Authors: Alyssa Brugman
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For Sale or Swap
ePub ISBN 9781864715514
Kindle ISBN 9781864717082
Random House Australia Pty Ltd
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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,
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National Library of Australia
Brugman, Alyssa, 1974–.
For sale or swap.
ISBN 0 75932 098 5.
1. Ponies – Juvenile fiction. 2. Horse stealing –
Juvenile fiction. I. Title.
Cover photograph by
Cover and internal design by Sandra Nobes
Typeset in Sabon 11/15.5pt by Midland Typesetters, Maryborough, Victoria
Printed and bound by Griffin Press, Netley, South Australia
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
I had a Blue when I was twelve.
Her name is Shadow.
I could have swapped her
many times but I never did.
She now works as my organic lawn mower.
This book is for her.
Many thanks to the students at Ogilvie High in
Hobart for their enthusiastic and diligent
contributions to 'Stupid and Dangerous'
and 'Winging It'.
Special thanks to Paul and Michelle Becker.
It was the Pony Club Christmas Party slash Awards
Night and Shelby had won 'Most Improved'. It was a
slap in the face really – 'Most Improved' meant
used to suck, but now you're slightly better.
Hayley Crook's dad was in charge of the barbecue.
Erin's mum was buttering bread and squeezing too
much sauce on the sausage sandwiches as she handed
them out in red and green Christmas serviettes, so that
everybody who was eating them had to lean over,
dripping sauce and sausage fat on the ground.
Tubs of soft drink cans floating in icy water
lined the side wall of the clubhouse. Someone, probably
the Club President, Mrs Hockings, had decorated
the kitchenette with old tinsel, bald in patches and
matted with sticky tape.
Erin had won 'Rider of the Year', which was a
complete joke. Shelby thought it must have been
because Erin's parents had bought her a fancy new
dressage saddle. It wasn't even a real one. If it was
real, it would have had the brand name on a badge
somewhere, but it didn't. Shelby had checked.
The awards were supposed to be for the whole
year, and Erin had only got her copy saddle two
months ago. Before that she used to flop around like a
bag of potatoes in an old all-purpose saddle the same
Shelby thought that she'd won 'Most Improved' as
some sort of consolation prize. The committee felt sorry
for her because she always came on her own. Everybody
else's parents came along to Pony Club with fold-out
tables and chairs, thermos flasks, plastic containers of
coleslaw and plates of homemade slice. Shelby usually
had to make do with a packet of home brand chips from
the Pony Club tuckshop.
The Christmas Party slash Awards Night was worst
of all. Even parents who didn't make it to the normal
Club days came along. A few parents brought video
cameras, as though this night might be worthy of revisiting
some time in the future. Not Shelby's parents,
though. They'd sent her along by herself with a plastic-wrapped
Madeira cake, bought from the supermarket.
'Are your mum and dad here?' Hayley's mum
asked her, looking around at the crowd.
When Shelby shook her head, Mrs Crook raised an
eyebrow towards Mrs Hockings.
Shelby spent most of her time with Erin's family,
but after Erin had won 'Rider of the Year' people
crowded around to congratulate her. Shelby wandered
away from the others, down to the empty yards,
munching away on her sausage sandwich. Behind her
she could hear the happy hum of conversation and
laughter, and the hiss of burning fat on the barbecue.
A large blob of sauce slipped from the edge of her
soggy serviette and onto her shirt. Shelby rubbed it
into the fabric with her thumb.
Erin's copy saddle had elevated her from beginners
to advanced as well. That had been a greater humiliation
to Shelby than winning 'Most Improved', because
Shelby had been riding for three years, and yet there she
was on the flat grassy area behind the clubhouse, going
over boring cavalletti poles on the ground with a bunch
of little kids, some of whom were still being led by their
mothers. Meanwhile, Erin, who'd only been riding for
one year, was in the real arena with the guest instructor.
It wasn't fair. It wasn't even close to fair.
To make matters worse, Mrs Hockings had pulled
Shelby aside after the ceremony and told her that she
was only allowed to take her trophy home after she'd
paid her membership fees, which were overdue. Then
she'd waited with her hands on her hips for Shelby
'I forgot,' Shelby had stammered. This was partially
true. She'd forgotten on purpose because she
didn't want to ask her mother and see that strained,
despairing look that she always got when Shelby
asked for money.
At the end of the night Shelby left her little silver
trophy next to a plate of Mrs
Hockings's dried-out lamingtons. Let them keep it.
Erin's parents dropped Shelby home. Erin sat next
to her in the back of their four-wheel drive clutching
her giant gold trophy and grinning.
When she climbed out Shelby thanked Erin's parents
for the lift and mumbled congratulations to Erin, even
managing to plaster a passable smile on her face.
'How was it?' Shelby's mother asked as she walked
into the house. Her mother was standing against the
kitchen sink washing dishes. Her shoulder-length hair
was frizzy and the fluorescent kitchen light shining
through it made it look like a halo. Her face was shiny.
She brought an arm up to wipe it and then plunged her
gloved hands back into the scalding water.
'OK,' Shelby replied, shuffling up the hallway into
her room. There was no point telling her mother about
the dumb trophy. It was embarrassing. Besides, then she
would have to explain about the membership fees.
She pulled on a pair of tracksuit pants and an old
tee-shirt. 'I'm going out,' she said, scuffing past the
Her mother called out to her before she got to the
front door. 'Have you thought about what you might
like for Christmas?'
Shelby tilted her head to the side. 'Not really.'
Every Christmas and birthday was the same. It was
a time for Shelby to get something she really needed
for riding. For her birthday she got a winter combo
rug, and last Christmas it was a saddlecloth embroidered
with the Pony Club emblem.
Most of the other girls at the Pony Club didn't have
to wait for their birthdays – they got things when they
needed them, and sometimes when they didn't. Hayley
Crook had jodhpurs in every colour imaginable, and
matching saddle blankets to go with them. It didn't
make any sense at all, because Shelby's father went to
an office all day, just the same as Mr Crook did, and
yet the Crooks lived in a big fancy house with a pool
area, and a gardener, and a cleaning lady three days a
week, while Shelby's family (as her dad was always
telling her) didn't have two pennies to rub together.
Maybe if I lived in a parallel universe I would have
been born into Hayley's family
, she wondered. If she
had, her life would have been way better.
The screen door slammed behind Shelby, and
she walked along the road. Loose gravel crunched
underneath her shoes. It was almost dark now, but the
summer air was still dry and warm. Streetlights arced
over, lighting her way. She could see families inside
their new brick bungalows and the flickering blue
light from their televisions.
Maybe for Christmas she could get a new saddle
like Erin's? That might get her out of the beginner's
ring. Perhaps she could ask for a few lessons? There
was an instructor at the stables where Erin and the
others kept their horses. She could just ask for her
Pony Club membership fees. That was the most boring
At the end of the block she turned left. There were
only two houses on this cul-de-sac, but new blocks
were zoned, with thin pickets and fluttering tape
marking their proposed location. Shelby trudged along
with her head down, her arms folded, and when she
looked up again, what she saw made her pause for
a moment. There in the gloom stood the skeleton of a
house, its pale pine beams glowing. It hadn't been there
that morning – only a flat grey concrete slab.
She knew it would happen sooner or later – new
houses springing up, one after the other, in a slow procession
towards her paddock. Of course, it wasn't
paddock, and that was the problem. She didn't know
who it belonged to. When she and her father had
patched up a ramshackle fence of wire, wood pallets
and baling twine around a nice flat piece of vacant land,
nobody had said a word. They were squatters – that's
what her dad called it. Now the land around it was
being sold off, piece by piece, and one day soon her
paddock would be sliced up and marked with pickets
and tape. Then what would she do? She couldn't exactly
keep a horse in the back yard. It wasn't big enough for
starters, and there was Dad's precious vegie patch.
Shelby's dad got a bit cross when the kids went
near his vegies. That might have been because her
little brothers had taken to 'helping' and squashed a
whole row of his beloved tomatoes.
The only thing he got more cross about was his car.
He wouldn't let anyone eat in it and he always opened
the doors for the kids so they wouldn't get greasy
marks on the windows. Shelby's parents had two old-fashioned
Alfa Romeo Spyders. One of them worked,
but the other one, the one her mother drove when it
was working, was really just a spare that her dad had
bought for the parts. Half the time her mother's car was
in pieces all over the garage floor. Neither of the cars
were worth much because they were very old, but her
father loved them. Shelby's mum said that owning a
Spyder was a dream that Shelby's father had had since
he was young.
Blue's shaggy paint face stared out at her over the
wooden sliprail that served as a gate. He whickered to
her in his deep voice. Shelby smiled. He was always
pleased to see her.
'Hello there, lovely boy,' she said to him, sliding
under the rail. Blue nibbled at her fingers, and nosed
around her pockets.
'No treats tonight, I'm afraid.' In her glum mood
she had forgotten to bring him any.
Shelby bounced twice so she could land on her
belly over Blue's back, scrambled across until she was
astride, and then leaned forward, resting her face
against his wiry mane.
'Of course I'm a good rider. I have to ride you,' she
said to him, patting a drum roll on his chest.
Blue was horrible to ride. He had short stubby legs
and struck his hooves hard on the ground, so that every
stride was sharp and jangling and made her teeth
clatter, and yet she managed to sit still and balance. He
was forever tossing his head around, so her hands had
to be supple and forgiving. She had no choice.
'I'd like to see Erin try to win "Rider of the Year"
on you,' she grumbled into his mane.
He put his head down to graze and Shelby slid off
his back and crouched on the ground beside him,
watching him eat.
Blue looked like he had been made from leftover
bits of other horses. He had a short blunt face, and blue
eyes – which is where he got his name. He had a long
thin ewe-neck and a disproportionately large round
rump. The only part of him that was any good was a
thick, flowing tail, so long that it dragged on the
ground. His brown blotches on white added to his
That's when it struck her. It wasn't her poxy old
all-purpose saddle that was holding her back. It was
ugly Blue. If the Pony Club committee saw her on
another horse – something delicate and smooth –
they'd see a world of difference.
'It's you,' she said. His ears flickered towards her
voice. She crept forward and wrapped her arms
around his neck.
Shelby knew what she wanted for Christmas.