Authors: Janet Rising
“If you're not mad then I'm a Shetland pony!”
I wasn't getting anywhere. I took myself back to the tack room and told everyone the bad news.
“Try again tomorrow, Pia,” suggested Katy. “Or have a word with Bluey. He might be able to persuade the others.”
“I doubt it. Bluey doesn't seem to have much influence. Even Moth's in on it.”
“Well, that's a positive thing,” said James thoughtfully.
“How come?” asked Bean.
“It means she's getting more confident. When I first got her, she wouldn't do anything unless she was sure I wanted her to do it. If she's thinking for herself and making decisions, it's a good sign.”
“I never thought of it that way,” said Bean.
“But that's not why Bluey isn't part of the rebellion, is it?” asked Katy, looking worried.
“No, Bluey's confident to do his own thing too. He just wants to do what you want him to do,” I assured her. “And it's against his principles to do anything against you.”
“Well, I've gotta go. Got some really awful English homework to make up,” said Bean, pulling on her gloves. “Are you coming, Pia? I'll bike to the crossroads with you. I hate it when it's dark up here. It gives me the creeps.”
“I'll go with you if you like,” Declan offered, his face lighting up at the thought.
“Oh thanks, Dec, but you don't have a bike, right?” said Bean. “You'd have to run all the way. You'll get tired out!”
I thought Declan would have run to the end of the earth if it meant being alone with Bean, but Bean didn't get it.
“OK, I'll be there in two seconds,” I told her, putting Drummer's grooming kit in his tack box.
“I'm leavingâthat's my dad's car,” said Katy, dashing outside.
James disappeared to the barn to get Moth's hay net and Dee went with him. Declan wandered outside on the off chance that Bean might need help with her bicycle lights.
When I turned around, Cat and I were the only ones still in the tack room, even though she didn't look as though she was doing anything, just hanging around.
, I thought, heading for the door.
“Um, Miaâ¦er, Piaâ¦” began Cat.
I stopped and turned around, ready for the usual Cat-like abuse.
“Would you ask Bambi why she doesn't want to do the activity ride too?” Cat continued. She didn't look me in the eye.
I almost fell over with shock. Was I hearing right? Did Cat just ask me to talk to her pony? Did she just acknowledge that I might, just might, be able to talk to and hear what horses and ponies were saying?
I so wanted to say something sarcastic, but this was a
. I was desperate not to be Cat's enemy anymore. I was totally fed up with it, so worn out by all the snide remarks and worrying about whether she was going to be at the yard when I was, and how things would be when she was. This was a chance I was desperate to take. So I didn't just take it, I grabbed it!
“Of course, I'll ask her now if you like,” I said, nodding furiously.
“Oh no, tomorrow will do,” Cat said casually. She knew Bean was waiting for me, and I was sure she didn't want anyone else to witness her comedown. Which was understandable after she'd given me such a hard time for so long.
“And only if you get a minute. Don't go out of your way or anything,” Cat told me, suddenly ultra-casual. She fiddled with Bambi's saddle so she wouldn't have to look me in the eye.
“I'd be happy to do it,” I assured her, smiling.
Cat almost smiled back. Not quite. She couldn't quite manage it.
Maybe that is asking too much
, I thought. It wasn't as though we were friends or anything. I just hoped that this was a turning point. If we couldn't exactly be friends, we could, perhaps, not be enemies anymore.
I'd settle for that, I decided. We couldn't expect to be great at the activity ride until we'd had a few practices. It would take more than a few practices at talking to each other for Cat and I to progress beyond hostilities. I wondered just how many practices it would take. And whether we'd ever get it right.
When I got to the yard the next day after school, everyone was waiting for me. Even Declan, parts of him looking out, over, and through a big woolen sweater he had on, held around him with three leather beltsâalthough I wasn't the reason he'd turned up, obviously.
“Finally!” exclaimed Dee-Dee as I pedaled past the tack room. “Hurry up, we can't wait to hear what the other ponies have to say about their strike.”
“Mmmm,” I said, propping my bike up against the tack room wall and switching off the lights. “I've been thinking about how to tackle them, and it might be best if I ask them one at a time.”
“Good idea!” said James. “Then they won't be able to back up one another.”
“Start with Bluey,” suggested Katy. “At least he's on our side.”
Bluey, it turned out, wasn't on anyone's side.
“Oh, don't ask me about it, please,” he said, turning around and looking at the wall when I went into his stable. Epona was safely tucked inside my riding vest, as always. I wrapped my hand around her as I confronted Bluey.
“But we know the other ponies are deliberately messing up and sabotaging the ride,” I explained. “Just tell us your opinion. No pressureâwe know you're not involved.”
“It doesn't really make any difference whether I am or not,” Bluey said miserably. “The others are so determined not to do it. They're fed up with the practices, and they're giving me grief for not siding with them.”
“Is this activity ride really so bad?” I asked him.
Katy shoved her head around Bluey's door. “What's the verdict?” she whispered.
“She must know I can hear her,” sighed Bluey. “Why is she asking you?”
“I don't know,” I said, turning to Katy. “Go away, I don't know enough yet.”
“Oh, OK,” said Katy, vanishing back into the darkness.
“So are the practices so terrible?” I asked again. “We make sure you all get plenty of rest, don't we?”
“Yes, you do. They're not hard workâbut the others say they're boring. They can't see the point of repeating the same work over and over again.”
“But if we don't, we'll never get better,” I explained. “They have to see that.”
“They just say it's boring, and they don't want to do it anymore,” Bluey repeated. “No point,” he added. “And someone said that if we do this, who knows what other activities you'll think up for them to do. They said best to nip it in the bud right now.”
“Well, we appreciate your support,” I said.
“The other ponies don't,” he muttered, and went back to eating his hay.
I told the others.
“We knew that already,” said James shortly.
“Ask the others,” Dee said impatiently.
I talked to Dolly. She told me the prospect of practices between now and Christmas were daunting and not what she was used to. Unlike Dee, Dolly loved her showbiz life and lived for lessons and the shows. I spoke to Tiffany. Same story, although she wasn't very happy with the rebellion, as she called it. She said she was just going along with the others. It was a waste of time talking to Moth as she never replied, but I slipped into Bambi's stable to get her take on itâto everyone else's amazement. I felt really excitedâI hardly ever speak to Bambi due to my relationship with Catriona.
“Hi!” I began. Bambi looked up from where she'd been nosing around in her bed searching for dropped hay. “Cat asked me to talk to you,” I explained.
“Don't think so,” Bambi replied, dropping her nose into her straw again.
“Really, she did,” I continued. “Er, it's about the activity ride.”
“What about it?” asked Bambi, not bothering to look up again.
“We know you're all doing your best to wreck it so that you don't have to practice anymore.”
“Yeah, well, that just about explains it,” she said, rustling around. “We're putting our hooves down. You guys are being ridiculousâall that rushing around. It's got to stop. So we're stopping it. Don't try to talk us out of it. We're all of the same mind.”
“Except for Bluey,” I pointed out.
“Oh yeah, well, Bluey was never going to be up for it, we knew that,” Bambi said.
“Tiffany's not into it either,” I said.
“The majority rules,” Bambi told me firmly.
I reported back, emphasizing the way all the ponies, bar Bluey and part of Tiffany, were united, so that Cat wasn't offended. She seemed to believe meâa major breakthrough, I thought. Of course, she didn't say much, what with the others there.
“Well, that hasn't been very helpful,” said Dee, puffing out her cheeks and looking despondent.
“Not that it's your fault, Pia,” added Katy. She and Bluey were so alike. Bean and Tiffany were quite similar too, I thought, and Cat and Bambi. The worrying possibility that I might be like Drummer slammed into my mind. I threw it out again, pronto. I couldn't face that right now.
“So what do we do?” asked James, frowning. “We can't put on an activity ride if the ponies don't cooperate.”
“I still can't believe they're being so scheming,” said Cat.
“I can't believe you all can't control your own ponies,” said Dec, scrolling through his cell phone. “I thought you were in charge of Bam-Bam, Cat, not the other way around.”
call her that!” screamed Cat.
“That's what Aunt Pam calls her,” Dec replied sullenly.
!” Cat hissed.
“We can't tell your mom,” Bean said to Dee. “She'll go crazy!”
Bean was right. I didn't think Sophie would be that sympathetic to the ponies going on strike.
“She's almost resigned to the ride being canceled anyway, after the awful practices we've been having,” moaned Dee.
“Oh, but I really want to do it!” wailed Katy.
Everyone agreed. It was a total disappointment. We'd all been looking forward to our performance, particularly as we were getting confident at the various moves. I was particularly proud of my backward roll dismount, and I was actually remembering where to go, most of the time. It seemed it had all been for nothing.
“Well, maybe they'll have a change of heart tonight,” Katy said, ever the optimist.
“Don't count on it,” I replied.
We tacked up in gloomy silence. I could hear Bambi and Moth, in their stables on either side of Drummer's, being scolded by Cat and James, but I didn't think it would have any effect. I couldn't speak to Drummer, I was so disappointed with him. Knowing he was in the dog house, he didn't say much to me either. It was like it had been before Epona came into our lives. It felt weird. It felt horrible. The practice was even worse than yesterday's, and at the end Sophie shrugged her shoulders.
“This is so disappointingâI thought you were really getting the hang of the movements, but I'm going to have to put a deadline on you all. If you're no better by tomorrow's practice I will have to tell Linda we're just not up to it. Maybe we can try again next yearâif she puts on another extravaganza, that is.”
Nobody said anything. Nobody could explain to Sophie as it would seem as though we were tattling on the poniesâor blaming them for our bad riding. I didn't know which would be worse.
“I was so enjoying doing something different with Dolly,” Dee moaned as we rode back to the yard. The ponies had all perked up and were walking with a spring in their step. They'd got what they'd wantedâvictory was theirs.
I made Drummer comfortable for the night. The air was heavy with words unsaid. What could either of us say? Nothing would change things now. Silence hung in the air like a fog, and Drummer, far from acting cocky as I'd expected him to, just kept quiet. I bolted his door and hung his tack on his pegs next to Tiffany's tack. One by one the others drifted in and put their tack away. The mood was one of gloom, gloom, and more gloom.
“Oh well,” sighed Katy. I waited for her to continue, but she didn't.
James appeared, and he was in a really bad mood. He threw Moth's saddle on its peg. He was mad enough to grasp a corner of the top rug on a pile Twiddles snoozed on and tweak it abruptly with a jerk, causing the tabby to awaken with a start, his green eyes wide with fury as he tumbled to the concrete floor, landing on his feetâof course.
“James!” shouted Katy, dodging quickly out of the furious cat's way. “What are you doing? He'll just go for the person he's closest to!”
“He's got too much power, that cat!” James said, but I noticed that he stepped to one side as Twiddles, mustering as much dignity as he could, sauntered out past him into the yard and headed off for the barn where bales of hay beckoned for him to sit on undisturbed.
“Don't let Mrs. C. see you mistreating her favorite feline,” warned Dee. “You'll be in so much trouble.”
“I can't believe Bambi would do this to me,” murmured Cat. I hoped she wasn't going to start on again about me
being a Pony Whisperer, just because she didn't want to face up to her pony being mutinous. This crisis seemed at least to have put her feud with me on hold. Could the truce possibly be permanent? I hoped so.
“There has to be a way to win the ponies back,” said Bean, heaving herself up onto the rug pile vacated by Twiddles. “There just has to be. Oh, this is nice,” she added, patting the rug. “It's still warm.”
“Well, come up with it, then!” said James, still fuming.
“You'll get cat hairs on your butt,” Dee told Bean.
“She's only trying to help,” Declan said, defending Bean and glaring at James. James didn't bother to reply.
“Getting moody won't solve anything,” I said.
“Pia's right,” Katy agreed. “And so is Bean. There has to be a way to get the ponies wanting to do this activity ride. And I vote we all put our thinking caps on, instead of being mean to Twiddles and getting all angry with one another, and come up with some ideas.”
“Katy's got a good point,” said Cat. “It's better to do something rather than just give up and moan all the time.”
“OK then, we'll meet here tomorrow evening an hour before practice and share ideas,” Katy said firmly, meeting everyone's eyes so no one thought she didn't include them. “And everyone has to have at least one idea to get the ponies on our side. Agreed?”
“One idea each?” asked Dee, looking doubtful.
“Yes,” said Katy. “And sÃ©ances don't count,” she added as Dee opened her mouth. Dee closed it again, having been headed off at the pass.
“No exceptions. OK?” Katy said, looking at us all.
Everyone agreed, including James. Even Declan noddedâbetween snatching glances at Bean.
“But if we can't think of anything,” James said, unwilling to let Katy have the last word, “and the ponies still refuse to do the activity ride, we're pretty powerless.”
He was right, of course. If we didn't get our act together in time for tomorrow's practice, Sophie would call the whole thing off. Without a breathtaking, fabulous, mega, totally workable, pony-friendly, world-ending plan to end all plans, the ponies would stay on strike.
And there wasn't a thing we could do about it.