Victory and the all star.., p.15

Victory and the All-Stars Academy, page 15


Victory and the All-Stars Academy

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  Issie nodded. “Yeah, it’s true.”

  Wombat had fought the dog. But he hadn’t beaten it. Mystic was the one who had truly rescued them both. Issie thought about that moment last night, when Mystic had arrived just in time to deliver the fatal blow as the dog attacked. It had all happened so fast and then the grey pony had gone, as quickly as he had arrived.

  Issie had never told her friends about Mystic. She instinctively knew that the grey gelding was meant to be her secret. Wombat would have to take the glory for saving her life. Not that it was undeserved. After all, the blue heeler puppy had shown extreme bravery, running back to face the wild dog, prepared to protect Issie, no matter what the consequence.

  “Digger Murphy says that wild dog that attacked you was the biggest one he’s ever seen,” Kate said. “He’s not sure whether it was a dingo or a half-wild dog. He said sometimes dingoes breed with wild dogs. Whatever it was, he said it was totally huge!”

  “And Wombat hardly even has a scratch on him! He’s like a super-dog!” Stella enthused.

  “What about Victory?” Issie asked. “Is he all right?”

  “He’s fine. Tara’s down at the stables with him now. She said you could go and see him if you want. But only if you feel up to it…”

  The girls had all wanted to come with her to the stables, but Issie wanted to go alone. She felt like everyone had been fussing over her since the accident and she just wanted to clear her head. As she got closer to the stables though, she wondered if she could actually open the sliding door on her own. The painkillers were helping dull the ache in her shoulder, but with only one good arm, she wasn’t sure that she had enough strength.

  Luckily, Tara had left the door open a crack and she only had to give it a little push to make enough space to get in.

  “Hello?” she called out, looking down the row of stalls.

  “We’re in here!” Tara responded.

  She found Tara in Victory’s stall, bent down over his forelegs, rubbing on a thick white cream that looked like plaster of Paris. She stood up as Issie approached.

  “He seems none the worse for his ordeal,” Tara said, “but his legs have taken quite a hammering in the past twenty-four hours. This will cool them and make him feel better.”

  She looked at Issie. “And how are you feeling?”

  “A bit sore,” Issie admitted.

  “How long before you can ride again?” Tara looked concerned.

  “The doctor says six weeks.”

  “Doctors!” Tara sniffed. “They’re such wusses. Give it two, maybe three weeks and you’ll be fine. I rode Lexington with a broken collarbone.”

  “They let you do that?” Issie couldn’t believe it.

  “They didn’t know!” Tara grinned. “I just strapped my shoulder up tight and rode the cross-country using one hand.”

  “What happened?”

  “I won,” Tara said. “It was my fourth time. That was the year that I quit and took up my position at Blainford.”

  She paused. “Has Avery told you about my work at Blainford, about what I do there?”

  Issie nodded. “He told me that you’re the Eventing Mistress.”

  Tara frowned. “That’s true. That’s one of my roles there. I’m also the head scout for the new enrolments department.”

  Issie looked puzzled. “What does that mean?”

  “It means I spend at least a term every year travelling, looking for new riders that might be suitable to join the Academy. There’s a highly rigorous entry exam for most riders who want to come into the school, but sometimes we waive the exam, if we find a rider that we consider to be particularly gifted.”

  Tara looked at Issie. “That’s why I’m here in Australia. I came over to scout for talent for the Academy.”

  “You came over to watch the Young Rider Challenge?” Issie’s heart was racing.

  “No,” Tara said. “I came over to see you.”

  “Me?” Issie squeaked. “You’re kidding!”

  Tara turned back to Victory to put more white paste on his front legs. She didn’t look up at Issie as she spoke. “Three years ago I asked Tom Avery to join the Academy. It was a job offer that I thought he would snap up. But no, he turns me down because he’s got some pupil who is too good to leave behind.”

  She stood up again and looked at Issie. “Naturally, at that point I started paying attention. When Tom told me about his star in the making, I had to see for myself. Then he calls up and says he’s bringing his star rider to Australia for this competition and do I want to meet her? Of course, I said yes. I offered to come along and help instruct so that I could see you in action.”

  Issie was even more confused now. “You mean it’s me? The reason that Tom turned down the job at Blainford All-Stars Academy was me?”

  Tara smiled. “Now you can see why I had high expectations of you when I arrived here. I know I was tough on you. I pushed you harder than the other riders, but that was because I needed to see what you could do under pressure, and I needed to gauge your abilities, get you outside of your comfort zone.”

  “I just thought you didn’t like me…” Issie mumbled. “You’ve never said anything encouraging to me—not even when we won the Young Rider Challenge.”

  Tara frowned. “I said ‘well done’ when you got the cup, didn’t I? That’s more praise than some of my riders get all year at Blainford!”

  Issie laughed and Tara gave her a smile.

  “I know I don’t heap my riders with praise,” Tara said. “That’s not how I work. But I am very impressed by you. Despite your headstrong nature and your tendency to race off after dogs in the middle of the night and get yourself into trouble, I think Avery was right.”

  Tara took a deep breath. “Isadora, I want you to join us. I would like to offer you a place at the Blainford Academy.”

  Chapter 17

  When the first term of the new school year began at Blainford in October, Issie would join the school as a fifth former. She could take her own horse with her if she wanted, although since transportation costs to the Kentucky-based college were steep, Tara suggested that she apply to use one of the school’s own horses instead.

  “All those details can be ironed out,” Tara told her. “The important thing is that there is a place open for you, if you want it.”

  Issie was numb with shock. “I don’t believe it…”

  “I’ve got the prospectus here and the forms for you to fill out,” Tara continued. “You’ll need to discuss it with your mum. Our bursar can talk to her about a payment structure for the fees. Blainford isn’t cheap, but there are scholarships and we have ways of helping our more gifted students, like yourself, to attend…”

  Tara smiled at Issie. “So? What do you say?”

  “You did what?” Avery was appalled.

  “I turned her down,” said Issie.

  “Do you realise how many riders would kill to be offered a position at the most prestigious equestrian academy in the world?” Avery asked. “I think you don’t understand what an opportunity this could be for your career.”

  “You know what?” Issie smiled at him. “I think you just can’t stand it that you’re not the only one who has turned down the Blainford Academy.”

  “I’m not joking, Isadora.” Avery’s voice was stern. “This is your future we’re talking about. I only want what’s best for you, and attending Blainford could put you on the fast track to become a world-class rider. I asked Tara here to see you ride because I was hoping she’d make you an offer. But she won’t make it again—someone else will take your place at the school. Issie, do you realise what you’re giving up?”

  “I know exactly what I’m doing,” Issie replied. “You chose to stay in Chevalier Point. Well, now I’m making the same choice.”

  She looked at her instructor, her eyes pleading. “I’ve given it a lot of thought, Tom, and I’m not ready to go there yet. Maybe some day, but not now. I couldn’t leave Blaze and Comet. Or my mum and the pon
y club…”

  “But they could teach you so much at Blainford! They have the best instructors in the world…”

  “I already have the best instructor in the world,” Issie corrected him. “His name is Tom Avery and he lives in Chevalier Point.”

  That night at dinner there was an awards ceremony. It started with the All-Stars and the Super Roos giving boxes of chocolates to Araminta, Minka and Tara, to say thank you for their coaching. Then Avery and Ryan announced the Young Riders’ prizes. Some of them were serious, others not so serious—like the cardboard trophy they gave to Issie that said, Best at getting lost in the middle of a cross-country course. There were hoots of laughter over that one, but Shane got an even bigger laugh when Avery presented him with a pair of Speedos, For doing the best swim at the water jump.

  There was a round of applause as Morgan was given a gold rosette. The writing on it said, Most Valuable Team Player.

  Avery shook her hand as he handed her the rosette. “You rode for the good of your team. We couldn’t have won it without you, and for that you not only get this rosette, but you’ll also be the first one on the roster to take the cup home with you when we return to New Zealand tomorrow.”

  Dee Dee’s award for the best dressage performance earned her lots of applause and a bright purple rosette, which she accepted with a grin.

  “I’d like to thank my room-mate Issie for this award,” smiled Dee Dee. “If she hadn’t been so lovely about putting up with my non-stop Abba music, I never would have won.”

  Now that Dee Dee and Issie were friends at last it seemed like all the fighting and the whole tape-down-the-middle-of-the-room episode had never happened. Issie had to admit that she was actually going to miss Dee Dee.

  “Not as much as I’m going to miss Shane!” Stella said tartly when Issie mentioned it.

  The girls were all in the kitchen after dinner, doing the dishes, and Stella confided in them as she washed the plates. “I haven’t even kissed him yet!”

  “You’re kidding!” said Issie.

  “I know!” Stella groaned. “I keep thinking he’s going to kiss me and I shut my eyes, but then nothing!”

  “Nothing?” Kate asked.

  “Totally nothing! He doesn’t do anything!” Stella groaned. “So then I think that maybe I should make the first move and then I lose my nerve and…ohhh…and now we’re going home and I haven’t even kissed him! It’s nuts.”

  “Well,” Kate said, in her usual matter-of-fact fashion, “you’re never going to get your kiss if you stay here in the kitchen complaining about it. They’re going to leave soon. I saw Ryan sorting out the minivan. They’re probably going home right now.”

  Stella began to jump up and down as if she desperately needed to go to the toilet. “What shall I do?” she said awkwardly.

  “Go after him and grab him and plant one on him!” Dee Dee joined in the conversation.

  “No way!” Stella groaned.

  “Dee Dee is right!” Issie agreed. “You have to go tell him how you feel and kiss him!”

  “I can’t,” said Stella firmly.

  “Then you’ll never get your kiss,” Charlotte said.

  Stella looked heartbroken, but she didn’t move. Outside the kitchen the girls could hear the sounds of the riders getting in the mini-van, ready to leave.

  “This is it,” Kate said. “Last chance.”

  “I’m not going out there and chasing him,” Stella said.

  “You don’t have to,” said a boy’s voice. The girls all turned to see Shane standing in the doorway.

  “I just wanted to say goodbye to everyone.”

  “Goodbye, Shane,” they chorused.

  “And, ummm, Stella?” Shane smiled at her. “Can I have a word with you in private for a minute?” Stella was wide-eyed as she followed him out of the room.

  There were shrieks from the kitchen as the door shut after her. And then even more shrieks a few minutes later, when Stella walked back in with a stunned smile on her face.

  “Shane Campbell,” she announced, “is the world’s best kisser!”

  Issie had gone to bed that night, thinking about her decision to stay in Chevalier Point. She had told Avery the truth when she said that she would miss her horses too much. But she hadn’t said that it wasn’t just Comet and Blaze that she would miss. She had been thinking about Mystic too.

  She knew that Mystic had followed her to Spain, and that he had come here to Australia. If she moved to Kentucky, she had no doubt that Mystic would be able to follow her there too. But it was more than just his presence. It was about understanding what the grey pony meant to her and why he was there. Mystic had turned up last night to save her, and at that moment when she saw him, she had felt their connection stronger than ever. There was something about the grey pony and his devotion to her that anchored her heart to Chevalier Point. Issie wasn’t ready to let go of Mystic. Not yet.

  Tara wasn’t at breakfast the next morning. “She’s down at the stables,” Avery told Issie. “She wanted to take Demeter out for one last ride.”

  Issie wished she didn’t have a broken collarbone. She would have loved a last gallop too. The horses were going home to their real owners today and saying goodbye to Victory was much tougher than she had been expecting. She had developed a strong bond with the brown horse. Not the sort of powerful love that she had for Blaze or Nightstorm, more of a professional partnership.

  They had been a team, the two of them, working together to achieve something special. And they had achieved it. Victory’s performance on the cross-country course that day had been unbeatable. The brown gelding was a superstar. And Issie wasn’t the only one who thought so. When Victory’s owner, Tulia Disbrowe, arrived to pick him up, she was fizzing with excitement.

  “I’ve just had a call from the chef d’équipe for the Australian National Team,” she told Issie. “They’re considering Victory as a potential mount for the next Olympic games. It’s not confirmed yet, but hopefully Andrew Hoy himself will ride him.”

  Victory’s win in the Young Rider Express Eventing had helped to get him on the Olympic shortlist. “This horse’s career just took a leap forward because of you,” Tulia told Issie.

  “Mine too,” Issie smiled. “We made a good team.”

  Because of the broken collarbone, Issie had to leave it to Tulia to put Victory’s floating boots and rug on. Tulia happily obliged and while she was organising the horse float, she left Issie and Victory alone, giving them a last chance to say goodbye.

  “You’ll make the Olympic team, I just know you will,” Issie whispered softly to the brown gelding. “I knew you were a star from the moment I met you.”

  She fed Victory a carrot which he snuffled up gratefully. And then she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him goodbye.

  It wasn’t until Tulia was towing him away in the horse float that Issie realised that Victory being nominated for the Australian team must mean he was now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Suddenly she felt horribly guilty as she thought about how she’d been out riding Victory in the middle of the night—risking the well-being of a valuable Olympic horse by chasing wild dogs!

  Wombat had been locked back in the stables after his midnight sheep-herding, but now he trotted along obediently at Issie’s feet. He was her dog—there was no doubt about it.

  As they walked back up the driveway towards the villa, Issie saw the hackles rise on the pup’s back.

  “What’s wrong, boy?”

  She looked up and saw the ute parked outside the villa. Digger Murphy was leaning against the car door, talking to Tara and Avery. He gave her a wave as she approached with Wombat.

  “Issie!” Avery called out to her. “Good timing. I was just coming to look for you. Digger has just been talking to us about the dog.”

  “What about him?” Issie tensed up. Was Digger still not convinced about Wombat? Did he still think the puppy was responsible for his slaughtered sheep? Issie cast a glance at the ute.
She could see Digger’s shotgun, still on the front seat. The farmer looked down at the ground, not meeting her eyes as he spoke.

  “I’ve been thinking about the blue heeler pup and what happened the other night,” Digger said.

  “It wasn’t his fault what happened!” Issie insisted. “He had nothing to do with it. He was just trying to help.”

  “Issie…” Avery said, making a calm-down gesture with both hands. “Digger knows that. Why don’t you listen to what he has to say?”

  Issie had a dark expression on her face as she turned to Digger. “I’m listening.”

  “I know it wasn’t the pup’s fault,” Digger continued. “He’s got blue heeler blood. They’re good sheepdogs and I need a good sheepdog.”

  He looked at Issie. “The pup needs a home and I’m willing to take him.”

  Issie was stunned. She looked at Wombat. The dog cocked his head sweetly to one side and looked back at her. He knew something was going on.

  “I’ll look after him,” added Digger, “if that’s what you’re worried about. He’ll get fed and he’ll have somewhere dry to sleep. He’ll be a good working dog.”

  Issie looked back at the blue heeler pup. She paused for a moment and then shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mr Murphy. I know you’d take good care of him. But you can’t have him.” She put her hand out and stroked the pup behind the ears. “He’s coming home with me.”

  It took half an hour on the phone for Issie to convince her mum that a family dog was a brilliant idea. Especially one that needed to be bought his own seat on the plane back to New Zealand.

  “I must be mad,” Mrs Brown said. “Tell me again why I’m buying this mutt an air ticket?”

  “He’s not a mutt, he’s a sheepdog, and you’re doing it because you love me and because you’re so happy that I’m not going to boarding school in Kentucky.” Issie giggled.

  “Boarding school in Kentucky?” Mrs Brown was totally confused. “What on earth are you talking about?”

  “I’ll explain when I get home,” said Issie.

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