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Authors: Bonnie Bryant

secret horse

NO TURNING BACK …

Out of nowhere a rash voice inside her head whispered:
Why not try the brush fence? Just see how he takes it. Then you’ll really know what you’re dealing with.
Lisa’s hands began to sweat. Reason told her to wait. But just this once she didn’t feel like listening to reason. She eyed the brush from twenty yards away. It was at least two feet higher than the tires, and with the shrubbery reaching up from its wooden box it looked even higher. Lisa told herself she was going to think about it. But riding Samson in a circle, she realized she was only lining up to get a better approach. She knew she was going to take the fence. Her confidence was up; there was no turning back.

RL 5, 009–012

SECRET HORSE

A Bantam Skylark Book / March 1999

Skylark Books is a registered trademark of Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and elsewhere.


The Saddle Club

is a registered trademark of Bonnie Bryant Hiller. The Saddle Club design/logo, which consists of a riding crop and a riding hat, is a trademark of Bantam Books.


USPC

and

Pony Club

are registered trademarks of The United States Pony Clubs, Inc., at The Kentucky Horse Park, 4071 Iron Works Pike, Lexington, KY 40511-8462.

All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1999 by Bonnie Bryant Hiller.

Cover art © 1999 by Paul Casale.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

For information address: Bantam Books.

eISBN: 978-0-307-82588-9

Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada.

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.

v3.1

I would like to express my special thanks to
Caitlin Macy for her
help in the writing of this book.

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14

About the Author

C
AROLE
H
ANSON BREATHED
deeply. There was no better combination of smells than freshly mown grass and horses. And, she reflected, standing outside Pine Hollow Stables, there was no better time than the early morning in summer. For as long as she could remember, summer vacation had meant one thing: more time to spend at the barn. What made summers even nicer was that Carole shared them with her two best friends, Stevie Lake and Lisa Atwood. Stevie and Lisa were almost as horse-crazy as she was. They would be arriving soon. But for now, except for the stable employees, she had Pine Hollow to herself.

Carole paused before going in to greet her horse. The scene was arresting. A small group of young horses frolicked in the pasture that stretched out before her.
There were two chestnuts, a bay, a gray, and one pure black. Carole smiled as the black horse bucked and took off down the fence. Whenever she watched this particular young horse, her heart swelled with pride. His name was Samson, and he had been born and bred, and now was being trained, on Pine Hollow grounds. The stable’s owner, Max Regnery, had high hopes for Samson, as Carole knew. She lingered a moment longer to watch the young gelding at play. Samson was what horsepeople called a good mover. His gaits were long and even and smooth. He had excellent conformation and a good disposition. That was no surprise, Carole thought. It was just what you’d expect from the son of Cobalt, a fiery black stallion, and Delilah, a gentle palomino mare. Samson seemed to combine the best of his parents’ traits.

“Nice picture, huh?” said a low voice beside Carole.

Startled out of her reverie, Carole turned to see the head stable hand, Red O’Malley, standing next to her.

“I’ll say,” she agreed. “I was just thinking how great Samson looks.”

Red nodded. “He’s been going great, too,” he said. “I only wish Max and I had more time to work with him. We’ve been so busy, and now …”

As Red’s voice trailed off, Carole noticed that he was carrying his saddle and had a large duffel bag slung over his back. “Are you going away?” she asked.

Red nodded, his eyes bright with anticipation. “Yeah, I got a working student position with Toby MacIntosh. I’m going up to Vermont for a month.”

“Wow!” Carole exclaimed. “Congratulations.” Toby MacIntosh was a top three-day eventer. He took on working students at his farm every summer and, Carole knew, the positions were extremely hard to get.

“Thanks,” Red said modestly. “I just found out yesterday. I was on the waiting list and someone dropped out at the last minute. Max was great about letting me go on such short notice,” the stable hand added, a note of worry creeping into his voice.

Carole could read Red’s thoughts instantly. “Don’t you worry about Max,” she said firmly. “Stevie and Lisa and I are planning to hang out here every day. We’ll pitch in—muck stalls, clean tack, anything.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Red confessed. His face brightened. “There are horses to be exercised, too, you know, so it won’t be all drudgery.”

“Even better,” Carole said. They both looked out at the pasture again. The horses had settled down and were grazing quietly. “Samson, too?” Carole inquired.

Red nodded vigorously. “Definitely. The more he gets out, the better. In fact, it’ll be great to see what the three of you can do with him.” As an afterthought, he added, “Drop me a line and let me know how his training is going.”

Carole promised to do so. She walked with Red to his pickup truck. “Have fun!” she called as Red started the engine. “And don’t work too hard!”

Red gave a jaunty wave and disappeared up the driveway.

Walking into the barn, Carole glanced once more toward the pasture. She couldn’t wait to try Samson again. But her own horse came first. And if Carole had learned anything recently, it was that she was happy to keep it that way.

“Starlight!” she called. “Hello, boy!”

The bay gelding stuck his nose out over the stall, nickering faintly. Carole saw that he was chewing on a mouthful of hay. “Okay,” she said, laughing, “you finish breakfast and I’ll get my grooming kit.”

On her way into the tack room, Carole glanced idly at the bulletin board hanging on the wall outside. Max used the board to post notices about horses for sale, stable jobs, boarding fees, and horse shows. Carole had looked at it the day before—and the day before that—and didn’t really expect to see anything new. But then she did a double take. Tacked to the cork was a horse show program, and not just any program, but one for the Macrae Valley Open in Pennsylvania.

Carole could feel her heart start to beat a little faster. The Macrae Valley Open was one of the premier horse shows on the East Coast. Carole had dreamed about riding
in it since she was a little girl. She had been a spectator on several occasions, and each time she went, her desire to show there herself had gotten stronger. Besides being A-rated and having the reputation of attracting the best riders, the Macrae was particularly famous for its junior divisions. Many of the best Olympic riders had cut their teeth riding in the junior jumper division of the Macrae.

Gingerly, as if she were handling a sacred object, Carole removed the program from the bulletin board. She flipped through the heavy cream-colored pages with longing. But when she came to the junior section, she closed the program abruptly. It was just too hard to read about a show she couldn’t enter. The Macrae was hundreds of miles away. Carole didn’t own a horse trailer. Max, with his busy schedule of coaching, training, and farm management, could hardly be persuaded to take one rider that great a distance. Carole wouldn’t even want to ask him. Besides, if Max ever thought she deserved to go, he would mention it himself. That, Carole thought grimly, tacking the program back to the board, settled that.

Still, when Lisa and Stevie turned up half an hour later, Carole couldn’t help mentioning the show.

“The Macky Ray—what?” said Stevie, yanking on her cowboy boots.

“The Macrae Valley Open!” Lisa said. The three girls
were changing in the locker room. “Even I’ve heard of it.”

“Well, why don’t you just ask Max if you can go?” Stevie suggested. “I’m sure you and Starlight are good enough.”

Shaking her head wistfully, Carole explained that it was more complicated than that. She would need transportation, a driver …

“Maybe Red could drive you in the Pine Hollow van,” Lisa suggested. “I bet he’d love to go to the Macrae. Maybe he could compete as well.”

“Oh, I meant to tell you,” said Carole. “I just saw Red on his way out. He’s going away for a month—to be a working student on Toby MacIntosh’s farm. Maybe I’ll talk to him about the show when he comes back. But until then, I told him we’d pitch in and make up for his absence.”

Stevie groaned good-naturedly. Unlike Carole, who thought mucking stalls was sheer joy, Stevie preferred her days heavy on the riding and light on the barn chores. Still, when the time came to help out, she always did more than her fair share. That was one of the rules of The Saddle Club, a group that she, Lisa, and Carole had started. Members had to be (a) horse-crazy and (b) willing to help each other out in any situation. Because Pine Hollow Stables was the club’s unofficial home base, the helping out often took place there.

To soften the blow, Carole added, “Red did say there are horses to be exercised while he’s gone, too. Including Samson.”

The mention of Samson set the girls talking excitedly. Samson had been a Saddle Club project since day one. Since before day one, actually: since the girls had helped care for his mother, Delilah, while she was in foal. They had also been there at the colt’s birth. A local horse trainer, Mr. Grover, had helped Samson through his initial months under saddle, but The Saddle Club had been waiting for him on his return. More recently, they had watched him develop into a real riding horse.

“I saw Red riding him the other day,” Lisa remarked. “Samson looked great! He’s a really good mover.”

“I was just thinking that this morning,” Carole said enthusiastically.

Lisa flushed. It made her happy when Carole, the most experienced rider of the three of them, agreed with her opinions.

“Ready, girls?” said Stevie with a grin.

“Ready,” Lisa said.

“Let’s head ’em up and move ’em out.”

Dressed to ride, the girls hurried down the aisle to tack up. All three of them stiffened when they saw who was walking toward them.

“Veronica,” Stevie muttered under her breath.

“Well, hello!” cried the new arrival in a singsongy
voice. Veronica diAngelo was also dressed to ride. But unlike The Saddle Club, who wore an assortment of old jeans, T-shirts, and boots, she was wearing brand-new breeches and a show-quality sleeveless riding shirt. “Has anyone seen the program for the Macrae Valley Open?” she inquired loudly.

“You’re staring right at it,” Stevie said coldly, with an inkling of what Veronica was up to.

“Oh, you’re right! Silly me. Here it is, tacked up on the bulletin board.” Annoyed, The Saddle Club watched the girl remove the booklet and flip through the pages. “Phew!” Veronica said, pretending to be relieved. “The junior jumper division is scheduled during a weekend. I was afraid it would interfere with my private—”

“Manicures?” Stevie interrupted sweetly. “I’m sure you’ll be able to fit them in.”

Veronica gave Stevie a pitying look. “Poor Stephanie,” she said. “Always trying to get at me, aren’t you? I guess that’s what the little people do. In their small, pathetic ways, they—”

“Are you going to the Macrae?” Carole broke in.

“Excuse me?” said Veronica.

Carole swallowed as Stevie glared at her. “Are you going to ride in the Macrae?” she repeated. She knew she was playing right into Veronica’s scheme by giving
her the attention she wanted. But Carole didn’t care. She had to know.

“Why, yes, Carole, I am,” said Veronica, beaming. “And I expect to do very well. After all, we know how Danny got his name, don’t we?”

The Saddle Club rolled their eyes at one another. Danny was only the barn name of Veronica’s horse. His real name was Go for Blue—as in “go for blue ribbons.” He had been a champion jumper when Veronica bought him, with many trophies to his record.

“Yes, we do know how Danny got his name,” Stevie sneered. “Being ridden by people other than you!”

“Stevie Lake!” Veronica sputtered, her face turning red.

“Maybe you should change his name to Go for Pink,” Stevie suggested gleefully. Pink was the color of the fifth-place ribbon.

“Stevie …,” Lisa said warningly. She knew from experience that Stevie and Veronica’s little tiffs could quickly escalate into major feuds.

Veronica snapped the program shut. “I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned the Macrae!” she cried. “I knew you’d all just be … jealous! It’s not my fault that none of you has horses that are good enough for top competition!” Veronica paused, glancing hastily at Carole.

The Saddle Club said nothing—not Carole, not Lisa, not even Stevie. But they all knew what the sidelong glance meant: In her heart of hearts, Veronica knew Starlight was as good as Danny—maybe better. Carole’s father hadn’t paid a lot of money for Starlight, and Carole had trained the horse herself without fancy private instructors. But Carole had trained him well, and over fences, the two of them were the team to beat.

After momentarily holding her tongue, Stevie couldn’t resist getting in another little dig. “I wonder if Danny will even be up to his old level,” she mused aloud.

“What do you mean, ‘his old level’?” snapped Veronica.

Stevie pretended to be surprised. “Well, you know—the level he was at when you bought him. I mean, since you’ve owned Danny, he hasn’t really brought home tons of blues, has he? At least, not that I can remember …”

Stevie had turned away, prepared to ignore Veronica’s cries of outrage, when she happened to catch sight of Max Regnery walking toward them. In a flash she had pasted a smile on her face and was elbowing Veronica to be quiet.

“Huh?” said Veronica, a fraction of a second before she and Stevie, in a rare moment of unity, called, “Hello, Max!”

“H
ELLO
,”
SAID
M
AX
dryly, showing he hadn’t been fooled by the cover-up. “Are you ready for your lesson, Veronica?”

The Saddle Club exchanged glances. Normally they all had a group lesson together. Evidently Veronica was paying to take private lessons as well.


I’m
ready, yes,” said Veronica. “So if Red has Danny tacked up …”

“Red had to leave early this morning. You’ll have to tack Danny up yourself today,” Max replied tersely.

Stevie snickered, but Veronica had an immediate comeback.

“All right,” she said. “But thank goodness Daddy hired me my own private show groom for the Macrae!”
With that, she pinned the program back to the bulletin board and disappeared into the tack room.

The Saddle Club all looked at Max. Max looked back. “Yes?” he asked. “Is there something you need?”

Carole couldn’t speak. Lisa didn’t know what to say. So Stevie jumped right in. “So, Max, I was just thinking …”

“I’ll bet you were,” Max murmured.

“… if Veronica’s going to the Macrae, you must be taking the big Pine Hollow van. And that means you have four stalls to fill …”

Noticing the skeptical look on Max’s face, Lisa suddenly had an idea. Stevie was going about this all wrong! “Er, Max?” she interrupted, giving Stevie a significant look.

“Yes, Lisa?”

“I think what Stevie meant to ask you is what we can do to help around here while Red’s gone.”

Max beamed. “Now, that’s an excellent question. In my office there’s a list of horses to be exercised.”

“Great,” said Stevie, catching on. “Why don’t we go tack up right away?”

“Well”—Max hesitated—“only one horse really needs to go out today.” He grinned as he added, “But there’s another list on my desk of—”

“Barn chores,” Stevie finished for him.

“How did you know?” Max said innocently.

“Wild guess,” muttered Stevie.

“Who’s the horse?” Carole called hopefully as their instructor started down the aisle.

“Samson,” Max called back. “I guess you can draw straws.”

“I’
VE ALWAYS PREFERRED
paper, scissors, rock,” Stevie said when Max had gone.

“How does that go again?” Carole asked.

“Scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, and rock smashes scissors,” Lisa chimed in.

“Okay: you and me, Carole,” said Stevie. “Two out of three.”

Carole beat Stevie. Then she and Lisa played. For some reason Lisa felt nervous. When she won she breathed a sigh of relief.

“I knew I should have stuck with rock!” Carole said. But the truth was, she was just as happy to ride Starlight that afternoon. “I’ve got an idea,” she added. “Why don’t Stevie and I get going on Max’s list while Lisa exercises Samson, and then in the afternoon we can all ride our own horses, together?”

Stevie grumbled but let herself be persuaded. She and Carole headed off to Max’s office.

Lisa grabbed a halter and walked toward the pasture. She whistled on the way. She felt incredibly lucky to be the one to ride Samson. If they hadn’t played for it, Lisa
knew she would have let Carole or Stevie ride instead. After all, Carole was more experienced than she was. And Stevie was more confident. And both experience and confidence were very important when it came to training a green horse. But given the chance, Lisa knew she could do it.

At the pasture rail she put her fingers to her lips and whistled the way Stevie had taught her. Most of the horses ignored her and went on grazing. But Samson recognized the call. He raised his head and pricked up his ears. When Lisa whistled again, he came to her at a trot. “Hello, boy,” Lisa murmured, patting his fine, silky neck. Gently she buckled the halter over his head and snapped a white cotton lead to it. Even at a walk Samson was spectacular. At 16.3 hands, he was a big horse, but his lines were delicate. His dark coat shone in the summer sun. It had been months since any of the girls had ridden him; now Lisa couldn’t wait to see what he was like.

I
N THE COOL
of the barn, Lisa cross-tied Samson close to where her friends were scrubbing out buckets. That way they could all talk. And talking, among The Saddle Club, was a way of life. After greeting Samson, Stevie and Carole got back to the topic of the morning: the Macrae Valley Open. The very thought of it excited Carole.

“Lisa’s got the idea. If we work hard, why wouldn’t Max let you ride?” Stevie asked, turning on the hose.

Carole frowned. “A lot of reasons. One, Veronica might have rented out the whole van. Two, he might not think I’m ready. Three … Three …” Carole faltered, scrub brush in hand. “I can’t think of a three,” she admitted.

“It sounds like you’re trying hard to think of reasons why you
can’t
go,” Stevie remarked.

“Heck, I don’t know!” said Carole. “Maybe we can all go! The whole Saddle Club with Prancer, Belle, and Starlight. How does that sound?”

Stevie laughed. “That sounds more like it.”

“So what’s it like?” Lisa asked curiously, trading her currycomb for a body brush. “The Macrae, I mean. Is it like Briarwood?”

Briarwood was a top-rated horse show in which the girls had competed, with mixed results. Carole contemplated Lisa’s question. “Ye-es,” she said slowly. “I guess you could say the Macrae is like Briarwood. Only it’s … bigger. And better. Briarwood gets all the best riders—from here. But the Macrae gets
all
the best riders, period. The last event is always the Grand Prix. The USET members turn out in full force.”

“Wow,” Lisa breathed. As she and Stevie knew,
USET
stood for “United States Equestrian Team.” Riding for “the Team” was every rider’s dream. At Pine
Hollow, people often said that Carole would make the Team someday—if she stuck with horses. And—Lisa laughed, watching Carole attack the grime on a water bucket—there was little doubt she would stick with horses!

“What’s so funny?” Stevie said.

Lisa giggled again. “Just Carole’s enthusiasm for scrubbing buckets.”

“You’re telling me,” Stevie groaned. “This is the worst barn chore ever.”

“That’s what you said last week about raking the driveway,” Carole noted wryly.

“This time I mean it!” Stevie insisted. “It’s a ton of work and the buckets don’t even look that different afterward.”

“But think how much the horses appreciate it,” Carole pointed out.

Stevie frowned. “Belle and I had a talk and she told me a little grime makes the water taste better.”

At Carole’s raised eyebrows Stevie hastily added, “But tell us more about the Macky Ray. It’ll keep me inspired to scrub.”

Carole didn’t need to be asked twice. Lost in her fantasy of riding in the show, she described the beautiful grounds, the beautiful horses, the beautiful fences—

“What about the riders?” Stevie joked. “I hope they’re beautiful, too.”

Carole frowned. She thought for a minute. “I guess that depends on whether you mean beautiful outside or beautiful inside.”

“Both, of course!” Stevie replied. “Like us!”

Carole smiled, but her voice was serious when she explained that many of the teenagers who rode the A circuit (meaning they competed in top-level shows all year) were not the nicest people she’d ever met.

“But what about Kate Devine?” Lisa said. “She was a champion at those shows.”

Kate Devine, the daughter of an old friend of Carole’s father, was now an old friend of The Saddle Club’s. Kate had ridden the circuit for years, with great success, until she decided that the competitiveness among the riders was spoiling her love of horses. With The Saddle Club’s help, Kate had rediscovered her love of riding, but now she was happy living on her family’s ranch out West, where the only riding she did was for pleasure.

“Kate’s the exception, not the rule,” Carole answered. “Because she
is
nice. And modest. And she puts her horse first—not the blue ribbon. And because whatever trophies she took home, you know she worked really hard for. A lot of the girls who compete at shows like the Macrae are pretty spoiled, and they’re snobby.”

“So what you’re saying is that they’re all like … Veronica?” Stevie suggested.

Carole didn’t deny it. “These girls have their own trainers, grooms … They pay people to braid their horses’ manes and tails, they spend more money than—”

“They
pay
people to braid for them?” cried Lisa. “Gosh, maybe Stevie should go into business.”

“I think Lisa may be on to something,” Stevie said. “I’d make a killing.” While Lisa was expert at any kind of handiwork, such as embroidery and needlepoint, Stevie was The Saddle Club expert at mane and tail braiding. At horse show time, her services were much in demand. “In fact,” Stevie continued, “I could drop out of school and take it on the road. I could live out of a suitcase, sleep under the stars …”

Carole and Lisa grinned. With Stevie, any conversation could be turned into a plan to drop out of school.

“… hang out at truck stops, eat in diners— Say,” Stevie interrupted herself. “You never told us what the food was like at the Macrae, Carole.”

“I was coming to that,” Carole said, her dark eyes twinkling. “The food is top quality, too. It’s not just hot dogs and hamburgers.”

“But they do
have
hot dogs and hamburgers, don’t they?” Stevie asked worriedly.

“Oh, yes. But they also have gourmet sandwiches and salads and”—Carole paused dramatically—“a separate stand for ice cream.”

“Ice cream at the Macrae? We’re going!” Stevie declared.

Leaving her friends to discuss the chances of convincing Max, Lisa went to the tack room to get Samson’s bridle and saddle—or, rather, Samson’s bridle and her saddle. Most saddles fit most horses; the important thing was that they fit the rider. On Samson, Lisa would use the saddle she normally used when she rode Prancer, another Pine Hollow horse. At most she would have to switch the girth, the beltlike piece of equipment that went around the horse’s belly to hold the saddle in place. Bridles, on the other hand, had to fit the horse’s head. They could be adjusted, but it was easier for each horse to have its own bridle. That way the fit was always right.

Lisa picked up her saddle and a clean saddle pad. Hesitating a moment, she took a bridle down from the rack and headed back to the cross-ties.

Carole and Stevie had taken a bucket break and were fussing over Samson. “Gosh, you’re a pretty boy, aren’t you?” cooed Carole.

Stevie rubbed the black horse’s neck. “Here, we’ll help you tack up,” she said.

For just a second Lisa felt herself stiffen. She felt possessive about Samson this morning. She would have preferred to tack him up herself. But almost as quickly, she
realized how silly she was being. She relaxed and handed Stevie the saddle. “Thanks,” she said. “I hope Prancer’s girth fits.”

“It will,” Carole predicted confidently. “They’re about the same height, and they have similar conformation. Samson’s shoulder slopes a bit more, which will make his gaits smoother, and Prancer is fuller through the barrel, but that’s just because …”

As Carole prattled on, Lisa looped the reins over Samson’s neck and removed his halter. She was only half listening. Sometimes Carole could sound like a know-it-all, even though Lisa knew she was just being enthusiastic.

When Samson took the bit, Lisa slid the headpiece of the bridle over his ears. She buckled the noseband and the throatlatch. She was all set to go.

“… fit of the bridle is more important anyway because—” Carole paused suddenly. She stepped forward and looked at Samson’s head. “Lisa, you’ve got the wrong bridle. That one doesn’t fit. See how the bit is hanging in his mouth? It’s much too low.”

Frowning, Lisa looked more closely. Carole was right. Lisa felt herself redden.

“I know which one it is. I’ll go get it,” Carole offered.

When she was gone, Stevie whispered excitedly to Lisa, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Um …,” Lisa said. Not knowing what Stevie was getting at, she busied herself with taking off the bridle.

“I’m thinking that we’ve got to figure out a way to get Carole to the Macrae! It would be her dream come true!”

“Yeah,” said Lisa, trying to muster enthusiasm, “I guess it would.”

M
OUNTED ON
S
AMSON
, Lisa had no trouble being enthusiastic. It was all she could do not to grin from ear to ear. Riding the gelding was a dream in itself. He had a wonderful spring in his step, even at the walk. At the trot he arched his neck and strutted along proudly. It made Lisa proud just to be sitting on his back. His canter was even better. On Prancer, a former racehorse, cantering felt fast. But on Samson it was smooth and rhythmic. Lisa could have cantered all day, it was so pleasant in the outdoor ring with the sun shining and a few old oaks to offer shade. But she didn’t want Samson to get bored just going around and around. While she decided what to do next, Lisa slowed to a walk and loosened the reins so that the gelding could stretch his neck.

At the end of the ring were two semipermanent
jumps: a set of tires and a larger brush fence. They were used for schooling. Both fences were typical of the kind of obstacles a rider might encounter in a horse show. Looking at them, Lisa’s thoughts wandered back to the Macrae. The truth was, she was just the tiniest bit jealous of Carole. Or not exactly jealous. At the end of the day, Lisa would be happy if Carole got to ride in the show. But she couldn’t help wishing
she
could ride in it, too. The way Carole talked about it made it sound like so much fun, and so exciting. “Well,” Lisa said aloud, “maybe we’ll all get to go, eh, Samson? But more likely, Veronica will go alone.”

Putting that thought out of her head, Lisa tightened the reins and asked for a trot. For twenty minutes she worked on dressage. She trotted circles and practiced transitions from walk to trot, trot to canter, and back down. Samson wasn’t perfect—no horse was, and he was still green. He got playful and Lisa had to concentrate to control him. But his willingness was a very good sign. He seemed eager to please, despite his high spirits—which, Lisa thought, was exactly what you’d expect from a horse with both excellent breeding and excellent training.

After a final transition from canter to sitting trot, Lisa found herself heading on a line toward the small tire jump. She hardly even thought twice. Jumping logically followed flat work. She shortened her reins, rose slightly
in her stirrups, and guided Samson toward the jump. When he got close to it, the black gelding pricked up his ears, stood way back, and took a huge leap. Unprepared, Lisa was thrown forward on his neck. “Whoa!” she cried, scrambling quickly back into the saddle. Then she giggled. Even though it had unseated her, the jump had been fun.

When she had steadied Samson, Lisa turned him around and headed back toward the fence from the other direction. This time she guided him more firmly. With her seat, legs, and hands, Lisa encouraged the young horse to trot down to the base of the fence. He still over-jumped by about two feet, but this time he took off from the right place. Lisa was ecstatic. “Good boy!” she exclaimed, patting him on the neck. “Very good boy!”

Lisa trotted Samson and then cantered him over the jump several times. Samson seemed to love what they were doing. Lisa found herself wishing there were a real course set up. “I wonder how much Red’s been jumping you,” she said to him.

Then, all at once, something occurred to Lisa: Maybe Red hadn’t been jumping Samson at all. Lisa drew her breath in sharply. Was that possible? She certainly hadn’t heard Red mention anything about it. Could this be Samson’s first time? Could she, Lisa Atwood, have ridden Samson over his first real fence? But he had taken
to it so naturally! Lisa thought hard. Samson’s sire had been a wonderful jumper. Sadly, Cobalt had died jumping, when his rider had put him into a fence so wrong even he couldn’t get out of it. That rider, Lisa recalled grimly, was Veronica diAngelo. But Lisa didn’t want to dwell on the past, not just now. A two-part question was forming in her mind. Could Samson have inherited his sire’s ability? If so, did anyone know?

Her head whirling with these and more questions, Lisa again shortened the reins. She wanted to try the tire jump one more time. This time she would really pay attention to Samson’s form over the fence. Granted, that would be easier to judge from the ground. But you could tell a lot from on top, too. Lisa craned her neck to focus on the two fences. The brush loomed huge, dwarfing the tires beside it. And then, out of nowhere, a rash voice inside her head whispered:
Why not try the brush? Just see how he takes it. Then you’ll really know what you’re dealing with.
Lisa’s hands began to sweat. Reason told her to wait. She should get Carole and Stevie to watch, maybe even let Carole be the one to take him over the bigger fence.… But just this once Lisa didn’t feel like listening to reason. She eyed the brush from twenty yards away. It was a formidable obstacle. It was at least two feet higher than the tires, and with the shrubbery reaching up from its wooden box it looked even higher. “I’ll just think about it,” Lisa told herself. But riding
Samson in a circle, she realized she was only lining up to get a better approach. She knew she was going to take the fence. Her confidence was up; there was no turning back.

They cantered down to the jump. Instinctively Lisa let Samson pick up speed. She sat tight in the saddle, looking between Samson’s black ears, focusing on a point beyond the brush. All at once the fence loomed ahead. There were four strides—then three, two, one—“Go!” Lisa cried, releasing the reins as she pressed her hands into the black mane. Beneath her Lisa felt Samson’s knees snap up—they were in the air! She had a split second of nausea before they landed, wondering how the ground could be so far away, and then they were on the other side, galloping along the rail of the ring.

“Whoo-hoo!” Lisa yelled, Stevie-style, standing up in her stirrups. “We did it! We did it!” She reached down to give Samson a huge pat. “We did it all by ourselves!” she whispered.

Cooling down, Lisa
really
couldn’t wipe the grin off her face. She had jumped the big brush! Only the best riders at Pine Hollow practiced over that fence—and she had jumped it! And it had been easy! She hadn’t worried for a moment that Samson would run out or refuse the fence, or that she would mess up the approach. She had simply felt excited and confident—more confident than she had ever felt before. Maybe
that was what riding a great horse was like: pure fun. She couldn’t wait to tell Stevie and Carole. Samson was a great jumper! And she had discovered it!

Lost in her reverie, Lisa happened to glance up toward the barn and see her two friends standing there, looking in her direction. A nervous pang hit her in the stomach. How much had they seen?

“Lunch break!” Stevie called.

“Fifteen minutes!” Carole yelled, cupping her hands to her mouth. “We’ll help you untack!”

“Great!” Lisa called, waving. “I’ll be up in a minute!”

Lisa jumped off and rolled up her stirrups. Loosening his girth, she checked underneath to see how sweaty Samson was. Because she had spent the past fifteen minutes walking, the horse was cool enough to go back to the barn. But Lisa decided to take another lap around the ring on foot. “Just to be safe,” she told herself, glancing toward the stable. She couldn’t wait to share her discovery with Stevie and Carole. And yet … somehow she could. Right now the brush was her and Samson’s secret. And for whatever reason, a part of her liked it that way.

“Hurry it up, Lisa!”

Lisa looked up to see Stevie and Carole again. Only now they were barreling toward the ring.

“We’re starving so we came to get you!” Carole announced breathlessly.

“Yeah, we worked up a healthy appetite on the bucket brigade,” Stevie said as the two of them ducked through the fence.

“A healthy appetite?” Lisa said. “So I guess that means you’re going to eat health food?”

“Not that healthy!” Stevie cried. “I already fed my carrot sticks to Belle. Now if only I could get her to like green salad …”

Lost in the joking, Lisa felt her anxiety vanish.

“Good ride?” Carole asked.

“Great ride,” said Lisa. “I’ll tell you all about it at lunch.”

W
ITH THE THREE
of them working, it took no time at all to untack Samson, groom him, and turn him out again. Minutes later The Saddle Club members were swapping sandwich halves at their favorite lunch spot, the knoll overlooking Pine Hollow.

After half a peanut butter sandwich, Lisa brought up the subject on her mind. “Does either of you know if Red or Max has been jumping Samson?” she inquired.

“I think Red has been taking him over obstacles on the trail,” Carole said.

“But not in the ring?” asked Lisa.

“Well, the trail is the best place to introduce a horse to jumping,” Carole replied.

Before Lisa could explain why she was interested, Carole went on. “Horses are natural jumpers. So it’s best to let them jump naturally. If they get used to hopping over fallen logs, streams, small ditches, it’s easier to move to jumping in the ring. Especially if there are natural-looking obstacles in the ring, such as—”

“The brush in the outdoor ring here?” Lisa interrupted, almost shaking with excitement.

“Well, yes,” Carole agreed, “except of course you’d start out with much, much smaller fences.”

“Of course,” said Lisa, a smile playing on her lips.

“Why?” Carole asked curiously. “Were you thinking of jumping Samson?”

“Now, there’s an idea!” Stevie put in. “He ought to be great. He is Cobalt’s son, after all.”

Carole liked the idea as well. “Maybe tomorrow we can set up some trotting poles and see how he does. Then after a week or two, we can try him over a cross rail, something small that won’t worry him, eighteen inches or so. If that works …”

Listening to Carole’s chatter, Lisa felt her smile grow. She knew what Carole was saying made sense. But she also knew that she and Samson had just jumped the biggest fence on Pine Hollow property! The secret made her happy. It was fun, too, that for once she knew more than Carole.

When Carole finished outlining the training program, Lisa couldn’t wait another minute. She had to share her discovery.