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Authors: Janet Rising

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BOOK: Pony Rebellion
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Now we need to practice some of the more complicated movements,” said Sophie, “because if you can't do them, I'll need to rethink everything.”

We all nodded silently, as we lined up in the middle of the school on the ponies after our warm-up. The floodlights shone down on us like we were celebrity football players. I was sandwiched between Katy and James on this crisp Monday evening after school, and we had our first audience. Leanne and Mrs. Bradley were sitting on the bench outside the fence, giving us the eye. Leanne, who only ever does competitions on her dun pony, Mr. Higgins, managed to look both superior and curious; and ancient Mrs. Bradley, who owns temperamental Henry, the black Dales pony, was already in awe, looking both impressed and excited. You had to like her—she was a sweet old thing even if she did let Henry do exactly what he liked. Combined, the pair of them were an accident waiting to happen disguised as a fluffy black pony and a cute old lady. My thoughts flew unbidden back to my mom. If she disguised herself as an old lady, would I recognize her? Could she, even now, actually be Mrs. Bradley, looking so innocent under the floodlights?

Get a grip, Pia, and concentrate
, I told myself. I had no idea what the more complicated movements were, but was confident we could all do them. How complicated could they be? I was about to find out.

“OK,” said Sophie, switching off her cell phone (which gave me the first pang of misgiving), “let's go. Tie your reins in a knot so that they don't dangle around your ponies' legs when you let go of them.”

Bean and I exchanged glances.
What did she mean
, I thought,
let go of our reins?
Surely I didn't hear that right.

“Now can you all bring your right leg over the back of the saddle and stand up on your left stirrup—as though you were getting off.”

“But we're supposed to take both feet out of the stirrups when we dismount,” Katy pointed out.

“I know that, Katy, but imagine you were getting off cowboy style,” Sophie suggested.

We all swung our legs over and stood up on the left stirrup. Bean disappeared under Tiffany's stomach as Tiffany, wearing her saddle in an off the shoulder manner, dived out of line.

“Sorry,” puffed Bean, picking herself up off the sand and running after Tiffany. “Forgot to tighten my girth!”

“You don't really need me to check all your tack before we start like this is some beginners' lesson, do you?” Sophie asked, annoyed.

“No, sorry, it won't happen again,” Bean assured her, turning red and saddling Tiffany who looked completely spooked. Mind you, she always looks like that.

“OK,” said Sophie, “the rest of you can sit back again. Now can you all take your jackets off?”

“While we're on board?” asked Bean, not unreasonably. Usually, taking off items of clothing while still in the saddle wasn't the best idea in case your pony—any pony—got scared.

“I'll hold Tiffany's head,” offered Sophie, taking the palomino's bridle as Bean looked doubtful. “I assume the bridle's on tight?”

I struggled out of my quilted jacket. Drummer just sighed with boredom. Tiffany's head flew up and darted from side to side as Bean struggled out of her jacket, but she didn't go anywhere. She seemed to be getting used to the strange demands—and besides, she didn't dare do anything with Sophie hanging on to her. We all sat with our jackets dangling by our sides, shivering in the cold.

“Great!” enthused Sophie. “Now put them on again. Bean, you're going to have to practice a lot to get Tiffany totally bored with it.”

Bean nodded.

“Let's try it trotting around the outside,” Sophie suggested.

“Try what?” asked Cat.

“We'll start by going over onto one stirrup,” said Sophie, like it was something simple.

“At trot?” gulped Katy.

“No problem!” James said.

“Can't we start walking?” I asked, not convinced I could do it. These complicated movements were more complicated than I'd envisaged.

“No, trotting is best, Pia—it will push you more, and you'll find it easier,” Sophie said. “Just remember to keep your left knee bent, hold on to the mane, and go for it! The more you act nervous, the harder it will be.”

We all made our way onto the outside track in our usual order on the left rein, with Drummer and me behind Cat and Bambi, and set off around the school in trot. Once Cat had established a steady rhythm, Sophie instructed us all to go over onto our left stirrup.

I went for it, as instructed, keeping my left knee bent so that it absorbed the bouncing of Drummer's stride.

“Keep trotting!” ordered Sophie.

Ignoring her, Bluey stopped, convinced that Katy wanted off. Moth overtook me in a canter with James effortlessly standing on one side of her—he was annoyingly good at it, probably because he'd done lots of gymkhana games—and Tiffany darted forward into the space they'd left, shoving her nose into Drummer's tail in an effort to bury herself in denial. I could see Drummer's ears waggling about in confusion, but he obediently kept trotting after Bambi. Cat was doing it perfectly.
She would
, I thought.

“OK, some of you are wonderful, the others need some work,” said Sophie. “Let's try again.”

We spent the next half hour balancing on one leg at trot, and the ponies soon picked it up. Then we dropped our reins and took off our jackets—with no dead bodies to report. As long as Bambi kept trotting, the others fell in behind and got the idea and even Tiffany settled down. I was amazed. So was Drummer. “What are you doing up there?” he asked me. “Can't you keep still?”

“This is what we're supposed to be doing. It's what the activity ride is all about,” I told him. “It's the activity part!”

I heard him sigh. He and the other ponies obviously thought we'd lost it completely.

“It looks pretty boring from down here,” he remarked.

“OK, let's try it jumping,” said Sophie, putting up the jumps.

“What!” yelled Bean.

“Oh yes, you'll not only be jumping in formation, but you'll be jumping with your arms outstretched, taking off your jackets, and coming over onto one stirrup. Didn't I tell you?”

“She knows she didn't!” Bean muttered to me.

“I think this is going to be fun!” said Katy, confident now she could do it trotting.

“She must be joking!” I heard Cat grumble.

“It's totally going to rock!” cheered James.

I agreed—but only if we didn't fall off.

With the jumps in place, we all followed Cat around the school and up the center line, five jumps away from disaster.

Bambi popped neatly over the first one, and Cat came over onto her left stirrup like a pro. As Drummer landed from the first jump and headed to the second, I grabbed the middle of his mane and tried it—and it worked. It actually wasn't as hard as I'd thought, providing I kept my knee bent and looked forward—and providing Drummer went straight, which he did. By the time we reached the last jump, I was back in the saddle and able to steer Drummer in the opposite direction to Bambi so I could watch James make easy work of it on Moth. Bean's confidence, however, deserted her, and although she kicked her right foot out of her stirrup, she couldn't bring herself to throw her leg over Tiffany's quarters. Dee, used to doing what her mom told her, made it look easy, and Katy looked like she'd been doing it for all her life.

“I always wanted to be in the circus!” James yelled.

Leanne and Mrs. Bradley clapped from the sidelines.

“See, it wasn't as hard as you all thought, was it?” beamed Sophie. “Apart from you, Bean. You just have to believe you can do it!”

“Yes, honestly, Bean, it's not so hard if you just go for it!” Katy told her.

“Oh really?” Bean replied, coming around for another try.

“Great!” yelled Katy as Bean threw her right leg over Tiffany's rump over the first jump.

“Terrible!” yelled James as Bean overbalanced and landed on the floor on her backside.

“Ouch!” she cried. “Can someone catch Tiffany?”

“Are you all right?” asked Sophie, helping Bean up. “I don't remember asking you to dismount!”

We tried again and this time Bean managed it. She also managed a huge grin.

“Easy!” she yelled, punching the air. More clapping from our small audience in the corner.

We tried it again, taking our coats off this time—and we had to be quick because five jumps come at you pretty fast. After a couple of attempts, our coats were all off by the third jump—then we came around and over the jumps for a second time and put them on again.

Tiffany was being amazingly good. She seemed to take confidence from being behind Moth and Drummer, so it was a good thing she wasn't a leader, after all.

After that, jumping with our arms outstretched was a piece of cake.

“Phew,” Dee-Dee said, when we took five, “if you'd told me by the end of the morning I'd be able to jump hanging off one side of Dolly, with my arms outstretched and getting undressed, I'd have said you were crazy, but it isn't so hard, after all.”

“As long as we don't have to do all three at once!” laughed Katy.

“Do you think we could…?” James asked.

“Don't be ridiculous, James!” Bean yelled, pushing herself back in the saddle after landing on Tiffany's neck over the last jump.

“How's Dolly doing?” I asked Dee.

“Great!” she said. “And it's so fantastic to be doing something fun for a change, instead of never-ending circles around a show ring. It's terrific!”

“You're amazing leaders, you and Pia,” I heard Katy tell Cat. “I'd hate to be the ones who have to think about where to go. I'd much rather follow.”

Hmmmm
, I thought. That's what I'd hoped to do.

“Bambi's got a great rhythm once she gets going,” Cat said. “I just put her into gear and off she goes.”

That is weird
, I thought. For once, Cat hadn't said anything hateful about me. It couldn't last.

“OK, team,” said Sophie, “let's try something else while you're all on a high. I want us to end the ride in a spectacular way. Dee, bring Dolly over here and I'll get you to show everyone. It's only fair I try it out on my own offspring before anyone else tries it.”

Dee steered Dolly to the middle of the school and Sophie held on to the dappled gray mare's bridle.

“OK, now swing your left leg over Dolly's neck so that both legs are on the off side.” Dee did as she was instructed, pulling a face of mock terror at us all.

“Now grab hold of the pommel and cantle, front and back of your saddle…that's right…now lean back and bring your legs up and over…”

I watched in amazement as Dee's head went down toward her empty left stirrup and her legs folded up over the saddle, over her head and down to the ground in a backward somersault on Dolly's left-hand side. Dolly never flinched.

“And let go of the saddle when you're almost there…great! One perfect backward roll, well done! Now who wants to try next?”

“Oof,” said Dee, clutching her head. “That makes you sort of dizzy.”

“What's it like, Dee?” asked Bean, looking doubtful.

“OK, actually!” Dee grinned and patted Dolly's dappled neck.

Sophie held each pony in turn and helped us with our backward roll. It was the weirdest sensation as I got my legs to go up and over—and Drummer just sighed and looked bored.

“If you're going to be dismounting like this in the future, perhaps you'd let me know,” he said.

“Don't forget to let go of the saddle, Pia, before your legs hit the ground,” Sophie reminded me a bit too late. My arms got pulled almost out of their sockets.

“Right, now we have all the basics sorted out, we need to put together a routine. We need some helpers on the ground…” She turned to our audience. “Would you consider helping us?” she asked.

“Oh, I'd love to help!” cried Mrs. Bradley, her eyes lighting up.

Nah, I told myself, no way could that be my mom in disguise. She'd have had a fit if she'd seen me attempt a backward roll off Drummer. Either that or she was very, very good at being a spy.

“Er, OK, if you like,” agreed Leanne, almost keeping the boredom out of her voice. I told you Sophie was impossible to say no to. Leanne never wanted to do anything with any of us.

“We really need two more helpers—do any of you know anyone?”

“I bet Dec will do it—won't he, Cat?” said James.

“Yeah, he'll be up for it,” Cat agreed, nodding. Declan was one of her brothers and one of James's friends.

“What would we have to do, exactly?” asked Mrs. Bradley.

“Oh, just move the jumps around as the ride develops and hold on to a broom handle or two,” Sophie said airily.

“Broom handles?” asked James. “Explain!”

BOOK: Pony Rebellion
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