Book Excerpt · Eleventh Hour · equestrian · New release · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek · writing

Sneak Peek – Pony Jumpers #11 – Eleventh Hour

CHAPTER 1
HELPING HANDS

A cold wind whipped across the winter-bare paddocks, tangling my hair around my face. I shivered, snugging my scarf up around my neck, and continued the short walk to the barn. I could hear Forbes banging his hoof against his stable door, impatiently demanding his breakfast.

As I unlatched the sliding doors and slipped inside, my dark bay pony laid his ears back at me and snarled up his nostrils, making his opinion of my lateness well and truly known. His bright chestnut stablemate, Skip, greeted me with a hopeful whinny and much friendlier expression. I smiled at them both, feeling my heart lift. I always felt at home in the barn, much more so than the large, glass-plated house that I’d just left behind. The barn was a comfort, drawing me in like an old friend, giving me a place where I felt like I always belonged. The combined smell of horses and hay and shavings and leather was the best perfume I could ever imagine, and I greeted the ponies warmly.

“Good morning to you, too.”

The dark bay pony banged on his door again, louder this time.

“All right, Forbes. You’re not going to die from hunger in the time it takes me to mix your feed,” I told him as I headed into the feed room.

The look he gave me made it clear that he didn’t believe me, and he continued to bang on about his hunger while I added soaked beet pulp to the feeds I’d prepared the night before, gave them a quick stir and took them out to the ponies. Forbes shoved his head into his bucket and started munching like a dying thing, while Skip politely stepped back and waited for me to put his bucket into his stable, then delicately began lipping it up.

I was stuffing a couple of biscuits of hay into the steamer when I heard another whinny from outside, followed by the yeehaw of a small but opinionated donkey. Forbes laid his ears back at the sound as he munched, and I rolled my eyes at his peevishness as I walked to the other end of the barn and let myself out the back door. My retired show jumping pony Buck and his best friend, Emily the miniature donkey, were waiting at their gate, ears pricked and eyes bright. The wind whistled past the barn as I carried their feed buckets out to them.

“Vet’s coming today,” I told Buck as he tucked into his breakfast. “Don’t worry, just for a check up. Just to make sure you’re in the best of health.”

I slid a hand under his cover and across his dark coat, thick and fluffy in this winter weather. Buck munched on, unfazed, and I left them to eat and went back into the barn, where I set to work removing stable rugs and bandages, then putting warm waterproof rugs and turnout boots onto both ponies.

Skip finished licking the last of the grain out of his bucket as I fastened the last strip of velcro around his neck, and reached around to nuzzle my face with his grain-encrusted muzzle.

“No need to share, thanks anyway,” I told him, pushing him affectionately away, then giving him a cuddle in case his feelings were hurt. Skip was a sensitive soul with a kind nature, but his feelings were easily bruised.

Forbes, on the other side of the aisle, was his polar opposite. He was snarky and opinionated, the kind of pony that, if he were human, would spend large portions of his day writing vitriolic comments on Twitter, just to get a rise out of people. I changed his rugs and put his boots on as well, taking a little more care over it as I dodged his attempts to nip me and his propensity to lash out with a hind leg when I put his back boots on.

“I know you don’t like the cotton wool treatment, but you have to deal with it,” I told him. “It’s par for the course around here, and you know it.”

Forbes wrinkled his nostrils at me as I slipped his halter on and led him out into the aisle, then retrieved Skip from his stable and led them both out into the wintry morning.

 

I was halfway through mucking out when Lesley arrived. She breezed into the barn with the casual confidence that I envied so much, her thick mane of auburn hair hanging down her back and veterinary kit in hand.

“Morning!”

“Hi.” I set down the pitchfork and stepped out into the aisle. “How are you?”

“A bit late,” she admitted. “Sorry, but my vet student called in sick this morning, so I’m already behind schedule.”

“Oh no. I hope she’s okay.”

“Probably just hung over,” Lesley said dismissively. “How that girl made it through four years of vet school is beyond me. Now, where’s my victim?”

I grabbed Buck’s halter from his peg and we went out together to see him. Buck’s dust allergy had caused breathing problems and recently forced him into early retirement. I held him while Lesley listened to his heart and lungs, took his temperature and checked him over thoroughly. We both knew that this check was simply a routine measure — I knew enough to be able to spot anything untoward — but it made Dad feel better to have Buck regularly looked at, and Lesley was always very thorough.

“He’s doing well,” she declared after recording his temperature in her notes. “Keeping him out of the barn is clearly working, and he’s coping well with the colder weather.”

“He’s happy,” I said, rubbing Buck’s forehead. “I’d wondered if he’d mind being retired, since he always seemed to love being ridden, but he’s happy as.”

“They usually are,” Lesley said with a wink. “Horses are far less ambitious than their riders.”

I smiled bashfully as I removed Buck’s halter. He didn’t move, staying with his head resting against my arm.

“He’s a sweet boy,” Lesley said. “You’re lucky to have him, and he’s lucky to have you.” She sighed, then looked down again at her tablet. “Right, onto the next one.”

“Do you have a busy day planned?” I asked her as Buck returned to his freshly steamed hay.

“Frantic. And now I have to do it alone. Unless…” She looked at me, eyebrows quirked. “You said you’re not doing anything today?”

“Um, no. Well, I have to exercise the ponies, but other than that…”

“Wanna come with me and help out? It won’t be anything complicated, just holding horses, handing me bandages, that sort of thing, but since you’re mad enough to want a career doing this, you might as well tag along. If you’re up for it.”

I grinned at the vet. “Absolutely!”

 

We’d seen our first case of the day, a horse with a cut heel that needed its wound dressed, and were on our way to the second when Lesley abruptly slowed the ute and swung it into a driveway almost obscured by trees.

“Sorry,” she said lightly as I was flung sideways in my seat by her sudden change of direction. “I just remembered that I promised I’d drop in on Faye this weekend, and since we’re going past…”

We bumped along a narrow, pot-holed driveway, and I gritted my teeth against the ute’s lack of suspension. Tall trees on both sides cast a dark shadow overhead, and we turned a corner and arrived in the middle of a dilapidated yard. A long, low brick building with barred windows and a door at one end squatted in front of large slab of cracked concrete, and a shabby cottage with weed-filled flowerbeds lurked on the opposite side. Lesley parked the ute as a cacophony of barking started up from the brick building, which sounded as if it was filled with dogs.

“What are we here to—” I started to ask, then saw the thinnest, most miserable horse I’d ever seen in my life. Her hips and ribs protruded starkly through her dappled grey coat, her spine was clearly visible along the ridge of her back, and her dark mane couldn’t hide the painful thinness of her neck. She stood in a tiny, muddy paddock with more weeds than grass, her head down as she munched slowly at the meagre rations. “Oh my god!”

“Bit of mess, isn’t she?” Lesley agreed, opening her door and jumping out of the ute. I followed suit, and walked around to the front of the vehicle to stare at the unhappy horse. She lifted her head and watched us, pieces of grass falling from her lips as she chewed.

“What is this place?” I asked, looking around in disbelief.

“Animal rescue. Faye has dogs mostly, but she’s somehow ended up with this mare, too.” Lesley gave a rueful smile. “She’s obviously not set up for horses, but this is what comes of an utter inability to say no to people. Her heart’s in the right place, though, and she does her best. I do what I can to help her.”

I walked closer to the fence and the mare raised her head warily. Her chewing stopped.

“Where did the horse come from?”

“No idea, to be honest. You’d have to ask Faye.” She looked around, then her expression brightened. “And here she is.”

I turned to see a stoutly-built woman with wispy grey hair and mud-encrusted gumboots trudging towards us.

“Morning!”

She clasped Lesley’s hand warmly, then turned to me with a smile. Her face was weatherworn, with prominent crow’s feet around her brown eyes, but the warmth in her expression was genuine, and I found myself smiling back as I shook her head.

“This is Susannah, she’s helping me out today,” Lesley introduced me. “We don’t have long, because we’re supposed to be at our next appointment ten minutes ago, but we were coming past so I thought I’d pop in. How’s she doing?”

“Better, I think.” Faye frowned as she considered the mare. “She’s still terribly thin, of course, but you said not to feed her too much.”

Her expression was worried as she returned it to Lesley, and I could tell that she was anxious about doing the right thing.

“Slow and steady is the key with rehabs,” Lesley confirmed. “In her condition, if she gets too much feed at once, she’s at high risk of colicking, and that’s the last thing we want. But she’s at the stage now when you can give her as much hay as she’ll reasonably eat.”

Faye looked perplexed. “I meant to ask you about that. I’ve got a couple of bales left, but hay is hard to come by, and everyone else I’ve talked to wants an obscene amount of money for it.” She opened her hands in a helpless shrug. “Fifteen dollars a bale can’t be right, can it?”

“We had a drought over summer,” Lesley reminded her. “Good hay is expensive this year, but whatever you can get is better than nothing, as long as it’s not mouldy or stale.” She patted Faye’s shoulder reassuringly. “I’ll see if I can track some more down for you. Have you had any luck catching the horse?”

Faye shook her head. “I’ve tried, but she won’t come near me. Not even for carrots. I ended up throwing them out into the paddock, but she seemed to have trouble eating them.”

“Probably needs her teeth done,” I said, and Lesley nodded.

“And her hooves trimmed,” she added, and I looked at the mare’s feet and winced. “They’re starting to split, and they’ll cause her some serious issues if those cracks get too wide. We can sedate her for that if necessary. I’ll give Barry a call, see if I can tee something up with him during the week.”

Faye smiled gratefully. “I really appreciate you taking such an interest,” she said happily. “I wouldn’t know what to do without your help.”

“You need to find someone else to take her on,” Lesley said matter-of-factly. “You’re not set up for horses here, and you’ve already got your hands full with the dogs.”

“I know, but how would I know that whoever took her would take proper care of her?” Faye sighed, rubbing her hands on her dirty cargo pants. “Well, I suppose I’ll keep trying, and keep you posted if I have any luck.”

Lesley glanced at her watch. “Tell you what, why don’t I come and see how Sprocket’s getting on after his surgery, while Susannah has a go at handling your mare.”

“Uh…” I wasn’t sure how good my chances were, but I couldn’t say no without trying. “I guess I could attempt it.”

There was a tattered halter and lead hanging on the gate, and I let myself into the paddock while Lesley followed Faye towards the brick building to see the dogs. When the barking doubled in volume, I knew they’d gone inside, and that the grey mare and I were alone.

My boots sank into the gluggy mud in the gateway as I hitched the gate shut. The horse watched me suspiciously as I walked in her direction, but waited until I was a few metres away before turning around and walking into the far corner of the small paddock.

“Hey, girl. Come on, now. Let us help you. We both know could use it.”

I spoke softly to her as I approached on an angle, knowing better than to walk towards her head on. The mare kept a close eye on me, stepping away as soon as I breached the large personal bubble she had around herself.

I stopped, and so did she.

I stepped forward, and after a moment, she did too.

We moved in a slow dance, a step at a time, while time seemed to stand still around us. Slowly, gradually, the distance between us decreased until I was close enough to reach out and touch her. I moved carefully, slowly extending my arm to brush my fingers against her thin neck. The mare flinched away from my touch, tripping on her overgrown hooves. She was standing against the fence, and I didn’t want to put too much pressure on her in case she panicked and ran into or through it. So I lowered my hand and stepped back, waiting for her to relax a little before I moved closer again. This time she stood still, and I was able to run a hand down her thin neck.

But the moment I lifted a hand to the lead rope over my shoulder, she burst past me in a flurry of speed, almost knocking me down in her desperate panic to escape. I watched her stumbling across the uneven ground, and a desperation to help filled me.

“You have to let someone help you,” I told the horse. “You can’t do this by yourself.”

Once she’d stopped moving, I began the process over again. This time, when I reached her side, I managed to slip the rope over her neck without her running away. But when I tried to lift the halter up to her face, she half-reared and pulled away. I barely kept hold of the lead rope around her neck, and had to drop the halter on the ground. It took me several minutes to calm her enough to let me touch her again, but she eventually relented, allowing me to run my hand down her narrow scabby face.

“You poor, poor girl,” I said sympathetically. “How could anyone let this happen to you?”

I looked up to see Lesley and Faye exiting the dog building. I tried to lead the grey mare towards the gate, but as soon as she felt pressure on the rope around her neck, she baulked, almost pulling the lead rope out of my hand. .

“It’s okay.” I held a hand out to her, and she blew warm breath over my skin. “Come on, let’s go see what Lesley can do for you.”

I started forward again, applying only the gentlest pressure to the rope around the base of the mare’s neck, and this time she followed me. The loosely knotted rope around her neck didn’t give me much control over her movement, but it was better than nothing.

Lesley met me at the gate with an approving nod. “Nice work.”

“I couldn’t get near her with the halter,” I explained as she came into the paddock. “But hopefully this will do.”

“We’ll manage,” Lesley agreed.

Faye was more effusive with her praise. “You’ve really got a way with horses,” she gushed. “I haven’t been able to get that close to her since she arrived! How on earth did you do it?”

I shrugged. “Just lucky, I guess.”

Lesley was running her latex-gloved hand across the mare’s back, which was covered in scabs and bare patches of skin.

“You know what this is?” she asked me, and I nodded.

“Rain scald.”

“That’s the one.” She picked off a few scabs, and tufts of hair came out with it. “Is that a  fungal or bacterial condition?”

“Um.” I bit the inside of my cheek, thinking. “I don’t know. Bacterial?”

“Trick question. It’s both,” Lesley said with a grin. “It’s not the end of the world, but it’s pretty unsightly and it won’t be too comfortable for her. Treatment?”

“Antiseptic wash and keep it as dry as possible?”

“Yep. But I suspect — woah there, good girl — that she won’t love the idea of being scrubbed down. She’s barely tolerating this as it is,” Lesley said, stepping back to allow the mare to relax again. “But I’ve got a good topical spray that’ll help clear it up. I’ll drop some round in the next day or so, and rustle up a rug that’ll fit her. One that’s waterproof. That’s very important, because if moisture gets in under the rug, it’ll only make matters worse. Assuming, of course, that she’ll let you put one on.”

She looked at Faye, who shrugged. “I can try, if you’ll show me how.”

“Hmm. Might need to get her haltered first,” Lesley said. She glanced at her watch, and winced. “We really have to go. We’re half an hour late now, and even I can’t drive fast enough to make up that much time.”

Faye thanked her effusively as I gave the mare’s thin neck one final stroke, then untied the lead rope from around her neck. As soon as she was freed, the mare turned around and trotted in her ungainly way across the paddock, determined to get away from us.

It started to rain, a light misty sort of rain that wafted across the yard in sheets. I turned my collar up against it and stood with my back to the weather. The mare did the same, ducking her head down, and I watched the dampness settle onto her scabby coat.

“Oh, I almost forgot that cream for Caesar,” Lesley said as we headed back to the ute. “It’s in here somewhere, I’m sure of it.” She rummaged around in the back, then pulled out a tube of cream and another pair of latex gloves. “Let’s do this, shall we?”

The moment we stepped inside the long, low brick building, the barking started up again.

“Noisy beggars, aren’t they?” Faye said fondly as she led us down a narrow aisle between two rows of dog enclosures.

Each one contained at least one dog, some tattered bedding and toys, and empty food bowls. The smell was nothing like the warm, comforting smell of a horse barn, and the loud barking couldn’t compare to the warm nickering of a horse – although Forbes’ ear-splitting whinnies would give some of the dogs a run for their money.

I walked behind the two women, glancing through the chainlink fences into each enclosure that we passed. There were dogs of all shapes and sizes — small yappy ones, big floofy ones, hyperactive ones flinging themselves at the cage doors, shy ones who sat on their blankets at the back of their pens and watched us suspiciously with their ears and tails lowered. Faye stopped at the far end of the building, and I gasped at the sight of the saddest and meanest-looking dog I’d ever seen.

“Stay back,” she cautioned us as the dog let out a low, threatening growl.

“What happened to him?”

Caesar was a short, stocky pitbull. His white coat was covered in scars and scrapes, and he had patches of hair missing. His skin was mottled pink underneath, and one of his eyes had a pale film over it. His ears were so tattered as to be almost non-existent.

“He was part of a gang-affiliated dog fighting ring,” Faye explained. “The police found out about it and shut it down. They had to put most of the poor dogs down, but one of the cops is a friend of mine, and he took pity on this one. Thought he might be able to be saved.” She sighed as she crouched down next to the enclosure, and the dog tentatively approached, then sniffed her hand through the fence. “He deserves a second chance. He’s had a miserable life, but he’s only a pup, really.”

I stared at Caesar, torn between feeling bad for him and hoping he wasn’t going to bite her hand off.

“I hope you can get through to him,” I said finally.

“So do I,” Faye said. “I’m hopeful that he’ll come around. But he’ll be staying here, no matter what. It’s always too dangerous to re-home a dog like him, not least because sometimes the gangs find out where they are and come back for them. I can’t let someone else’s family take that risk.”

A shiver ran down my spine at her words. “Aren’t you worried about them coming here?”

Faye shrugged as she slowly stood up. “What else can I do?” she asked. “Who else is going to take him?”

The personal risks that she took to do what she did hadn’t occurred to me before, and I was overcome with a feeling of admiration for her. She was an older woman, living alone in a small cottage on the outskirts of town, with no neighbours to speak of. Yet she put her own safety and security on the line for the sake of one dog.

“I’d be terrified,” I confessed.

“Well, if we didn’t do things that scared us, nobody would ever get anything done,” Faye replied matter-of-factly. “You ready, Lesley?”

I stood back and watched as the two women entered the dog’s enclosure. He growled, low in his throat, but they stayed calm and moved carefully, taking their time. Faye held the dog while Lesley applied the cream to his mangy coat, speaking softly to him the whole time. It only took a few minutes, and once he was released, Caesar retreated to the corner of his pen and plopped down onto an old foam mattress.

“I’m pleased with that,” Lesley declared, pulling off her gloves. “He should make it through the physical issues. The emotional scars, well…” She shrugged. “That’s anyone’s guess.”

Faye smiled sadly. “That’s always the real obstacle,” she told me. “We can heal the outside. It’s going to take a lot of time, energy and love to heal the internal wounds.”

“He’s lucky to have you,” Lesley told her sincerely. “Not many others would give him a chance.”

Faye sighed. “That’s my bleeding heart — always getting me into trouble.”

Lesley reached out and gave her a hug. “You’re my hero,” she told the older woman. “Give me a call if you need anything.”

“You’re an angel,” Faye replied. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

As we walked back down the aisle between the rows of caged dogs, my footsteps slowed. I looked in through the bars, peering at their faces, wondering what their stories were and how they’d ended up there. Each one had their name written in chalk on the wall by their door. Dodger, a black and white collie, lying on his bed with sad eyes. Jed, a big black and tan Huntaway, pressing himself up against the wire mesh. Sprocket, a wire-haired terrier that yapped and flung himself at the front of his cage, desperate to attract our attention. I felt their longing, their desperation to be loved and wanted. I wanted to take them all home, but there was no chance. Dad didn’t like animals in the house, and Mum was allergic. I just hoped that one day, they would all find a family that would love and deserve them.

We said goodbye to Faye and walked back to the ute. The grey mare stood in her paddock, watching us go.

“What’s going to happen to that horse?”

Lesley shrugged as she started the engine. “Hopefully Faye’ll find someone to rehome her, and soon. She’s not going to be cheap to rehab, and Faye isn’t exactly rolling in money.” She looked at me as she backed out and turned around. “I don’t suppose you’re in the market for another one?”

I shook my head. “Dad won’t spend money on anything that hasn’t already won several national titles and is guaranteed to land me in the prizes from day one. I don’t think I could convince him to let me bring home a scabby frightened Thoroughbred.”

“Not even as a project? Faye would give her to you for nothing,” Lesley urged. “You could keep her just long enough to get her fit and ready to go, then sell her on. I’m not saying you’d make money, but…well, she could use someone like you in her corner.”

I sighed, leaning my head back against the headrest. “I wish I could, but I don’t even have to ask the question to know what the answer will be.”

We didn’t talk about the grey mare again for the rest of the day, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I wondered what would happen to her, and whether she’d get a second chance at a life worth living.

Book Excerpt · Irish Luck · Pony Jumpers series · Sneak peek

Excerpt from Pony Jumpers Special Edition #2 – IRISH LUCK (2)

When I started writing IRISH LUCK, I’d simply intended it to give Dan’s backstory. Keeley inserted herself into the story too, and I wrote the first few chapters thinking that this book, with protagonists aged 12 and 8, was going to end up aimed slightly younger than the rest of the PJ series.

But what I’ve come to realise in the past few weeks, especially as I started editing this book, is that it’s not really Dan and Keeley’s story at all. It’s Deacon and Mairead’s.

Originally, there was quite a bit more of Deacon in TOP TEN, but most of his scenes got cut because the book was becoming unwieldy and Katy’s visit to Deacon’s home base in Co. Wexford became superfluous. So it is in this book that you’ll get to properly meet the man himself, and find out what the family’s other home is like. I’ve had a lot of fun writing it, and I really hope that you all enjoy reading it when I finally get it finished!

I also didn’t intend the book to take this long to write (yes, I am aware that I say this every time). I’m working three jobs at the moment so finding the energy to write at 10pm when I’ve finally got everything else done is a bit of a challenge.

Speaking of which, it’s half past midnight as I type this, so I’m going to just post a short extract below from Chapter 7 to tide you over a bit longer. (I’ve been working on Chapter 14 of 17 this evening so I am getting there, I promise.)

Let me know what you think with a comment below (hopefully positive ones!).

CHAPTER 7  –  THE PITCH

The small office was bitterly cold, and the oil heater in the corner was doing nothing to take the edge off the chill. A single fluorescent bulb flickered above the desk, and a large grimy window looked into the dingy indoor school. Deacon frowned as he sipped from the mug of weak tea, struggling to rein in his impatience with the red-headed woman opposite him.

“But why not?”

“Because I don’t want to see my son get hurt.”

Mairead held her voice firm, and she forced herself to look Deacon in the eyes as she spoke to him. All the books on body language said that people who were sitting were at a psychological disadvantage in a confrontation with someone standing, but it didn’t seem to be working for her. She was leaning against the cold stone wall of her cramped office, arms folded firmly across her chest, while Deacon was sitting in a hard plastic chair and holding a mug with bright pink daisies on it. Yet he was gazing calmly back at her and looking about as unintimidated as humanly possible.

“He’s not a dangerous pony,” Deacon insisted. “And it wouldn’t be for long. Just until I can get the animal sold.” He rested the mug on his knee and wrapped his hands around it in an attempt to warm them. “Look, I’m trying to do your lad a kindness here. He needs a decent pony and I need a decent rider. What’s the harm? I’ll not be letting him ride unsupervised or do anything foolish, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“You don’t understand.” Mairead shook her head and pushed herself away from the wall, walking over to her desk and sitting down behind it. Forget body language. It clearly wasn’t working, and she was too tired to try anything else. She rested her elbows on the worn desk and pressed her temples, trying to stave off the inevitable headache that came at the end of a long day. Not that there seemed to be any other kind, lately.

“What don’t I understand?” Deacon’s voice was kinder, gentler than it had been a moment ago, and Mairead looked up, her defences lowering.

“I don’t want him getting his heart broken,” she told him, registering the look of surprise on Deacon’s face, and wondering what he’d expected to hear. “Dan has wanted a pony of his own for as long as he’s been riding, but I’ve never been able to give him one. And he’s known and accepted that fact, and lowered his expectations accordingly. And then you come along and offer him the ride on a pony the likes of which we’ll never be able to afford. Don’t misunderstand now, I’m grateful that you gave him a chance today, but I wish you hadn’t. Because it’s going to make everything that much harder when the dream fades away.”

Deacon’s blue eyes met her hazel ones challengingly. “Who’s to say the dream has to fade away?”

“You know it will. It always does. I don’t want to get his hopes up, only for him to be tossed aside when you’ve no further use for him.”

“You don’t have a very high opinion of me, do you?” Deacon asked her. He looked around the small office, as unfriendly as its primary occupant. “I’ll remind you now that you don’t know me. This place may be enough for you, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough for your boy. Not for much longer. He’ll be wanting to go all the way to the top, and if you don’t help him to get there, you’re going to lose him when he goes to find it for himself.” He leaned back in the chair, confident in the knowledge that he was right about this. “You can’t protect him forever, Mairead. He’s going to have hardship in his life, and the sooner he starts getting used to –”

It was his turn to be cut off as the fire rekindled in Mairead’s eyes. “You think he hasn’t known hardship? You think he hasn’t already had to get used to defeat? You know nothing about me, or my son, and I’ll thank you to get out of my office and out of our lives right now and to mind your own bloody business in future!”

Deacon set down his mug on the scratched desk and got to his feet. “Have it your own way. But you’re doing Dan no favours with your stubbornness.” He walked to the door and grasped the handle, then looked back over his shoulder at her. “You may think you are, but you’re not.”

And he left, shutting the door firmly behind him as Mairead put her head in her hands and closed her eyes against the stabbing pain.

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

Dare To Dream

“CRUISE CONTROL” – coming soon!

I thought I would give you a taster of what my newest book, “Cruise Control” is all about, so here’s the draft back cover blurb:

Saying goodbye to the ponies she loves is never easy, but it has become a way of life for Marley Carmichael, whose family makes their living by training and selling show jumpers. But when a half-wild paint pony arrives on their farm one afternoon, Marley knows instinctively that he is going to be something very, very special.

Her faith in the pony is soon rewarded, as he proves to be a remarkably quick learner and it’s not long before Marley and Cruise are out on the competition circuit, cruising to victory against some of the country’s top show jumping ponies, with a firm eye on the coveted Pony of the Year title class.

But her family is struggling to make ends meet, and as Cruise’s value skyrockets, Marley knows that soon the money offered for her superstar paint pony will be too good to refuse. With Pony of the Year fast approaching, Marley has one last chance to prove herself.

Can Marley save the farm she loves, without sacrificing the pony she can’t live without?