Authors: Bonnie Bryant
“We have something for you two,” Stevie said. “It’s sort of a Christmas present. Well, more of a New Year’s Eve present, really. Let’s just call it a holiday present.”
“For us?” Max took the envelope, looking mystified. He slit it open with his thumb and pulled out the card.
“What is it, Max?” Deborah asked curiously.
“Look at this,” he told her. “The girls want to baby-sit for us on New Year’s Eve while we go out.”
“We made reservations for you and everything,” Lisa said in a rush. “And we’ll come to your house and watch Maxi the whole time you’re gone.”
Carole bit her lip. She couldn’t stand the suspense. After all The Saddle Club had done, were Max and Deborah going to say no?
Stevie obviously thought so. “Listen,” she said, “I don’t care what arguments you have against this. We think—”
Max and Deborah didn’t let her finish. They both spoke up at once. “We’ll take it!” they said quickly.
RL 6, 009–012
A Bantam Skylark Book / December 1997
Skylark Books is a registered trademark of Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and elsewhere
“The Saddle Club” is a registered trademark of Bonnie Bryant Hiller. The Saddle Club design/logo, which consists of a riding crop and a riding hat, is a trademark of Bantam Books
“USPC” and “Pony Club” are registered trademarks of The United States Pony Clubs, Inc., at The Kentucky Horse Park, 4071 Iron Works Pike, Lexington, KY 40511-8462
All rights reserved
Copyright © 1997 by Bonnie Bryant Hiller.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher
For information address: Bantam Books
Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada
Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036
I would like to express my special thanks
to Catherine Hapka for her help
in the writing of this book
HAT ABOUT AN
egg-and-spoon race?” Carole Hanson suggested.
Lisa Atwood wrinkled her nose. “Too boring. We’ve done it a thousand times already.”
Carole gave a gentle tug on the lead line she was holding. Her horse, Starlight, had stopped to examine a clod of dirt lying on the floor of the indoor ring of Pine Hollow Stables. He wasn’t supposed to be stopping. He was supposed to be walking. Carole was cooling him down after a strenuous hour of exercise.
“True,” Carole said once Starlight was moving again. “But it’s always fun.”
Lisa grinned. “Remember the last gymkhana, when Stevie slipped a raw egg in with the hard-boiled ones?”
“How could I forget?” Carole said with a laugh. “Veronica diAngelo complained about the stains on her expensive new boots for a month. Right, Stevie?”
There was no answer.
“Stevie?” Lisa prompted. She glanced over the back of her horse, a pretty Thoroughbred mare named Prancer, at the third human member of their group. “Earth to Stevie!”
Stevie Lake was walking her horse along with her friends, but she wasn’t paying attention to the conversation. Lisa had to call her name several more times before Stevie finally looked up blankly. “What?” she asked, pushing a stray lock of dark blond hair out of her eyes. “Were you talking to me?”
Carole and Lisa exchanged a look and a sigh.
“Don’t tell me you’re still thinking about Phil,” Carole said.
Lisa switched Prancer’s lead line to her other hand. “You’ve been brooding about it all week,” she added.
Stevie’s boyfriend, Phil Marsten, was leaving on a family vacation the next morning. Normally that wouldn’t have bothered Stevie very much, since Phil lived in another town and she only saw him once or twice a month. But New Year’s Eve was a few days away, and Stevie had been hoping that she and Phil would be able to spend the holiday together.
“Can you blame me for being upset about it?” she asked her friends. “The Marstens invited me to come to Disney World with them, you know. I could be ringing in the new year in the Magic Kingdom. Instead, I’m stuck here in the frozen kingdom.”
Willow Creek, Virginia, where Stevie, Carole, and Lisa lived, was experiencing a severe cold snap. The three girls hadn’t been able to ride outdoors that day because of the frigid weather. Instead, they had spent an hour riding in Pine Hollow’s indoor ring. Their regular riding lessons were on hiatus during the holidays, but the girls still made sure to ride regularly—for at least three good reasons.
The first reason was to keep their horses in shape. Carole and Stevie owned their horses, and Lisa was almost as attached to Prancer, a stable horse, as if the mare belonged to her. It was important for the horses to get out of their stalls and stretch their legs. The exercise kept them fit, and it kept them happy.
The second reason was Pine Hollow’s upcoming gymkhana. A gymkhana was a kind of informal horse show in which teams of young riders competed in riding games and races. Max Regnery, Pine Hollow’s owner and the girls’ riding instructor, had announced the event at their last lesson before Christmas. It was now less than three weeks away. Max had also asked all the young riders to come up with ideas for gymkhana events. The girls knew that in addition to being fun, the games would test the
riding skills they had been learning and practicing in their lessons, and they wanted to be ready.
The third reason for riding was the best and simplest one of all. Stevie, Carole, and Lisa loved to ride. In fact, they loved horses and riding so much that they had formed The Saddle Club. The group had only two rules: Members had to be horse-crazy, and they had to be willing to help each other out whenever help was needed. With three horse-crazy best friends as club members, both rules were easy to keep. The girls had even added a few out-of-town members to The Saddle Club, including Phil Marsten.
“It was nice of Phil’s parents to invite you,” Lisa said, brushing a fly off Prancer’s withers. “But I’m not surprised your parents said you couldn’t go.”
Carole rolled her eyes. “Me neither,” she said. “Your folks weren’t exactly amused by that Christmas gift you gave Chad.”
“Oh, that,” Stevie said, waving one hand dismissively. Chad was one of her three brothers. “It was only what he deserved.”
“Maybe so,” Lisa said dryly. “But how many parents want their son unwrapping a big package of horse manure in the middle of the living room floor on Christmas morning?”
“It was very nicely wrapped,” Stevie said with a grin. “And by the way, it was Veronica’s own fault she got egg on her boots. I didn’t make her drop it, did I?”
Her friends looked blank for a moment. Then they laughed. Although they had been best friends for quite a while, sometimes the way Stevie’s mind worked still amazed them.
Carole and Lisa were also often astounded at the various ways Stevie managed to get into trouble. If she wasn’t fighting with her brothers, she was teasing Veronica diAngelo, the snobbiest girl at Pine Hollow, or playing pranks at school.
Lisa, especially, was very studious and responsible. She couldn’t imagine how Stevie got away with half the things she did. “It’s too bad you pulled that prank on Chad so recently,” she said. “Otherwise you might be flying off to sunny Florida tomorrow.”
Stevie shrugged. “I didn’t have a choice,” she said. “I had to pay Chad back for taping my phone conversation with Phil and playing it over the school PA system.”
Lisa still looked unconvinced, but Carole smiled and said, “True. Besides, didn’t you say yesterday that the main reason you can’t go to Florida is because your grandmother is coming to visit?”
“Well, maybe,” Stevie admitted. “She’s coming in two weeks. And for some reason my parents seem to think it will take me that long to clean up my room.”
Her friends laughed. They had seen Stevie’s room many times. They had even helped to clean it up on more than one occasion. And they couldn’t help agreeing with Mr. and Mrs. Lake—it was always a big job.
“Think of it this way, Stevie,” Carole said in a comforting tone. She reached over to pat Stevie’s horse, a spirited bay mare named Belle. “You may miss going to Disney World with Phil, but at least this way you’ll get to spend part of New Year’s Eve with Belle.”
Carole looked surprised when Stevie and Lisa both started to laugh. Then she laughed, too. Of the three horse-crazy girls, Carole was famous for being the horse-craziest. Her first priority was always horses, which some people found strange. But not Stevie and Lisa. It was one of the things they loved most about their friend.
“Carole’s right,” Lisa said. “Even if you don’t get to celebrate the New Year with Phil, at least you have Belle—and us. Maybe it’s not Disney World, but I’m sure we’ll still manage to have fun.”
Stevie nodded. “We always do,” she said, smiling at her two best friends. “I’d rather talk to you guys than to Mickey Mouse, anyway.” The three girls had already decided to have a Saddle Club sleepover on New Year’s Eve. “And there’s lots to do. We can play games—”
“Talk about the gymkhana—” Carole added.
“Come up with New Year’s resolutions—” Lisa continued.
“—and make prank phone calls to my brothers,” Stevie finished with satisfaction. “A perfect way to end any year.”
“Oops,” Carole said, suddenly looking worried.
“What’s the matter?” Stevie asked, peering around Belle at her friend.
“I forgot to tell you,” Carole said. “I was so busy thinking about the gymkhana that it slipped my mind. I have some bad news.” She shook her head. “Well, not really
news—I mean, it’s kind of bad for us—well, inconvenient more than bad, really—it’s actually kind of good news for my dad. But—”
“Carole!” Lisa said sharply. “Just tell us already. What is it?” On any topic but horses, Carole could be a little absentminded. Sometimes she’d start a sentence and forget to end it.