Victory and the all star.., p.6

Victory and the All-Stars Academy, page 6


Victory and the All-Stars Academy

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  Sweet dreams. The phrase taunted Issie even as she was falling asleep. Her dreams lately had been far from sweet. For weeks now she had been having the same nightmare, that dark and turbulent dream about Mystic.

  She knew that Mystic was her guardian, her protector, but the dreams still scared her. They haunted her thoughts when she woke up each morning. Mystic was her best friend, the horse who started it all and the one that meant everything to her. Usually, a dream about Mystic meant that he was close by and that trouble was even closer. But not recently. The dreams kept coming, but Mystic didn’t appear. To dream the same dream about that fateful day at the pony club was making Issie worry that the threat was something she couldn’t fix.

  What if it means that I’m really losing Mystic this time? Issie thought. As she felt sleep overtaking her in bed that night, she resisted. She didn’t want to sleep. She didn’t want to dream. She wasn’t ready to let him go. Not yet, she thought. Not yet.

  Chapter 7

  The rattle of horse floats and trucks pulling up in the driveway woke Issie before her alarm clock had the chance to ring. She sat up in bed, her brain still fuzzy from sleep. She looked over at Dee Dee. Her roommate was awake too and she was staring out of the window.

  “What’s going on out there?”

  “The Australians have arrived,” said Dee Dee.

  Two seconds later the door to their room flew open and Stella barged in. “Have you seen them? Ohmygod, they are gorgeous!” Stella squeaked.

  “The horses?”

  “No—the boys!” said Stella. “The whole team is all boys! Laura and I have been spying on them out of our bedroom window. They’re all really hunky. One of them looks just like Zac Efron!”

  “Is he wearing make-up like Zac Efron?” Issie giggled.

  “He’s gorgeous!” Stella was beaming with excitement. “Laura likes the red-headed one—she says he has eyes like azure. I don’t know what azure is…do you, Issie? Issie?”

  But Issie wasn’t listening. She had got out of bed and grabbed her bath towel. The Australian team were here and, if Stella was to be believed, they were all utterly good-looking. At this rate they would find her still wearing jammies—which would be totally embarrassing!

  It was chaos in the villa for the next twenty minutes as the girls all bolted for the bathrooms at the same time, trying to get ready. There was a huge queue to use the showers.

  By the time Issie had dashed back to her bedroom and quickly pulled on her jods and her favourite Ralph Lauren pale blue polo, the Australian riders had already unloaded their horses, tied them up to their floats with hay nets and water, and were in the kitchen of the villa making themselves at home.

  On the other side of the kitchen door the girls were huddled together in the hallway, giggling and teasing each other, suddenly nervous about meeting their competition.

  “You go in first,” Stella said.

  “No, you go.” Charlotte gave her a feeble shove towards the door.

  “Oh, for pity’s sake!” Kate rolled her eyes at both of them and swung the door open.

  It was clear that Stella had been exaggerating when she said the whole team was made up of boys. In fact, two of the eight riders were girls. She wasn’t exaggerating though when she said they were cute. Issie had to admit that the boys were pretty good-looking. The brown-haired one that Stella must have meant looked like Zac Efron was particularly handsome.

  Avery was also in the kitchen with Tara and Ryan Stewart, the chef d’équipe for the Australian team.

  Ryan Stewart was a formidable-looking man. He must have been at least 1.9 metres tall—and built like a mountain. Issie couldn’t imagine that he had ever been a horse rider himself. He was too big—it would have taken a seventeen-hands-high hack just to hold him. Standing next to Ryan, even Tom Avery, who was quite tall, seemed almost dainty in comparison.

  “It’s great to meet you at last, Ryan,” Tara was telling him. “I know your wife, Minka. We met about ten years ago when we were both riding on the eventing circuit. She’s a very talented dressage rider.”

  “Minka told me that you two were old friends,” Ryan smiled. “She’s looking forward to catching up with you again.”

  “Where is Minka?” asked Avery.

  “She’s outside helping the riders to bandage their horses,” Ryan said. “She’ll join us in a minute.”

  “We were just about to have breakfast before we head down to the arena,” Avery continued. “Are your riders hungry?”

  With sixteen riders for breakfast, the kitchen table was way too small to accommodate everyone, so the plates and cutlery were quickly reset on the trestle table outside on the verandah. The only problem now was sharing the maple syrup. There was only one bottle which had to be passed up and down the table—it was a pain, but also useful for finding outeveryone’s names. By the time Issie had finished her third pancake, she had figured out that the really hunky Australian rider was called Shane Campbell. He was the captain of their team. The other riders were Matt, Steve, Bret, Dobbo and Jace. The two girls were called Kylie and Nicky.

  “Kylie, can you pass the juice?” Shane called out down the table. He said her name with an Australian twang so that it sounded as if he was saying Coy-leee and the New Zealand girls had to stifle their giggles.

  Ryan, Tara and Avery sat together and discussed the training programme.

  “We’re boarding with our horses at Whispering Moon Station, just down the road,” Ryan told them. “But we’re glad we can bring them here to train with your team. The facilities are much better and we can leave the horses overnight or truck them in each day, whichever you prefer.”

  “I’ve scheduled Minka to take both squads together for dressage training for the next two days,” Avery told Ryan. “I hope that will be OK with her. Araminta arrives on Wednesday and will do a two-day showjumping clinic, and then Tara takes over for cross-country schooling.”

  “Sounds good to me,” Ryan said. “We can have training sessions together for the first week and then split them up after that.”

  Avery and Tara both agreed that this was a good idea.

  “Wait until you see the event venue at the showgrounds,” Ryan continued. “The cross-country jumps are nearly finished and the stadium looks incredible.”

  “Who’s your course builder?” asked Tara.

  “Delaney Swift.”

  Tara nodded. “She’s the best.”

  “It’s a tough course,” Ryan said. “It’s got big fences and lots of twists and zigzags that make it easy to lose your bearings. It’ll be a real test for the riders.”

  Kate, who had been listening to their conversation, asked the question that all the riders were wondering about. “How can you build an entire one-day event on a stadium sports field? There isn’t enough room for jumps!”

  “Delaney Swift will manage it somehow,” Tara said confidently. “She’s a genius. She can construct a course that fits like a jigsaw into a tiny space.”

  “We’re not talking about normal cross-country,” Avery pointed out. “It’s nothing like the rambling courses that you’ve ridden in the past. The fences will be similar to the ones that you’ll encounter in your practice sessions here at Havenfields, but on the day of the event you’ll ride a very condensed version of a cross-country course. The showjumps are built in the centre of the arena and the cross-country jumps are built in a circuit around them. You’ll finish your showjumping round and ride straight out of the ring into the pit stop. Then you make a quick change into your cross-country gear and then head off again on the cross-country course.”

  “What do you mean by ‘pit stop’?”

  “You know, like racing cars do when they change their tyres. You’ll be changing out of your showjumping jacket and getting into your back protector, gloves and helmet. The clock starts when you begin your showjumping round and it doesn’t stop—not even during your quick change—until you ride through the last flags at the end of the cross-country. All eight
riders from each team will ride the course, but only the best four scores will count,” Avery went on. “The lowest score wins, so we’ll be looking for the least possible time faults and the strongest dressage marks.”

  “The dressage is different for Express Eventing as well,” Tara added. “You must perform a kur—a freestyle test that you have designed yourself, choreographed to music.”

  “Forget the dressage. These events are usually won or lost on the cross-country course,” said Ryan Stewart dismissively, then added hastily, “Don’t tell Minka I said that. She hates it when I talk about the dressage phase as if it doesn’t matter.”

  “You always talk about dressage as if it is not important,” a cold voice behind him snapped.

  Ryan turned to face the petite woman standing behind him. The woman was tiny, not much taller than Issie, fine-boned and delicate, with a square jawline and pale blue eyes. Her blonde hair was held back in a ponytail under a baseball cap and she wore a navy polo shirt tucked into her jodhpurs. She squared up to the enormous Australian and spoke once more in a terse, clipped German accent.

  “You are like all Australians. All you care about is the jumping and the galloping, never the refinement, never the true art of the rider. Your dressage was useless before you met me! Useless! You have me to thank for that silver Olympic medal that you won.”

  Ryan smiled sweetly at the birdlike blonde as she chastised him. Then he reached out one of his enormous arms and gave her a hug and she leant against him, laughing.

  Ryan turned back to Avery and Tara. “Tom and Tara,” he said, “I believe you’ve already met my lovely and very opinionated wife, Minka Klein.”

  The dressage trainer may have been a tiny woman, but every movement of her body was so full of energy, she was like a coiled spring. As she walked across the arena with Avery before the lesson, Minka gesticulated wildly the whole way, punctuating her sentences with her hands, slicing through the air as she spoke.

  “No lightness!” she said to Avery in her brisk German accent. “The modern riders are too heavy with their hands. They hold the horse like a pressure cooker. There must be release as well as pressure!”

  Avery was nodding sagely as Minka talked nonstop. His cheesecutter cap, which he always wore to hold back his curly brown hair, was pushed low over his forehead and he adjusted it back before he spoke to the assembled riders.

  “Many of the Australian squad will have ridden with Minka before,” he said, “but for those of you who don’t know her, let me give you a bit of background. Minka Klein was formerly a rider with the German eventing team until she married Ryan Stewart and moved to Melbourne. She is now a member of the Australian Olympic team and she is also their dressage coach. I hope you appreciate just how lucky you are to have her here for the next couple of days at Havenfields. Minka has written several ground-breaking books on dressage and is a champion of the return to classical values.”

  Minka cast a gaze along the lineup of riders and gave them a broad smile. “So,” she said brightly, “I am going to be taking you for dressage instruction as we learn our tests to music and prepare for the Express Eventing.”

  Minka’s English was enunciated with a studied perfection, and the riders could all understand what she was saying, despite her German accent.

  “As Avery has just said, I teach dressage in the classical sense,” Minka continued. “Many of you have had lessons with me before. For the rest of you, my training will be different from what you are used to. Many riders today think that dressage is easy. That it is just about riding around in the arena doing little circles.” She made a trotting motion with her fingers and then waved her hands dismissively.

  “Pah! That is not real dressage. Real dressage is a true harmony between the horse and the rider. It is an art that takes a lifetime to master…”

  She looked at the riders and her blue eyes turned steely and serious. “We do not have a lifetime of course, we have just two days together. So! What does this mean? It means you must all work your very hardest and then you will learn much, I hope, in our short time with each other. Today we will work on our riding and tomorrow we shall rehearse our individual dressage tests to music.”

  Minka began to walk down the line of riders, examining the horses and their tack. “Take your stirrups down another hole,” she told Stella as she went past. “You are riding too short for dressage.”

  “You too,” she told Charlotte.

  “Two holes!” she instructed Kate. “You have lovely long legs, but they must be extended to work effectively!”

  At the end of the line she stopped again, this time to adjust the headset that she was wearing. “I need to wear an amplifier,” she told them. “I have a quiet voice and this will make sure that you hear me.”

  There was no problem hearing Minka once her amp was turned on. Her light, accented voice rang out like a bell over the arena—and kept on ringing. From the moment the lesson began Minka did not stop to draw breath. She was constantly barking orders.

  “They are moving like donkeys!” Minka observed as the riders began to walk the horses around the school to begin their warm-up.

  “This is wrong! From the very moment you begin, it is crucial that you have your horses marching strongly. This is not a funeral procession. Make them move!”

  The orders kept coming. Minka was insistent that the horses should respond quickly and precisely to the lightest cues. “Walk—march!” she shouted. “And trot! Get your horses moving forward!”

  The Australian riders already knew Minka’s methods, and the instructor clearly had her favourites. She often singled out Bret and Shane for praise as they rode their transitions. The New Zealanders, on the other hand, were struggling to keep up and at times it felt as if they were doing everything wrong in Minka’s eyes.

  “Your horse will never move correctly,” Minka told Morgan, “until your position in the saddle is correct.” She made her halt and adjusted the position of Morgan’s lower leg. “There! Much better!” she exclaimed. “All of you need to move your lower legs further back. You ride as if you are sitting on a bucket. I want to see you using your legs to drive the horse forward. Never your seat!”

  As the riders adjusted their position, Minka made constant comments from the centre of the arena. “Raise your hands, look straight ahead, deepen your seat, don’t drop your shoulders…”

  Finally, after half an hour of this, she seemed satisfied that all the riders were, as she put it, “almost correct”. She called the riders back to her and asked them to line up.

  “I think you can now see the importance of your position in the saddle,” Minka said. She looked down the lineup of riders. All of them were flushed with exertion, their muscles already shaking from their intense workout.

  “So!” said Minka cheerily, “that was the warm-up. Now we get down to some real riding!”

  Issie couldn’t believe it. “She makes She Who Must Not Be Named look like Mary Poppins!” she hissed to Stella.

  There was one big difference between Tara Kelly and Minka Klein, however. With Tara, Issie felt like she was always being pushed to the limit, but her best was never good enough. Minka, on the other hand, was constantly praising her pupils.

  When Minka was looking for a rider to demonstrate a particularly difficult move—the half-pass—in which the horse trots sideways and crosses his legs at the ankle, she chose Issie to perform the movement and was full of encouragement and enthusiasm for the way that she rode Victory.

  “Excellent! This horse has been well trained and you ride him expertly!” Minka told her after they nailed the half-pass, doing it perfectly on their second attempt.

  It had been a successful day and, as the girls were unsaddling their horses afterwards, Issie was thrilled with how well Victory was going and how brilliant the coaching had been.

  “Minka’s lovely, isn’t she?” Issie was saying to Stella. “Well, not lovely. She’s really hard on us and everything, but she’s so inspiring and…”<
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  Issie stopped talking. She had the sudden sensation that someone was watching her and she looked up to see the boy with the brown hair leaning over the top of the Dutch door. He was wearing a tangerine polo shirt that looked amazingly zingy against his tanned skin. When he grinned, he had a killer smile like a Hollywood movie star. He really did look just like Zac Efron.

  “Hiya,” he said. “Tough lesson today, huh? Minka can be pretty harsh.”

  The girls were both stunned silent.

  “I’m Shane, Shane Campbell. I’m the captain of the Australian team. You’re Stella and Issie, right? I was just wondering,” Shane continued, “the thing is, I’ve got my car—I live just down the road—and I was going to go get a burger instead of having dinner at Havenfields, and I thought you might like to come with me?”

  Issie was stunned. Was this a date? It was way too soon! She still missed Aidan. Besides, she was exhausted after the ride, plus she needed to look after Wombat. She had to sneak the pup some dinner…

  “Thanks,” Issie smiled. “But I really can’t…”

  “Oh, no.” Shane put his hands over his face. “I’m doing this all wrong…” He looked really embarrassed. Issie was confused.

  “I mean, if you want to come too, that’s totally fine,” Shane said to Issie. “Oh, man…I’m not used to doing this sort of thing…”

  He looked super-uncomfortable and paused for a moment before he said, “The thing is, I wasn’t actually asking you, Issie. I was asking Stella.”

  As he said this, he looked straight at the stunned redhead and this time, there was no room for confusion.

  “So what do you say?”

  Shane Campbell, the handsome captain of the Australian team, flashed Stella a smile. “You wanna go and get some dinner with me?”

  Chapter 8

  Stella stood in the doorway of Issie’s room, grinning like a total fruit-loop.

  “I’m in love! I am officially in love!”

  “With Shane?”

  “Yes! Of course with Shane!”

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