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Authors: Alyssa Brugman

Beginner's Luck

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Beginner's Luck
ePub ISBN 9781864715538
Kindle ISBN 9781864716559

Random House Australia Pty Ltd
20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point NSW 2061

Sydney New York Toronto
London Auckland Johannesburg

First published by Random House Australia 2005

Copyright © Alyssa Brugman 2005

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without
the prior written permission of the publisher.

National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication Entry

Brugman, Alyssa, 1974–.
Beginner's luck.

ISBN 1 74166 007 6.

1. Ponies – Juvenile fiction. I. Title.


Cover photograph copyright © Trudy Nicholson Equine Photography
Cover and internal design by Sandra Nobes
Typeset in Sabon 11/15.5 pt by Midland Typesetters, Maryborough, Victoria
Printed and bound by Griffin Press, Netley, South Australia

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For Michelle, who fell off in Terrey Hills
and thought she was in Far North Queensland,
and for Corrina, who fell off eight times in one day.

1 Matchstick Town

The saddlery smelt like new leather, oil and plastic.
In the middle of the shop there were racks of stiff,
pristine black and brown saddles. Shelby walked
straight past them without more than a glance to see
what was in fashion.

At the very back of the shop, tucked in a corner,
were the rows of second-hand ones. She preferred this
part of the shop because it smelled of hard work and
heavy lifting, like a proper tack room. The saddles
here had scuffs, rub marks and contours from wear.
They'd been on real horses and, compared to that, the
new ones just smelt like wishes and daydreams.

Shelby had her eye on an older style dressage
saddle. It was $446, which was an outstanding price
for the brand, even though it had a deep scratch
across the cantle, and the mounts were stretched. She
thought they must have left out a digit on the price
tag, or that the first four was really a nine.

It had been on the top rack at the far left for three
weeks now, but today she could see that it had been
moved to one of the moulded trial frames on the floor.
Either the staff were trying to draw people's attention
to it, or somebody had tried it out.

'Can I help you?' asked one of the shop assistants.
Shelby had seen her before. The last time she came
shopping, the girl had told her that she owned a lanky
thoroughbred and had trouble finding rugs deep
enough to cover his tummy, but Shelby didn't expect
the girl would remember. Shelby had a way of melting
into the background.

She looked back at the racks. There was a big old
western saddle with buttons, bobbles and scrolled
silver plaques. 'Is that for competing?' she asked.

The shop assistant lifted the dressage saddle off the
trial frame and shoved it back on the rack at the top,
replacing it with the western, just as Shelby had

'It's a bit over the top, isn't it?' the girl commented.

'Yes, but it would look great on a quarter horse,'
Shelby replied, running her fingers along the saddle's
suede seat. 'I'm not really here for a saddle. I'm with
the Crooks.' She pointed back to the middle of the

Hayley Crook and her mother were in the clothes
section. Hayley was trying on a new tweed show
jacket. They had already piled up a mountain of new
gear on the counter.

The Crooks had three of the fanciest show horses
that Shelby had ever seen. They called them Echo,
Ditto and Scamp, but their registered names were
much longer.

Echo was Shelby's favourite. The Crooks had let
her ride him at a local show not long ago, because
Ditto's classes were on at the same time, and Hayley
couldn't ride two horses as once. Shelby had won the
pony class on Echo, which was the first time she'd
ever won anything, although she had placed in the
pleasure pony class before on her own horse, Blue.

Some of Shelby's other friends had told her that
pleasure pony was hard to win, but Shelby suspected
they were trying to make her feel better about having
an ugly, chumpy horse. Blue, a little old paint pony,
wasn't the best-looking horse, but she wouldn't swap
him for any horse in the world.

Well, she wouldn't swap him
, anyway.

'I think they might be a while,' the shop assistant
said with a smile, and she returned to stacking
shampoos on the shelves.

Shelby didn't normally shop at this saddlery. She
usually bought what she needed from the produce
store. This saddlery was the sort of shop that had a
'collection' for each season, but Shelby joined the
Crooks whenever they were going, because she took
vicarious pleasure in watching them try out the new
season's range. It felt a bit like sharing in someone
else's Christmas. Mrs Crook would always go nuts
and buy things they didn't even need, just because
they were on special.

On the side wall of the shop was a notice board
where customers could tack up signs – horses for sale,
stallions at stud, agistment available, instructors, local
shows and events. While she waited for the Crooks to
finish their spending spree, Shelby read through them
and took a few flyers.

One of the signs caught her eye.

Gully Riders' Annual Matchstick Town Challenge.
Can you find the Matchstick Town? Provide photo
evidence of your find and win great prizes, including
three months of produce from Gully Stock Feeds
FREE, service your float or truck at Gully Mechanics
and Auto Electrics FREE, and $1000 CASH!!!! Entry
fee $20. For more information ring the Gully Riders'
Club, or visit our website.

The shop assistant stood behind her, flattening an
empty carton.

'What's the Matchstick Town?' Shelby asked.

'Some people say there's an old movie set down
at the bottom of the Gully. The legend is that the
production company went broke and abandoned it,
leaving it completely intact. Every year the Gully
Riders try to find it, but nobody ever has.' The girl
folded the cardboard against her chest. 'If it ever was
there, it's probably just a pile of rubble now. They
reckon it must have been pretty flimsy to start with.
That's why they call it the Matchstick Town.' She
shrugged. 'It's just a bit of fun, really. They have a
barbecue at the end. It's only two weeks away now.
Are you going to enter?'

The sign had been frayed at the bottom, and on
each strip there was a phone number and website
address. Shelby tore off one of the strips.

'Yes, I . . .' Shelby started to answer, but Mrs
Crook called the shop assistant over. She stood the
flattened cardboard against the wall, excused herself
and walked away.

'I know where that is . . .' Shelby whispered to

2 The Pocket

Shelby climbed in the back of the Crooks' four-wheel
drive with their purchases and wound down the
window a fraction. The air coming through the space
made the plastic bags rustle on the seat next to her.
Hayley was sitting in the front passenger seat with her
feet tucked up underneath her, and she tapped her
knees in time with the song on the radio.

Shelby's mind returned to the Matchstick Town
competition. All that stock feed would come in handy.
She wondered how they figured out how much three
months was worth. If you had seven horses then it
would be worth a lot more. One thousand dollars
cash would be great too. She would be able to buy
the dressage saddle and have money left over. Her
mum wanted a new dishwasher. Shelby would be the
favourite child for ages if she bought a dishwasher
for her.

'How much is a dishwasher, Mrs C?' she asked.

'I'd say about two grand for a good one. Why?'
Mrs Crook looked at her in the rear vision mirror.

'Just wondering,' Shelby replied. Two thousand
dollars! That was no good. She might get her mum a
new blender, or a really nice bunch of flowers.

The way Shelby remembered it, the Matchstick
Town wasn't in the Gully at all. It was probably part
of the Gully many years ago, but a bypass road had
been built, cutting a section off and leaving a scrubby,
narrow, weed-filled crevice of land on the other side of
Gully Way.

In the construction of the bypass, the strip of land
between the Gully and the crevice had been built up
with rubble, and cemented into place, so any of the
old trails or roads to it would have been covered over.
Gully Way was six lanes across and this section had a
high fence with barbed wire at the top running down
both shoulders. There were no traffic lights or pedestrian
crossings for a kilometre in each direction. The
only way to the other side that Shelby had discovered
was through a storm water tunnel under Gully Way.

No wonder nobody had found it! She doubted
anyone had ever thought to look there.

Shelby called the place where she found the
Matchstick Town 'The Pocket', because the track she
had made down to the floor of the ravine was zigzagged
and crumbly, like a zipper, and the bottom was
matted with lantana and blackberry bushes, like lint.

It wasn't really a 'town' either. There were only
three structures, and two of them weren't proper
buildings, but looked as though they had been sliced
up, like the sections they did under the microscope in
science at school.

She discovered it about six months ago, in the
winter. She had already explored most of the trails in
the Gully. She had favourites, and ones that she didn't
like so much, but she knew where they all led. Some
trails didn't go anywhere; they stopped abruptly at
the edge of a cliff, or were swallowed up by dense
bush. Many of them looped around, or joined
another trail.

There were spots where she stopped to look at the
view, and stretches of track that were pretty, like the
illustrations in fairytale books, or where the plants
were fragrant. There were parts where she could hear
the sound of running water, or particular birds call
and answer.

Shelby had made up names for all the trails based
on what she had found along them. There was a place
she called the Cross-Country Course because it was
littered with obstacles – two burned-out, abandoned
cars, tree limbs fallen across the path, rusty yellow
forty-four-gallon drums, a hollowed out tree stump
that whistled in the wind, and a massive cable spool,
about two metres across, that creaked as it rocked
from side to side between two boulders.

Most horses would shy along that trail, but Blue
was used to it, and they often cantered through, using
the obstacles as jumps. Shelby would pretend she was
a competitor in the Olympics, and commentate her
progress in Lucinda Green's English accent.

'It's quite a difficult course, really, but you can see
this lovely little Australian combination bounding
enthusiastically over each obstacle. And here is the
water jump. Is he going to make it? Yes! A swish of
the tail there. What a jaunty little gelding he is.'

Sometimes she got up very early in the morning to
ride before school, and on weekends she usually took
a bottle of water, a snack and some sunscreen in a
backpack and rode all day.

There was something special about knowing the
whole gully, but on that particular morning – the
morning of The Pocket – she remembered sighing. She
hankered for the thrill of turning a corner with no
idea what she would find, or climbing a hill just to see
what was on the other side.

The storm water tunnel that travelled under Gully
Way was on a trail not far from the stables where
Hayley and Shelby's friend Erin kept their horses.
She'd ridden past the tunnel many times before, but
on this day she stopped at its mouth and looked
through. It was less than thirty metres long. Shelby
could see light at the other side. If it had been longer
and darker she might not have attempted it. Blue
didn't like dark places.

The floor was dry, and as she stepped inside she
could hear Blue's hoof beats echoing off the concrete
sides and the steady ominous drone of traffic travelling
on the road over the top.

Beyond the concrete lip at the far end, the ground
dropped away. Looking down, she had seen the
sloping ground furrowed into deep runnels where the
water must rush across it in heavy rain. To the right
was an angled expanse of cement stretching up to the
fence along the edge of the roadway, too steep and
slippery to climb; to the left was a slanted incline of
rubble and clay freckled with blackberry bushes. It
looked as though somebody had attempted to poison
those closest to the road, but beyond that the bushes
were sporting robust curved branches.

Standing on the edge of the storm water drain,
Shelby had looked down into The Pocket to see a pool
of water choked at the edges with willow. There was a
cormorant swimming in circles, diving deep into the
pool and slipping back out again. Beyond the willows
the taller trees were matted with vines.

From where she stood The Pocket had not looked
very appealing. It was scrubby, dense and full of
prickles, and the water was murky and foamy at the
edges. But it was new, and some of the best places she
had found hadn't looked inviting at first, so she went
down there anyway, heading to the left and leading
Blue all the way, because the ground was slippery and

It had taken a long time. There was no track and it
seemed that whichever way she turned there were
impenetrable brambles, impassable boulders or treacherous
slopes. At times she had been worried, because
Blue's hooves had plunged deep into the clay, or slid
across, sending stones clattering over the edge of the
rock face. Shelby had reached the bottom covered
in scratches from the brambles. She had twigs stuck in
her hair and burrs in her clothes, making her itch.

At the base of the ravine the ground was flat and
damp. Clumps of prehistoric-looking ferns and a
thick carpet of moss grew underneath a thick canopy
of vines. The sun shone through the leaves high
above, speckling the fronds and always moving, like
fairy lights. The air smelt rich, moist and metallic, but
was soured by the pong of stagnant water from the

She pushed her way through the fibrous branches
and found a small clearing where the sun shone
through. Tall native grasses grew in thick tufts, but
underneath them the grass was short and cropped.

There were three structures in the clearing. One
was a façade. She could see the side of it from where
she was standing. It was propped up at the back with
thick beams. It reminded her of the skeleton frames
of the new houses along the cul-de-sac near Blue's

The second was a shed made of shingles, about the
size of a double garage. It slanted to the side where
one of the supports had rotted and collapsed.

The third had walls on three sides and a roof, but
the front was cut away, like a doll's house, and inside
there was furniture.

The roofs of both buildings swayed in the middle
under the weight of a thick layer of dead leaves and
sticks. Shelby thought that it was like camouflage –
planes and helicopters wouldn't notice them from
above, even if they could see through the trees.

On the lawn between the three structures a mob of
five grey kangaroos lounged in the sun. Shelby stood
still and watched them dozing. After a minute or two,
Blue rubbed his face on the inside of his leg and
snorted. The kangaroos scattered in alarm. She could
hear the beats of their tails on the leaf litter as they
bounded through the bush.

Shelby loosened Blue's girth, tucked his reins into
his bridle and left him to graze while she explored.

The shingled shed was empty. She peeked through
the windows, but she didn't go inside because the
floor was tilted and rotting, and it looked dangerous.
Its roof was made of iron, rusted in parts. There were
nests of pigeons along the beams. Shelby could hear
them cooing.

The façade had been painted to look as if it was
made of shingles too. It had a door in the middle,
nailed shut, and two windows on either side. The glass
panes were lying in pieces on the ground below. It
looked as though they had fallen out, rather than
deliberately smashed.

The doll's house was the most interesting, because
it was much cleaner than the shed. It looked like a
stage set, with a lounge, a small, square dining table
with three chairs, and a kitchenette against the back
wall. There was a threadbare broom propped against
the back wall.

Shelby put her hand on the pads of the lounge,
expecting the frame to creak or give way, but the
cushions had spring in them. She tried to open the
cupboard under the sink, but it was stuck. She
wondered if it was really a cupboard at all, or just a
façade like the house front outside.

She had more luck with the cupboard over the
sink. Inside she found a cigarette lighter, an enamel
mug, a tin-opener and four cans of sliced peaches. The
metal tops of the cans were scuffed and spotted with
rust, but the bottoms were shiny and clean. The labels
were dirty with smudged fingerprints, but they weren't
faded at all.

Somebody had left them there. Somebody had
swept, and the cushions of the lounge were not brittle
and perished as they should be if they'd been exposed
to the sun and rain for as long as there had been an
overpass on Gully Way.

Shelby had stayed for another ten minutes or so,
resting in the sun and watching Blue graze, but she
couldn't relax because she had no idea who the peach-owner
might be, and whether they were friendly. She
made her way back through the mossy glade and up
the steep hill.

It had been twice as hard to get up the hill as it
had been to climb down in the first place, and by
the time she reached the tunnel she was perspiring,
breathing heavily, and needed to sit down to rest.
Her hair was stuck to her face, she was bruised and
scratched, and her muscles were sore. Blue's mane was
matted with thistles and sprigs.

Shelby had not gone back to The Pocket again.
It had been enchanting, but too much hard work;
besides, she knew what was down there now. Then
there were the peaches.

Sometimes when she rode to her favourite places in
the Gully she would find empty beer cans, or occasionally
there would be a group of walkers, or trail
bike riders. Shelby would smile and say hello, but she
was always disappointed that somebody else knew
about the spot.

The Pocket was much more secret than any of the
places in the Gully, and it was clearly somebody's
special place. Even if that person was friendly, it
wouldn't have been right to invade it.

'I turn left here – is that right?' asked Mrs Crook.
They were quite near Shelby's house now.


Shelby decided that she would enter the Matchstick
Town competition. Three months of stock feed
would be great. Her mum and dad would be happy,
and then there was the thousand dollars. All she had
to do was take a photo. It would take ten minutes,
tops. The likelihood of meeting the peach-owner was
pretty slim. She would be respectful and wouldn't
touch anything. Chances were they wouldn't even
know she had been there at all.

BOOK: Beginner's Luck
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