Blaze and the dark rider, p.1

Blaze and the Dark Rider, page 1

 

Blaze and the Dark Rider
 


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Blaze and the Dark Rider


  Blaze and the

  Dark Rider

  STACY GREGG

  For Michael

  Contents

  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

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  The Pony Club Secrets series

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Chapter 1

  The lights had gone out. In the gloom of the circus tent Issie looked around frantically for Stella and Kate. She edged forward in the blackness, feeling her way. “Ow! Watch where you’re going!” a man snapped.

  “Excuse me!” Issie winced—she had just stood on his foot.

  What a nightmare! Trying to find your seat while keeping three ice-cream cones balanced in one hand was hard enough, and now it was too dark to see.

  “Issie! Over here! Hurry up, the show is about to start!”

  Issie looked ahead of her. Thank goodness! There they were. She could just make out Stella’s bright red curly hair. Stella and Kate were both waving excitedly at her. Issie waved back with her free hand then wriggled past another row, trying not to stand on any more toes.

  “Excuse me! Excuse me!” She threw herself down into the empty seat next to Stella, Kate and her mum. Her friends quickly made a grab for their ice-cream cones before they fell out of Issie’s hands.

  “Oh, this is going to be great!” Stella whispered loudly. “Thanks for bringing us, Mrs Brown.” She took a big lick of her ice cream and peered into the darkness, trying to see if anything was happening in the arena down below them.

  “Mmmm, yup, thanks, Mrs Brown,” said Kate, who was concentrating on eating and not getting her ice cream stuck in her long blonde hair.

  “Yeah, Mum! This is the best birthday ever!” Issie beamed.

  “Good grief! I’ve never seen you girls so worked up.” Mrs Brown laughed. “I knew this would be a good surprise.”

  It was Issie’s thirteenth birthday tomorrow. So she wasn’t at all suspicious when her mum suggested that they celebrate a day early by taking her best friends Stella and Kate to the movies. Then, in the car, Mrs Brown had produced tickets to El Caballo Danza Magnifico—the Magnificent Dancing Horses. The girls had screamed so loud that Mrs Brown threatened to pull the car over to the side of the road so that she could cover her ears. They hadn’t calmed down since.

  “Look!” Kate squeaked out. “I can see something happening down there. Here they come!”

  Suddenly, there was a blinding glare as spotlights cast perfect circles on the sawdust floor of the arena below. Then the silence was broken by the clack-clack-clack of castanets, and the strumming of flamenco guitars over the loudspeakers. The twelve spotlights were circling now like searchlights. The guitars were getting louder.

  The spotlights froze on the entrance to the arena and out came two rows of perfect white horses. Their manes, which were so long they hung down well below their necks, flowed like silk. Their tails trailed behind them like a bride’s wedding train, snowy white and almost touching the ground. The twelve horses moved gracefully in pairs down the centre of the ring, trotting in perfect time to the clack-clacking of the castanets. Then they fanned out and moved to the side of the arena, each of them drawing to a halt, illuminated by their own spotlight.

  In the full beam of the lights the horses were so white that they glowed like marble statues. Issie admired the high arch of their necks, and the classical shape of their head. These horses were Lipizzaners—the famed white horses used in the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, bred from the ancient bloodlines of six great sires.

  The horses held themselves so proudly, they reminded Issie of those paintings of horses on the sides of Roman urns. Their riders, were dressed in classical military uniforms. On their heads the men wore curved black and gold hats with a bright red feather plume which stuck out the top.

  The first rider took off his plumed hat now and bent his head to bow. As he did so, his horse dropped to one knee beneath him and bowed too. The girls clapped with glee as, all the way along both sides of the arena, each horse and rider bowed in turn until all twelve horses were down on one knee. Then, with a flourish of their hats, the riders pulled their horses up to a perfect square halt, wheeled them about on their hocks, and began to canter in formation around the ring.

  “Oh! I like that one!” Stella whispered to Issie, pointing to the horses.

  “Which one?” Mrs Brown laughed. “Stella, how can you even tell them apart? They all look the same to me.”

  “No, they don’t!” Stella insisted. “The one on the end over there has a pretty face and the best mane.”

  “Are they girls or boys?” Mrs Brown asked.

  “Mum, they’re stallions. It says so in the programme,” Issie groaned. Her mum knew nothing about horses.

  Issie read aloud from the El Caballo Danza Magnifico programme on her lap. “The dancing stallions have all been trained in the classical art of haute école dressage. Haute école is an ancient form of horsemanship that was once used to train horses for battle. The horses of El Caballo Danza Magnifico have spent many years perfecting the Airs above Ground—movements that were used in warfare. They include the Courbette, the Levade and the Capriole…”

  The horses in the ring fanned out once again and came to a halt in two precise rows down either side of the arena. The spotlights dimmed and then a single light was trained on the centre of the ring, where a horse now emerged riderless, accompanied by a trainer on the ground with a long whip.

  Unlike the other horses, which were pure icy white, this stallion was a dapple-grey, with a long, thick grey mane, dark points on his legs, and dark smudgy circles around his eyes and his nose.

  He looks a bit like Mystic, Issie thought to herself, and her smile suddenly faltered.

  Mystic had been Issie’s first pony and she had loved him more than anything in the world. She felt a special bond with the little grey gelding, more powerful than anything she had ever experienced before.

  And then suddenly, tragically, Mystic had been killed. It was an accident. She knew that. They were trying to save three other horses—and they had saved them too—when Mystic had been hit by the truck that took his life. She also knew that if it weren’t for Mystic’s courage, she might easily have been killed.

  Losing Mystic had been unbearable. Issie had missed him so desperately. Since then, though, strange and exciting things had happened. Mystic had come back to her—not like a ghost, but like a real horse. He returned to help her save Blaze’s life. And Issie knew that Mystic was still there, somehow. He was watching over Issie and her chestnut mare. Waiting, in case they needed him again.

  Issie’s mother looked across at her now and, seeing the look on her daughter’s face, she reached over and took Issie’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, as if to say, “Is something wrong?”

  Issie smiled back and shook her head, banishing her gloomy thoughts. Now was not the time. This was her birthday. She was determined to have fun.

  Down below them in the arena, the trainer positioned the grey horse in the centre of the ring and prepared him. He stood behind the horse’s hindquarters, restraining him with a pair of long black leather reins which he held in his white gloved hands.

  The music changed now from the brisk clacking of Spanish castanets to the dramatic strains of a classical orchestra. The horses on either side of the arena who had be
en standing perfectly still all this time suddenly wheeled on their hindquarters and cantered out of the arena leaving just the grey stallion and his handler standing there alone.

  “This stallion you see before you is the purebred Lipizzaner Marius, with his trainer Wolfgang Herzog,” the announcer’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker. Wolfgang bowed low to the audience, and Marius let out a long, low snort as if he knew the announcer was talking about him.

  “Marius and Wolfgang will now attempt the Courbette, the most difficult of all the High School Airs above Ground,” the announcer continued. “The Courbette was used in warfare to protect the rider as the horse moved through enemy infantry. The horse must stand up and hop on his hind legs to protect his rider.”

  With that, Wolfgang spoke a single word to his horse and gripped the reins firmly as the stallion began to trot on the spot. The trainer spoke again now: short, sharp words in a foreign language that Issie didn’t understand. But his horse clearly understood him. He snorted and gathered himself, moving forward across the ring in a series of elegant bunny hops, before rising up on his hind legs. Still rearing, he leapt forward now on his hind legs, springing across the arena like a bunny rabbit, his long grey tail thrashing the ground behind him as he leapt.

  Issie, Stella and Kate clapped and cheered. The trainer took a low bow and then turned his horse once more to face the crowd.

  “And now—the Capriole!” the announcer’s voice had a dramatic boom. “This movement takes many years to perfect. Once again it was used in battle. The horse must leap in the air and kick out its hind legs to attack any enemies who might be approaching from behind.”

  Wolfgang steadied the stallion and spoke once more to him. Then he urged the grey horse forward on the long reins, halting him again suddenly and touching his hindquarters at the same time with the long whip. Marius jumped into the air like a ballerina and flung his hind legs out behind him. Issie gasped. It was as if the stallion was flying! He was suspended in mid air for a moment and Issie held her breath. Then the stallion landed down with a snort and turned to face the audience once more as Wolfgang took a long, low bow.

  Issie, Stella and Kate whooped with delight.

  “That was amazing!” Stella said as Marius and Wolfgang left the arena.

  Issie opened her programme again. “The Dance of the Seven Veils is next,” she told the others. “It says here that the riders perform the dance on Anglo-Arab mares…”

  Snake charmer music started up and six spotlights shone on the arena as the dancing horses entered down the centre of the ring, following each other nose to tail and then pivoting on their hind legs and facing the audience. The riders were women this time, all dressed like belly dancers in Arabian Nights costumes made out of flowing chiffon. The girls wore harem pants instead of jodhpurs and veils covered their faces. Each of them wore a different colour and their throats and wrists sparkled with jewels that matched the colours of their outfits—emeralds, rubies, sapphires, aquamarines, gold and silver.

  While the riders all looked different, their six horses matched so exactly you could have sworn they were clones of each other. They were all the same height, around fourteen-two, with deep liver chestnut coats, white socks and flaxen manes and tails. Their legs were as finely turned as ballet dancers, and their delicate Arab blood showed through in their arched necks and dished noses.

  “Ohmygod!” Issie gasped. She stared at the horses, too shocked to speak. Then she turned to Stella. “Is it just me or do you see it too?”

  Stella nodded, “Totally!”

  “Issie,” Kate said, “those horses…they all look just like Blaze!”

  It was almost midnight by the time the audience had finally filed out of the pavilion after the show.

  “Where is she?” Stella whined. She was standing by the doorway of the main tent with Kate and Mrs Brown. They were waiting for Issie, who, supposedly, had just popped off to the toilet, but was taking ages.

  “Sorry I took so long!” Issie yelled out to them. She came running now, not from the direction of the toilets after all, but from the other side of the arena. A dark-haired woman in fawn jodhpurs and a pink cashmere jersey, her hair tied back in a smart chignon, was striding across the sawdust behind her.

  “Mum, Kate, Stella, this is Francoise D’arth.” Isadora introduced the woman with the dark hair.

  “Bonjour” Francoise said in a syrupy French accent. She smiled coolly as she shook hands with each of them. “I hope you did enjoy the show?”

  “Francoise was one of the riders with the Arabian mares,” Issie explained to the others. “She trained at the Cadre Noir de Saumur in France.”

  “Oui” Francoise smiled. “But that was a long time ago, Isadora. I have been now with El Caballo Danza Magnifico for many, many years. I train all the horses at their riding school back in Spain, and when the school goes on tour I come along too and I ride in the shows.”

  She smiled at Mrs Brown. “Your daughter, Isadora…such a pretty name. She tells me that her horse, Blaze, is very much like my own dancing horses? Is this so?”

  “I expect it is,” Mrs Brown nodded, “but I’m hardly the one to ask. I can hardly tell one end of a horse from the other. It’s the girls that you should be talking to.”

  “Blaze is exactly the same as them!” Stella blurted out uncontrollably. “She is the same size and the same colour and she’s totally beautiful just like them. Honestly! You should see her!”

  “Perhaps I will,” mused Francoise. “Why not? We are in town for several weeks putting on the show It is not far from the city here to Chevalier Point, is it? I will be able to come one day to see you, no?”

  “No—I mean yes!” Issie laughed. “Yes please, Francoise. I would love it if you came to the pony club to meet Blaze.”

  “Then it is a date.” Francoise smiled. “À bientôt! I must go now and help my girls to groom the mares and put them to bed. It can be very tiring when you are doing two shows a day! See you soon.”

  Francoise waved goodbye and headed back towards the stables.

  “Come on, girls, we need to get you home. Look at the time!” Mrs Brown said, holding out her watch. It was five minutes past twelve.

  “Hey, Issie! It’s after midnight. That means it’s your birthday!” Stella laughed.

  “So it is!” Mrs Brown smiled. “OK, let’s go home, birthday girl.”

  Issie paused and stood there for a moment, watching the dark-haired Frenchwoman as she disappeared through the vast stable doors on the other side of the arena. Then she turned and ran to catch up to her mother and her friends. She couldn’t believe she was actually thirteen. It felt different somehow. Something told her this was going to be a very big year.

  Chapter 2

  The first rally of the new pony-club season had finally arrived and Stella was fizzing with excitement. “It’s so great to be back!” she grinned as she tied Coco up next to Blaze underneath the big plane tree at the far end of the Chevalier Point grounds.

  “Coco is totally psyched to be here, aren’t you, girl?” Stella giggled and gave her chocolate mare a slappy pat on the neck.

  Coco, who never got excited about anything ever, looked at Stella with a sleepy expression and immediately shut her eyes and began to doze away in the shade, her tail lazily flicking away the odd fly that happened to buzz by.

  “Yeah, Stella, she’s thrilled,” Issie laughed.

  Even if Coco wasn’t excited by the prospect of the new pony-club season, the girls certainly were. This summer the club schedule was jam-packed and the most important event on the competition calendar was the Interclub Gold Shield.

  The Interclub was a huge event involving all the clubs in the Chevalier district, from Chevalier Point in the north to Garnet Ridge in the south. Teams trained for the competition throughout the season and then the six district clubs competed in the grand event to see who would take away the trophy.

  “St Johns, Mornington, Marsh Fields, Westhaven and Garnet Ridge!” St
ella rattled the names of their rivals off by heart.

  “Have you seen the Gold Shield? I’ve seen it. Whoever wins gets all their names engraved on it!” Stella was raving to Issie. “It’s not actually a big gold shield at all—well, it is big, but it’s made of wood and then it has all these little gold shields all over it and each shield has the names of that year’s winners engraved on it. It’s like, centuries old. OK, maybe not centuries, but really, really old. Even Avery has his name on it! He was in the team way back in, like, the seventies or something—”

  “It was 1985 actually, Stella, thanks for making me feel even older than I usually do,” Tom Avery said stiffly.

  “Oh no,” Stella groaned. She hadn’t noticed their riding instructor standing right behind her.

  “Hi, Tom!” Issie grinned. Most of the riders at Chevalier Point were scared of Avery. He had a brisk, authoritative manner. But Issie knew that a lot of his strict attitude was just an act he put on for show.

  Avery loved horses with a real passion. He worked part-time for the ILPH—the International League for the Protection of Horses. It was Tom who had brought Blaze to Issie so that she could be her guardian. She still remembered that day when he turned up at the River Paddock with the sickly, half-starved chestnut mare that he had rescued. Even though Issie was still hurting after losing Mystic she knew immediately that it was her job to nurse this mare back to health. And she had done just that. Blaze was now a beautiful, incredible horse.

  Today, as usual, Avery carried a tan leather riding crop, which he now struck vigorously against his right boot with a loud thwack to get the girls’ attention. “Right. Got yourselves sorted for the first event this morning, I hope? We’ll be fielding a team of six riders at the Interclub, which I will be choosing today…”

  Avery paused for a moment as he noticed Coco dozing next to him. He shook his head, tut-tutted and made an adjustment on the throat lash on the mare’s bridle, tightening it by three holes. “Two fingers,” he told Stella, placing his own two fingers in the gap between the throat lash and the horse’s windpipe to illustrate his point. “Leave no more than a two finger gap on the throat lash…” he trailed off again.

 
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