The Seventh Ballyloch Story – The Dublin Pony

I am posting The Dublin Pony here in its entirety for 24 hours only!  Read it while it’s free!  The reason for my generosity is that I want to thank all of my lovely Facebook followers – all 207 of them.  Yes, I broke the 200 mark yesterday – woohoo!  That’s cause for celebration, right?  Not only that, but I also broke the 200 mark on Twitter this week!  Double woohoo!  Anyway, I wanted to do a giveaway, and I thought that giving away a story would reach every single one of my followers – well, those who want to read it anyway.

What, you don’t follow Tails From Provence on Facebook yet?  That’s easily solved – visit us on Facebook now!

So here’s the story of Ava, the girl who has everything.  Her plan is to qualify for the Dublin Horse Show with her beautiful and talented pony, Carrigdown Crofter…

Edited 18/06/15.  Sorry, it’s just a teaser now.  The whole story will be on available to download on Amazon later today.

Book-Cover-Kindle-Dublin-Landscape

Ava

I put my key in the front door, opened it loudly (yes, it’s possible to open a door loudly), stomped through and slammed it shut behind me.

“Is that you, Ava?” Mum’s voice came from the kitchen.

“Who else would it be?” I snapped.

I flung my schoolbag into a corner of the hall and made my way into the kitchen.

“Oh for God’s sake, Mum,” I groaned. “Don’t you know you’re supposed to take me out to Ballyloch today?”

Mum ran her hands through her hair and smiled at me nervously as she pushed her glass of wine aside, splashing a few drops on her new copy of Hello! magazine as she did so.

“It’s ok, sweetie, I’ll have a coffee while you’re getting changed.  I’ll be fine to drive you,” she said.

“Humph,” I grunted, as I opened the fridge and took out a litre of milk.  “You’d better be.”

I helped myself to a big bowl of cereal and took it upstairs with me, making sure to stamp on every step of the staircase and slam my bedroom door shut for good measure.

Yeah, I was in lousy form.  So what?  The day had started badly, with Mum and Daddy oversleeping.  Then they had had a yelling match in the bedroom, each one of them blaming the other for forgetting to set the alarm.  They seem to think I can’t hear them when they have a fight, but for god’s sake, the walls in our house are paper thin.  Daddy rushed me out the door with no time for breakfast, but at least I had enough time to run into the shop and buy a bar of chocolate and a can of Coke.  The day quickly got worse, with a surprise test in Maths which I definitely failed – that’ll be discussed at the next round of parent-teacher meetings for sure.  Then the stupid Art teacher was out sick, so we had to do a double session of study instead of Art.  The last straw was when Miss Hassett, the PE teacher, forced me to join in with everyone else playing netball.  She refused point blank to believe that I had my period.  I didn’t, but that’s beside the point.  I could have been doubled over with cramps for all she cared.  I might have haemorrhaged and died or anything.  Stupid cow.  I made a point of running slowly whenever the ball came near me, and I even gasped and clutched my stomach a few times, just to make her feel bad.

I took a few spoons of cereal and left the bowl down on the dressing table.  The spoon bounced as I put it down and splattered milk and little pieces of crunchy oats all over the place.  Oh well, it would give Mum something to do tomorrow morning.

I rummaged through my wardrobe, looking for my favourite jodhpurs – the grey Pikeur ones, with a high waist.  They show off my figure really well and they look great with my new Mountain Horse jacket.  They were nowhere to be seen.

“Mum!  Muuuuum!” I yelled down the stairs.  “Did you wash my grey jodhs?”

“No, sweetie, I only washed sheets and towels today.  I have to do your jodhpurs separately,” she called back from the kitchen.

“Aw, Mum, they’re my favourite ones, I wanted to wear them today,” I whined.

“Well, maybe we should buy you another pair exactly the same, so you have a spare,” she offered.

That cheered me up a bit – a trip to the tack shop was on the cards!  Guilt-tripping Mum always works.  I’d probably manage to get two new pairs of jodhs out of it, plus some other nice bits and pieces.

I chose a navy pair of jodhpurs instead and put them on.  Brushed my hair and put on a little bit of makeup.  Sure, I was only going up to the riding school, but I was making a big effort with my appearance, to make sure they take me seriously out there.  I figured that the other liveries should have some respect for me – I was the only person at Ballyloch with a Dublin pony, after all.

I smiled at the thought of Carrigdown Crofter.  He’s a brilliant jumping pony, with a track record a mile long.  He won at the Dublin Horse Show twice, and he’d been in the top five every year for seven years running.  This year wasn’t going to be any different – apart from the fact that I’d be riding him at Dublin, not one of the Armitage kids.  The qualifiers were starting in less than eight weeks, so this was the time to start getting him properly fit.  To help us prepare, I was going to have three private lessons with Liz every week.  No one else had private lessons there, but then no one else was aiming as high as me.

Satisfied with my appearance, I went back downstairs, leaving my school uniform scattered around the room and the bowl of cereal on the dressing table.  Mum had her coat on and was waiting for me, keys in hand.  She offered me a mint, but I ignored her.

“Ready?” she asked.

I didn’t bother replying, I just headed for the front door.  What a stupid question, wasn’t it obvious that I was ready?

We drove into Ballyloch at five to five – I’d have plenty of time to groom and tack up Crofter before my lesson at six.  Mum stopped in front of the big sliding door and turned to look at me.  She opened her mouth to say something, but I was already halfway out of the car.  I slammed the door and ran into the stables, ignoring her “Bye, sweetie!”

Liz and Fiona were there, talking to some of the riders from the five o clock class.

“Hi, Liz! Hi, Fiona!” I called, waving, as I walked down the corridor towards Crofter’s stable.  It’s funny; my mood always improved as soon as I arrived at Ballyloch.  Something to do with seeing Crofter’s cute little black head looking out over his stable door!

He’s described as dark bay on his passport, but his summer coat is almost pure black.  His winter clip gave him a strange, dusty brown colour, but it was starting to grow out – another reminder that Spring was on the way, and with it, the Dublin qualifiers.  My first time ever doing the qualifiers!  My heart always started to beat faster at the thought of it.

There are four qualifiers for show-jumping ponies, one in each province – Munster, Leinster, Connaught and Ulster.  We would be going to every single one of them, travelling all over the country and sometimes even staying away overnight.  Competition is tough – it’s really hard to qualify for Dublin and we would be up against the very best ponies in the country.  The courses are tough, too.  138cm ponies – like Crofter – have to jump a one metre twenty course.  That’s pretty high – up to my shoulder.  Liz has been working with us for the past couple of months, mostly teaching me how to find a rhythm with Crofter.  He knows his job, she says.  My job is to get him to the fences in a regular, forward rhythm and his job is to get us over them. I found it very hard at first.  Crofter was much livelier and much more sensitive than any other pony I’d ever ridden, but we were getting used to each other.  I was fitter and stronger and riding better than ever before, so I was finding him easier and easier to control.

As I went into his stable, I kissed his face and tickled the white spot on his upper lip.  Then I put his head collar on and tied him up.  He was always a bit ticklish when I groomed him, especially around his girth line and his belly.  I got a fright the first time I was brushing his tummy and he swung his head around and bit me hard on the hip!

I heard a clip clop of hooves and looked up to see Susie walking past, leading Charlie.  Or not leading him – the lead rope was tossed carelessly over his neck but he plodded along behind her anyway.  It’s ok to do that sort of thing with a horse like Charlie, but it’s not a risk you could ever take with a serious competition pony like Crofter.  They’re all so highly strung, you’d never know what they might do.

I was tacked up and waiting for Liz in the outdoor arena by ten to six.  I had used all of Crofter’s navy blue gear to match my jodhpurs.  He had his navy blue saddle cloth and brushing boots on, as well as navy blue over-reach boots.  It was a cold night, starting to freeze already, so I had put his navy blue exercise sheet over his hind quarters to keep him warm, too.  I reckoned we looked pretty good together all in navy!

Liz was a bit late, but my lesson was great.  We did some higher fences and practised tight turns, for going against the clock.  Liz was very pleased with us and said we’d be in great form by the time the first Dublin qualifier came around – just over seven weeks away!

She went in for her tea before the 7pm class and I decided to cool off Crofter in the indoor, where it was a little warmer.  Of course, some of the other liveries were there.  The French boy with the lame horse was there, but he left as soon as I arrived.  Good job I’m not sensitive or I’d think he was avoiding me!  Susie and Allie were riding around bareback, laughing about how bouncy Charlie and Bubbles were.  We chatted a bit as we rode around.  Susie’s a bit older than me and Allie is the same age as me.  We’ve all been riding at Ballyloch for years so we know each other pretty well.  We were talking about school and stuff, and about the qualifiers, of course!

Eventually, I decided to dismount and unsaddle Crofter to finish cooling him off – apparently it’s best for the back muscles to allow them to cool down gradually.  So Liz says, anyway.  I started to lead him around, while Susie set up a jump.

It wasn’t a very high jump, needless to say.  Charlie is too much of a plodder to do proper jumps and Allie isn’t the world’s best rider!  They both jumped it a couple of times, giggling and pretending that they were nearly falling off all the time.  It looked like fun.

I knew Crofter was meant to be cooling off, but I figured it was a tiny jump, it wouldn’t hurt to do it once or twice.  I climbed onto his back, using the mounting block and we trotted into it.  I’d never ridden bareback before – it felt weird!  A bit slippery, and his trot was kind of bouncy, but I didn’t feel out of balance or anything.  We popped over it, as easy as pie, and Allie cheered.  She’s quite nice, really, even if her dad spoils her.

“Well done,” said Susie.  “I’m going to make it higher, do you want another go before I do?”

“No,” I replied.  “Put it up and I’ll just do it once.  Crofter’s a bit tired anyway.”

The jump was still pretty low after she raised it, about eighty centimetres, I’d say.  Allie cantered Bubbles into it.  He’s such a safe pony – I used to love him when he was used in lessons – and he slowed down carefully as he approached it and then jumped exactly as high as he needed to clear it.

“Hurray!” laughed Allie, as she patted his neck.

Next was Susie.

“Go on the carthorse!” I shouted encouragingly, as she cantered around the corner.

Susie took her eye off the fence and glared at me.  Surely she wasn’t annoyed?  Everyone calls Charlie The Carthorse!  Charlie took advantage of her lack of attention and chipped in an extra stride, pitching Susie forward onto his neck right before takeoff.  I held my breath as they landed, with Susie right up on his neck, hanging onto his mane.  Of course Charlie is such a sweetheart that he raised his head, pushing her back into place behind his withers.

“Good boy,” laughed Susie. “He saved me!”

It was my turn.  I decided to canter in, too – it would be more comfortable than trotting.  I felt good, swinging along with his canter, and I felt like we’d meet the jump right, but Crofter chipped in, exactly like Charlie, and I was thrown forward – exactly like Susie.  It all seemed to happen in slow motion – I was right up on his neck as he took off and, as he landed, gravity was pulling me further forward.  But where Charlie had saved Susie –

Well, Crofter is a competition pony, of course, and much more highly strung than a hairy old cob like Charlie.  When he felt that I was off balance, he twisted and bucked, sending me flying through the air.  I put my hands out to save myself as I hit the ground, and I heard a loud crack even before I felt the awful pain jolt through my left arm.

I half knelt, half crouched there for a moment, pain shooting up my arm with every heartbeat.  My face was inches away from the arena surface and I focussed on it, trying to block out the pain and the strange darkness on the edge of my vision.  Strange, I never realised there were so many colours in the arena sand before.  There were flecks of red and blue mixed into the cream and yellow coloured grains of sand, with tufts of some fluffy material here and there…

Someone’s boots came into view and Susie crouched down beside me.

“Are you ok?” she asked, touching my shoulder.

I shook my head.  I didn’t trust myself to speak, but I gasped out the word “No.”

“Allie, get Fiona!” she called.

Within minutes, Fiona was there to take charge.  She’s not much older than Susie, but she’s been working in Ballyloch for ages.  She and Susie helped me to my feet, then Susie went to catch Crofter, who was standing at the far end of the arena, sniffing at the shadows, while Fiona helped me out of the arena.  My arm hurt with every step, but at least I was able to walk.  Allie was holding Charlie and Bubbles by the gate.  She looked really worried.

“Are you alright, Ava?” she asked.  I shook my head.  I couldn’t speak with the pain.

Fiona steered me into the tack room, where there is a table and a couple of chairs and I sat down, clutching my arm to my stomach.  And my father chose that precise moment to call me.

I fumbled for the phone in my pocket, pulled it out and stabbed at the screen to answer it.  He should have been in his car, on the way to Ballyloch to collect me, but I knew the instant I answered that he was still in work – there was no hiss and hum of background noise from his hands free kit.  He spoke before I even said hello.

“Ava, I’m running late,” he said.  “I had a late meeting with a client and it ran on longer than I expected.  Now I just have to send a few emails.  I’ll be leaving in ten minutes, so I’ll be with you…. Oh… let’s say ten to eight.”

I still had a lump in my throat and tears were not very far away.  Hearing that Daddy was going to be almost an hour late didn’t help matters.  My voice quavered and two tears dribbled down my cheeks as I spoke.

“Daddy, I fell off,” I sniffed.  “I think my arm is broken.”

“Oh for God’s sake, Ava!  What the hell were you doing?  No, don’t tell me.  Damn it, I’ll have to leave work now.  I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Okay,” I whispered.

He hung up abruptly and I looked up at Fiona.  Her face was full of sympathy – had she heard what he had said?  She smiled brightly, though.

“Is your Dad on the way?”

I nodded, blinking the tears away.

“I’ll make a little cup of tea for you, okay?  And Liz will be over in a minute.  She might have a sling.  We’ll need to keep your arm elevated.  Lucky for you I did my first aid course last month!”

Soon I was drinking milky tea with lots of sugar and feeling a little better.  Susie put Crofter away, and she checked with me where I wanted her to put all his gear, which was good – I made sure she put everything in exactly the right place.  Allie popped in and out too, and kept asking me if I was alright.  Liz came over from the house, I suppose one of the girls had gone and told her what had happened.  She was sympathetic but a little bit disapproving of the fact that I had jumped Crofter when I was meant to be cooling him off.

“I thought you’d know better than that!” she said.  “But not to worry, you’ll be fine.  You’re young and you’ll heal quickly.  You should be right as rain in six weeks.”

She had to go and teach the seven o clock class, but Allie, Fiona and Susie stayed with me, chatting and telling me silly jokes to try to cheer me up.  They even had me laughing by the time Daddy arrived.

He stood in the tack room doorway, frowning.

“I’m glad to see you’re enjoying yourself,” he said.  “This is a right mess you’ve made of things.”

“Go sit in the car,” he added.  “I want to talk to Liz.”

Fiona and Susie looked embarrassed as he walked away.  There was an awkward silence.

“Do you want a hand with anything?” Fiona asked eventually.

“Could you carry my bag with my helmet and my back protector?” I asked.

We walked out towards Daddy’s car.  He and Liz were standing at the arena gate, talking, as we passed.  He was towering over her.  She’s actually pretty small.

I caught random words.  “Unsupervised…? negligence… insurance… Dublin qualifiers… disaster…”

Did I forget to mention that Daddy is a lawyer?

Now it sounded like he was threatening to take Liz to court.  My heart sank.  I liked Ballyloch.  I had the best pony there and I was by far the best rider there, too.  I didn’t want to have to move to a new place!

Fiona put my gear bag on the back seat, wished me luck and went back inside to start putting out the evening hay rations.  I sat and waited, trying my arm in different positions to see which was the most comfortable.  Eventually, Daddy came out and sat into the car.  He was silent as he started the car and turned it around.  Then he began.

“Are you bloody crazy?  Jumping Crofter bareback?  What were you thinking?”

“It was only a tiny jump – ” I began, but he cut me off.

“Don’t you talk back to me!  I spend a bloody fortune on that pony so that you can get to the Dublin Horse Show and then you pull a stunt like this!  And I can’t even make a good case for taking Liz to court because she’d left you with instructions to cool off the pony.  For God’s sake, Ava, the first qualifier is less than two months away!  This is a disaster!  There’s no way you’ll be ready!”

“But I -”  He silenced me with just a glance this time.

“I’m going to call Harry Armitage.  I’ll ask if his son will ride Crofter in the first qualifier.  He’s bound to qualify with him, so then you can ride in the other three for the practise.  Yes,” he seemed to be calming down a bit.  “Yes.  That’s what we’ll do.  It might be for the best.  You mightn’t have managed to qualify the pony yourself, anyway.  This way, we’re sure to get him to Dublin.”

I knew better than to argue, but I didn’t agree.  I didn’t want someone else to ride Crofter, I wanted it to be me and only me who qualified him for Dublin.  Everyone would be going around saying I wasn’t good enough!  And I WAS good enough.  I knew I could do it!  But I wasn’t going to be allowed to prove it!  I couldn’t stop the tears from brimming over and rolling down my cheeks.  I turned my head so Daddy wouldn’t see and I brushed them away.  I knew better than to let him see that I was crying, too…

What happens next?  Visit my page on Amazon.com to download The Dublin Pony in its entirety, or to check out the other Ballyloch stories.

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