The Palomino Pony Runs Free (6 page)

BOOK: The Palomino Pony Runs Free
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eorgia got the text after school the next afternoon. She was waiting at the bus stop with Emma, her school bag held over her head as she tried to keep dry. Dan was nearby with one of his rugby friends. They had been perfectly polite to each other at school, but Dan had just nodded when Georgia had told him she was feeling better about everything and was definitely going to
ride at the championships. She heard a familiar beep from her pocket and, retrieving the phone, she squinted at the screen. She had to read the message a couple of times for it to sink in. The message was from Melanie, and it was serious.


Have you heard from Will?? He and
Santa have disappeared.

The bus ride home seemed to take forever. Dropping Dan and Emma off first, who promised they would come up to the yard later if needed, the bus continued through the winding village lanes until it stopped just outside Georgia’s cottage. Jumping out, Georgia tore down the overgrown path, ready to change into her yard clothes.

Her mum was in the kitchen, stirring something on the hob with Pip lying at her feet. She smiled
when she saw her daughter. “Hi, sweetheart!” she said as Georgia bounded up the stairs two at a time.

“Hi, Mum,” Georgia called, reappearing a minute later in her old jeans and sweater. “I’m off to the yard!”

“Oh.” Her mum looked slightly crestfallen. “I thought you gave Lily Mondays off and that we could spend some time together. I’ve made you your favourite, spaghetti bolognaise. I thought we could eat it in front of the television and have a relaxed evening. You’ve been so busy lately…” Her voice trailed off.

Georgia, feeling guilty, kissed her mum on the cheek. “Sorry, Mum, I really am – but there’s an emergency at the yard. I’ll tell you about it later.”

“All right then,” her mum said, continuing to stir. “But, Georgia, make sure you’re not letting your schoolwork slip. You remember what happened
last time?” Her words barely reached Georgia, who was already out of the door and grabbing her bike.

When Georgia shot through the yard gates, she discovered that Redgrove was buzzing with activity. A police car was parked next to the horse lorry and there was a policeman deep in conversation with Melanie, who looked pale with worry. On seeing Georgia, she quickly beckoned her over. The policeman was a kindly-looking man but, even so, Georgia felt herself gulp. She had never really had to deal with the police before, apart from when Lily’s previous owner had tried to steal her back.

“When did you last see the young man in question?” the policeman asked. He had a gruff, but not unkind voice.

“Um, last night,” Georgia stammered. “We all
had fish and chips here, with Melanie, and my friend, Emma.” She turned to Melanie, confused. “What’s going on?”

Excusing herself from the policeman, who was taking notes, Melanie told Georgia that after making a few phone calls in the morning, including one to Will’s aunt, she had been able to tell him that the situation with his sponsor could be sorted out and Ryan would back off. Will had seemed happy enough, she said, and had asked if he could stay for a couple more days with Santa, and perhaps help Georgia with her show prep. The last Melanie had seen of him was after breakfast when she left to go into town to run some errands. Will had been happily tacking up Santa, ready to go for a hack over the heath. When she came home, he wasn’t back, but she hadn’t thought any more about it until the afternoon when she noticed Lily pacing up and down the fence line
of her field, searching for her friend. Melanie had quickly worked out that over seven hours had passed since Will had left.

“What if he fell while he was out on the ride? Or Santa has had an accident?” Georgia’s blood ran cold at the thought of the pretty brown pony lying somewhere on the heath, or, worse still, having been hit by a car on the road.

Melanie shook her head, pale now. “That was my first thought as well, G,” she said anxiously, running a hand through her dark hair. “But I don’t think so.” Briefly, she explained to Georgia that after realising Will hadn’t returned, she had gone to the tack room to find Santa’s head collar, and found it wasn’t there. Nor was Santa’s cotton day-sheet. Running up to Will’s room, she’d found most of his belongings still there, including his shiny black boots and tweed jacket, waiting for the Horse of the Year Show, but there was a small
rucksack missing and a few essential items. It looked as if he’d thought carefully about what he and Santa would need, before he’d set off. Prior to phoning the police, Melanie had called his brother, his mum and Sara. None of them knew where Will and Santa were.

“It seems he’s disappeared deliberately,” Melanie said, sounding shaky.

Simon, who had also been talking to the policeman, placed a hand over her arm. “It’s not your fault,” he said in a soothing voice.

“It feels like it!” Melanie wailed. “I reassured him yesterday that we could sort out this mess but he obviously didn’t think it was really going to happen … and now he and Santa could be anywhere. It’s
my fault. I know he acts older, but he’s only a child, really. What if something happens to him?” Sitting on the mounting block, Melanie pulled out her phone. “I’ve texted and
rung him, but there’s no answer.”

She tried ringing again but the call went straight to Will’s answer phone. “See!” Melanie sounded desperate now, showing Georgia, the phone. “Georgia, maybe you could try him a few times?”

Georgia nodded, and promised she would. She felt awful as well. Firstly for being so judgemental about Will when he arrived, not realising what he had been dealing with, and secondly for making such a big deal about her worries over the Horse of the Year Show when Will faced far bigger issues. At least Lily would always be safe. Who knew what the future held for Santa now…

Just then, a huge cream and black lorry purred into the yard. Jumping up, frowning, Georgia shielded her eyes against the late afternoon sun, trying to work out who it was.

A woman hopped out of the cab, smartly
dressed in checked breeches. A winged Pegasus and the words
Flying Horses Transport
were emblazoned on the back of her jacket. She looked as though she meant business. Flicking through a notebook in her hand she turned to Melanie. “Is this Redgrove Farm?”

“Yes, it is,” Melanie said, sounding a little cool.

Undeterred, the woman carried on. “We’re picking up a pony for a Mr Ryan Cartwright from this address. Is she ready?”

Melanie looked appalled. “Ready?” she said in a horrified voice. “You mean Ryan has sold Santa?”

The woman threw her hands up. “Look, I don’t know,” she said, clearly exasperated. “We were booked to pick up a mare and drop her at a new address, that’s all I was told. I don’t care much for the ins and outs.”

Narrowing her eyes, Melanie looked at the woman. “Can you at least tell me where the pony
is meant to be going?”

The woman consulted her phone. “Some fancy dealers,” she said, clearly not wanting to give too much away.

Georgia heard Melanie draw in her breath. She couldn’t believe Santa was being sold, just like that.

“You can’t take the mare,” Melanie said firmly. “Not least because nobody knows where she is!”

The woman scowled. “So you mean to tell me that I’ve come all this way for nothing?”

“Yes, I’m afraid it would seem so,” Melanie replied, gesturing towards the policeman still waiting in the yard. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got more important things to deal with.”

Once the woman had climbed back in her cab, muttering angrily under her breath, and the huge lorry had manoeuvred its way back out of
the yard gates, Melanie turned to Georgia. “I’ve had an idea,” she said. “If we can just get hold of Will, and I can explain my plan to him, then maybe he will feel reassured enough to come back to Redgrove. Do you mind finishing off the evening stables? I’ve got to go inside and make some calls.”

Still feeling shaken, but pleased to occupy herself, Georgia set to work. Despite the drama, Wilson, Callie and Lily still needed attending to – their straw beds had to be laid for the night and their feeds making up. She wondered what Melanie had up her sleeve. Whatever it was, she hoped it would mean Will could somehow keep Santa. But more than that, she hoped that Will, and his beautiful kind mare, were safe.

he night passed with no sign of Will or his pony. After going home, leaving Melanie sitting at the kitchen table, Georgia kept her phone right next to her bed just in case Melanie texted her, as she had promised to do if there was any news. But, despite waking up at least five times in the night and checking her phone, there was no message. Eventually, early next morning, and unable to
sleep, Georgia sat with her mum and Pip in the kitchen, nursing a cup of tea and waiting until she could head over to the stables.

It was the day they should have been leaving for the Horse of the Year Show, but it was almost certain that the dark-green horse lorry wouldn’t be going now. Georgia had been so busy worrying about Will and Santa that, for the first time in ages, she hadn’t given the Show a second thought. It was only because her mum mentioned it to her as she left the house that it was at the forefront of her mind now. Yet it seemed so trivial compared to what Will must be going through now.

The atmosphere was sombre at the yard as Georgia pushed her bike through the gates. There was still no familiar dark-brown head in the stable next to Lily’s. Georgia had started to pack up the lorry in preparation a couple of days before, but as the day wore on and there was still no sign of
Will, it looked likely that they would all be staying at Redgrove.

“There will always be next year…” a bitterly disappointed Melanie had reassured Georgia. Not wanting to throw away Georgia’s big chance, she had talked about them going anyway and Simon holding the fort, but both of them knew that their hearts wouldn’t be in it and that it would feel wrong to compete with Will missing.

Georgia couldn’t help but feel guilty – after all, she had wished so many times that she wasn’t going, and now it looked as though that was going to come true. She ran a hand over the soft brown leather of her show bridle, which hung clean, oiled and sparkling in the tack room, and swallowed hard. She knew the most important thing now was to find Will and Santa and make sure they were safe, but even so, a tiny part of her couldn’t help but feel sorry for herself. There
would always be other years, she knew that. But now that she was so nearly there, she was scared she would never want to try again, knowing how much the build-up to the Show had terrified her this time round.

“Tell you what, Georgia,” Melanie said, sounding exhausted as they led Callie, Wilson and Lily back in from the fields that afternoon. “Why don’t you take Lily out for a nice ride this evening, before it gets dark? There’s not much more that can be done here.”

“Really?” said Georgia.

“Yes, really. You need some time-out,” said Melanie firmly. “A good canter always clears away the cobwebs. Enjoy yourself. I’ll phone you straight away if there’s any news. And, Georgia…” Hesitating, Melanie suddenly looked really sad. “I’m so sorry we can’t go to the championships. Thanks for being so understanding.”

Nodding sadly, Georgia set off to get Lily. Really, the championships didn’t matter, in comparison with what was happening here. Carefully, she took her tack down from its position in the tack room and, looping the bridle over her shoulder, walked down to Lily’s stable, where the palomino was standing, stock-still, occasionally thrusting her head forwards, her amber eyes catching the light. She did seem a little on edge.

“Easy, my beauty…” Crooning to her, Georgia quickly tacked up the little mare. She was so clean from the rigorous grooming and bathing routine Georgia had been giving her that she only needed a quick dust off.

In no time at all, Georgia was ready, scarf pulled up over her nose, clattering over the cobbles and out through the gates on to the heathland beyond the yard. It was a glorious late afternoon, and the trees bordering the neat cobbled yard were starting
to change to deep reds and golds. It was still quite cold, though, and Georgia was grateful to her mum for making her dress up warmly before she had left that morning.

Lily shied uncharacteristically at a sign on the small lane, snorting and plunging.

“Hey, girl…” Georgia gently scratched the little mare on her withers, calming her down. It was probably due to the fact that Georgia hadn’t ridden her for a couple of days and she was super-fit and fresh. The cold weather could make ponies a little skittish.

Once they were out on the heath, Georgia let Lily have her head. It felt amazing, Lily’s strong legs eating up the ground and her champagne-coloured tail streaming behind her. It was a real shame, Georgia reflected, that the judges wouldn’t see her in the ring, looking her best. Now she was unable to go, it seemed so silly that she’d got in
such a state about it. She should have just enjoyed the build up to the Show instead!

Continuing up the long ridgeway that sat above the pretty village of Redgrove, Lily was still pulling forwards, fresh and eager. The valley below them, one side sloping away towards Dan’s farm, and the other down towards the neighbouring villages, looked magical in the cold, late afternoon light, with the houses and cars like little toy models.

“Come on, Lily.” Eager to get her pony back to her warm stable and rugs, and to get a hot drink for herself, Georgia gently guided the little palomino back towards home, softly shifting her weight in the saddle and easing her right rein towards the track that led back to Redgrove.

Expecting Lily to quietly head towards home, she relaxed in the saddle, letting her reins slacken, but the palomino stopped suddenly and
threw her head towards Georgia, catching her smartly on the nose and instantly causing it to bleed.

“Ouch, Lily!” Georgia cried. Her nose started to sting, and she felt a warmth trickle down her chin. Holding the reins in one hand, she wiped away the blood with the back of her gloved free hand, and tried to ignore the pain. But she was worried – Lily never behaved like this. Remembering how Jemma had frightened the little palomino by forcing her to go forwards with a whip when she had been reluctant and scared, Georgia did her best to remain quiet and calm.

“Come on, girl,” she said as gently as possible, again trying to guide the little mare back towards the stables.

It was starting to get dusky now; the evening sky was awash with pink and grey clouds. Again, Lily planted, backing up so suddenly that Georgia
was nearly unseated. It was no good; Lily didn’t want to go forwards at all. She tossed her head, snorting, the sound carrying across the quiet valley.

“Would you rather I led you?” Patting her, Georgia slipped out of the saddle and placed a reassuring hand on Lily’s neck, drawing the reins over her head, trying to soothe her. It was very rare that she needed to get off and lead Lily, but something had obviously worried the little mare and, with the evening drawing in, Georgia wanted to get her home as quickly as possible. “Come on, sweetheart.”

Clicking her tongue, Georgia started to lead Lily forwards towards the gate that took them off the hill and on to the path towards home.

Reluctantly, Lily followed her. Stopping at the gate, Georgia struggled for a minute with the heavy, fiddly clasp, placing the reins back over
the mare’s head and into one hand as she did so. And that was all it took. Lily suddenly pulled back and in that moment she was free from Georgia’s hold.

BOOK: The Palomino Pony Runs Free
2.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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