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.”

Eight Away · Pony Jumpers series

Pony Jumpers #8: Eight Away

PJ 8A release

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 the most?

“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”

Click here for a preview and here to purchase!

Eight Away · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek

Eight Away: Sneak Peek!

8A

Phew! It’s just past midnight on the second to last day of July (which I guess technically means it’s now the last day of July) and I’ve just finished final edits on PONY JUMPERS #8: EIGHT AWAY!

I’ve got a bit of work to do tomorrow to get the preview chapter of the next book sorted, and then EIGHT AWAY will be ready to release. But before then, here’s a sneak preview from Chapter 10:


The ponies strolled up the road, even Squib’s walk having slowed slightly after several hours of work. The dogs jogged ahead of us, lying down occasionally to wait for us to catch up, then trotting on. The sun baked down, making Susannah complain that she’d forgotten her sunblock and was going to be burned to a crisp in the morning. Katy took her helmet off and shook out her sweaty hair until Misty shied at a pothole and she hastily put it back on. AJ sat sideways in her saddle, one leg hooked over the pommel and her stirrups dangling against Squib’s round sides as she chatted to us behind her. The road stretched out ahead of us, shimmering in the hot afternoon sun, and I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around Rory’s neck, my cheek pressed against her sweat-encrusted coat.

“You’re the best,” I told her, and she bobbed her head agreeably. We were both tired, and I closed my eyes and let her smooth, relaxed stride lull me as we walked on and on down the road.

“Are you asleep?”

“Yes,” I told Susannah, then winced as her metal stirrup collided with my ankle yet again when Forbes shot sideways into Rory. My patient pony swished her tail and pulled a face at Forbes, but he was distracted by the monstrous irrigators in the crop paddocks across the road, which had just turned on. I tilted my wrist and checked the time – it was later than I thought.

“We should get a move on,” I told the others, stretching my back muscles as I sat up. I was out of shape as well, but I wasn’t going to admit it. “Anyone’s pony got energy left for cantering?”

It was a rhetorical question, really. Squib and Misty were dead set on racing all the way home, Forbes was desperate to escape from the ticking irrigators, and even Rory picked up the pace when she thought she was being left behind. We let the ponies canter down the side of the road, jumping back and forth across the drainage ditches to amuse ourselves as we went. And I finally, finally felt comfortable in the saddle again.

Eventually we eased to a trot, and then back to a walk, patting our blowing ponies.

“Squib’s going to sleep well tonight,” AJ declared, clapping his neck. “We need to do this again sometime.” Her eyes lit up as she turned towards me. “Can we camp out overnight?”

Susannah looked startled, but Katy was immediately keen. “Yes! After Horse of the Year. Let’s do it. Ride all day and sleep out under the stars – it’ll be perfect!”

I nodded slowly, thinking. “Yeah, we could do that. If we rode the fences right out to the south boundary it’d take us most of the day, and we could camp there. There’s an old dairy shed in one of those back paddocks that we could sleep in if we needed shelter.”

AJ scoffed. “No way. No tents either, we’ve gotta build a campfire and hunt and gather our food…”

She rambled on as Susannah looked increasingly alarmed by her propositions.

“If you want to go full Paleo, you go right ahead,” I told AJ. “But I’m bringing food, and a gas stove, and possibly a tent. We could always drive out there the day before and leave our gear, so we wouldn’t have to carry much with us.”

“That sounds like heaven. I’m so in,” AJ said. “What about it, Susannah? You game?”

She nodded, though she looked a bit hesitant. “Sure, why not? Although I might bring Skip next time, if Dad will let me,” she decided as Forbes took exception to Thor crossing the road in front of him and shied into Rory for what must’ve been the tenth time at least.

“Oof, sorry Tess! Honestly, Forbes, would you get a grip?”

“It’s okay. And you can always borrow Misty,” I offered, laughing at the expression on her face. “Or we’ve got a few farm hacks that are pretty solid, but I can’t promise you’ll get the smoothest ride.”

“She’ll be fine, she just needs to harden up,” Katy said dismissively. “And don’t think you can back out of it, Susannah Andrews. We’ll drag you here kicking and screaming if we have to.”

AJ turned in her saddle and grinned at us. “Isn’t friendship great?”

Pony Jumpers series · Six to Ride · Thoughts

First world problems

First world problems banner

Just a quick blog post to share this message I received on Facebook during the week:

Just was thinking about why I liked your books so much and I realised it was the ‘real life’ issues which are rarely mentioned in other books. In book 6 with Katy in it I think, the part about world crisis and how you can often feel that you are overloaded and just don’t care anymore, I could really relate to that.

So for anyone who hasn’t read book 6 (SIX TO RIDE), here’s the conversation between 16 year old Katy and her neighbour Phil:

“Do you ever feel like it’s just too hard…to care? Like, when bad things happen around the world – suicide bombings and terrorist attacks and people getting beheaded and there being millions of people living in rat-infested refugee camps and it’s so awful and you feel so bad about it, but then you still have to get up every day and go to school and live your life, and your own problems seem so little and petty but then they’re also like, huge, because they’re the only problems that you’ve got. And then you get upset about stuff, and people are like um at least you’re not living in a rat-infested refugee camp and you know that’s true and you try to see that perspective but it’s so…exhausting,” I told him, my words tripping over each other as I tried to make him understand.

“Like it’s just too hard to care that much about everyone all at once, so you just ignore it as much as possible. Until something really bad happens, something terrible and cataclysmic, and everyone gets really worked up and it’s all over Facebook and there are hashtags and memes and everyone changes their DPs and you do it as well because if you don’t then it looks like you don’t care about other people’s plights, and then someone posts something about how the media is misinterpreting what’s going on or how you’ve only been shown the stuff they want you to see, and that hundreds and thousands more people are dying that you never even hear about. So then you feel shallow and you have to feel bad for those people too, for their problems and because they’re being ignored by the media, and it makes you mad that you’re being manipulated into caring more about some people than others, and you try and wrap your head around how it must feel for people to be in those kind of horrific situations, seeing their families get killed and not being able to go to school for fear of their lives, and you think how grateful you are for where you live and what you get to do in your life.

“But then your mum yells at you for not keeping your room clean, and teachers tell you off for not studying hard enough and it’s like sorry but I have the weight of the freaking world on my shoulders right now, except that I don’t. Not really. Because all those problems are other people’s problems, and my problems are whether I’ve done my homework and whether my room is clean and how my ponies are going and whether my dad just spent a stupid amount of money on a horse I can’t ride. I can’t do anything about whether someone decides to strap a bomb to themselves and kill innocent people. All I can do is write a hashtag and change my profile picture and feel guilty for having a better life than millions of people who are living in rat-infested refugee camps, and then I hate feeling so bad about something I can’t change and I can’t fix and it’s just so…it feels like such a burden, except it’s not, because look at everything we have, and how trivial our problems are…”

My words petered out at last, my tongue finally tying itself in so many knots that I had to stop. I wondered what Phil was thinking. Probably that I was crazy. I shouldn’t have said anything, should’ve quit while I was ahead, but it was too late now. My guts were officially spilled, and Phil still hadn’t spoken, so I sat up and looked at him, trying to gauge his reaction.

He didn’t meet my eyes. Instead, he was focused straight ahead, his expression tight and his jaw clenched. I thought he was mad, at first, until I realised that his eyes were shinier than usual. Was he…but boys don’t cry. It was the first thing that came into my head, and I shoved it away immediately. Of course they cry. Everyone cries. It’s perfectly normal, and healthy, and I was not going to judge him for it. But it made me uncomfortable. Not because he was a boy, but because crying people always do. I never know what to say to them, and my hugs always seem insincere, no matter how hard I try to make them feel comforting. I wanted to be AJ just then, because she would’ve known what to say and how to reassure him, or how to lighten the mood and stop him from crying, because I knew he didn’t want to be doing that in front of me. He was looking away now, trying very hard not to blink.

“You okay?”

He nodded, then raised a surreptitious hand to rub at his damp eyes. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” I leaned into his shoulder again, because it was all I could think of to do, and felt him lean back into me, reciprocating my touch. “Never thought anyone would be crying over my first world problems,” I teased, trying for some levity.

“Don’t say that.” Phil’s voice had changed, gone deeper, and I sat up again.

“What? Why not?”

He glared at me, that deep line reappearing between his eyebrows. “That first world problems crap. Because that’s part of the problem. It’s exactly what you’ve just been talking about. Everyone’s problems are their problems, and they still hurt, no matter how big or small they are. They still hurt. So saying your problems are not real problems because there are bigger problems in the world is so unhelpful. Everyone has things in life that suck, it’s just the scale of it that changes. Sometimes people can’t get out of bed in the morning because their arms and legs have been blown off. And sometimes people can’t get up because they just…can’t.”

Click here to read another sample from SIX TO RIDE, or buy it on Amazon.

First 8 covers 150dpi

Thoughts

On positive creativity

positive creative

I went for a walk this morning. I try to do this regularly, to take advantage of the fact that I live only a short walk from a beautiful beach, to take the time out to move and experience nature and touch the world instead of lying in bed, snug under the covers scrolling through Facebook (social media = addiction).

So this morning I made myself get up and go for a walk, even though it was cold, even though it was cloudy, even though I didn’t really feel like it. And as always, the moment I stepped outside my house, I knew I’d made the right decision.

I took a walk down to the beach, and took this photo just as I came up over the dunes and saw the morning laid out in front of me.

beach

As I walked down the beach, I let my thoughts wander. I gave myself some quiet time, working on quieting my brain noise, or meditating, or praying, or whatever you want to call it. I took stock of how beautiful the world is, and how lucky I am to be a part of it. I took a moment to be grateful for the simple fact that my arms and legs work, that I can see and smell and hear and move and think, that I am so incredibly fortunate to be who I am, where I am. These aren’t things we practice thinking about, and sometimes they’re hard to remember. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s the importance of gratitude.

Halfway along the beach, I stopped and stared out across the horizon and let my mind go still. I let myself be filled with the noise of the waves rolling in and crashing on the shore and the cries of the seagulls and quiet chirps of the sparrows and the murmur of the occasional car passing on the damp road. I breathed it all in and exhaled it out. I gave acknowledgement to Tangaroa, Maori god of the ocean, simply because he gives a name and a sense of entity to the enormity and beauty of a part of the natural world that I was lost in my appreciation of, in the same way that I acknowledge Tanemahuta when I walk through the forest and listen to the birds; the same way that I acknowledge Rangi-a-nui when I stare up at the night sky, or watch the sun set, or make pictures out of cloud formations; in the same way that I nod to Papatuanuku when I am in the garden, my hands buried in the rich soil, or when I let grains of sand slide through my fingers, or when I see mountains reaching to the sky, where earth mother and sky father meet.

Then I found a new track that wound through the dunes, and I followed it, brushing against wet tussock and lupin and grass, following the narrow trail of sand back to the road, and home. And as I walked, I started thinking about creativity, and how important it is to the human spirit. I got home, and I sat down, and I wrote this post on Instagram, accompanied by the photo posted above:

Creativity is an essential part of the human experience. But how often do we hold ourselves back because we don’t think we are capable of creating anything of value? We are told or we decide that we have no talent in that area and we turn our backs on the possibility and exploration of it. But maybe we need to redefine that thinking. A painting’s value lies not in whether other people think it’s beautiful, or even whether you think it is beautiful, but in the creative experience of making it. Even if it doesn’t come out the way you wanted it to, or hoped it would. Let yourself value the act, the creativity inherent in making anything that feeds your soul and reminds you that you are part of this wild and wonderful thing we call humanity. Whether it’s something you write or paint or bake or quilt or sing, whether it’s a dance move you just made up or a doodle in the margin of your notebook, it wouldn’t be there, wouldn’t have happened, if not for you. Embrace that. Own it. Create, and find value in your creations – even if you’re the only one who can see it. #fillyoursoul #creativespirit #creativity #positivepeople

We are the world. We can make it beautiful. We can make it sing.
All we have to do is begin.
Pony Jumpers series · Seventh Place

Pony Jumpers #7 : Seventh Place

AVAILABLE NOW from Amazon online stores!

Susannah is halfway through her best show jumping season yet, and when the opportunity for selection on an international tour comes along, she’s determined to prove her worth to the selectors. But she quickly discovers that not everyone is willing to forgive and forget what has gone before, and a place on the team is far from assured. When an error of judgement that leads Susannah down a path she never thought she would tread, she finds herself right back where she started – on the outside, looking in.

But that all becomes insignificant when something goes wrong with Buck, her veteran show jumping pony, and nobody seems to know how to make him better.

Can Susannah figure out how to help her pony before it’s too late?

7 Seventh Place - DIGITAL 150dpi

 

 

 

Pony Jumpers series · Seventh Place · Sneak peek

#7 Seventh Place | Preview

7P

I’m so very aware that I am really behind schedule with releasing this book, and I’m really sorry about that. Life, as they say… well, that’s my excuse anyway. Busy busy busy! But most of Seventh Place has been written, so to tide you over and thank you for waiting, here’s the opening of Chapter 3:


CHAPTER THREE
~ PRACTICE FENCE ~

“Who d’you reckon they’ll pick?”

“For what?”

“Duh. The young rider team that’s going to Ireland.”

I turned my head slightly, my attention arrested by the conversation, and I drew Buck to a halt. Pretending to be running over the course, I shamelessly eavesdropped on their conversation.

Grace shrugged, plucking idly at one of Summer’s plaits. “Not me, anyway.”

“They might,” her friend said loyally. “More likely to pick you than me, anyway. Especially after Flame stopped twice yesterday.”

I glanced at her, recognising her as the girl that had been hanging out with Grace last night. I didn’t know her name, but I knew her pony. Flamethrower, a flashy chestnut mare with white stockings up to her knees, that until a few weeks ago had been out competing with Anna. I wondered when the kid had bought her, and why. It was a hot pony, not an easy ride and certainly a lot of pony for a young girl, especially one who was even tinier than Grace.

“You’re still getting used to her,” Grace reassured her friend. “You’ll be fine.”

“I wish they were taking a proper pony team, like they did two years ago,” the girl complained. “Anna did it, and she was telling me all about it. They had under twelves, under fourteens and under sixteens. We might be in with a shot if they were doing that again. But if they’re only taking two under sixteens for the pony classes, we’re screwed.”

The steward sent her into the ring then, and I nudged Buck up alongside Grace and gave her a friendly smile as she turned to look at me.

“Oh, hi.”

“Hey.” I pretended to watch her friend in the ring for a moment. Flame jigged across the grass, tossing her head restlessly. “I didn’t know Anna had sold Flame.”

“Yeah, Issy got her for Christmas.” Grace was still a bit awkward around me, and I wasn’t sure whether she was shy or just didn’t like me. Usually I’d assume the latter, but I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

“Tough pony.” I bit off the second half of that sentence. For a kid.

Grace glanced at me again, her dark eyebrows knitting together. “Yeah, I guess.” She glanced at Buck, then back at me. “Are you really retiring Buckingham this season?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe.” We both watched as Buck decided to make friends with Summer, reaching over and sniffing her with his nose. She laid her ears back and tossed her head at him, and he decided to mind his own business again. “So what’s this about the young rider team?”

“Didn’t you hear?”

“No. Must be out of the loop.”

Grace looked a bit cagey, but nodded. “It’s for a team competition in Ireland, in June. You have to be under sixteen to make the team,” she added, looking at me through narrowing eyes. “At least, for the Juniors you do. They’re taking two under eighteen riders as well, and two under twenty-one. At least, that’s what Mum said.”

“Connor planning to go?”

She shrugged. “Mum wants him to, but he’ll have hockey then and he doesn’t want to miss any tournaments.”

“I didn’t know he played hockey.”

“Yeah, he’s on the national Under 20s squad. He does heaps of training for it. That’s why he’s only got two horses this season. Doesn’t have time to work any more than that.”

“Right.” Everyone had a life outside of horses, it would seem. Everyone except me. I cast my mind back over what she’d said. “When in June is it?”

“Right at the start, I think. Just before the school holidays start.”

Good to know. I wouldn’t be sixteen until the end of June. I was about to ask more when Jordan turned up at the gate to check that Grace knew the course. She said a brief hello to me, and I wished Grace luck as she rode Summer into the ring, then turned Buck away to finish his warm-up.

I knew that Dad would be all over this team thing as soon as he found out about it. His biggest ambitions for me all revolved around getting into a New Zealand team. He wanted so desperately to see that silver fern patch stitched onto the front of my competition jacket, and he’d been gutted when I’d never made it into the Children’s FEI Final.

I’d never been to Ireland. I wondered what it was like, and who I would be up against to make it into the team.

~  *  ~

Katy, for starters. She sent me a text that afternoon to find out if I’d heard about it, and whether I was planning on putting my name forward.

Yep. Just sneak in age wise it ends a week before my birthday! Dads all over it like a rash haha. I hope we both get to go!!

I sent the text and shoved my phone back in my pocket, then finished buckling Forbes’ open-fronted tendon boots on. Straightening up, I gave him a slap on the shoulder and looked him in the eye.

“Right, boy. You ready for this?”

Dad had his head bent over his paperwork as I stepped up into the truck to get my jacket. Despite last night’s chill, it was blisteringly hot today, and Forbes was sweating just standing around. I’d left it as long as I could before I tacked him up for the class, but he preferred a long warm-up, and I wasn’t going to change our routine now. I’d just work him a little slower than usual, that was all. I grabbed my favourite burgundy jacket and slung it over my arm. Time enough to put that on when I was about to go into the ring.

“Coming?”

Dad wrote something else on a piece of paper, then set down his pen. “You ready to go?”

I nodded. “Yep.” My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I pulled it out and read Katy’s text as I went back down the steps and over to my pony’s side.

Yeah thatd be sweet! Saw results on FB this morning, good work Skipper! What happened to Buck tho?

I smiled at the first part, then cringed at her second question. Skip had jumped a super double clear to pick up another second placing and secure us the top spot on the overall leaderboard, but Buck had had a refusal at the wall, putting himself out of contention.

Had a stop. Not sure why. Its stinking hot down here tho and the grounds hard as rock so prob just feeling it on the old joints. Have scratched him from the rest of the show and will get him looked at when we get home

Dad made an impatient noise in the back of his throat as I sent the text, then shoved my phone into my pocket and kicked my left leg up for a leg-up. I waited for him to say something, or make me hand my phone over to him, but he didn’t.

I tightened my girth while he shut the truck door, then walked alongside me to the ring. We passed the Campbells’ truck, and I waved to Grace, who was sitting on the ramp with her friend Issy. Had I ever been that little? Not that I was tall now, but they looked like they should still be pottering around on twelve-twos, not competing in the Grand Prix classes on full-height ponies.

“Any further thoughts about that bay mare?” Dad asked.

I kept my tone ambivalent. “Jumped well this morning,” I said. “I watched her go.”

Actually, well was an understatement. Anna had worked out how to ride the mare now, and she’d jumped a tidy clear first round in the metre-twenty. Star had cleared everything with room to spare, and there’d been several people on the sidelines admiring her. She’d been quick around the jump off too, just taking one rail at the second to last fence. I’d seen it coming as Anna had turned the corner, letting Star get a bit quick and not sitting her back on her hocks enough. She’d underestimated the length of the little mare’s stride, and by the time she’d realised her error, she’d been too close to the fence. Star had given it everything, but she’d rubbed the back rail of the oxer as she angled over it. She’d given Anna a good couple of bucks on landing, telling her off, and Anna had corrected her ride to finish the course, but it meant no ribbons for them. And with yesterday’s result added to today’s, they wouldn’t be qualified for the Final tomorrow.

Dad echoed that result as we reached the warm-up. “Nigel said they’ve late-entered her into the metre-twenty Non-Championship class tomorrow afternoon, since she didn’t qualify. Offered to let you take her round.”

I hesitated. “Maybe.”

“What d’you mean, maybe?” Dad was frowning at me now, and he’d stopped in the gate of the warm-up, putting a hand on Forbes’ rein to hold me there. I glanced behind me, but there was nobody coming. “I thought you liked her.”

“I do. I just don’t…” I ground my teeth together, then confessed. “I don’t want to screw it up.”

“You won’t.” Dad was so certain of that. I wished I shared his confidence in me. “Rode her beautifully yesterday, didn’t you?”

“She went okay. But it’s different in the ring. Everyone will be watching, and…”

“So? You’ve got to get over that,” he told me. “Besides, it’ll be good practice for you, competing a horse you’ve hardly ridden. You’ll have to do that in Ireland, you know.”

“I haven’t made the team yet,” I reminded him, but he scoffed.

“Bruce is a selector. He knows you, knows how well you ride,” Dad said, his voice assured. “I’ll have a chat with him, make sure he knows how badly we want it.”

I saw the look in his eyes, and knew that if money had to change hands, well, he’d make that happen too. But I didn’t want to make the team if that’s what it would take. I wanted to be selected on merit, not on bank balance, and I was about to tell him that when we were interrupted.

“You’re blocking the gate.”

I looked up to see Anna in front of us, waiting to get out of the warm-up and into the ring.

“Oh, sorry.” I wondered how much she’d overheard. Judging by the look on her face, quite a bit. I wondered if she was going to put her name forward for the team. Chances were high. Her parents were wealthy and she was ambitious, and she already had a couple of international team competitions under her belt. She was almost a surety, and I hoped Katy made the team. I didn’t want to be on it if she didn’t.

As Anna rode her leggy chestnut horse past me, Dad released Forbes. I rode my pony forward, sending him straight into a trot and away from my father. Dad was right, as little as I liked to admit it. I did have to practice riding unknown horses and ponies before the team event. And that was one thing Katy defeinitely had on her side. She’d grown up riding different ponies, picking up catch rides all the time, and everyone knew that she could get anything to go well. Forbes was the only tricky pony I’d ever had – everything else was fully trained before I got it. And if I was being honest, despite his few quirks, Forbes had been very well schooled by Katy before he came to me.

The class was running in reverse order of points, which meant Forbes and I were jumping last. It was the last class of the day, and the warm-up cleared out as I worked my pony in. He liked a good long warm-up, and always jumped better if he’d done lots of schooling first. It was a little tedious sometimes, but worthwhile in the end. I wondered, as I rode another trot serpentine, whether that had been part of his problem with Katy. She’d always been in such a hurry with her big team of ponies, and rarely gave any of them more than ten or fifteen minutes to work in, sometimes even less than that. But Forbes took a good half-hour to get really switched on. I had to be careful today though, as despite the later hour, it wasn’t getting any cooler. The sun baked down onto the scorched earth, and Forbes was sweating heavily as I brought him back to a walk and gave him a pat.

Dad was over at the practice fence, putting the vertical down to a crossrail and motioning to me to come and jump it. In a burst of defiance, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone, wanting to check first whether Katy had replied to my text.

Aw poor old man. Give him a hug for me, and tell skip to kick ass tomorrow !!!

I slipped it back into my jacket and picked up my reins as I rode past the practice jump, ignoring Dad’s glare. There were a handful of other riders still in the ring, and I counted them quickly. Three left, and I knew the chestnut-and-white pinto would be going in right before me, because I remembered it being next to me in the presentation yesterday. The liver chestnut was third, I was pretty sure, and the roan fourth, which meant it would be next to jump.

Sure enough, it got called into the ring by a large, bossy steward at that moment, and the kid trotted over to the gate as a young girl with blonde hair pulled back into a tight ponytail came over to the crossrail and started adjusting it back into a vertical. Dad quit glaring at me and directed his annoyance towards her instead.

“Hey, leave that alone, we’re using it.”

The girl looked at my father with a frown, and I recognised her in a vague sort of way. She had just started show jumping this season, but after a couple of shaky rounds early on, she’d hit her stride recently and was climbing up the Pony Grand Prix leaderboard with a succession of recent wins. Of course, she had a pair of very experienced ponies that could probably jump clear rounds with their eyes closed, but then who was I to judge?

“Emmalee wants to jump it,” the girl, whose name I still couldn’t remember, told my father. She seemed slightly cowed by Dad’s aggressive tone, but she was standing her ground. “She’s next to go in, and she has to do a vertical first.”

Dad folded his arms across his chest. “My daughter hasn’t even jumped yet,” he countered. “You’ve had ample time to jump the vertical, now it’s Susie’s turn.”

I saw the girl’s eyes flicker towards me, then back to my father. “But…”

“But nothing. It’s not your turn.”

She opened her mouth to say something, then clearly thought better of it, and walked back over to a group of people standing by the gate. I nudged Forbes into a canter, cringing inwardly but trying to project outward calm. I knew Forbes well enough to know that if I got wound up, he’d sense it and start getting wild and unmanageable, and I didn’t need that today.

I cantered him over the crossrail once, then turned to come the other way over it. But when I came to reapproach, I realised that Dad was standing in front of it, his arms still folded, while another man yelled at him, arms waving angrily.

I brought Forbes back to a trot and circled him, trying to concentrate on steadying my breathing, and not letting any of the tension in the air transmit itself to Forbes. But it was too late. He tossed his head, tugging at the bit, then spooked sideways as the roan pony came cantering past me.

“It’s okay, buddy.” I reached forward and gave Forbes a pat, then glanced back over at my Dad, who was still engaged in a stand-off with the other father.

Just put the jump back to how it was, I wanted to tell him. The next rider to go into the ring had priority of use over the practice fence. Everyone knew that, and I wished Dad would just back down and accept it. The blonde girl was standing over by the gate, looking a bit emotional about being yelled at by my father, and I remembered her name at last. Lily Christianson. One of the women there had her arm around her shoulders, and they glared at me as they saw me looking at them. I looked away, pushing Forbes back into a canter and focusing on my pony. There was nothing else I could do. If I went over there and told Dad to give in, he’d never let me hear the end of it. He was already grumpy with me, and I didn’t need to give him any more fuel for his fire. He hated it when I disagreed with him in public, even when he was clearly wrong. I just had to get Forbes into the ring and jump a clear round, and a quick jump off, and Dad would forget to be angry with me.

But that was looking less and less likely to happen, because I couldn’t stop myself from tensing up, and Forbes couldn’t handle it. He got quicker and quicker as we cantered around the warm-up, and when I tried to slow him down, he flung his head from side to side and lifted his back, threatening to buck.

The call came from the steward, sounding terse. “Emmalee, the judges are waiting for you. You need to get over to the ring right away. Isaac, you’re on straight after her, and Susannah’s last to go.” She looked up from her clipboard and saw the stand-off happening in front of the practice fence, and a frown crossed her face. “What’s going on?”

I drew Forbes back to a walk, bracing myself as the small group at the gate quickly filled her in. The steward looked furious as she slapped her clipboard against her thigh.

“Right. Emmalee, you need to get into the ring right now or they’ll scratch you for not turning up. I’ll sort this out.”

Emmalee’s mother started arguing that her daughter needed to jump the vertical before she could go into the ring, but the steward wasn’t having a bar of it. Defeated, Emmalee rode her pretty liver chestnut out towards the ring, and her mother followed with a scowl as I halted Forbes and checked my girth. Any excuse to keep my eyes down and avoid looking at anyone. I could hear the conversation as it carried across the dusty warm-up, both men talking on top of each other, much to the steward’s obvious irritation.

“All right, settle down for a minute. Derrick, has your daughter jumped the crossrail yet?”

“Once,” Dad said. “She needs to do it again before I put it up, and if these people had just let her go ahead, we wouldn’t be standing here having this argument.”

“Let her jump it again. Once,” the steward said, having obviously worked out that it was easier to just let Dad have his own way and be done with it. “Then it goes up to a vertical. No arguments, and I don’t care if she knocks it down. Jump it once, then it goes up.”

She strode away, the other man hot on her heels and still arguing, as Dad turned towards me with a victorious expression.

“Okay Susie, it’s all yours.”


7 Seventh Place - DIGITAL 150dpi

PONY JUMPERS #7 : SEVENTH PLACE

Susannah is on her way to the National Championships, but without the friends she is now accustomed to having by her side. When her attempts to make new friends, both in and out of the jumping arena, repeatedly end in disaster, she starts to wonder whether her dreams are still worth fighting for.

But everything changes when one of her ponies falls dangerously ill, and suddenly winning doesn’t seem to matter at all…

Pony Jumpers series · Seventh Place · Sneak peek

Sneak peek : #7 Seventh Place

7P

A sneak peek from Chapter Seven of book 7 in the Pony Jumpers series – SEVENTH PLACE.


The sun was lowering over the Taihape show grounds as I stepped out of our truck on Saturday evening. My jandals crunched on the dry grass, and I wondered if it was going to rain soon. The ground was like rock, and the sprinklers that were hissing water across the jumping rings were barely making a dent.

Dad straightened up from his crouch by the truck’s water tank and looked at me. “Where are you off to?”

“Katy’s truck. I’m having dinner with them. I told you.”

“Oh, right.”

I felt bad about leaving him alone, but Katy had already told me that her mum was spending the evening with friends, so there was no place for him. If he’d tried a little harder to make friends of his own, maybe he wouldn’t be in this position. I pushed away that uncharitable thought and gave him a quick wave as I started to walk away, only to be called back by his insistent voice.

“Are the ponies fed?”

“Yes.”

“Did you wrap Skip’s legs?”

I stopped and looked back at him. “Yes. And Forbes’ as well, and they’ve got hay, and water, and I’ve mucked them out. Anything else?”

“Did you clean your tack?” He was really grasping at straws now.

“I’ll do it in the morning,” I assured him.

“Don’t be too late. Forbes is on first thing.”

“I know. I won’t,” I called back as I started walking again. “Besides, Katy’s in the same class and she’s first to go. It’s not going to be a late night. Promise.”

I walked down the line of trucks, listening to the slap of my jandals against the hard ground, enjoying the warm evening air on my bare arms and legs. It had been a hot day, but my ponies had jumped well. I saw Katy’s truck up ahead, and heard AJ’s loud laughter emanating from it. The ramp was down, and Katy stepped down onto it with an armful of feed buckets. Her dark hair was falling out of its ponytail, and she had a dirty streak down her bare leg.

I grinned at Katy as I reached the bottom of her ramp. “Need any help?” I offered, eyeing up the buckets in her arms.

“Oh hey,” she greeted me. “No I’m good, these are for the morning. Just trying to be prepared.”

“For once in your life,” AJ teased her, appearing at the top of the ramp. She had her arm in a sling, reminding me of the injury that she’d sustained in a car accident on New Year’s Eve. It had been a rough start to the year for her too, but she was beaming down at me as though she didn’t have a care in the world. “How are you always so clean?” she asked me, her blue eyes scanning me from top to toe.

I blushed, shrugging. “I had a shower.”

“Ah, that’d explain it. Did you hear that, Katy?”

“I heard.”

“Just a friendly suggestion from the person who has to sleep next to you tonight,” AJ said casually as Katy jumped off the ramp and opened one of the side hatches with one hand, stepping back as she lifted it up and did her best to wedge the buckets in. I went to help her, holding the hatch up for her.

“Thanks.” Katy shoved a pile of covers that had been crammed into the small space to the side, then pushed the buckets into the gap, where they tilted precariously back towards her. “I think they’ll stay,” she said optimistically.

I shot her a dubious look. “I don’t.”

“Aren’t you Susie Sunshine today?” she asked. “Don’t be such a pessimist.”

“It’s not pessimism, it’s physics,” I replied. “This little thing called gravity.”

“Pfft.” Katy rolled her eyes at me. “We’ve just gotta be quick. Shut the hatch on three. Ready? One, two, three!”

She let go of the buckets and stepped back before I could tell her that it was a really stupid idea, because even if I could get the hatch closed in time to keep the feed buckets wedged into the gap, they would all fall out the moment anyone opened it again. Katy didn’t appear to have thought of that, but since I’d failed to shut the hatch on her count, the buckets tumbled out as soon as she let go of them – just as I’d known they would – and scattered their contents across the dry grass.

AJ roared with laughter as Katy stared at me indignantly.

“You didn’t shut it!”

“I told you it wasn’t going to work.”

“It would’ve worked if you’d just shut it when I told you to.”


7 Seventh Place - DIGITAL 150dpi

SEVENTH PLACE is due out in February 2016!

Susannah is on her way to the National Championships, but without the friends she is now accustomed to having by her side. When her attempts to make new friends, both in and out of the jumping arena, repeatedly end in disaster, she starts to wonder whether her dreams are still worth fighting for.

But everything changes when one of her ponies falls dangerously ill, and suddenly winning doesn’t seem to matter at all…