Victory and the All-Stars Academy, page 3
Issie made a beeline for the chair between Stella and Kate, but Dee Dee cut her off and got there first. She flung herself into the spare seat and Issie was forced to go all the way down to the far end of the table, to sit between two riders that she didn’t know. Grudgingly, she took a piece of toast off the plate in front of her and began to butter it as Avery ran through the schedule.
“I’ve put aside the rest of today for you to select your mounts under Tara’s guidance and get to know the horses,” Avery said. “The Australian team and Minka will arrive tomorrow and we can kick off the dressage training. On Tuesday you’ll be finessing your dressage tests and we’ll have showjumping training when Araminta arrives on Wednesday and Thursday. Then Tara will be taking you for your cross-country training at the end of the week.”
Tara stood up from the table. “Right. Finish up your breakfasts and grab your helmets and boots. We’ll meet at the stables in ten minutes to sort out which horse each of you gets, OK?”
As the girls gathered on the verandah of the classic old Queenslander villa to pull on their riding boots, Issie told Stella all about Dee Dee, her new roomie.
“She’s a nightmare! I came back from the stables this morning and she’d moved all my stuff and spilt nail polish on my favourite T-shirt, and then, when I tried to get my stuff out of her way, she managed to knock a cup of tea over—”
“Wait a minute!” Stella said. “Back it up! You’ve been down to the stables already this morning?”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Issie impatiently. “I woke up early and went to see the horses. So anyway, when I got back, Dee Dee was in my room and she had—”
“I can’t believe you went to the stables without me!” Stella said.
“Stella,” Issie groaned. “It doesn’t matter! I’m trying to tell you about Dee Dee. Do you think we can swap room-mates?”
“You know, Issie,” Stella said, refusing to let it drop, “you could have woken me up and I would have come to the stables with you. I am your best friend.”
“Yes, OK, OK, I’m sorry,” Issie said, trying to put the matter to rest. “But I was talking about Dee Dee. What are we going to do about her?”
“I suppose you could ask Avery if you and I can share a room,” Stella offered.
“No way,” Issie groaned. “Tom will never agree. He said it would be good for us to split up and get to know the other girls.”
“Well then,” Stella shrugged. “I guess there’s no way out. You’re going to have to live with Dee Dee for two weeks. It’s not long. I’m sure she can’t be that bad!”
Stella isn’t being very sympathetic, Issie thought. It was all right for her. Stella had the perfect room-mate. Emily wasn’t one bit like Dee Dee. She was totally normal and really nice—a quiet, thoughtful girl with a mouse-brown ponytail and freckles. Laura, Emily’s twin sister, was lovely too. She was almost the spitting image of Emily, except slightly taller and with darker brown hair, and she was sharing a room with Kate. Morgan was bunking with Charlotte, the rider from Hutt Valley.
Charlotte was fifteen. She had blonde hair, which Issie suspected had been highlighted, as it had glamorous lighter blonde streaks. Charlotte seemed very grown-up. Issie was pretty sure that she was wearing make-up—blusher, lip gloss and mascara. She also wore a pair of very tight, sparkling-white jodhpurs, even though it wasn’t even a proper training day and they were bound to get dusty.
Everything was dusty at Havenfields. The landscape here was so different to the green fields of Chevalier Point. The paddocks were burnt by the endless sunshine so there was very little green grass, and at nine in the morning the horses grazing outside were already seeking shade under the tall gum trees that bordered the paddocks.
The sun was scorching and the idea of saddling up a horse seemed positively exhausting in the thirty-plus degree heat. Luckily, the Olympic-sized sand arena where they would be working the horses was covered.
“Not to keep the rain off obviously,” Avery said. “I don’t think it’s rained in Lilydale in months.”
They entered the stables and the other girls who hadn’t already seen the horses began to ooh and aah over the ones that they liked best.
“Here’s the drill,” Avery said. “We’ll be giving all of you a chance to try out the horse of your choice. Tara and I will be watching you ride and we’ll be swapping certain riders over if we think they’d be better off teamed with other horses.”
Stella raised her hand. “Who gets to choose the first horse?”
“There’s no totally fair way to do this,” Avery admitted. “So let’s go in alphabetical order, shall we?”
He looked at the list on his clipboard. “Let’s see…Ah, Charlotte! Which one would you like to try out?”
Charlotte couldn’t believe her good fortune at being the first to choose. She bit her lip pensively as she looked down the row of horses in front of her.
“I’d like the grey,” she said.
Tara led the grey horse with the dark mane and tail forward and handed the lead rope to Charlotte. “His name is Kanga,” she said. “You’ll find his tack in that loose box over there. You can go and get him ready now and I’ll see you in the arena.”
Charlotte led Kanga away and Avery consulted his list once more.
“Isn’t this neato?” a voice hissed in Issie’s ear and she turned to see Dee Dee standing next to her.
“OK, next on the list we have…Dee Dee!”
“Here!” Dee Dee squeaked, raising her hand and grinning like a maniac.
“It’s your turn, Dee Dee,” Avery told her. “Pick yourself a horse.”
Issie watched Dee Dee’s eyes widen as they scanned the row of horses.
“It’s so hard to choose!” Dee Dee giggled. “They’re all so…so…”
“So neato?” said Issie scathingly. But Dee Dee hadn’t heard her. She gave another squeak of delight and bounced in the air, clapping her hands together.
“I’ve decided!” she said. “I’ll take the one on the end.”
Issie watched in total horror as Tara led the chosen horse forward and handed his lead rope to her scatterbrained room-mate. She couldn’t believe it. Dee Dee had just chosen Victory.
Floyd wasn’t such a bad consolation prize. At least no one else had chosen the stunning cremello before Issie had the chance to put her hand up for him. It turned out that as well as being a cool colour, Floyd had a gorgeous nature. He stood perfectly still and well-behaved in his stall while Issie threw on the numnah and saddle, cinched the girth and slipped the bridle over his head. Adjusting her helmet, she put her left foot in the stirrup and bounced up neatly into the saddle.
Issie had ridden big horses before. Destiny, her Aunt Hester’s warmblood stallion, was massive, and Angel, the big grey Andalusian at El Caballo Danza Magnifico, was at least sixteen hands. Floyd was about the same—much bigger than Blaze or Comet, who were both only ponies. It felt a long way off the ground up on his back, and for a moment, the butterflies in Issie’s tummy began to churn. She was about to go into the arena on a horse that she had never ridden before, with the great Tara Kelly watching her every move. It was a nerve-wracking prospect.
Issie took a deep breath and subconsciously told herself to relax. Nerves were bad. If she got tense then her horse would get stressed out too.
In the arena Charlotte and Kanga, and Dee Dee and Victory were ready and waiting. If Dee Dee is half as clumsy on a horse as she is on the ground, Issie thought, then I don’t want to be anywhere near her! She rode past her room-mate and headed for the other end of the line, pulling up next to Charlotte to wait for the others.
Issie had been expecting Charlotte to be quite snooty, with her make-up and her blonde-streaked hair. But she was just the reverse and super-friendly. “I’m Morgan’s room-mate,” she told Issie. “You go to the same pony club as her, right?”
“Uh-huh,” Issie replied. “We…” She was about to tell Charlotte about Chevalier Point, but she
“Issie and I are roomies too!” Dee Dee said brightly. “We’re like best friends already, aren’t we, Issie?”
“We even use each other’s stuff,” Dee Dee added. “Like, this morning, after breakfast, I couldn’t find my toothbrush and so I used Issie’s instead.”
Charlotte pulled a face at this. “Ewww.”
“You did what?” Issie couldn’t believe it. She felt like gagging. She had just brushed her teeth before they left for the arena—she must have used her toothbrush after Dee Dee had brushed with it!
“I didn’t think you’d mind,” Dee Dee shrugged.
Issie was about to tell Dee Dee exactly how much she did mind actually, but she didn’t get the chance because at that moment the other riders entered the ring on their chosen horses.
Kate had been thrilled with her choice of the Clydesdale-cross. “His name is Costa,” she told Issie with a huge grin on her face. “I’m so glad I got him. I love his fluffy feet!”
Emily had picked the Skewbald and her twin sister, Laura, had taken the chestnut mare with the white star. Since they’d been choosing in alphabetical order, Stella had been the last to pick and was left with the stocky little chocolate dun. Despite the fact that she didn’t have a choice, Stella actually didn’t mind. The dun was just her type.
“His name is Woody,” she told them, giving the pony a slappy pat on his neck. “He even tried to bite me when I did up his girth—do you remember how Coco always did that?” Stella looked quite wistful as she said this. Since she had sold Coco last season, she had been struck with misty-eyed nostalgia for her tubby, grumpy old pony—she was even sentimental about Coco’s nasty vices!
Morgan, meanwhile, was mounted up on the dapple-grey gelding whose name was Arista. “What do you think we’ll actually have to do?” she wondered out loud as they watched Tara walk towards them, talking intently to Tom. As it turned out, their instruction was to do whatever they liked.
“You’ve got twenty minutes to work your horse in. Just treat it as if you were training them yourself at home,” Tara explained. “I want to see how you ride and how the horse responds. Try them at a walk, trot and canter, and also pop them over the cavaletti we’ve set up in the centre of the ring if you like.
“After the twenty minutes is up, you will choose another rider to swap horses with. You must choose your next horse carefully because you won’t be trying all of them today. You’ll each try just three different horses before you have to make a decision.”
“But what if we all want the same horse?” Stella asked.
“Then I’ll make the decision for you,” said Tara firmly.
“OK,” Avery said. “Find a free space and work your horse in. Remember, with eight of you riding freestyle in the arena, it’s important to remember to always obey the rules of arena riding. Can anyone tell me what they are?”
“Ohhh!” Stella raised her hand. “Always pass each other so that your left shoulder is passing the other rider’s left shoulder?”
“That’s right,” Avery nodded. “And make way for anyone doing a faster pace than you. We don’t want a game of dodgems going on out there.”
Issie looked over at Dee Dee, who grinned at her from the other end of the lineup and gave a wave. Issie was still feeling queasy after the toothbrush story. And if Dee Dee really thought she was her new best friend, she must be crazy!
Determined to be as far away from Dee Dee as possible, Issie rode all the way to the far end of the arena before she began to work Floyd in. She gathered him up and pressed him into a trot, sitting for a few paces before she began to rise. As soon as the cremello settled into a stride though, Issie was thrown back. Floyd’s paces were huge! It was like the horse covered half the length of the arena with each trot stride. He was so forward, so free-moving, that Issie was really struggling to keep in time with him.
Issie decided to try a canter instead, and discovered that Floyd’s canter stride was even bigger that his trot. She brought him back to a trot almost immediately, a bit freaked out by the speed that the cremello had in him. Perhaps she’d try walking him for a bit.
“Are you all right there, Isadora?” Tara called out to her. She looked concerned.
“I’m fine,” Issie said. “He’s just got a really big stride.”
“He’s a very forward horse,” agreed Tara. “Try and collect him up a bit.”
Issie asked Floyd to listen to her hands and accept the bit, asking him to drop his head into that wonderful arched outline that dressage horses need to have.
She was so busy focusing on Floyd’s head that she kept looking down and forgot to look where she was going. Floyd was racing forward, doing a particularly huge trot, when Issie heard Dee Dee’s voice bearing down on her from the other direction.
By the time she saw Dee Dee, it was too late. Dee Dee was just a few metres away on Victory and heading straight for her. She was about to crash into them head first! At that moment Issie’s mind went blank. She totally forgot what Avery had just told them five minutes ago about arena etiquette. All she knew was that they were on a collision course. Issie didn’t know which way to turn to avoid a head-on crash.
“Dee Dee!” Issie shrieked.
She needn’t have panicked. Dee Dee knew exactly what she was doing. When she was just a couple of strides away from Floyd, she nudged Victory with her right leg and swerved expertly to the outside wall of the arena, breezing easily past Issie without even breaking her rhythm.
“Pass left-to-left, remember, roomie?” Dee Dee chirped as she zipped past. They had been a whisker away from colliding, but clearly Dee Dee had been in control of the situation the whole time!
Issie pulled Floyd up and sat, watching in astonishment, as Dee Dee rode Victory in a serpentine down the arena in the most beautiful collected trot Issie had ever seen. Then she turned Victory down the centre line and pushed him into a perfect extended trot, finishing off with a leg yield across the arena.
It was unbelievable! Clumsy, ditzy, goofball Dee Dee, who didn’t even seem to be able to pick up nail polish or pack a bag without causing total chaos, was a total genius when she was on a horse!
Issie watched as once more Dee Dee guided Victory expertly between two other horses and riders, cantering him easily around the arena. Dee Dee’s timing, her sense of cadence, was exquisite. As she steered Victory, her hands remained perfectly still and steady on the reins, her legs tapping along lightly in perfect rhythm with the horse’s stride. Her face showed how totally focused she was as she worked her horse with the deceptive ease of a true professional rider. Issie was stunned. How could anyone be so useless on the ground and so brilliant in the saddle?
“Hey!” A shout brought her back to reality. It was Tara Kelly. “Come on, Isadora,” she snapped. “Are you daydreaming or are you riding? You’ve only got fifteen minutes and then you’re swapping horses. I suggest you get Floyd moving!”
Moving? That was the problem! It was hard to stop Floyd. His paces were so huge and free that at times he could be terrifying to ride, and at best he felt like he was a little bit out of control. He was strong too. He pulled so hard on the reins as Issie took him through the trotting poles, she felt her arms were being wrenched from their sockets and she had to use all her strength to keep him in check.
“Give him his head and go with him, Isadora,” Tara called out to her. “You’re being left behind over the jumps.”
Issie wanted to explain that she wasn’t being left behind. Floyd was rushing his jumps and she had no choice but to hold him back. But she didn’t get an opportunity to explain to Tara, or even the chance to try the cavaletti again.
“Twenty minutes is up. Can you all change horses, please?” Avery called out to the riders.
And suddenly it was like a frantic game of musical c
But where was Dee Dee? Issie wanted desperately to swap Floyd for Victory. Typical, Issie thought. I’ve spent all this time avoiding her and now that I actually want to find her…
By the time she spotted Dee Dee way over on the other side of the arena, Issie was too late. Dee Dee had already dismounted and was swapping the brown gelding for Morgan’s dapple-grey. Before Issie could do anything about it, Morgan had mounted Victory and was finding a space in the arena to begin working in her second horse.
“Is there a problem, Isadora?” Issie turned to see Tara Kelly eyeing her up suspiciously.
“I was going to swap with Dee Dee,” said Issie feebly. “But she’s already swapped with Morgan.”
“Trade horses with Stella then,” Tara instructed briskly. “You can try Woody.”
Stella didn’t want to swap either. “The Woodsman here is a dream horse to ride,” she enthused. “Honestly, I’d keep riding him all day if I could. He’s such a honeybunch, aren’t you, Woody?”
When Issie got on Woody, however, she didn’t think he was sweet at all. The little dun was just like Issie’s last horse, Fortune, used to be. The piebald plodder had been part pony and part slug when Issie first got him and Woody seemed to be cut from the same cloth. Issie tried to be subtle with her aids, but in the end it took a big kick in the ribs before Issie could even get Woody to trot. His canter was even worse and when she rode him at the cavaletti, Woody was so slow he didn’t so much jump as slither over them.
The twenty-minute trial seemed to Issie as if it lasted forever. She had to work really hard to make Woody perform and at times she felt like she was flapping about and getting nowhere. And whenever Issie messed up, Tara always happened to be looking her way. At one point Tara caught her putting in a particularly abysmal performance over the cavaletti and Issie could have sworn she saw the instructor shaking her head in disbelief!