Authors: Janet Rising
With everyone working together at last, the ride progressed quickly. Now that we were all proficient (most of the time) in the movements and jumps, we put together the final routine to the musical track Sophie had organized.
It went like this: we all rode in, single file, lined up in the middle of the school, and gave a saluteâtaking the reins in our left hands, dropping our heads and our right hands before taking our reins againâand then we immediately rode off again in single file in trot. We did a few movements without jumpsâsplitting up and making pairs, then going across the school diagonally from the quarter markers, one at a time and narrowly missing each other (most of the time). Then we made two rides of three and rode on different reins, one going clockwise, the other counterclockwiseâwhich was the part where I tended to get confused because I was a leader and had to remember where to go and at what speed, which freaked me out a littleâand did some intricate movements with the two rides threading between and around each other. Then the jumps came in! Mrs. B., Leanne, Declan, and Nicky had to sharply manhandle the jump blocks and poles so that we had our line along the middle of the school to jump while we did one more circuit in trotâand that's when the fun started! We jumped the row simply the first time, splitting up at the top (so I was leading again) and riding down each side to meet at the bottom of the school, turning up the middle again at A to tackle the jumps single file once more. This second time we jumped with our arms outstretched, the third time we took our jackets off (putting them on once more as we rode along the side again), then we jumped over on one stirrup for the last time.
By this time, we were getting a little sweaty and the ponies were working hard. I almost had sympathy for their rebellion at about this point because I found I was puffingâand I was just a passenger. Then Mrs. B. and Co. hurried out with the jumps and reappeared with the broom handlesâstanding in the middle making a diamond with the handles held at hip height, at an angle so that we could jump them from the quarter markers.
For this part, we had to keep our heads on straight because this was where there was potential for pileups. We jumped in single file, one after the other, narrowly missing one another and doing our best not to take out the human wings. Then the human wings rearranged the handles into an X so that we jumped two abreast, making sure we were level with our partners. Then the human wings did another shuffle, stringing the handles across the whole width of the school, and we all jumped them in a line abreast (which was one of the trickiest parts because the line had to be perfectly straight, and the ponies needed to take off at exactly the same time for it to look good).
At the top we again split up into threes, with each ride circling back around to join the other in single file again, and we then lined up to face the audience to take our final bow. But first we had the big finishâwith everyone starting their backward roll just as the one before them flipped their legs over, so that we all went down one after the other, like a row of dominoes, standing at the ponies' heads to finish.
And that, as they say, was that!
“Short, sharp, and sweet!” Sophie told us. “That's what we're aiming for. We don't want to bore the audience, just give them a crisp display and leave them wanting more. Come on, let's try it again, and James you need to slow down and use the corners. Katy, you need to cut your corners and keep up. Let's go!”
It didn't feel very crisp. It didn't feel very short or sharp either and as for sweetâ¦well! Not only did we have to learn the routine, but we had to make sure we were level, and in the right place at the right time, going neither too fast nor too slow. Making sure the timings were spot on took concentration.
“Phew,” said Katy, when we were taking a breather, “this is hard work.”
“I still don't know whether I'm supposed to be in front of you, James, when we're jumping diagonally across the broom handles, or behind you,” puzzled Bean.
“Behind,” James told her. “Except when we're jumping in pairs, of course.”
“Yeah, I know that part,” said Bean.
The broom handlers were getting confused too.
“Should we be facing inward or outward?” Mrs. Bradley asked Sophie.
“Outward,” Sophie said firmly. “That way, you won't scare the ponies, and you won't flinch if you see someone coming a little too close.”
That didn't sound very encouraging. I was glad I wasn't assigned a broom handle to hold. Mrs. Bradley obviously agreed.
“Well, that's just it, dear,” she said, in a worried voice, her gray curls bobbing as she shook her head, “it's very disconcerting hearing the ponies thundering up behind one.”
“I think it's exciting,” drawled Declan. “It makes it much more fun not knowing whether you're going to be still standing at the end of the routine, or pounded, facedown, into the sand, like a thumbtack!”
“I'm sure there's some law against it,” muttered Leanne. “Health and safety and that sort of thing. Are you sure we'll be allowed to do it at the extravaganza? You know how hot those places are on those sort of things.”
“Do you really think it's dangerous?” Nicky asked. “I have Bethany to worry about, after all.”
“It's perfectly safe!” exclaimed Sophie. “Everyone is in complete control, aren't you?” She turned to us. We all nodded, only I didn't feel totally confident.
“Tell them to stop worrying,” Drummer said to me. “We'll do our best to avoid themâonly you riders are responsible for keeping your toes pointed to the front. We can't be responsible for anyone taken out by a stray toe.”
I put Drummer's assurances to the teamâmissing out the toe bit. They seemed a bit reassured by itâonly Dec looked disappointed. He managed to gaze longingly at Bean even as he ran around changing jumps and holding broom handles. I couldn't believe she hadn't noticed, but she seemed oblivious to her admirerâon planet Bean, as always.
The ponies were true to their word and were working enthusiastically. It made such a difference knowing they were trying as hard as we were to make the ride work. The extravaganza was only two weeks away, and we were all getting excited about it.
“What else is going on that night?” Katy asked Sophie. “Will there be anyone famous there?”
“Alex Willard is booked to give a demonstration of his natural horsemanship training methods,” Sophie told her.
“He's Pia's biggest fan!” giggled Bean, causing Cat to cast me an evil look.
, I thought.
“Can you introduce us, Pia?” asked Dee-Dee. “I so want his autograph.”
“And me!” said Katy.
“You girls are pathetic to be asking for autographs,” muttered James in disgust.
“Shut up, James. You don't know a thing about it!” Katy told him.
“I know Linda is planning a display with her RDA riders and ponies, of course. It should be a good night. I hope you're all drumming up lots of interest with your families and friends?”
“My mom and dad are bringing tons of people,” said Katy.
“My family's coming,” confirmed James.
“Our whole family's turning up,” said Declan, “including Aunt Pam who's determined to see Bambi perform beforeâ¦”
“Shut up, Dec!” snapped Cat. “No one wants to know our family history!” I saw her throw her brother a look that would turn most people to stone.
Talk about overreact
, I thought. Who cared about Aunt Pam?
“My dad's got a concert that night, but my mom actually said she might bring my sisters,” mumbled Bean unenthusiastically.
This was news! Bean's family barely ever cared about Bean's riding. They were too busy being a famous musician (dad) and a famous sculptor (mom) and trainee famous musicians and artists (sisters) to get into Bean's chosen field.
“She might forget, though,” Bean continued hopefully.
I thought of my dad and Skinny Lynny turning up. Thought of my mom, and I hoped she'd bring Mike, but not on the bike.
, I thought. It fit. I wondered what my dad would make of mom riding passenger and wearing leather. I wouldn't put it past him to get a motorcycleâthat's what men going through a midlife crisis are supposed to do, isn't it? I could picture Skinny clinging on in skintight black, her hair streaming out under her helmet like a tail. I'd have to keep them apartâit would be more than I could handle to have a whole family of bikers. Holy moly, imagine that!
“Let's try it one more time before we call it a night,” Sophie said. We did, and we weren't bad, so we were all pretty excited when we took the ponies in and made them comfortable for the night.
“Wow,” said Katy, carefully putting Bluey's purple saddle pad upside down on top of his saddle to keep the dust off it. “I actually believe we're going to do this activity ride after all. For a while there, I had serious doubts.”
“Doubts?” echoed Dee. “Only doubts? I was certain the activity ride was doomed and destined for the scrap heap. I can't believe the ponies are so up for it now.”
Cat stormed in, dumped Bambi's tack, and fled without saying anything, almost as though she couldn't bear to talk to anyone. Maybe I was imagining things, I decided.
“What's up with Cat?” asked Dee. So I hadn't imagined it.
What set her off?
I wondered. The practice had gone really well, and she and Bambi hadn't done anything wrong.
“Oh, itâoh you know, the usual,” mumbled Katy, giving Dee a look.
“Oh, oh, yes, of course,” Dee sighed, nodding her head.
I looked at Katy and remembered that there was still something about Cat that the others weren't telling me. Some big secret that they were all in on, and I wasn't. It had cropped up several times in the past, and no one would tell me what it was. It was so frustrating.
Would I ever be included?
Just what did I have to do to be a true member of the gang? Would I ever, ever find out what the big secret was?
James arrived with Moth's tack, all upbeat after a great practice, and grinned at us all. “We're getting there!” he exclaimed. “We're going to knock 'em dead at the extravaganza, the way we're going!”
I agreed. It was going to be just perfect now the ponies were on board. Nothing could stop us now!
The next week flew by, and we ran through the activity ride routine another four timesâjust once each practice, so that the ponies didn't get bored. Our helpers were getting sharper at moving the equipment around, and Leanne was almost, almost enthusiastic.
“It's looking so cool,” she told us, one evening, “and you're all getting much more accurate. I only fear for my life about three times per practice now.”
“That's very funny, Leanne,” laughed Bean. But Leanne stared balefully at her, without a hint of a smile.
“I'm totally serious, Bean,” she told her, deadpan. “You should try holding a broom handle while Bambi jumps over it. Life affirming, that's what it is.”
“I wish she'd get over herself,” Bean whispered to me.
“At least she's still helping,” I pointed out. “She could have quit weeks ago.”
“Hummph!” snorted Bean. “She just likes being in on the action and getting into the extravaganza for free as one of the helpers. She's desperate to impress Jake Hampton, who's going to watch.”
“The competition rider?” I asked. “But I thought Leanne was still seeing Stuart?”
“Yeah, she is,” nodded Bean. “But Stuart's been dropped from the Pony Club team, and Leanne's interest is going down. She's ready to move on up, as they say.”
“That's lousy,” I remarked.
“Yup, you've got it!” Bean said.
As the day of the Equine Extravaganza grew nearer, some of us were getting sort of jittery at the practices. Others were getting cocky.
“Do we have to go over it again?” grumbled Cat one evening.
“Of course!” confirmed Sophie. “We've only got one week to go, and we can't afford any mistakes.”
“Some of us aren't as good at remembering things as you are,” Dee-Dee told Cat.
“Oh fine.” Cat sighed, steering Bambi up in front of Drummer. Bambi and Drum started cooing over each other in a sickening, lovey-dovey way. “Let's get it over with. I need to do some more homework after this.”
The practice began. Drummer felt good, swinging his back and turning in all the right places, before I needed to remind him. He was being so great, I decided I'd give him the rest of the night off once we'd run through the routine. He'd love that.
And some extra treats
, I thought.
It all happened so quickly. One minute we were jumping the jump box in the middleâwe had paced it perfectly for once so that Drummer landed over our first jump just as Bambi was taking off for her second, so I was feeling a bit smugâwhen I heard a bit of a thud behind me, followed by an unfamiliar voice saying
, and a yell.
, I thought, turning around to take a look.
“Stop! Stop everyone!” shouted Sophie, and I saw her running toward Moth with a terribly worried look on her face as James threw himself out of Moth's saddle, looking toward her hind legs.
“What is it?” cried Cat.
“Oh, James, I'm so sorry,” I heard Katy cry as she leaped off Bluey to stand miserably beside her roan pony, who was muttering to himself.
I still didn't understand what was wrong, but whatever it was, it seemed serious. We all crowded around Moth.
“What happened?” asked Cat.
“It wasn't Bluey's faultâ¦” Katy began. “I was too close. I'm so terrified of getting left behind I was too close to Moth, and Bluey just caught one of her hind legs.”
“Sorry, Moth, sorry, Moth, sorry, Moth,” murmured Bluey, looking totally downcast. James was silent as he inspected Moth's heel, and Sophie looked grim. Poor Moth held up her near hind and looked miserable.
It must have been her unfamiliar voice I had heard say ouch
, I thought.
“Walk her around for a moment, James,” suggested Sophie. “See how lame she is.”
Moth hobbled around, snatching up her hind leg, reluctant to put her weight on it. “There, girl, steady now,” whispered James, stroking her neck. Moth looked even more wide-eyed than usual.
“It's quite a deep cut,” Sophie remarked, “and in a bad placeâevery time Moth moves it's going to flex and open. Are her tetanus shots up to date, James?”
James nodded dumbly.
“I doubt the vet can do anything muchâit's in an awkward place to put a bandage. I've got some good stuff you can put on it, but I think it will swell up tonight,” Sophie continued grimly.
“Oh, James, I'm so, so sorry,” wailed Katy.
“It wasn't your fault. It was an accident,” James managed to reply gallantly, even though he looked completely heartbroken.
“It's a shame it wasn't Dolly stamping on Moth,” Drum whispered to me. “She's half the weight of Blueyâhe's so big!”
Everyone was silent as James led a hopping Moth back to her stable.
“Practice over,” declared Sophie over her shoulder as she followed James.
“Now what?” said Dee.
“Poor Moth,” Bean sighed.
“Will she be all right?” Drummer asked me. I reassured him, and he told the other ponies. “Although I don't think she's going to be completely healthy for a while, looking at that cut,” I added.
“How can we practice now?” asked Dee.
“We can't,” Cat replied. “Moth looks set to be lame for ages, so the activity ride's not going to happen.”
“Don't be so melodramatic, Cat,” said Katy.
“It's true,” said Sophie. “The ride relies on having an even number of riders and ponies. With Moth out of action, the ride's off. For good!”