The Palomino Pony Runs Free (5 page)

BOOK: The Palomino Pony Runs Free
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o, tell me what he said again.” Emma was sitting cross-legged on her bed on Friday evening, painting her toenails, eating pizza and listening to Georgia’s account of the week’s events. With all the build-up to the Horse of the Year Show, Georgia realised that she and Emma had barely had a chance to hang out together for a while. Her mum had encouraged her to go round for the
evening, telling her to forget about the Show for a few hours.

Georgia knew her mum was right. She had neglected her friends a bit lately. Things were still strained with Dan, although Georgia had apologised for her snappiness at least twice. Being Dan, he had just waved it off with his usual easygoing style, but Georgia could tell he was hurt, and there was a real distance between them. Remembering Melanie’s suggestion to give Lily a break following the championships, Georgia decided she would be glad when the Show was over and she could concentrate on just enjoying her little palomino pony, and also hanging out with her friends!

“I’ve told you, Em.” Georgia paused between mouthfuls, thinking again about her recent strange encounter with Will and the man watching him jump. “It wasn’t his brother, or any relation to
him, I don’t think. Will said his name was Ryan. But whoever he was, he didn’t seem at all happy with Will!”

“Hmm. I wonder what’s going on…” Emma loved mysteries and yard gossip. Pulling her laptop out from under the bed, she pressed the start button and tapped away for a few seconds, gazing at the screen.

“What are you doing, Em?” Georgia reached across her friend for a slice of pizza.

Emma turned the computer round and showed Georgia the screen. “Digging,” she said in a mysterious tone.

Georgia, who didn’t spend much time on the Internet, gazed at the screen. There was a picture of the most beautiful dark-brown mare jumping over a rustic-looking gate. She looked familiar. Squinting, Georgia realised why. It was Santa! But that wasn’t Will riding her, she was sure about
that. It looked like him – the same dark hair and arrogant expression – but this man was much older, probably in his mid-twenties.

“Look here.” Emma turned the laptop back round and started reading the paragraph underneath the photo. “Jasper Bowen. Isn’t ‘Bowen’ Will’s surname?”

Georgia nodded, remembering her conversation with Will when he had asked her if she had heard of his brother.

Emma looked at the picture again. “He is good-looking, you know – a bit like Will.”

“Emma!” Georgia giggled “I
you liked Will!”

Blushing and grinning, Emma carried on reading, but it wasn’t long before she frowned, and her laughter subsided.

“What’s up, Em?” Georgia asked, curious at her best friend’s sudden change in tone.

“I don’t know. It looks like Will’s brother is in trouble. I can’t really work it out. Here, Georgia, you read.”

Passing over the laptop, she resumed her cross-legged position as Georgia slowly read the page, her finger following each sentence. It was some sort of horsey gossip column, and there were a lot of pictures of Jasper and Santa, plus a few other gorgeous-looking ponies, all jumping. Georgia was used to the smart world of flat native showing, which tended to be more tweed and ribbons. This was altogether flashier. The ponies’ manes were all neatly plaited and their tack was polished to a high shine. Jasper was wearing a very expensive-looking jacket.

“‘Darling of the working hunter jumping world falls out with sponsor’,” she read out loud. “‘Following his terrible accident in May, Jasper Bowen, former National Working Hunter
Champion, has fallen out with the most enviable sponsor in showing – Ryan Cartwright of Diamond Horses. Who’s going to back Jasper’s yard and ponies now?’” The words screamed out to Georgia with all the brashness of a tabloid paper. “‘It falls to Jasper’s younger brother, William Bowen, to carry on the family name at this year’s Horse of the Year Show with the Bowens’ schoolmistress, nineteen-year-old Santa, or the Bowens may lose everything, including their ponies!’”

Feeling a bit sick, Georgia closed the page. She couldn’t read any more. The man who was in the yard the other day must have been Ryan Cartwright. And Santa was a much older pony than she had thought, although Georgia would have never have guessed she was nineteen – a schoolmistress – and obviously well known, judging by the amount of web entries there were dedicated to her and Jasper. She had won
countless rosettes and championships over the years. No wonder Will was so proud of her. But was she capable of jumping the same big tracks as before, Georgia wondered, remembering the mare’s refusals? She knew the jumps at the championships were always higher than at the qualifying shows. And what had Jasper done to fall out with his sponsor? And why was it up to Will to make things better? There were so many unanswered questions.

Putting her slice of pizza down, Georgia suddenly didn’t feel hungry any more. Will was right – all she had to worry about were a few nerves. She remembered the little cottage with the paddock that Melanie had pointed out to her the other day. It seemed a world away from Will’s life now. Will was riding to win – and with so much counting on it.

Lily’s creamy mane flew up and down in time with her strides, barely making a sound as she moved through the long grass of the bottom meadow. It was going to be one of those glorious autumn days when you could still almost pretend it was summer, were it not for the abundance of blackberries in the hedges and the yellowing of the leaves around the yard. Georgia breathed in and out in time with Lily’s canter strides as she powered up the long side of the meadow where Simon had cut a path with his mini tractor.

It was a perfect, still morning, long before breakfast, and certainly earlier than most non-horsey people rose on a Sunday. It was also Georgia’s favourite time of the day. Everything about it was so far removed from the razzle-dazzle of the show ring and if Georgia just concentrated on her cantering, she could pretend she didn’t have to take part soon in the biggest Show of
her life. Georgia always rode beautifully when she was just out hacking, with no one watching. Following her disastrous lesson with Janey a few nights ago, she had managed to bluff it out with Melanie, reassuring her that it had just been an off day. Melanie was so full of her own excitement over Sophie’s planned trip home for the championships that she had not needed much convincing. After all, Georgia had been so excited to qualify all those months ago, there was no reason to think otherwise.

Georgia felt awful about lying to her. She had managed a better lesson the previous night with Melanie, although it was still nowhere near her normal standard of relaxed riding. Her Friday evening discovery at Emma’s house was still playing on her mind. She hadn’t seen Will all weekend – he must have ridden later than her, or just been at the yard when she wasn’t there. She
probably wouldn’t see him today either because later that day she was going to go and help Dan at the farm for a while. It had been arranged ages ago, before their misunderstanding, and Georgia knew she needed to try and make it up to him. She had sent him a couple of texts, both of which had gone unanswered.

Untacking Lily back at the yard, Georgia gazed at the sky and wondered what to do. Despite the chilly start to the morning, it was going to be warm, and she didn’t want to rug her little mare up to turn her out. Instead, she decided to turn her out just as she was so that Lily could get the chance to enjoy a roll, and have the autumn sun on her back for a few hours.

After hacking out Wilson, giving Callie a good groom, and making sure all the stables were ready for the evening, Georgia picked up her bike and set off for Dan’s farm. Her tummy was grumbling –
it was definitely time for breakfast now, and luckily Dan must have been thinking the same because there was an enticing smell of frying bacon drifting out of the farmhouse window.

“Morning, Georgia.” Dan’s older brother Ben let her into the house, grinning as always.

“Morning, Ben,” Georgia replied, blushing slightly. He would no doubt be teasing Dan later, convinced that he and Georgia were an item!

“Hey, G.” Dan’s face was slightly flushed from cooking the breakfast. Passing Georgia a bacon sandwich wrapped in a piece of kitchen towel, he started to pull on his boots beside the back door, without making further conversation. Ben, noticing the awkwardness between the two of them, raised an eyebrow, but to Georgia’s relief he decided not to say anything. She followed Dan out of the back door in silence, glad he hadn’t told her to go away.

For the rest of the morning, Georgia threw herself into her work, grateful for the distraction. She wasn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty and happily helped feed the calves and fork fresh straw into their pens. It meant Dan’s dad was free to serve in the farm shop, which was always busy on a Sunday with customers looking to buy the meat for their lunch or eggs for a late breakfast. Georgia was glad the shop was doing well. They had come so close to losing it all after a property developer tried to force them off their land a year earlier. It was brilliant to see how quickly the farm and family had turned itself around!

As Georgia and Dan worked, they chatted about school, their classmates and even their dogs – anything really to avoid talking about the Horse of the Year Show. It seemed to Georgia that Dan was deliberately avoiding the subject
of horses. However, she couldn’t help but tell Dan her worries about Will, and what she and Emma had found out on Friday evening.

Dan looked genuinely puzzled when she finished, and, like Georgia, asked the most obvious question. “Why would the family be in trouble?” he said. “Perhaps it’s just gossip. Do you really think you should believe everything you read?” The way he said it was a bit harsh, but Georgia knew he didn’t mean it unkindly – he just knew Georgia’s tendency to walk into drama, and her concern for every pony she ever met!

“I don’t know.” Georgia chewed on her thumbnail. “But I do know that something is wrong!”

“But Melanie said she would keep an eye on Will, didn’t she?” Dan still looked confused.

“Yes.” Georgia shrugged. “I guess she did, and I’m sure she will. Just as long as Santa’s OK – that’s
what I’m worried about.”

“And what about you?” Dan said, changing the subject, but Georgia knew what he meant. He could see straight through her, even if she had managed to convince Melanie, Mum and Emma that she was fine and not suffering from nerves. “What about that lesson the other day?”

“Don’t, Dan!” Georgia said angrily. “I told you that was an off day. Why won’t you believe me?”

Dan just raised an eyebrow and carried on fluffing up the calves’ straw beds.

Georgia groaned inwardly. Having spent the morning together, she’d hoped that things would be OK between her and Dan, but now they were back to square one. She knew that
knew she was covering up her true feelings and she could tell that he was annoyed with her for not being more open with him. Again, she wondered why she was putting herself through all of this. But
her course was set now and it was too late to pull out.

Perhaps the best thing was to stay out of Dan’s way – just until the Show was over.

he sun had gone in by the time Georgia had finished helping Dan. There was a chill to the breeze, and a few drops of rain had started to fall. Georgia knew Dan probably needed more help, but he’d said she could head off just before he went in for his lunch. Things definitely weren’t right between them, Georgia thought with a sigh. Remembering Lily was out without a rug
on, Georgia climbed on her bike and started to cycle back to Redgrove. Although Lily was a Welsh mountain pony, her Horse of the Year Show preparation included hours of extra grooming, and as a result her coat was fine and silky. So she was also a pony who felt the cold!

Opening the yard gates, Georgia was surprised to see the dark-blue saloon from the other evening back again. There was no sign of Melanie’s car, though, and the yard was quiet. Hurrying to the tack room, Georgia grabbed Lily and Wilson’s medium-weight turnouts and carried them over to the paddock, where she quickly rugged up the two ponies. Lily seemed a little on edge and kept gazing towards the outdoor school, where her new friend Santa was being ridden.

There was a definite atmosphere in the school. Ryan was leaning against the arena fence, watching Will jump a course. The jumps were lower than the
grid Will had been jumping during the previous week and Santa looked a lot happier. Her eager face lit up as she soared the lower course, which was no higher than the jumps Georgia might have attempted in the past with Wilson.

“I told you…” Will’s voice carried over to Georgia on the breeze. “She is capable, just give us one last chance.”

Neither he nor Ryan seemed to have noticed she was there, or maybe they just didn’t care that she was watching. Ryan straightened up, looking angry. He appeared to be arguing with Will, but Georgia couldn’t make out the words. His stance was menacing though, and she looked around, suddenly feeling a little afraid.

Then, to Georgia’s relief, Melanie strode through the yard gates and, immediately taking stock of the situation, she marched up to Ryan. “I know who you are and I’d like you to get off my property,”
she said firmly.

Ryan laughed, continuing to lean against the fence. “You can’t, I’m the sponsor of this pony. I
her.” He glanced at Will before adding in a malicious voice, “For now.” Then, aggressively, he swung back to face Melanie.

“I couldn’t care less if you own her.” Melanie was not easily scared and stood her ground. “Either you leave, right now, or I call the police.”

Ryan hesitated for a moment. Then, gathering up his coat, he turned and stalked back to his car, but not before delivering a parting shot. “Riders like you are two a penny, Will Bowen. Don’t you forget it!”

As soon as Ryan’s car had sped down the drive, Melanie turned to Will, who had shakily dismounted from Santa and was starting to lead her back towards her stable. “Not so fast, young
man,” she said firmly. “I think you have some explaining to do.” Melanie glanced at Georgia, who was still in the field with the ponies, and beckoned her over. “Georgia, you come as well. We’re going to sort this out – I won’t have secrets in my yard.”

Once Santa was untacked, rugged and back out in her paddock, Georgia, Will and Melanie sat down in the tack room. Georgia noticed that Will’s hands were trembling slightly. Feeling a little awkward, Georgia twisted a lead rope round and round in her fingers.

“So, Will.” Melanie’s voice was still firm, but kinder now. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“Honestly, it’s nothing,” Will mumbled, his eyes firmly fixed on a piece of straw on the ground.

“Well, it didn’t look like nothing,” Melanie said. “And if you aren’t going to tell me, then I’m afraid I’ll have no choice but to send you
Santa back
home. I can’t have people like that man coming in and out of my yard. You do understand, don’t you?”

Will nodded, his eyes still down. “Please, please let me stay.” His voice was so quiet, Georgia could barely hear him.

Trembling, he explained that Ryan Cartwright, the owner of Diamond Horses, had been happy to sponsor his brother Jasper while he won championship after championship, becoming one of the best-known show riders around. But that had all changed when Jasper had taken a bad fall at the beginning of the season and hadn’t fully regained his confidence. Every time Jasper competed, he would invariably end up eliminated, or placed down the line. His talent lay with working with the younger horses on the ground, and it had been up to Will to carry on competing the ponies in his brother’s place. But the pressure had been getting too much, and Ryan was tiring
of sponsoring a yard that wasn’t producing the same results it once did.

“I’ve had too many last chances,” Will said, looking down at his hands. He sounded close to tears. “I’ll never be as good as Jasper, and I’ve let him down.”

Melanie looked perplexed. “Do you need the sponsorship?” she said in a confused voice. “Surely Jasper must have something of his own after all those years of riding?”

Will shook his head, reddening slightly. “Everything is owned by Ryan – the ponies, the lorry, the yard. Everyone thinks we must be loaded but we don’t have a penny to our name. Jasper never planned ahead. He wasn’t that much older than I am now when he got the sponsorship deal, and he thought it would last forever. I love all of the horses, especially the youngsters, but Santa’s special. If we lose the Diamond Horses’ deal, then
she’ll be sold, and we won’t be able to afford to buy her.”

He looked up, his face anguished. “Even with her track record, she won’t fetch much at her age, so she’ll be sold to someone who doesn’t understand her. They’ll just make her jump and jump until she breaks down, and then she’ll end up in market, and then…” He let out a little sob. “We’ve had her for over ten years. She can’t go.”

“Is that why you came back here?” Melanie asked gently.

Will nodded, gazing at the wall as he spoke. “Jasper’s buried his head in the sand, not admitting that we’re going to lose the yard. He’s looking at bank loans and everything, but I thought if I just had one good ride at the Horse of the Year Show – Santa’s last championship – then Ryan might not end the sponsorship. Jasper didn’t want me to try, but he couldn’t stop me. I used the last bit
of my savings to hire a trailer and pay Janey for my lessons, but it’s no good, it’s not going to work out.” Will put his head in his hands and muttered, “Ryan doesn’t think I’m good enough, and Santa’s lost her nerve. Oh, I’m sorry, Melanie. I shouldn’t have got you involved in this mess.”

“Don’t apologise to me,” Melanie said kindly. “You poor thing, with all that pressure on your shoulders. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to ring up Sara and get her to send your brother down here. He’s the one that needs to sort this out, not you.” Then, gently, she continued. “Will, you
a talented rider – easily as talented as your brother – but you’re too young to take all of this on. Ryan can’t just back out of a sponsorship deal – there has to be some sort of contract. Everything can always be sorted out,” she said reassuringly.

“As easy as that?” Will said, looking dubious, but sounding hopeful.

Georgia knew from past experience that problems were always better if you shared them with someone, especially a grown-up like Melanie.

Dusting her hands off, Melanie stood up. “Will, don’t worry any more. I’ll make some phone calls, and get your brother down here. Maybe Janey can have a word with him as well.” Then, smiling broadly, she continued, “Tell you what – Simon was going to get fish and chips tonight. What do you say to a yard supper? Invite Emma and Dan over if you want to, Georgia. And call your mum as well, so she knows where you are.”

Will and Georgia looked at each other and smiled, and then both nodded in unison. That sounded like a great idea!

“Now, go and finish off the ponies.” Melanie nodded in the direction of the loose boxes.

Georgia and Will hurried off and finished up the yard chores together. Now that the pressure
was off him a little, Will chatted away and Georgia was surprised to find that he was actually a really nice person. All his arrogance and bravado were clearly part of an act. They had quite a lot in common too – it turned out that Will knew Josephine Smalley well and they chatted easily about the riders from her yard and the gorgeous ponies.

At last Emma joined them, blushing and giggling every time Will spoke to her. “Where’s Dan?” she asked curiously as Georgia checked her phone again.

Georgia sighed. He obviously wasn’t coming.
And who could blame him
, she thought sadly. It was her own fault. Emma raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.

The four ponies watched the proceedings with interest – Santa glued to her new friend Lily’s side. Later, sitting on rugs in the tack room and tucking
into the delicious fish and chips, Georgia felt slightly better – about the ponies anyway. And, considering all that Will had been going through, surely she could face riding in the championships, given there was no real pressure on her at all? She sighed. She just wished that she and Dan were OK. Still, there would be plenty of time after the Show to get everything back on track.

Pleased with her more positive frame of mind, Georgia kissed Lily goodnight. Then Melanie dropped both her and Emma back home.

That night, for the first time in ages, Georgia slept really well. With only a couple of days left until the horsebox left for the Horse of the Year Show, she certainly needed it. And waking up the next morning feeling less tired made her feel more positive about her prospects at the Show. Maybe, just maybe, she’d been worrying for no reason, and everything would work out just fine!

BOOK: The Palomino Pony Runs Free
4.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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