Authors: Janet Rising
We weren't better. We were worse.
“I just can't understand itâ¦” murmured Dee as Dolly napped toward the broom handles, digging her pink-bandaged toes in and refusing to go anywhere near them.
“Bambi's started to shake her headâit's just not like her!” Cat told us. Drummer was lethargic. I could hardly get him out of a walkâand I kept thinking I could hear someone snickering and laughing again and again. It was driving me nuts!
“Well if anything, you're worse than yesterday!” Sophie remarked gloomily as we all lined up. Tiffany pawed the ground and dropped her head. Bean was sitting with one arm through her reins, the other fiddling with her plait. She'd been darting all over the place during practice, cannoning into Moth, who had jumped around as though she was being stung. Now Tiff was sniffing the school surface, snorting through her nose and pawing the ground.
“We'll try again tomorrow,” sighed Sophie. “But if we're no better then, we'll have to think seriously about whether we ought to pull out of the whole extravaganza.”
There were protests all around, but Sophie shrugged her shoulders. “I'm sure you don't want to go and make fools of yourselves, do you?”
“No, we have to get better,” said Cat. “We all really want to do this!”
“I know, but I'm not trying to threaten youâwe can't do it if we're no good,” explained Sophie. We knew she was right, but no one wanted to think about itâwe all wanted to do the activity ride.
“Look out!” Sophie suddenly shouted, rushing toward Tiffanyâbut she was too late. Tiffany sank onto the surface of the school with a grunt.
“Ahhhh!” yelled Bean, leaping off as Tiffany rolled over onto her side and rubbed one side of her face in the sand.
!” screamed Sophie, pulling the reins and shooing Tiffany before she rolled right over and broke her saddle.
I heard someone whisper, “Good one, Tiff, wish I'd thought of that!”
“Oh, Tiffany, are you all right? She must have colic!” Bean cried, dismayed.
“I don't think so. She's just trying to roll,” Sophie told her. “She's not got any classic colic signs. She's pulling the wool over your eyes.”
“But she's never,
done that,” Bean said, anxiously looking Tiffany over.
I heard another whisper: “A sit-downâgreat idea!”
“You could have been crushed, Bean,” Dec pointed out, concerned. I saw James look skyward.
“Are you sure you're all right, Tiff?” asked Bean, stroking Tiffany's face.
“Did anyone else hear that?” I asked. I had distinctly heard a snort, like someone was trying not to laugh.
“Give it a rest, Pia, we're so not in the mood,” Dee said despondently.
“OK, well if the practice has officially finished, I think I'll do some training,” said Cat, nudging Bambi out onto the track to work on her lateral movements.
“Good idea,” agreed James, joining her in the middle of the track. Sighing, I nudged Drummer to the outside track and worked on our trot-to-canter then our walk-to-canter transitions. Drummer perked up immediately, working on the bit and responding to my aids perfectly. It was like riding a different pony. He'd been like a plank of wood when we'd been practicing the activity ride. Now he was improving and interested in what we were doing.
“Why couldn't you be like this on the ride?” I muttered under my breath, expecting some smart-aleck reply, as usual. Except I didn't get one. Drummer stayed silent.
How often does that happen? I'll tell youâ
Drummer is not a pony to hold his tongue when the opportunity for back talk is presented. Oh no, not Drummer.
But he isn't above telling the others to be quiet
, I thought, my mind bumbling along of its own accord. Why, only the other day when I'd been dragging Henryâaka the magnificent black horseâalong the road, Drummer told Tiffany to shut up. Someone could hear her, he'd said. So what? It didn't usually bother Drummer.
And the other ponies had been quiet to the extreme during the last couple of practices. No arguing, no sly comments, no nothing. That was odd.
Why had Drummer told Tiffany to shut up?
I thought, my mind refusing to move on from that. Why did I keep thinking of that? Tiffanyâ¦Tiffanyâ¦
She had said something to Drummer. No, she had said it to Henry. What was it? Henry had accused the other ponies of being puppetsâ¦that was it, and Tiffany had been indignant, I remembered that much.
I thought furiously. It hurt, actually, which shows how little I use my brain. That was it, I heard Tiff's voice in my mind, she'd said that they weren't puppets and that they were planning something. And that's when Drummer had told her to shut up. He'd been very insistent about that.
I thought and thought and put two and two together. The fog cleared, the clouds parted and rays of sunshine beamed down on me as everything slid smoothly into place. I'd solved it!
I was furious! Incredibly angry. But I couldn't let my feelings show, not while Drummer could hear me. Instead I took him in and very deliberately put him away, putting his blanket on him and tying his hay net. Then I kissed him good night and did all the usual things before waiting in the tack room for the others.
One by one they arrived and, one by one I asked them to stay behind for a secret meeting. I even had to ask Catriona as she was part of the team. To my surprise, instead of sneering, she agreed, looking a bit puzzled. Of course, Declan was hanging around, snatching sneaky glances at Bean, so I couldn't very well leave him out.
“What's all this about?” asked James as I pulled the tack room door shut against equine ears when everyone was finally there.
“You're not angling for another sÃ©ance, are you?” asked Bean, rolling her eyes. “Not in the dark!”
“SÃ©ance? Well, cool idea,” enthused Declan, nodding. Probably because it meant he'd get longer to gaze at Bean.
“Oh, great idea, Bean!” yelled Dee, getting all excited. “We can ask my grandpa for some help with the activity ride. He really made a difference last time!”
“Will you stop giving your grandpa the credit for that!” hissed Katy. “We made it happen!”
“Made what happen?” asked Cat.
“Oh, it's a long story,” said James, remembering that Cat hadn't been part of it but had been on an opposing team at the time. Anything that brought up memories of the Sublime Equine Challenge at Hickstead wasn't a good thing seeing as it had caused no end of trouble between Catriona and everyone else, especially me and, ultimately, James. At least this activity ride had mended a few bridges as far as Cat and the others were concerned. A really bad idea to bring up anything that highlighted the fact that Cat and James used to go out, and now didn't. She'd fancied him for ages and was only talking to him again because of the activity ride. The best plan was to just not talk about it!
Bean took off her riding hat and ran her fingers through her hair. Declan actually gulped. Everyone noticed but Bean.
“What do you want to talk to us about, Pia?” asked Katy, getting to the point. She always did have a way of cutting through all the dross and keeping us on track.
“I think I know what's going wrong with our activity ride practices,” I said.
“Don't keep it to yourselfâtell us!” cried Dee-Dee.
“It's the ponies,” I said dramatically. “They're sabotaging it!”
“What?” said Cat, plainly unimpressed. “Think about it,
“What do you mean?” I asked, thinking she knew something I didn't.
“Really?” said Cat. “How can the ponies be sabotaging the ride?”
“Ahh, but they can. They did before. Remember?” Katy said, frowning.
It was true. Drummer, Tiffany, and Moth had withdrawn their support for our Sublime Equine Challenge attemptâonly Bluey had been unwilling to let Katy down. It was the fact that Bluey had been the only pony to be incredible at all the activity ride practices that had convinced me about the other ponies' guilt. And those snickers and comments to Tiff when she had collapsedâit could only have been the ponies laughing as their plan worked so well. And the rest of the time they had been so quiet. You couldn't tell me that was normal.
“When did they do it before?” asked Cat.
“It's not important,” James said breezily, determined not to revisit that particular episode. “What's important is whether Pia is right. What makes you think it's the ponies, Pia?”
I explained, and I could see by their faces that they were totally convinced by the time I'd presented all the evidence.
“Sneaky things!” exclaimed Dee. “Dolly has it coming!”
“It's no use being horrible to them,” said Katy thoughtfully. “We need to be smart, and we need to think quickly. The question is, how do we get the ponies back on board for the activity ride. They have to want to do it, otherwise they'll just make things so difficult, we won't have time to get it right for the night. I mean, we all want to do this, don't we?”
“You know we do!”
“You need to ask?”
“OK then, Pia will have to persuade the ponies to settle down,” James said decisively.
, I thought.
Thanks for that. How is that going to work?
“How's that going to work?” I asked, aware of Cat's scowl. She was obviously tornâbetween not wanting me to be able to hear the ponies, and the evidence before her. Plus, everyone else's conviction that I was a Pony Whisperer hindered her attempts to undermine me, and I could tell she was unwilling to go back to being everyone's enemy. I wouldn't have liked to have been in her position. Come to think of it, I didn't like being in mine much either.
“What shall I tell them?” I asked.
“Well, you could ask them why they're wrecking the ride,” Katy suggested, ever the diplomat. “We haven't heard their side of the story, yet.”
“Good idea, Katy!” said James. “Go on then, Pia.”
“OK, I'll have a word with Drummer,” I said. They all stared at me. I looked back at them.
“What?” I asked.
“No time like the present,” James said.
“And no present like the time!” shrieked Dee. “My uncle always says that at Christmas whenever anyone gets a watch!”
“That's interesting,” said Cat, in an ultra-bored voice.
“Sound like Christmas is a really fun time at your place,” said James sarcastically.
Leaving them to argue, I walked across the yard to Drummer's stable. Looking back I could see my fellow riders' heads peering out of the tack room. So not the backup I needed.
“Er, Drummer, I'd like to ask you something,” I said, closing the stable door behind me. Drummer's body radiated warmth in the cold night, and I got close to him. The grass outside was already crisping up nicely with frost and Drummer's breath hesitated in clouds before evaporating into the still night.
“We, that is, everyone on the activity ride, is under the impression that you and the other ponies are sabotaging the ride. What do you say to that?”
“That's not a question, it's an accusation,” said Drummer between chews.
“It could be we're not trying as hard as we should be,” he agreed.
“But why? It's such a great idea, and everyone wants to do it.”
“Nobody asked us.”
“But it's fun!” I wailed.
“It's hard work, jumping over broom handles and poles with you all bouncing around and leaning over and waving your coats around. And it's repetitive, doing the same thing over and over again. It's totally boring. We don't want to do it.”
“Oh, Drum, come on. I know the others would do it if you talked to them. Can't you just get enthusiastic about it, like we are?”
“But it's not until Christmas, and that's weeks away. No, we're all fed up with it. Do something elseâon foot.”
, Drummer. Everyone wants to do it.”
“Everyone who's human,” said Drummer. “It's not just meâeveryone's fed up with it. If they want to do it, I'll go along with it. But they don't, so that's it.”
“I bet Bluey isn't part of the rebellion,” I said.
“Yeah, well, Bluey's taking the moral high ground. You know what he's like, won't do anything against Katy.”
“He's a lovely pony!” I said. “Genuine!”
“He's a suck-up,” said Drummer.
“You mean he's a shining example, and he makes you all look bad!”
“You're all total losers,” I told him angrily.
“It's no good getting all mad about it,” huffed Drummer.
getting mad about it!” I cried, totally getting mad about it.