys are more likely to start riding because they genuinely want to ride, rather than because their friends are doing it, or because they think horses are pretty. And if they persist through to their teenage years, they reap rewards that they perhaps weren’t going in for in the first place – being one of only a few boys in a swarm of teenage girls is not a bad spot to be, so they tell me.

Jonty was sitting on the fence watching me, giving me an encouraging smile when I rode past, but not offering much else in the way of support. I supposed that with Katy on one side of him and Susannah on the other, he was a little distracted. It was annoying me a lot more than it should have, but it was probably my fault for bringing him along. Teenage boys were pretty thin on the ground at horse events, and while Jonty wasn’t necessarily pin-up material, he was far from unappealing. I was just glad they weren’t going to see him ride, because his skill in the saddle was easily one of his most attractive traits.

excerpt from Four Faults (Pony Jumpers #4)

What’s the difference?

What is the difference then, between female and male protagonists – especially when it comes to a mainly female-dominated genre? Are most pony books written from a female perspective because the majority of riders and readers are female, and they want to read about people like themselves? Is it because the majority of writers in the genre are female? (Of the 21 books listed at the bottom of this post, only two were written by men.) Is it because horse books are often, essentially, romances – but between a girl and her horse, rather than a girl and a boy?

Boys tend to be slightly less soppy about their horses, less likely to shower them in kisses and have feelings of romantic attachment towards them. They are less inclined to declare their desperate love and obsession for their horse, but that doesn’t mean to say that they don’t feel that way.

My favourite pony book written from a male perspective is Pony from Tarella, by Australian author Mavis Thorpe Clark, and it is a story of a young man’s desperate love for a headstrong mare. Although this was published in 1959 and is now out of print, it’s well worth reading if you can get your hands on it.

For a second he stood very still, then his two fingers went up to his mouth, and the shrill insistent whistle floated across the hill. The horses kept on galloping, enjoying their game. Again he whistled. Sunflower was nearer this time.

Did she hesitate just a second? Did her ears lift?

His clear note echoed above the thud of the hooves. She was close this time, but still travelling fast. Another whistle. Her stride faltered, she eased the pace. She seemed to listen. Sandy’s heart bounded. She had heard him…

 excerpt from Pony from Tarella, by Mavis Thorpe Clark

Minority report

Even less common than a straight male protagonist is a gay male protagonist, and of the list of books below, only two of them feature a gay male as their lead character (Mary Pagones’ Fortune’s Fool and its sequel Quick Bright Things Come to Confusion, which share a protagonist, so possibly only count as one gay male voice).

In my book, Jonty is already well-established as a loyal boyfriend to Tess, another of the series’ rotating protagonists, so there is no question of his sexual orientation. But one of his closest friendships in the novel is developed with Frankie, a young gay man in his late twenties, who teaches him a lot about riding, horsemanship, and taking care of the people around you – often before you take care of yourself.

Frankie unclipped the lunge rope from the bridle and patted Last Chance’s sweaty shoulder. “Come on mate. Be a good lad, and we’ll find you a nice home with a teenage girl who’ll kiss you all over your face and give you all the treats you can eat.”

“That’s the dream,” I told the pony, and Frankie pulled a face.

“Maybe for you.”

excerpt from Jonty (Pony Jumpers – Special Edition #1)

Books for boys

But the question remains valid – as most of these books have been written by women, are they actually being written for boys? Do these horse book boys actually behave like boys, or are they teenage girls’ idealisations of boys, or boys who act and think rather more like girls?  (This is not to say that women cannot write books that appeal to a male audience, because that is of course completely untrue. S.E. Hinton, whose Taming the Star Runner I have listed below, has written from a male perspective in all of her novels, and done so very successfully.)

Writing from a male voice is not just about swapping out pronouns; boys think differently, and see the world in a different way to girls. I have spent a lot of time around teenage girls, and understand them pretty well, but I’d never even considered writing from a male perspective before Jonty came along. If you’d said to me “write a pony book with a male protagonist”, I would’ve struggled to know where to begin. But when Jonty was first introduced in Four Faults, he stepped into the story with such a sense of surety and self-determination that I always wanted to know more about him, and see further into his life. A few books down the line, I felt that he was familiar enough now for me to be able to write in his voice. And he hasn’t let me down. I thought I might struggle, but the hardest part of writing Jonty has been keeping the word count down – the only reason that it hasn’t ended up being the longest book in the series so far is because I deleted an entire chapter from the end! (Six to Ride still holds the dubious honour of being the longest, but Jonty is only around 1000 words behind it, and both books are more than twice the length of First Fence.)

There are a few female characters in the book – Jonty’s three sisters, his mother, and his neighbours Hayley and Tess are the primary ones – but the main characters that he interacts with during the course of the novel are male. From his alcoholic father to a grumpy old retiree, from a taciturn local farmer to a disreputable horse trainer, Jonty learns a lot from the men around him, lessons both good and bad.

And not too far down the line is another Special Edition in the Pony Jumpers series, which also has a male protagonist. Once you start something…


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Jonty is now available for purchase on Amazon – click here to find it online!


Books with boys

Are you looking for YA equestrian fiction with a male protagonist? Check out this list of recommendations below:

Taking Flight – Sheena Wilkinson

Grounded – Sheena Wilkinson

Boys Don’t Ride – Katharina Marcus

The Boy with the Amber Eyes Katharina Marcus

Moonstone Promise (Diamond Spirit #2) – Karen Wood

The Boy Who Loves Horses (Pegasus Equestrian Centre #2) – Diana Vincent

Joe and the Hidden Horseshoe / Joe and the Lightning Pony / Joe and the Race to the Rescue – Victoria Eveleigh

Fortune’s Fool / Quick Bright Things Come to Confusion – Mary Pagones

Out of print

Pony from Tarella – Mavis Thorpe Clark

Patrick’s Pony – Josephine Pullein-Thompson

Show Jumping Secret – Josephine Pullein-Thompson

Classics

Taming the Star Runner – S.E. Hinton

My Friend Flicka / Thunderhead / Green Grass of Wyoming – Mary O’Hara

The Black Stallion series – Walter Farley

The Red Pony – John Steinbeck

(Note: I have chosen to list books where the primary protagonist is male, and haven’t included ensemble books with a good mix of male and female characters. I have also left off books such as Caroline Akrill’s Flying Changes, because while a large part of the story focuses on a male rider’s career, it is never told from his point of view.)

Did I miss any? Comment your recommendations below!

Jonty · New release · Pony Jumpers series

New release: JONTY

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Jonty Fisher hasn’t grown up with horses. Hasn’t grown up with much of anything, tell you the truth, except a love for being outdoors and a restless energy he can’t quite contain. The unexpected arrival of a bedraggled black pony on his eleventh birthday marks the beginning of a new direction in his life, setting him on a path that will determine what he can make of his future.

But as Jonty’s desire to prove himself builds, the school of hard knocks never fails to keep pushing him back down, and it will take a lot of courage, resilience and heart for him to find a way to follow his dreams.

Still, if life was meant to be easy, everyone would do it…


Buy now on Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukAmazon.com.au

jonty-advance-reviews

 

Book Excerpt · Four Faults · Pony Jumpers series

Excerpt: #4 Four Faults

While checking some story points for the upcoming prequel JONTY, I came across this little scene from FOUR FAULTS, which made me smile. So in case you haven’t read that book yet, here’s a taste:


“I have a question.”

Bayard looked over his shoulder at me as Rusty strode up the track ahead of us. “Shoot.”

“If you had a crush on someone, but you were too shy to even talk to them, and then one of your friends talked to them for you and found out they’re single, but never even mentioned your name so it’s not like they would even know that you’re the one interested, would you be mad at them?”

Bayard blinked a couple of times, and furrowed his brow. “Huh?”

I nudged Rory up to ride alongside Rusty, even though the sheep track we were following was narrow, and I was making her walk on the uneven edge of the hill. She laid her ears back in displeasure at my decision-making, but did as she was told.

“If you had a crush on a girl, and you told one of your friends, and they talked to that girl for you and found out she didn’t have a boyfriend, would you be glad that your friend had made that effort on your behalf or would you totally freak out and tell them they’re a horrible person?”

“I don’t know.” Bay looked completely flummoxed by my line of questioning. “Why are you asking me?”

“I have no idea,” I said honestly. “Because you’re my only friend right now?”

Bay didn’t say anything in response to that. I sighed and let Rory fall back in behind Rusty again, where she felt that she belonged. She shook her mane triumphantly and shoved her nose up against his scruffy tail, making it clear to me that she was a born follower.

I tried once more, giving up all attempts at subtlety. “One of my friends has a crush on…this guy, and I happened to be talking to him so I asked him if he had a girlfriend and he said no. Then I told my friend that, thinking I was doing her a favour and that she’d be pleased, and she went nuts and told me I shouldn’t have been asking him ‘obvious’ questions like that. But I never even mentioned her name, so I don’t know what she’s so worried about.” I sighed. “I don’t get girls.”

Bayard raised his eyebrows at me as he brought Rusty to a halt at the top of the hill. The ponies puffed heavily, trying to get their breath back after their steep hike.

“You think I do?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Guess not.” I tried to picture him with Mia instead, but I couldn’t. I was finding it hard to imagine him with any girl, really, although I wasn’t sure why.

I kicked my feet free of the stirrups and listened to Rory’s heavy breathing as Bayard swung down off Rusty’s back and started pulling fencing tools out of his saddle bags. We’d come up onto the ridge to fix the Taranaki gate, a colloquial name for a gate made out of a section of moveable wire fence. Everyone hated it, because it was so difficult to open and close, but one of the newer farmhands had taken a mob of sheep through it this morning, then cut his hand badly when he tried to get it wired shut again, and had to go to hospital for stitches. So Dad had sent Bayard up to take a look at it, which I’d assumed would only take a few minutes. But the whole section of fence was decidedly saggy, and when Bayard pulled out the wire strainers, I groaned and flopped forward on Rory’s sweaty neck.

“This is going to take hours,” I complained.

“Nobody made you come with me,” he pointed out calmly.

“Not true. Rory insisted on following,” I replied. “Which she is certainly regretting now.”

Rory lowered her head towards her knees, her heavy breathing proving that she was way less fit than she should be at this point in the show season. I leaned down and tried to pick a dandelion flower from the hillside next to me, but it was just beyond my reach.

“You still haven’t told me what to do about my problems,” I reminded Bay as he started tightening the fence wires.

“I’m still not sure what your problem is,” he replied. “Your friend is mad because you talked to the boy she likes?”

“Pretty much. What do I do?”

He shrugged. “Get better friends?”

I rolled my eyes at him. “Very helpful, thanks. But friends don’t grow on trees and I suck at making new ones, so I would like to keep the ones I have.”

“Then I can’t help you.”

“Hopeless,” I told Rory, leaning down further, and brushing the top of the flower with my fingertips. Rory shifted her weight slightly, but stayed still. “Why can’t you be a girl, so I could talk to you about this kind of thing?”

“If I was a girl, I’d probably be mad at you for no reason as well,” Bay replied, cutting the end of the wire off and testing the tension on the fence with one hand. “You could always ask Hayley.”

“Hah! Only if I felt like ending up friendless and alone,” I retorted. “She’d tell me the worst possible thing to do in an incredibly convincing way, and then laugh her head off when it completely backfired on me.”

“Well, you’ll always have one friend,” he told me, tightening the strainer and making the wire creak.

I rolled my eyes. “Lucky me.”

Bay shot me a hurt look, and I felt bad, because he was trying to be nice, and his friendship did mean a lot to me. But sometimes talking to him was like talking to a brick wall, and although I was infinitely grateful – especially right now – for the complete lack of drama he brought into my life, I couldn’t imagine us ever having an especially riveting or meaningful conversation. Despite the fact that I still considered him to be my best friend, there was something missing. He listened to me, but my words rolled off him like water off a duck’s back, barely touching his consciousness. Bay was so self-contained that the world seemed to be happening around him, and he was just an idle observer, rather than a participant in the swirling madness. I used to find that reassuring, because I’d felt the same way. But lately I felt as though I was being pulled into the vortex against my will, and instead of helping me find solid ground, he was just standing on the edge, watching me be sucked down into the seething abyss.

Stop being so dramatic, I told myself, wondering where those thoughts were even coming from. In an effort to distract myself, I made one more concerted effort to pick the bobbing yellow dandelion that lurked just beyond my reach. Dangling off the side of my pony, I managed to hook my fingers underneath the flower head, and pull it free of its stem. But right at my moment of victory, Rory objected to my acrobatics by sidestepping away, and I lost my precarious balance, slipping ungracefully onto the ground beneath her feet. My pony turned her head and looked at me as though I’d gone mad.

“You’re right, you know,” Bayard said, and I pushed myself into a sitting position and looked at him.

“About what?”

“Girls are weird.”


FOUR FAULTS is available for purchase on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

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Clearwater Bay series · Dare To Dream · Pony Jumpers series · writing

Almost Orphans: the absence of adults in YA fiction

almost-orphans

I recently came across a question on Facebook from a reader who wondered why the characters in YA pony fiction, in particular, all seemed to have absent, uncaring or incompetent parents. Describing these characters as “almost orphans”, she wanted to know if this was deliberate on the part of the authors, and whether there was a reason for this trope’s popularity.

She’s not wrong that it is very commonly employed, but why? There are a few reasons, which I will go over here, before looking at how this trope can be subverted by telling stories that involve parents in the narrative, rather than absenting them completely.

Parents vs adventures

Firstly, there’s the obvious reason that is particularly important within the equestrian sub-genre of YA – risk. Riding horses is an inherently risky pastime, and parents are far more likely than their children are to worry about those risks. Any responsible parent is also quite likely to get in the way of exciting adventures by simply refusing to give their child permission to do something, and these days there are a lot of parents who are highly involved in their children’s lives, allowing children and teens to have less independence and personal agency than they would have likely been allowed in the past.

Clearly there is no chance of a protagonist having an adventure with a responsible parent in tow, so parents must be either permanently absent (whether physically or emotionally), or the protagonists must go behind their parents’ backs to undertake adventures. Of course any reasonable parent or adult would refuse to allow their offspring to undertake a midnight rescue mission, or ride that wild horse that nobody else can master, so the protagonist must be able to escape that parental influence, either through subterfuge (sneaking out despite being told not to) or having parents so incompetent or oblivious that they don’t even notice that they are gone.

You’re on your own now

It is difficult, in this day and age, for children to be completely off the radar, so to speak. As my fellow equestrian author Maggie Dana said, when we were discussing this topic, “…these days with every kid from nursery school onward having a cell phone, it’s almost impossible to get them into trouble that they have to extricate themselves from without grownup help!”

That’s a problem in contemporary books that cannot be overlooked, and the rapidity and fluidity with which teenagers can now communicate with one another can make plotting more complicated for an author. Imagine how different the adventures of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five might have been if they were all carrying cell phones, and could just have called the police when they found a cave full of smugglers, then gone back to eating ham sandwiches and making beds of gorgeously springy heather under the stars. If they weren’t too busy Instagram-ing their adventure or scrolling through Facebook while they waited for the chops to cook…

Maggie’s way around this problem is a simple one that is often called into service by authors (pun intended) – “This is why I always point out somewhere in the beginning of my books that cell service on the mountain is unreliable, which it invariably is, in the hills of northern New England.” Having worked in southern New England myself, I can attest to the plausibility of that approach.

Live vicariously

Another theory as to why parents are so often conspicuously absent is that some of the most avid readers of equestrian fiction are those who never had the chance to live the horsey life for themselves, so they live vicariously through fiction. These readers are often far less exacting of details, and far more willing to suspend disbelief that anyone who has actually worked with horses simply cannot do. They embrace the fictional adventures of a young protagonist who is or was just like them, struggling to find a way to ride, dreaming of brilliance and glory, yet held back in reality by their location, or financial constraints, or unsupportive parents who didn’t place (in their mind) sufficient value on the dream of equestrian glory.

For these readers, wish-fulfillment through fiction is a panacea to their own disappointment, and thus unfulfilled or long-lost dreams. A lack of parents here is not a prerequisite, but these types of stories often tell of a character who succeeds despite these obstacles – a lack of parental understanding and financing being just one of many hurdles to overcome.

All by myself

There is also a metaphorical element at play here when it comes to YA, whereby authors are using the lack of parents as a literal embodiment of the loneliness and isolation that teens often feel at this point in their lives. It’s not uncommon for teenagers’ relationships with their parents to break down somewhat during their teen years as they fight for their independence, yet this growing-up process can also be unexpectedly isolating for a teen, especially someone who is used to relying on their parents for guidance.

One of my most popular characters is Susannah, one of four main protagonists in the Pony Jumpers series (Triple Bar and Seventh Place), who was raised by very protective, disciplined parents. Everything from her schooling to her social life was dictated to her, until her parents’ relationship starts to fall apart, and she is suddenly given an independence wholly unfamiliar to her, and one that she is not entirely able to cope with.

I was ready just in time. Dad pulled up as I reached the end of the driveway, and I hurried over to him and pulled the front door of the Audi open, sliding gratefully onto the cool leather seat. I could feel my father’s eyes on me as I pulled the door shut behind me, and I stared straight ahead at the streetlights, avoiding his glare.

“What the hell are you wearing?”

“Can we not do this right now?”

Dad shifted the car into park, and rested his hands on the steering wheel. “I think now is the perfect time.” He sniffed the air, his frown deepening. “Have you been drinking?”

I closed my eyes, not trusting myself to speak.

“I’m talking to you, Susannah.”

“I know. I can hear you.”

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

I took a breath, then let it out again. “Can we just go home? Please?”

I heard my voice crack on the last word, and felt the atmosphere in the car recede slightly. My eye were still shut tight, but I heard Dad moving the gear shift, and the car glided into motion.

“Don’t think this is the end of this conversation.”

I was under no such illusion. Nothing was ever over until my father had had the last word. But I didn’t want to deal with it right now, so I kept my eyes closed and said nothing.

When we got home, I went straight to my room and peeled the dress off, then kicked it across the room. It lay slumped in the corner as I changed into pyjama shorts and a t-shirt, feeling at once more comfortable in my own skin. I went into the ensuite and looked at myself in the mirror. No wonder Dad had flipped out when he’d seen me. My eyes were black smudges against my pale skin, and I turned the hot water on and grabbed a flannel, scrubbing at my face and eyes until I’d removed every last trace of makeup. My eyes were bloodshot and stinging, but I felt like myself again.

– extract from Pony Jumpers #7: Seventh Place (by Kate Lattey)

Whether we want them to be or not, for the majority of teenagers, parents are very much a part of their lives. It may be easier to structure a storyline around a character who is not being constrained by their parents, but doing so is a loss of opportunity to explore the dynamics between teens ad their parents, which are often at a critical point during that time in their lives.

When Susannah’s father does eventually confront her about the party situation, a few days later, the ensuing conversation is a little awkward as they both slowly lower their defenses and begin to communicate with each other.

“I’m sorry.”

“You said you wouldn’t drink. You promised,” Dad said, his voice becoming louder as he warmed to his subject. I wondered if he’d attract Mum’s attention, then remembered that she was out with clients again. Undoubtedly that was part of what had made this seem like the ideal time to speak to me.

“I know. I’m sorry,” I repeated.

“Sorry isn’t good enough,” Dad warned me. “You’re grounded. No more parties.”

“Fine.”

He seemed surprised by my easy capitulation. “That’s okay with you, is it?”

I sighed. “Dad, in case you haven’t noticed, I didn’t exactly have the best time at Callie’s. I’m not in a big hurry to go through all that again, so yeah, it’s okay with me. Ban me from ever going to another party, I don’t care.”

He must have been bracing himself for a fight, because he didn’t seem to know how to react to my compliance. “Well, good.”

He uncrossed his arms and turned to leave, and I picked my magazine up again and looked at the diagrams of shoulder-in exercises, trying to memorise them for tomorrow’s schooling session on Skip. From the corner of my eye, I saw my dad stop and turn back, one hand resting against the door frame.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way you’d hoped.”

I met his eyes, unsure whether he was still talking about the party. I decided it didn’t matter.  “Me too.”

– extract from Pony Jumpers #7: Seventh Place (by Kate Lattey)

On the flip side of the coin from Susannah is AJ, another of the main characters in my Pony Jumpers series, who is the fourth of five children in her family, including an older sister with special needs. Her parents have bought her a pony, but have thereafter largely left the responsibility for his care up to her. It’s not until AJ meets Katy, and discovers what it’s like to have wholehearted support from a horsey parent, that she starts to feel as though she’s missing out. But when she realises that her cheap GP saddle is holding her back from progressing further, her parents are quick to remind her that she can’t expect to be given the world.

 

“Honey, I understand that you want to have nice things,” Mum said, missing the point entirely. “But riding is already an expensive hobby, and we’ve just forked out a lot of money for Squib’s new shoes. We just don’t have the spare change to be spending on a new saddle when the one you’ve got is perfectly serviceable.”

“But…”

Dad spoke up before I could continue. “How much would a new saddle cost?”

I shrugged. “It depends on the brand, and how old it is. I don’t need a brand new one,” I quickly pointed out. “Second hand is fine, or third hand. Just as long as it fits both me and Squib.”

“Ballpark figure,” Dad insisted.

“Two thousand?” I suggested. “Maybe fifteen hundred if it’s a good quality second-hand one…” I could see that I’d already lost them, and I was being conservative in my estimates.

“That’s what we paid for your pony!” Mum pointed out. “How can a saddle cost more than a horse?”

She looked at my dad, baffled. He shrugged, because he didn’t know any more about horses than she did, then spoke, each word making my spirits sink lower.

“We made the deal with you when we bought you a pony that we weren’t going to spend thousands on showing him,” Dad reminded me. “You told us then that you were happy just to ride, and go to Pony Club. Having a fancy saddle and going to lots of big shows wasn’t ever part of the plan.”

“I know. But Squib’s so good. I mean, he’s really talented. He could go all the way to Grand Prix, jump in Pony of the Year.” I could see the scepticism on their faces. “Katy says so, she says he’s got talent to burn and it’s a total waste not to shoot for it. And you’re not even paying for his grazing anymore, because Deb doesn’t charge us anything, remember? And she takes me to shows for free, and gives me lessons, and they have lent me heaps of gear.” They had no idea how cheap this whole thing actually was for them. “And I paid for Squib’s registration out of my savings, and his entry fees come out of my pocket money…”

“AJ, I don’t think you’re hearing what we’re saying,” Mum said, addressing me by my actual name for once, which meant that things were getting serious. “We are not prepared to spend thousands more dollars on your pony. It’s not fair on your brothers and sisters for us to put more money into your hobby than theirs, just because yours is more expensive. Now if Squib is sick or injured, we’ll pay for the vet bills. But outside of an emergency like that, the money just isn’t there to be spent. It’s not a matter of us sitting on it and refusing to hand it over – we simply don’t have it to spare. You know that.”

Dad tried to be less deflating. “You are more than welcome to sell the saddle you currently have, and put that money towards a new one,” he said, thinking he was being generous.

Mum beamed at him, as though that was an excellent suggestion, not understanding that my saddle wasn’t worth much at all. But I knew it was pointless arguing, so I just nodded.

“Thanks.”

I tried not to sound too depressed. I wanted to get mad and yell at them, the way that Katy would yell at Deb if she’d put her into this situation. But Deb never would. She’d go without groceries for a month to buy Katy a saddle if she thought she needed it, because their entire lives revolved around the ponies. I wished my parents were like that, but they weren’t, and no amount of sulking was going to change that fact. I was just going to have to accept it.

– extract from Pony Jumpers #5: Five Stride Line (by Kate Lattey)

With freedom comes responsibility

Of course, not all protagonists are ‘almost orphans’ – some are literal orphans, or as good as, with parents who are either deceased or almost permanently absent.

While not strictly a pony book, Monica Dickens’ World’s End series is a great example of this – the parents are almost always entirely absent through most of the four-book series, leaving the kids to run the household, scrounge up enough money to eat, and raise one another. To Dickens’ credit, and part of what makes the books so memorable, is that she never portrays her characters’ lives as remotely easy, but is still able to celebrate the great amount of freedom that they enjoy, which children growing up in more normal, civilised environments can only dream about. With freedom from parental supervision often comes hardship and responsibility, and the World’s End books (and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders) were particularly inspirational to me while working on my Dare to Dream books.

The three sisters in Dare to Dream and its sequel Dream On are literal orphans, living on the edge of solvency while trying to raise each other and still find the time and money to compete a string of show jumpers. (This is not as impossible as it seems in New Zealand – entry fees and the costs of keeping horses are far more affordable here than in many other countries.) The girls are often forced to sell their favourite mounts to make ends meet, and when one pony suffers a career-ending injury, difficult decisions must be made about quality of life – not just his, but theirs.

The absence of parents in this story works in a variety of ways. Firstly, it puts the responsibility for keeping the farm going solidly on the shoulders of the sisters themselves, with no other adults to save them. Extended family are sympathetic, but unwilling to finance the girls’ riding careers, and they are, by and large, left on their own. This adds a gravity to the story that might not otherwise have existed – when youngest sister Marley faces the threat of having to sell her favourite pony, there is no parent who just doesn’t understand that is going to change their mind and let her keep him. By putting the responsibility for that decision onto the shoulders of her sisters, who are as horse-crazy as Marley and deeply empathetic to her plight, her refusal to concede to her sisters’ wishes drives a wedge between three very close siblings who need to work together if they are going to be able to stay together.

A scene where the eldest sister and primary caregiver Kris is speaking to the family’s social worker outlines some of the hardships that this family is facing:

“As for Vanessa,” she continued. “Isn’t it about time that she got a proper job?”

Kris was resolute. “Van’s an adult now,” she told Camilla. “What she does with her life is up to her, I’m not legally responsible for her anymore.”

“She lives under your roof,” Camilla replied. “She eats your food and uses your amenities, and as far as I can tell, doesn’t pay any rent.”

“She’s my sister.”

“So is Marley, and she’s the one you need to be providing for. I understand that your injury means that you can’t work, but Vanessa is fit and healthy and more than capable of finding a job. However…”

Kris was well aware of the point the woman was trying to make, but didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of leading her to it, so she sat silently until Camilla was forced to continue her own sentence.

“However, her options are limited, given that she left school without any qualifications,” she told Kris, clearly relishing the opportunity to say ‘I told you so’. “But I took the liberty of having a look around for her, and there are a few positions available at the moment that I think she should apply for.”

She slid a piece of paper across the table to Kris, who accepted it with a frown. Glancing at the list, she couldn’t help smiling ruefully.

“Waitress? Checkout operator?” she shook her head. “Van would be useless at those jobs.”

“She’s well capable of any of them, if she decides to apply herself,” Camilla argued. “There’s only so long that you lot can keep going on the taxpayer’s dollar, you know.”

Kris bit her lip, the ache in her back intensifying. She wanted so badly to argue, to tell this woman to stop being so rude and judgmental, but the words wouldn’t come. If Van had been there, she would’ve leapt down Camilla’s throat and given her a piece of her mind. If Marley had been there, she would have told Camilla to get lost and stormed out of the room. But Kris had never been any good at confrontation, and without her sisters to back her up, she stayed silent as the criticism washed over her like waves, slowly eroding her self-confidence.

Van’s response was exactly what Kris had predicted.

“Doubt it,” Van said, tearing the list in half and tossing it in the bin. “What business is it of hers if I have a job or not? Isn’t it Marley that she’s supposed to be pestering you about?”

“Don’t worry, I got an earful about her too,” Kris assured her sister.

“What does she think I do all day, sit around watching TV? Keeping this place going is a full time job.”

“I know.”

“Which reminds me, what time are we going to transport those yearlings for the Andersons tomorrow?”

“Not ‘til half ten, they’ve got church in the morning.”

“Sounds good, I’ll have time to work a couple of horses before we go. See, we’re making money. Camilla can go take a running jump. The world would be much better off without her poking her nose into our lives. We’re doing fine!”

Van drained off her cup of tea and stormed out of the room, slamming the back door behind her. Kris sighed as she stirred sugar into her tea, listening to her teaspoon clink against the edge of the chipped mug. Eventually she was going to have to face up to the reality of their situation. Money was running out, and fast. Van hadn’t sold a horse in months, and right now, it was Marley who was keeping the family afloat. Kris’s eyes lifted to the photo of her father that sat on the top of the cabinet, smiling down at her with crinkly-eyed confidence, and she knew she had to do whatever it took to keep them going. He’d always had so much faith in his daughters, and she wasn’t about to let him down.

– extract from Dare to Dream (by Kate Lattey)

Fortunately, for the most part, the three sisters in Dare to Dream get along. Sure, they do have some almighty dust-ups, but the bond between them is an integral part of the story structure and it is ultimately her sisters’ best interests, not just her own, that Marley has to face up to. And it is the bond between them that keeps them together, despite the adversity they face.

“Why does [life] have to be so hard for us, when so many other people have it so easy?” Marley asked angrily.

But Kris shook her head. “Don’t underestimate anyone else’s pain, Mar. Everyone goes through hard times. Life’s thrown us a lot of challenges, but we can’t back down from them. We’ve just got to keep going. Keep fighting, keep living, keep having fun and working hard and always doing the best we can.”

Van pulled Marley in closer to her own side as she made eye contact with Kris. “We’ll be okay,” she reassured her sisters. “As long as we stick together.”

Marley nodded, dropping her head onto Van’s shoulder as Kris leaned in tightly on her other side. Marley closed her eyes for a moment, feeling the warmth and strength of her two sisters, always there beside her, holding her up and keeping her strong. Their courage and determination, the sacrifices they had made and the love they shared for one another lifted her spirits in a way that nothing else could, and slowly the ache in her heart started to subside.

The girls sat still for a long moment, watching the sunset reflected in the gently rippling water below them. And as they wondered what the future held for them, all three were comforted by the knowledge that whatever was coming, they would face it together.

 

– extract from Dare to Dream (by Kate Lattey)

The search for support

Ultimately, my personal view is that while it is often easier to have parents or parental figures in YA be largely absent, doing so is a missed opportunity to tell a more interesting story. Absent or inadequate parents have become such a convention in YA that they’re almost a cliché by now. More challenging, but more rewarding by far, in my opinion, is exploring the stories that each of those parents have to tell. There is a rich web of storytelling on offer, if writers take the time to use it. This blog post is already long, yet I haven’t even talked about Tess, whose mother is a bully and whose father is so busy working that he barely notices; or Jay, who grew up far away from her father but has to learn to live with him, a confirmed bachelor, after her mother’s death; or Jonty, who is struggling to cope with an alcoholic father and a mother who refuses to leave him, despite the havoc it is wreaking on their family.

Not all parents are created equal, and that has to be shown in fiction as well. But whether a character’s parents are good, helpful people or not, there is one thing I try very hard not to do, and that is to ever leave a teenage character in a situation where they have literally nobody to turn to for support. In my mind, that is the most terrifying scenario of all, and one that no young person should ever find themselves in. Whether it’s a sibling, or a coach, or a friend, there should always be always someone out there who cares, and who is willing to help. They don’t have to save the day – it’s often far more compelling if they don’t – but to ignore the vital role that mentors and support people play in the lives of young adults is to set a dangerous precedent, in my mind. Young readers are easily influenced by their heroes and heroines, and nobody has ever succeeded without getting support from someone, somewhere, at some stage in their life. Writers of YA fiction are road mapping scenarios for young readers, giving them examples of trials and tribulations and ways to overcome them, whether by using realism or fantasy. Life was not meant to be lived in isolation, and the world is not out to get you on a personal level. Sometimes as a teenager it’s hard to realise those things, but for fiction to imply otherwise is, in my mind, quite simply wrong.


Do you want to read pony books where the parents (or parental figures) are not conspicuous by their absence or incompetence? Check out these recommendations below:

Young Adult:

Pony Jumpers series – Kate Lattey – click here to download #1 First Fence for free!

Dare to Dream – Kate Lattey

The Perfect Distance – Kim Ablon Whitney

The Island Trilogy – Tudor Robins

Junior / Middle Grade:

Timber Ridge Riders – Maggie Dana

Blue Ribbons – Kim Ablon Whitney

The Riverdale series – Amanda Wills

Any I’ve missed? Do you agree, or disagree with my post? Leave a message in the Comments below!

Jonty · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek

Sneak peek: JONTY

From the upcoming PONY JUMPERS novel – Special Edition 1: JONTY.

JONTY banner 150 small

“I’ll do it Nate, I swear to God. I’ll take the kids and leave you behind!”

I jumped up onto the front step of the cottage and froze at the sound of my mother’s voice. It was mid-August, had been raining all day, and was still coming down heavily in the pitch dark. Raindrops battered against the corrugated iron roof as I leaned against the door frame and pulled my muddy boots off.

“You think I’d care if you left?” Dad yelled back. His voice was slurred slightly, and I knew he’d been drinking. “You think I’d give a damn? You can piss off out of here, see if I’m bothered. But you’re not taking my kids anywhere. They stay with me.”

“Like hell they do. You think I’d leave them here with you? You’re an unemployed drunk!”

There was a heavy thud, and the floorboards shuddered under my feet as I grabbed the door handle and pushed the door open. My parents were facing off in the middle of the living room with an overturned kitchen chair lying between them. A bottle of liquor dangled from my father’s fingertips, and I glanced towards the door to my sisters’ bedroom. It was shut tight, but I had no doubt they were wide awake and listening to every word.

“And whose fault is that?” Dad demanded.

“Not mine!” Mum cried. “And it’s not theirs, either.”

Dad took a step towards her, then another until they were standing face-to-face. He leaned in towards her, slowly lifting his free hand with his palm open.

“Whose fault is it?” he asked her again.

Mum looked away from him for a moment and noticed me, standing in the doorway with my wet hair dripping down my face. Her eyes went wide, and I was jolted into action.

“Don’t you dare touch her,” I warned my father as I came into the house, slamming the front door behind me.

They fought a lot, my parents. More and more every day. But he’d never hit her, at least not that I was aware of. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to stand here and watch it happen.

“Jonty, where have you been?” Mum demanded, stepping away from my father. “It’s almost nine o’clock and it’s a school night!”

I kept my eyes on my father, waiting for him to lower his hand. He met my gaze for a long moment, then shrugged and turned away, taking a swig from the bottle as he sat down on a nearby chair.

“Well?” Mum asked me.

She picked up the chair and pushed it back up against the table, acting as though nothing had happened.

“Sorry. We were clipping Toto and it took forever,” I told her, trying to keep my voice calm as I remembered the advice I’d been given. Nervous horses need calm riders. My mother was like a skittish horse, looking at me for reassurance that everything was okay. There wasn’t much I could give her, but I could give her that.

“You and that bloody poofter,” Dad said scathingly. “Spending enough time together lately, aren’t you? Too much, if you ask me.”

“Not as much as you and that bottle,” I replied, giving him an equally scathing look. “Go to bed, Dad. You’re drunk.”

Dad stood up, his eyes flashing. “And you’re a sanctimonious little…”

I could feel all of the blood surging around my body, almost daring him to start something again. This time I wouldn’t stand idly by. This time… but Mum moved quickly, stepping between us.

“That’s enough.” She put a hand on Dad’s arm, caressing it gently. “Come on. Let’s go to bed, eh?”

I swallowed hard, feeling my hands clench into fists as she led him across the room and into their bedroom. Watching her act as though nothing was wrong, as if he just needed to go to bed and sleep it off. As if everything would be fine in the morning. I wished that was true, but I knew him too well. I closed my eyes and took a long, deep breath, then tapped on the door to my sisters’ room.

“You guys okay in here?” I asked, opening the door and peeking in.

I’d barely got the first two words out before Phoebe was scrambling out of her bed and flinging herself at me, wrapping her arms around my legs and pressing her face against my stomach.

“Aw, Phoebs. It’s okay.”

I stroked her soft hair, feeling her trembling against me. She hated it when they fought. We all did, but she seemed to take it the hardest. I leaned down and picked her up, holding her against my shoulder as I stepped into the small, sparsely furnished bedroom. Phoebe wrapped her little arms tightly around my neck, and I rubbed her back gently as I nudged the door shut behind me with my heel and carried her back to bed.

Bella was lying on her stomach in the bottom bunk bed, reading a magazine in the light of a dim keychain torch and pretending that nothing was wrong. Morgan was sitting up on the top bunk, her arms wrapped around her legs and her chin resting on her knees, watching me with owlish eyes.

“Is she really going to leave him?” she asked as I sat down on Phoebe’s bed, which sagged under our combined weight.

“Of course not,” Bella said, her eyes still fixed on the page in front of her. “She just says that so he won’t hit her.”

The matter-of-fact way she said that alarmed me, but I couldn’t argue with the truth.

“If he does, we’re all leaving,” I told them as Phoebe wrapped her arms around my neck and curled up on my lap. “End of story.”

Bella just flipped the page of her magazine, pretending not to care. Morgan bit her lip, looking troubled.

“They were fighting about you,” she told me. “That’s what started it.”

“Me?”

“Because you hadn’t come home, and Mum wanted to go and look for you, but Dad said you’d be fine. He said some other things,” she said warily. “Do you want me to tell you?”

I shook my head. “No, it’s okay. I’m sure I can guess.”

Phoebe’s arms tightened around my neck. “It’s not your fault Jonty,” she said. “You didn’t mean to make them angry.”

The door opened then and Mum looked in. “Aren’t you girls asleep yet?” she asked irritably. Her eyes flickered onto me, then away again, unwilling to meet my gaze. I refused to look away. “Come on, into bed and lights out. You too, Bella.”

Bella switched off her torch and put it on the floor with the magazine before rolling onto her side to face the wall, ignoring all of us. Morgan slid under her covers, watching me try to prise Phoebe’s arms away from around my neck.

“Come on Phoebs, we’ve all got to go to bed now,” I told her.

“Can I sleep on the couch with you?”

“No way, Jose. You’ll take up too much space, and probably push me onto the floor in the middle of the night.”

“I won’t, I promise,” she pleaded as I finally extricated myself from her grip.

“Still not a risk I’m willing to take. You’ve got a nice bed here to sleep in, you don’t want to share a couch with your smelly brother.”

Phoebe pouted as she crawled under the scratchy wool blankets. “You’re not smelly.”

“Yes he is,” came Bella’s voice from the bottom bunk. “I can smell him from here.”

“That’s why I’m going to go have a shower now. I might even use some of Bella’s strawberry shampoo,” I told Phoebe, tucking her into bed as Bella warned me not to dare to even touch her stuff. “Na-night Phoebs. Sweet dreams.”

“Na-night Jonty.” She curled up into a ball, her arms wrapped around her orange stuffed monkey and her eyes wide open, staring straight ahead into the darkness.

Mum went into the living room as I pulled the bedroom door ajar behind me, leaving a sliver of light for Phoebe. She’d always been afraid of the dark. Mum crouched in front of the fireplace and added another log of wood to the crackling fire.

“You don’t need to do that,” I told her. “I’m going to bed in a minute anyway.”

She said nothing, just stayed there for a moment longer, staring into the flames.

“If you want to make him sleep on the couch, I can find a spot on the floor,” I offered, but she shook her head and stood up.

“Don’t be silly,” Mum said lightly. “If anyone’s going to be sleeping on the floor, it should be your father.”She looked at the old couch that had been my bed since we’d moved here. “But you’re all right on the couch, aren’t you?”

“Yeah. Of course.”

“This won’t be forever, Jonty. You know that, right?”

She said that a lot, and I always pretended to believe her. But I was getting tired of the lies we told ourselves.

“It’s been three years, Mum. Don’t you think that if things were going to change, they’d have done it by now?”

She looked away as the rain eased abruptly, and the house fell silent. Well, almost. I could hear my sisters whispering in their bedroom, telling each other to be quiet and go to sleep. I lowered my voice, looking into Mum’s eyes. We were the same height now, I realised. When had that happened?

“We could leave him, you know. If we really wanted to.”

My heart twisted as I spoke, hating the thought of leaving the farm, of waking up in the morning to a busy city street instead of looking out across endless rolling hills and paddocks. But I meant it. We all have to make sacrifices for the ones we love.

“But we don’t want to,” Mum said firmly, dismissing my concern. “We’re doing fine as we are.”

“Are we?”

“Jonty.” Mum put a hand on my cheek and smiled at me. “You worry too much. We’ll be fine. It’s just a rough patch.”

I took a breath, and nodded. She stepped back, lowering her hand, then sniffed the air and crinkled her nose. “Go and have a shower before you go to bed, eh?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, peeling off my wet jacket and watching her walk back to her bedroom.

Dad was sitting on the bed, the bottle on the floor between his feet, and his elbows resting on his knees. He looked up as she entered the room, and as she pulled the door shut, I knew she would forgive him. Again.

 

I was almost asleep when small footsteps came pattering softly across the floorboards. They stopped in front of me, and I heard Phoebe breathing close to my face.

“Jonty?”

I groaned. “Go back to bed, Phoebe.”

Her voice was little more than a whisper. “But I can’t sleep.”

I sighed heavily and opened my eyes. I could just see her outline, backlit against the dying firelight. Her big dark eyes were staring into mine, and she shivered, her monkey clutched tightly to her chest. The fire crackled as I slowly lifted the edge of my blanket, and Phoebe crawled underneath it, curling up into a ball next to me. She pressed her cold, bare feet against my knees, and I pulled the blankets back over us, letting the steady rain lull us both to sleep.


Due for release early September 2016. Sign up to my mailing list to be notified as soon as it’s available!

Rio 2016 · Thoughts

Lower your pitchforks, people [Rio 2016]

pitchforks

If this year’s Olympic Games in Rio have proven one thing, it’s that the world is well and truly watching. Equestrian sport has flown under the radar for years, but times, they are a’changing, and with the advent of social media, everyone now has their opportunity to communicate with the riders, to share information, to spread rumours, and become an armchair expert.

Because I live in New Zealand and don’t have TV, I have seen very little of the equestrian events at Rio (Sky TV bought the rights to exclusive coverage, and I can’t even stream it online from overseas websites). Most of what I do know has been gleaned off social media, which is always a dangerous place to get information. But there have already been plenty of controversies abounding in all three disciplines (I will post about the show jumping once it is all over).

Clifton Lush

Things didn’t exactly go to plan for the New Zealand eventing team at Rio. Coming into the competition as likely medal contenders, tragedy struck early when Jock Paget’s Clifton Lush sustained an injury in the stables, cutting his cheek on an exposed water pipe. The injury was kept quiet when it first happened, and wasn’t revealed until the first horse inspection. (Before each phase of the eventing, horses are required to ‘trot up’ for the ground jury, who check that they are sound and fit to compete. If a horse doesn’t look right, they are sent into a holding box while the ground jury deliberates, and are then trotted up again for a second inspection. If they pass the second time, they’re cleared to compete, but if they don’t, then they are deemed to have failed and may not continue in the competition – or, in the case of the first inspection prior to the dressage, start at all.)

Clifton Lush was held after his first pass, trotted up again, and subsequently cleared to compete. However our reserve rider Tim Price had also trotted up his horse Ringwood Sky Boy, and he, like the rest of the team, flew through the inspection. The decision was made to withdraw Clifton Lush due to the cut on his cheek and the fact that the horse reportedly appeared lacklustre, and Jock described Lush as “not feeling himself”. Jock was applauded for making a decision that prioritised his horse’s welfare, and was sent many condolences from disappointed fans and supporters.

Lush
PC: Paget Eventing

It was disappointing, and many people expressed frustration that the injury occurred at all in what was meant to be five-star accommodation. It was revealed that the horse had cut his cheek on an exposed water pipe, presumably after he got up to some mischief and decided to pull the tap handle off this pipe shown in the photo to the right, from the Paget Eventing Facebook page prior to their first night in Rio. (I say presumably as no official comment has been made by the Paget Eventing team about whether this particular pipe and tap was the actual culprit, but I feel that it’s a fairly safe assumption to make.)

That should have been the last we heard of it, but it wasn’t. When details and pictures came out via Horse & Hound yesterday stating that Lush had reportedly undergone a two-hour surgery to repair the five-inch gash in his cheek, which required four layers of suturing and over 100 stitches, the internet went feral once more. Suddenly, far from being a good horseman and role model, Jock was being villainised by the armchair critics who felt that he should never have trotted the horse up at all. It was also revealed in the article that, under close veterinary supervision, he rode the horse in a halter subsequent to the injury in the days prior to the trot-up.

While the injury certainly looks nasty in the photos that accompanied the article, it’s important to remember that we don’t know the full story. Here’s a short list of just a few of the things that we, as people outside of the team, don’t know:

  • Exactly when the accident happened – was it the first night at Rio, or only a day or two before the competition started? (The horses arrived on the 31st July to be acclimatised, and the competition didn’t start until August 7th)
  • Whose decision it was to trot the horse up – was it Jock’s, the team’s, the owners’, or a combination of both/all?
  • Whether they ever intended to compete the horse after trotting him up – it’s probable, in my opinion, that they trotted Lush up just in case one of the other NZ horses failed the inspection, in which case a serious decision as to whether to compete Lush would be made. Whether he would’ve been competed with his injury is still unknown.
  • When those photos of his wound were taken – straight after surgery when it was still swollen and fresh, or days later? Was the swelling still there when he was trotted up, or was it healing well?
  • What medication was given to the horse prior to and during the trot up, and what drugs would have been available to him during the competition – would he have been allowed a local anaesthetic around the wound site while competing? (I don’t know, but I think the question is worth asking). On this note, the FB comments that made me roll my eyes the hardest are the ones where people insisted that due to the FEI drug restrictions, Lush must have had his cheek sutured without any painkillers or sedation. I would like to ask those people how exactly they think that would be achieved on an extremely fit Thoroughbred – did they just ask Lush nicely to stand still and be brave for two hours?
  • What kind of exercise Jock gave him while riding in a halter – he’s being criticised for riding him at all, but the horse has to come out of his stables to stretch his legs, and I don’t personally see a huge difference in him riding the horse compared to leading him out. I know that when my horse was on box rest and then was allowed out to stretch his legs, he was much better behaved when I walked him around bareback than he was when I led him. I don’t know for a fact, but I highly doubt that any work that Jock gave Lush during that time was at all strenuous.

Here’s what we do know for a fact:

  • The horse was withdrawn and did not compete in any phase of the event
  • The horse passed the horse inspection, despite the injury to his cheek
  • The horse was cleared by the vets at Rio to be presented at the first horse inspection.

And here’s the thing that really baffles me. How on earth can people think that Jock, of all people, would willingly go into a competition wondering or knowing that his horse might test for a banned substance? The last thing he needed was this extra controversy, and while I don’t know any more of the facts than anyone else (and admit to some bias due to him being a) a New Zealander, and b) someone I’ve met, albeit briefly) – at the end of the day, all other things aside, the horse did not compete.

“She deserves a gold medal”…?

Which brings me to Adelinde Cornelissen, the Dutch dressage rider whose horse Parzival was bitten by a bug in the stables and suffered a severe toxic reaction to it. Parzival suffered an elevated temperature and was on a drip for nine hours the day before, but seemed to recover well and was again cleared by the vets to compete. After being denied a request to swap starting slots with a teammate so she would have another day for Parzival to recover, Adelinde decided to ride, and began her dressage test. However her horse was clearly unhappy, and a few movements in, she decided to withdraw.

eurodressage
Photo: Eurodressage.com

I haven’t seen the test, only some of the photos that came out afterwards, and they don’t paint a pretty picture as the horse left the arena with his tongue hanging out of his mouth and looking highly distressed. Clearly he had not made a full recovery, and was not ready to compete. However Adelinde did make the right decision in the end, whether or not the horse should have been started at all (questionable, in my mind, but again, I don’t know the full situation as I was. Not. There.).

Not long after her retirement mid-test, the plaudits started flowing thick and fast on Facebook, with emotional headlines on linked stories about her heroic decision – including the highly emotive “Gold Medal Athlete Quits Olympic Games to Save Her Horse”, an article which unfortunately includes a picture of the horse bleeding from his mouth prior to disqualification at WEG in 2010, giving the online critics plenty more to bleat on about. However this adulation was swiftly followed by a backlash after misreporting from NBC claimed that her horse had a hairline fracture. This allegation quickly descended into myriad claims on Facebook that she had broken her horse’s jaw through her forceful riding and use of rollkur as a training method. Now I am no fan of rollkur, and I have never particularly liked watching Parzival compete – admittedly the only time I really sat down and watched him go was at London 2012, and I watched it several times, followed by the soft, flowing test of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro who provided quite a contrast in my eyes – but that story seemed dubious to me. The FEI later issued a statement stating it was entirely false, and that the horse’s injury was related only to the bug bite, and that x-rays had been taken and there was no evidence of a fracture. And the horse was, after all, cleared by the vets to compete.

So is there a question around whether the vets are being stringent enough about horse welfare by allowing horses who are injured to compete? Perhaps. Anyone who has spent much time in horse sport, and any time at all in the professional arena, knows that there are questionable decisions made all over the place. Vets have an incredibly difficult and stressful job, as recent statistics re: depression and suicide in the vet industry have revealed. I don’t want to go on a witch hunt against vets, and of course there is an immense amount of pressure at an event like Rio to pass the horses as fit to compete. I don’t know what their guidelines are to approve horses for competition, but perhaps they need tightening.

Or perhaps we should continue to trust riders to know what is best for their horses. In both of the above situations, the riders ultimately made the best decision for their horse’s welfare. The situations around these decisions and the timing is up for discussion, and you only have to dip a toe into Facebook to join in with the pitchforks and knives.

But before you do, spare a thought for the people involved. One thing I do know for sure is that Jock has been reading the Horse & Hound Facebook comments, and I can only hope that he is not taking the criticisms too much to heart. After all, nobody will be more disappointed than he is not to have had the opportunity to ride, especially given that Lush is 16 years old and unlikely to be starting in Tokyo 2020. (Likewise, Parzival is 19 years old and will soon retire.)

The amount of time, effort – and yes, money – that it takes to get a horse to Olympic level is immense, and the hope, however slight, that the horse would recover in time to compete is always there. However as these riders are well aware, trying to reason with experts who clearly know more about the situation than the people who were actually there will only make things worse. All we can do as viewers of equestrian sport is to look for the positives,  and remember that we were not there, and as a result, we don’t have the whole story. Maybe it’s worse than we think, or maybe it’s better. We. Don’t. Know. Perhaps one day we will find out more, but for now, let’s try not to fill in the blanks with our own imaginations.

After all, that’s what fiction is for…

Eight Away · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek

Equine Excerpt : Eight Away (Pony Jumpers #8)

8 Eight Away - DIGITAL 150dpiPony 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.”

“Promise.”

“Okay.”

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.


Enjoy reading this excerpt? You can grab the full story right here on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

“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?

Equine Excerpt – A Dollar Goes a Long Way

Equine Excerpt – B&B

Jonty · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek

JONTY – Sneak Peek!

I’m 23,684 words into Special Edition #1 (or Book #8.5, whichever you prefer) in the PONY JUMPERS series – JONTY. This is Jonty’s backstory, starting when he’s eleven and gets his ugly, feral little black pony Taniwha for his birthday, and following him through the next four years, up until he joined the story at the beginning of book 4, FOUR FAULTS. It’s a story told in five parts, and I haven’t even got to the end of Part I yet, so there’s a bit of work ahead of me… but I have a quiet weekend planned so hopefully I can get the book finished within the next week or so. Here’s hoping!

Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek at a scene from the end of Part I, when Jonty takes his pony Taniwha to their first gymkhana, and finds himself riding against Hayley and her speedy gymkhana pony Pink…


The next game was the Postbox race, another one I’d never practiced before, although I had plenty of experience at shoving newspapers into letterboxes from all the times I’d used Taniwha on my paper run. But Hayley didn’t make any mistakes this time, and we finished a close second in the final to collect our first blue ribbon for the day. Hayley was pretty smug about it, but I just shrugged it off when she tried to gloat.

“Thought I’d better let you win at least one,” I told her. “Wouldn’t want you getting embarrassed in front of your family.”

“At least my family’s here to watch me. Where’s yours?” she fired back, making an exaggerated show of looking around for them.

“They don’t bother coming to little shows like this,” I told her. “They’re waiting for when I’m riding at the Olympics.”

Hayley laughed out loud. “I’d like to see that.”

“You will someday,” I promised her, and I meant it. At the tender age of eleven and three-quarters, I had no idea what it took to ride at the Olympics, only that it was something that only the very best riders got to do, and I was determined to become one of them. I would be a better rider than Hayley one day, be better than anyone here. I only had to look back at how far I’d come already, and how much I’d improved in such a short time.

“Yeah right. You’re delusional,” Hayley told me.

“Just you wait,” I replied. “Someday soon you’ll be begging me to ride your horses for you.”

Hayley raised her eyebrows. “Not on your life.”