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Dream Horse
 

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Dream Horse


  STEVIE TAKES A SPILL

  “Thank God you had on a hard hat,” said Carole.

  “I think I should call a doctor,” Deborah said.

  “No, I’m okay, really,” Stevie said, pushing herself to a sitting position.

  “Here, I’ll help you up,” Lisa offered. Stevie took her hand. She stood up carefully.

  “Boy, I can’t believe Veronica would be so incredibly stupid as to cause an accident like this!” Lisa snapped. “Every time I think she’s reached the limit, she finds another limit to reach!”

  A genuine look of puzzlement crossed Stevie’s face. “Veronica? What’s she got to do with this? How could a nice girl like Veronica cause something like this to happen?”

  Lisa and Carole looked at one another.

  “Call a doctor,” said Lisa.

  “No, call an ambulance,” said Carole.

  RL 5, 009–012

  DREAM HORSE

  A Bantam Skylark Book/July 1996

  Skylark Books is a registered trademark of Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 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 © 1996 by Bonnie Bryant Hiller.

  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: 978-0-307-82554-4

  Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada.

  Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 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 Marion Barritt, whose personal experience suggested this story, and to Michael Bird, to whom I am indebted for the technical accuracy about soaring. I get credit for any errors on that subject—or any other.

  BB

  For Michael

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Acknowledgments

  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

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  About the Author

  STEVIE LAKE FOCUSED all of her concentration on the jump in front of her. She could feel the power of her horse, and she could see the brown earth beneath her horse’s hooves. She could sense the warm summer sun on her back. But the only thing she knew was the jump itself.

  “Come on, Belle,” she whispered to her horse. “You can do it.”

  She leaned forward in the saddle, rose ever so slightly, and gave Belle some rein. The horse moved her head forward, anticipating the jump. Then the mare’s powerful rear legs propelled horse and rider up and over. For a moment Stevie felt as if she and Belle were one being, soaring in unison. A split second later Belle’s forelegs met the ground and found footing, carrying the rest of her body forward until her hindquarters landed. It was smooth and easy.

  “Like the wind!” Stevie declared joyously.

  “Great job!” Lisa Atwood called as she clapped for her friend. Lisa was sitting on the fence of the schooling ring.

  “You’ve got to remember to hold your hands still,” said Carole Hanson. Carole was sitting next to Lisa on the fence, watching carefully so she could critique everything.

  Carole, Stevie, and Lisa were best friends. They sometimes laughed about it, because often it seemed to them that they couldn’t have been more different. But they had one thing in common that was more important than all of their differences: They loved horses. They loved everything that had to do with horses. They loved to ride them, and they also loved taking care of them, feeding them, grooming them—even mucking out their stalls. They rode together at Pine Hollow Stables. Their instructor, Maximilian Regnery III, and his mother, Mrs. Reg, owned the stable. They kept costs low by asking their riders to help with the chores. Stevie, Carole, and Lisa pitched in gladly whenever they had the time, and sometimes when they didn’t. Taking care of horses and helping friends never seemed like work to the three girls. It usually seemed more like fun.

  The girls were so horse-crazy that they’d formed The Saddle Club. It was a simple club. It had only two rules. Members had to be horse-crazy, and they had to be willing to help one another out, whether they knew they needed help or not.

  Twelve-year-old Carole was the most experienced rider of the three girls. She sometimes said she’d been born to ride. Carole had been around horses since she was a very little girl. She knew exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up, too. She was going to be a competitive rider. Or maybe she was going to be a trainer. Sometimes it seemed that being a breeder would be the best. Or perhaps a vet. Then again, maybe she’d be all those things!

  When it came to horses, Carole was all business. She never forgot anything that had to do with the welfare of a horse, particularly of her own beloved bay gelding, Starlight. When it came to anything but horses, Carole could be rather forgetful. Her father, a colonel in the Marine Corps, often said that she’d leave her head at home if it weren’t attached so securely.

  “That’s silly, Dad,” Carole said. “The reason I don’t leave my head at home is because I’m going to need it when I get to the stable!”

  Her friends suspected she wasn’t entirely joking.

  Lisa, who was thirteen, never forgot anything. She was always organized and logical. Her clothes never got wrinkled. Her homework was never late. She was a straight-A student, a teacher’s dream. She was the newest rider of the three girls, but she worked so hard at it—as at everything she did—that she was almost as good as her friends. Max said she was one of the fastest learners he’d ever taught. Lisa was good at other things, too. She’d taken music lessons, ballet lessons, and painting lessons. She liked to act and sing and had even starred in a local production of Annie. Although there were many things she enjoyed doing, she liked riding horses most of all.

  Stevie was as mischievous as Lisa was organized. The twelve-year-old often joked that she spent about half her time in hot water. Her friends pointed out to her that she spent the other half getting out of hot water, and since they were bound to help her by the rules of The Saddle Club, that meant they had to help with frequent rescue missions. Stevie thought that today was an exception to that. She was working very hard on her jumping skills. Lisa, the totally logical member of the trio, disagreed with that. In her opinion, what Stevie was doing by working on her jumps was attempting to get out of hot water. Stevie had made a bet with her boyfriend, Phil Marsten, that she and her horse, Belle, were better jumpers than Phil and his horse,
Teddy. Today’s practice was an attempt to help Stevie through her latest “harebrained notion,” as Carole sometimes called them, because Phil had described Belle as a “pretty good jumper.” “Pretty good” wasn’t anywhere near what Stevie thought of Belle’s abilities. Fabulous was the word she would have used.

  “All right, I’ll try again,” Stevie said. “And this time, I’ll hold my hands still. I’ve got to get it right because there isn’t much time until the contest.” She circled Belle around the ring and prepared for another go at the jump.

  “Just five more days of this,” Lisa remarked to Carole. The jump-off between Stevie and Phil was scheduled for the following Saturday morning before their regular Pony Club meeting. Stevie had wanted it to be in the afternoon on the theory that Belle probably liked sleeping in on Saturday mornings as much as Stevie did, but Phil couldn’t do it in the afternoon. His uncle Michael had invited him to fly in his glider with him.

  “Imagine thinking that going up in a glider is going to be more important than comparing our horses’ jumping. Why couldn’t he fly in the morning?” Stevie had asked indignantly.

  “Because gliders require thermals for lift, and it’s hard to find thermals before the afternoon sun has warmed the air,” Lisa had explained.

  “Whatever,” Stevie had said.

  “How do you know these things?” Carole had asked Lisa.

  “I looked it up,” Lisa had told her. Carole had thought that was probably why Lisa was a straight-A student.

  Stevie circled Belle around the ring and approached the jump again. She often said riding was easy as long as you could remember a million things at the same time: heels down, toes in, back straight, arms relaxed, hands still, weight evenly balanced—and that was just for starters.

  Something flashed in her right eye. Someone was walking out of the stable and into the ring.

  Stevie turned to look. The minute she turned her head, it changed her balance, and as soon as that happened, Belle hesitated. That meant that Stevie and Belle were too close to the jump when Belle took off. The horse popped the jump and then had to scramble to keep her footing when she landed.

  “Ugh!” said Stevie.

  “Not pretty,” Lisa said.

  “The worst!” Carole told her.

  “That’s a fine way to greet me,” said Veronica diAngelo. The three girls looked at the new arrival. If there were two things The Saddle Club always agreed about, the first was that they were crazy about horses and the second was that Veronica diAngelo was the most obnoxious girl in the entire town of Willow Creek, Virginia—perhaps in the entire world. Veronica was in their Pony Club and took lessons with them. She had her own horse, a very valuable Thoroughbred named Danny. Everything about Veronica, it seemed, was very valuable. Her clothes were from the most exclusive shops at the mall, her hair and nails were always perfect, and she often showed up at Pine Hollow in the backseat of her father’s limousine or the front seat of her mother’s Mercedes.

  “Everything about her is valuable except her personality,” Stevie had once remarked. “I wouldn’t give you a nickel for that.”

  Veronica was snobbish, petty, and manipulative. She was pretty and vain and thrived on admiration. She never considered anybody else’s feelings, either. It was typical that she’d barged in without considering that her presence might distract Stevie and her horse.

  Lisa glanced at Veronica. The other girl was fiddling with an expensive-looking camera. Lisa had taken a number of photography classes at school. Some of her pictures had even been published in the local newspaper. She knew a lot about photography, and she’d never known that Veronica had the slightest interest in it.

  Stevie drew Belle to a halt. She was annoyed with herself because she’d allowed Veronica to distract her. She didn’t want to give Veronica the satisfaction of knowing that. She put one hand on her hip and looked at the interloper.

  “What are you doing with the camera?” she asked. It was a simple question, but Veronica took it as a challenge.

  “This isn’t just any camera,” Veronica said with a sniff. “It’s a highly technical piece of photographic equipment. It automatically adjusts itself to the perfect lens opening and focal distance to maximize results.”

  “Ah, so you can read, too,” Stevie said. “I bet that’s just what it says in the brochure. Now, tell me, what is it you’re planning to maximize results on?”

  Lisa and Carole snickered. Stevie was as good at getting under Veronica’s skin as Veronica was at getting under Stevie’s.

  “Actually, I intend to maximize results all the way to Rome, Italy. Perhaps you haven’t read about the photographic contest that the mall photography shop, Photo World, is running. First prize for the junior winner is a two-week trip to Rome. I’m already picking out my wardrobe. I think I’ll take the—”

  “Gee, can I help you with this?” Stevie asked, suddenly eager. “It would be great to have you out of here for two whole weeks! Look, I’ll pose for you. I’ll be a model. Anything to be sure that you maximize your results.”

  “Don’t bother,” said Veronica. “In the first place, I don’t need your help. In the second place, the contest rules require that the picture be of somebody doing something that requires skill. You looking like a dummy doesn’t take any skill.”

  Lisa and Carole cringed. Stevie’s remark had been mean but mildly funny. Veronica’s was simply cruel. If Stevie felt challenged to get even with her, it was likely to be big trouble. Carole was about to suggest that Stevie get back to her jump practice, but Stevie turned Belle and trotted off without the suggestion. There were times when all three of them knew that the only way to deal with Veronica was to ignore her totally.

  Stevie circled the ring again and this time kept her focus on the jump. She didn’t notice Veronica walking away. She didn’t even see her friends perched on the fence. All she saw was the jump, and the only thing on her mind was getting over it in perfect form.

  “Great!” Lisa said when Belle landed smoothly.

  “You’re getting it,” Carole agreed.

  Stevie grinned and rode over to the fence to talk with Lisa and Carole.

  “Your hands were much better this time,” Carole said. “And it sure makes a difference when you look straight ahead. Now, I think it’ll help if you try to remember to keep the lower half of your arm in a straight line with the reins. In other words, no bends from your elbow to the horse’s mouth—”

  “What’s up, girls?” The three girls looked over and saw Deborah Hale Regnery. Deborah was Max’s wife, and they liked her very much, though sometimes they wondered how Max could love somebody who knew so little about horses. Deborah was an investigative reporter for a big daily newspaper in Washington, D.C. She and Max had met while she was doing a story on horse stables near the city, and it was love at first sight. In spite of some “help” from The Saddle Club, Deborah and Max had managed to get engaged and married. Now Deborah was learning as much about horses as she could.

  “Hi, Deborah,” they greeted her.

  “Come to watch some fine jumping?” Stevie teased.

  “Partly,” Deborah said. “I saw the three of you out here, and I thought it was a chance to ask you some questions.”

  “Sure,” said Carole. “What can we do for you?”

  “Well, my editor got a tip that there’s a shady horse dealer in Rock Ridge—you know where that is?”

  “It’s west of here,” Stevie said. “Near the mountains, right?”

  “That’s it. The town is named after the craggy mountain ridge that seems to hang over the area,” said Deborah. “Anyway, a man named Mickey Denver has been selling horses for years, and he seems to have built up a reputation for less-than-honest dealings.”

  “That makes me furious,” said Carole. “A few bad apples and everybody thinks all horse traders are crooks.”

  “Like used-car dealers,” Lisa suggested.

  “Exactly,” said Deborah. “The world is full of honest people, bu
t, as Carole said, a few dishonest ones can ruin it for everybody.”

  “So, what does your editor want you to do?” Stevie asked.

  “He wants me to find out if it’s true that the man’s a crook,” said Deborah. “But the trouble is, I don’t know any more about buying horses than I do about riding them.”

  “Well, you’re learning how to ride them,” Lisa reminded her.

  “That’s what I mean,” Deborah said. “Yesterday when Max was working with me, he pointed out six things I was doing wrong all at once.”

  “Only six?” Lisa asked. “My record was eight.”

  Deborah laughed. “And he keeps telling me what a fast learner you are! Anyway, my editor wants me to go buy a horse from this man. But I really don’t know what to look for, and I know if I ask Max, he’ll tell me a zillion things and I’ll never remember them all. How do you know if you’re being bamboozled? I mean, Carole and Stevie, you both have your own horses. What told you these were the right ones for you?”

  “Easy,” Stevie said. “Love at first sight.”

  “Ditto,” said Carole.

  “That isn’t helpful,” Lisa told her friends. “You two love any horse at first sight.”

  “True,” Stevie confessed. “But I was right about Belle, wasn’t I?” And then, to prove her point, she turned Belle around with a flourish and began cantering toward the jump.

  Everything felt right this time. Stevie kept a straight line from her elbow to Belle’s mouth and sank her weight into her heels. She’d show Deborah exactly how it was done. The jump was near. Stevie rose in the saddle, leaning forward and giving Belle some rein. In a split second, she’d signal the horse to jump.

  “Yoo-hoo! Stevie! Look at me!”

  On the other side of the jump, right outside the ring, stood Veronica, expensive camera to her eye. She waved, calling Stevie’s attention.

  Stevie’s head snapped up. Her balance became skewed. There was a flash. Belle shied. Her hindquarters stopped. Her forelegs flailed wildly. Stevie, totally unprepared for the sudden halt, flew off, soaring gracefully over the jump while Belle remained on the other side. Then there was silence.

 
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