Authors: Belinda Rapley
For Jake, welcome to the world
Hall!” Mia breathed, craning her neck to look out of the high, small window of Charlie’s horsebox. The horsebox clunked down the gears, its engine whining. “We’re here!”
Mia’s three best friends, Alice, Rosie and Charlie, jumped onto the bench seat next to her, scattering buckets filled with horsey gear. From inside the horsebox they could see a rustic brick wall running alongside the lane. Beyond it there were rolling hills, dotted with cross-country fences. Charlie squeaked with excitement. The horsebox rumbled on along the lane, past ornate black iron gates, behind which stood a resplendent sandstone country house.
They heard the indicator tick-tocking and Charlie’s dad took a left between two huge stone pillars. They slowly eased up a tree-lined avenue before turning into a large, dusty lorry park. It was already half full of horseboxes and trailers with their ramps down.
“I feel sick!” Alice gulped as their horsebox finally came to a halt. She curled her mousy brown hair behind her ears with slightly shaking fingers as she stared out of the window. Her nerves had started to take over and she looked panicky. “What if everyone’s been to a hundred Pony Camps before? What if we get put into different teams? What if everyone else has got amazing ponies?”
“You’ve got an amazing pony, too, remember?” Mia reassured her, as Charlie opened the side door of the horsebox and they all jumped out.
Rosie shaded her eyes from the glaring sun as Mia slid her pink-framed sunglasses down. Charlie’s dad helped them unbolt and lower the
ramp at the back. Alice’s bold grey pony, Scout, surveyed his new surroundings with bright eyes before jogging down the ramp. Dancer, Rosie’s strawberry roan cob, followed, charging down like a bull. Rosie’s loose haystack of blonde hair fell over her eyes at exactly the wrong moment, and she tripped, barrelling straight into Alice. Her friend giggled and grabbed Rosie’s arm, keeping her upright. Mia led Wish Me Luck, dressed from head to toe in pink travelling gear, down next.
The three ponies waited near the bottom for Phantom, Charlie’s sleek and striking thoroughbred. He stood quivering at the top for a moment, then launched himself down in one leap – Charlie, who was tall and willowy like her horse, only just managed to hang onto the lead rope. Hettie the sheep, Phantom’s constant companion, trotted down last. Without Hettie, the black horse was nervy and anxious, but the sheep helped settle him. Hettie caused a few
double-takes and “ooohs” from the girls and boys standing nearby as the four friends led their ponies under a shaded carriage arch.
The girls stepped back out into the sun and onto a big, grassy paddock. In front of them stood two rows of temporary stables, which faced each other. Each row had ten stables in it. The stables were constructed from metal frames with green canvas stretched tight to make the sides, back and front. There was a creamy white canvas roof covering it all, keeping the ponies inside cool.
“Right, who have we got here?” asked an instructor with cropped blonde hair and a name badge saying ‘Melissa’. She breezed over and checked her list when they gave their names. “Okay, everyone’s in teams of six. You four are in the purple team, along with two others, Holly and Amber. They’re not here yet.”
Alice exchanged a relieved look with her three best friends. She was never apart from
the girls for any more than a day at a time. Not only did they all stable their ponies together at Blackberry Farm, they were also Pony Detectives, solving mysteries and cracking cases as a team. They had investigated five mysteries already, and were getting quite good at it, Alice thought proudly.
“You’ve got the four stables at the far end,” Melissa said, “two on each side, nearest the tents in the campsite, okay?”
She handed out colour-coded name stickers.
“How lucky’s that?” Mia smiled, as she placed her sticker on meticulously, making sure it was level. “Purple goes best with my pink top!”
Rosie stuck hers on upside down by mistake, making Alice and Charlie giggle.
Charlie led the way into the stables. Phantom spooked at every twitch from the green canvas. Wish stepped daintily over the grass, totally unfazed. Scout looked round, full of quiet curiosity, while behind him Dancer
snorted dramatically, acting like she’d never seen another pony before.
Beyond the end of the stables Rosie could see four large orange tents neatly spaced in a horseshoe shape, with the tent doors opening into the middle. Each one had a tall pole beside it with a different coloured flag fluttering in the warm summer breeze.
Rosie put Dancer in the very end stable. Her stocky pony immediately scoured the floor with her muzzle, searching for anything edible. Once he was in, Scout swung round and rushed to the front of his stable, so that he could look out. Alice peered into the stable next door. There were shavings down, but it was empty.
“We’d better get the buckets so we can give our ponies a drink,” Mia said, patting Wish. “They’re probably thirsty after travelling in this heat.”
As they headed back to the horsebox, boys and girls rushed past them in both directions.
Some of them looked a bit nervous, others were giggling and chatting already, forming little groups. There were four boys, who Charlie noticed were sticking closely together.
“I’ll never remember who anyone is,” Alice groaned, still feeling jittery, “there are so many people!”
The Pony Detectives grabbed their water buckets and quickly untied their haynets from the horsebox. As soon as they brought them to the stables, Dancer plunged her muzzle into the filled bucket, sloshing water around before drinking deeply. She raised her head and dribbled all over Rosie.
“Dancer!” Rosie squeaked.
Then they returned to the horsebox, gathered their tack and lugged it through the carriage arch. On either side of the archway were stone outbuildings. To the right there was a tack room and a room with all the mucking-out equipment. To the left, one storeroom was
stacked with hay, and another was being used as the feed room.
There was a big whiteboard over the feed bins, with each pony’s daily feeds written up neatly in black felt pen. There was one column for ‘Medicines’, with a note below advising, ‘Instructors to administer’. Only two ponies had a tick in this column – Skylark and Topaz.
was written underneath the ticks in blue. The girls dropped their feed bags into their allocated bins, then rushed back out to get their own stuff to take to the tent. When it was all unloaded, they waved goodbye to Charlie’s dad as he started up the engine and rolled out of Dovecote Hall.
The girls suddenly felt quite alone. They were walking under the archway back towards their tent when they heard running footsteps behind them.
“Hello! You’ve dropped something!”
The four friends turned round. A small girl
with honey-blonde hair jogged over to them, a rucksack slung over her shoulder with a whip poking out of it. She was gripping Rosie’s copy of the latest
“Thanks. It must have fallen out of my bag,” Rosie grinned.
“I’m surprised that nothing else escaped,” Mia added, shaking her head at Rosie’s overstuffed bag with its broken zip. “I’m Mia, by the way.”
“Oh, hi,” the girl said shyly, flushing pink. “I’m Holly.”
“Holly? You’re in our team!” Charlie beamed. “We’re all purple!”
Holly smiled, looking relieved to have met some fellow campers. She turned the magazine over as she went to pass it back to Rosie, but froze in her tracks, suddenly captivated by the front cover photo. It was of a young woman riding a powerful chestnut horse over a massive ditch and brush fence. The rider had flowing
auburn hair and was wearing lime-green
silks. Her freckled, heart-shaped face was a picture of concentration.
“Are you a Lily Simpson fan?” Mia asked, nodding towards the rider on the cover.
“I think she’s the best
,” Holly breathed, breaking out into a huge smile. “I’d love to be a top event rider one day, just like her.”
It seemed like that summer the whole horsey community had gone Lily Simpson crazy, with every rider being inspired by her. The twenty-year-old had been born in the UK before moving to New Zealand with her family when she was three years old. She’d shot to fame after travelling back to the UK and winning the Badminton Horse Trials – a huge competition. Lily’s dressage test on day one was faultless and on the next day her cross-country riding had been effortless and brave.
On the final day, her enormous horse, Firestorm, had still been full of energy and
had bounced clear around the twisting show jumps. Lily had caused a stir – not to mention some jealousy among her fellow riders – after commentators and the press had hailed her as the most naturally gifted rider they’d ever seen.
Lily had loved the British competition circuit so much that she’d decided to stay. Her mum and younger sister had moved back to the UK with her, along with all their other horses, ponies and dogs. The next target on Lily and Firestorm’s list was Burghley, one of the biggest three-day events of the year, and only a week away. If they won there, Lily would be the youngest ever rider to lift the trophy. Then she’d really shoot to superstardom in the horsey world.
Holly handed the magazine back to Rosie, and looked around anxiously. Alice realised that she wasn’t the only one nervous about coming to camp, but at least she had her three best friends with her. It looked like Holly had
arrived on her own. “Is your pony here already?”
Holly flushed again. “Um, no. I haven’t got my own pony,” she explained. “I’ve loaned one for this week from Hilltop Riding School. It’s not far from here.”
At that moment, a group of girls headed out of the stables and looked over at Holly and the Pony Detectives. One of them waved manically.
“That’s Watty,” Holly said, making a bit of a face. “Well, it’s Sarah Watson, really, but everyone calls her Watty. She’s my next-door neighbour.”
Watty rushed over to them, followed by five other girls. All of them were sporting
badges. When the girls saw Rosie’s copy of
, they crowded round.
“Lily Simpson!” Watty exclaimed. “She lives just down the road! We’re practically her neighbours, aren’t we, Holly?”
Holly half smiled. “Well, kind of.”
“She’s been over in the UK for months now, looking for the right yard,” Watty boomed. “She found a huge place witha farmhouse called Chestnut Grove at the start of the summer holidays. It’s not far from here – it backs onto the Dovecote Hall estate.”
“You’re joking?” Charlie gasped, exchanging excited glances with her three friends.
The group had just opened
to read the article about Lily when they were distracted by hoof beats. They turned to see a young man with an intense, brooding expression leading a grey pony with long, droopy ears towards them.
“Ah, Holly,” the man said His glance dropped to the magazine for a moment, then he looked back up to the pony. “This is Skylark. He’s going to be your loan pony for the week.”
The pony had a thickset neck, a roman nose and hefty, round hooves. He gave a soft whicker as Holly approached him, his long ears pricking up. He looked hopeful of a treat.
“Thanks, Freddie,” Holly said, stepping forward and patting her pony. Holly looked excited, but Alice saw her hands shake ever so slightly as she took hold of the rope.
“Do you want me to take your bag?” Alice asked. “I can put it in our tent if you like.”
“Oh, thanks.” Holly smiled gratefully, sliding it off her shoulder quickly and handing it to Alice. She turned and looked up at Skylark, then headed towards the stables with him marching beside her.
“Poor Holly.” Watty sighed dramatically, looking round as if to invite questions.
“What’s poor about her?” Rosie frowned.
“She’s been lumped with Skylark for the week!” Watty explained in a whisper. “I learned to ride at Hilltop before my parents bought me my own pony, Ace, a few months ago. I sat on Skylark a couple of times and he
did a thing that I asked him to. He refused to canter and he ran out at every jump! In my opinion he’s
the worst pony Holly could have been loaned. I’m glad
haven’t got him, that’s for sure!”
Watty turned and disappeared towards the tack room, and the rest of the blue team followed her, giggling.
“I suspect that Watty’s going to be rather full of opinions this week, don’t you?” Rosie said, trying to ram her copy of
into her bag. She gave up when the front cover ripped, and she began to read through the contents page instead.
“There’s loads about Lily Simpson in here,” she said, almost bumping into Alice as they walked to the stables.
“Look where you’re going, Rosie,” Alice giggled.
“I am,” Rosie lied, her nose in the magazine. “Listen – there’s a mini feature on her ponies and horses, including Firestorm and Foxy, her retired pony, and a bit about how she’s preparing for Burghley too! Ooh, I’m going to read that
right now. If I’m super professional from the start, like Lily Simpson, it might give me an edge in the competition this week!”