Authors: Stacy Gregg
The envelope in the schoolbag didn’t look like it could cause any trouble. It was a plain envelope, with no airs or graces about it, brown and slender with just two words written on the front in felt tip: Isadora Brown.
Issie had shoved the envelope into her schoolbag and promptly forgotten about it. It had nestled overnight beside her pencil case, getting squashed by her school jumper, and might have stayed hidden there if her mum hadn’t opened the bag to get her lunchbox out.
“What’s this?” Mrs Brown asked, picking the envelope up off the floor.
“My end-of-year report. You have to sign it so I can take it back to school,” Issie said, glancing at the
envelope as she picked up the last piece of toast on her plate and stood up from the table. “Thanks for breakfast, Mum,” she called over her shoulder as she hurried out of the kitchen with the toast in hand, heading for the laundry. It was seven thirty and Issie was running late. Today was pony-club rally day and Tom Avery, Chevalier Point’s head instructor, had offered to pick up the girls and their horses in his truck from the River Paddock at eight. Stella and Kate would already be there by now, grooming and bandaging their horses. And Issie was still in her pyjamas!
“Have you seen my white jodhpurs?” she shouted out to her mum from the laundry. “You know, the good ones? They’re not in my room…”
Mrs Brown walked into the laundry, but didn’t answer. She had opened the envelope and was holding the report in her hand. She had a stunned expression on her face. “Isadora! Have you read this?”
Issie winced. Her mother only used her full name when she was in trouble. “No…” she said. “Mr Monagatti said we’re supposed to give them to our parents to open.” Issie looked at the piece of paper in her mum’s hand. “I didn’t think it would be…is it really that bad?”
“Bad?” Mrs Brown shook her head in disbelief. “Issie, it’s brilliant! This is one of the most glowing school reports I’ve ever read! You’re topping the class in maths and science. You’ve got A+ for your English and history marks. Your form teacher describes you as ‘above average in all subjects’.”
“I’m still useless at French,” Issie said, “Mr Canning says my vocab is OK, but I have trouble with my—”
“Issie,” Mrs Brown said, “French aside, this is a really terrific report card. Why didn’t you show it to me? You should be thrilled with it…Issie?”
Issie’s head had disappeared into the laundry basket as she desperately hunted for the missing jods. “I forgot about it!” she said as she began to dig frantically through the clothes. “I went over to Kate’s after school and…Ohmygod! There they are!” Issie emerged triumphant with the jodhpurs. She looked at her watch. Seven forty! “Mum, can you give me a lift down to the paddock? I’ll never make it in time on my bike.”
Mrs Brown wasn’t listening. She was still poring over the report card. “Look at this! Your average mark for the term was 87 per cent!”
“Mum!” Issie was frantic. “Can’t we talk about it later? I’m going to be late for pony club!”
“Oh, don’t let me hold you up with my brief moment of parental pride,” Mrs Brown said sarcastically, “I’m sure you don’t want to keep the horses waiting…”
Issie’s mum didn’t stop talking about the report card all the way to the River Paddock. Then when they arrived, she embarrassed Issie by going on about it again in front of the other girls and even telling Avery about her results!
“My school report was hopeless!” Stella grumbled as they loaded the horses on to Avery’s truck. “All my teachers went on and on about how I don’t pay enough attention in class. I told my mum that I’d pay more attention if they weren’t so boring!”
“I just about fell asleep in French class the other day,” Kate agreed.
“I know! I can’t stand French!” Stella groaned. “Mr Canning is bonkers. I can’t understand a word he’s saying!”
“It’s like he’s speaking a foreign language!” Kate added, and the three girls burst into giggles.
“Are you going to take it again for fifth form?” Issie asked.
Kate nodded. “I guess so.”
“I can’t believe you’re talking about this!” Stella said. “I don’t even want to think about what subjects I’m taking next year. Only one more week of school to go and then seven weeks off! I’m going to spend every single day riding and I vow not to speak a single word of French!”
“What about puissance?” Issie said. “That’s a French word.”
“Then I shall refuse to jump them!” Stella said theatrically and the three girls fell about laughing again.
Stella and Kate were Issie’s best friends. Issie’s mum always said the three of them were like sisters — which was funny since the girls didn’t look anything alike. Stella had curly red hair, Kate was tall, with her blonde hair cut in a blunt bob, and Issie had long dark hair and olive skin, just like her mum.
“But inside, where it counts, you girls are identical,” Mrs Brown would say. “You’re all utterly horse-mad!”
It was a short drive from the River Paddock to the pony-club grounds. Avery was up front driving and
the three girls sat in the cabin of the horse truck together. Behind them, in the very rear of the truck, were the horses. Comet, Toby and Marmite were all tied up in their partitions with a hay net each and the girls only had to open the back cabin door to walk through and check on them. Not that they really needed to, as the drive to the pony club was a brief ten minutes up the road.
“I can’t believe there’s just one more week of school,” Stella was saying. “Remember this time last year when we were all going to Blackthorn Farm to help Hester with the riding school?”
The three of them had been keen to go back to Gisborne and help out again this year too, but Issie’s Aunt Hester had decided not to open the school this summer. Her business, training movie stunt horses, was booming right now, and she had so much work on she couldn’t do both at once. That meant the girls were on the lookout for new holiday jobs.
As they unloaded the horses from the truck, Issie grabbed Comet’s tack. She had decided to ride the skewbald at the rally today because she knew they’d be doing lots of showjumping. Her other horse, Blaze, was
a good jumper too, but was really best at dressage. The chestnut Anglo-Arab mare had once belonged to the famed El Caballo Danza Magnifico riding school in Spain, and Blaze’s son, Issie’s beloved colt Nightstorm, was there right now, about to begin his dressage training, just as his mother had done before him.
Comet, on the other hand, was no dressage horse. He got bored schooling — and let Issie know it by doing a cheerful buck if she tried to spend too much time on flatwork. Comet was a true showjumper and he was happiest when he was in the competition ring, showing off his style to the crowd as he flew over fences that were bigger than he was!
Comet’s jumping prowess could be a problem sometimes. Issie would often turn up at the River Paddock to find him in a different field from the one he’d been put in the night before. No fence could hold Comet. Issie remembered the very first time she met the cheeky skewbald, he had jumped out of his paddock and almost collided with Aunt Hester’s horse truck!
Hester had been driven mad by Comet’s antics when he lived at Blackthorn Farm. When Issie entered him in the Horse of the Year Show, Comet finally put his
jumping ability to good use. His spectacular performance in the puissance won them prize money, and attracted the attention of celebrity showjumping trainer Ginty McLintoch, who offered to buy the skewbald on the spot!
But Hester had refused Ginty’s offer and given Comet to Issie instead. Ever since then, whenever Issie bumped into Ginty at showjumping events the flame-haired trainer always repeated her offer to buy the skewbald.
Ginty ran private stables in Chevalier Point where she schooled horses for wealthy clients and also ran a string of competitive showjumpers. Natasha Tucker was one of Ginty’s clients. The sour-faced blonde always made a point of telling the other Chevalier Point riders how brilliant her private lessons were. The way Natasha told it, Ginty was a proper instructor and would never waste her time with a bunch of useless pony-club kids the way Tom Avery did.
Ginty certainly had a reputation for being too posh for pony club. The one place Issie never expected to see Ginty was at a Chevalier Point rally day. So when she spotted the trainer standing over by Natasha’s
horse truck talking with Mrs Tucker, she was utterly amazed.
“What’s she doing here?” Issie whispered to Stella and Kate. The three girls were all staring when Ginty suddenly turned round and caught them ogling at her. Surprisingly, the haughty redhead gave them a wave.
“Ohmygod!” Stella said. “She’s coming over.”
Ginty was striding across the paddocks with a determined look on her face. Her gaze was set on Issie and Comet. She had obviously recognised the skewbald pony and was homing in for a closer look.
“Good morning, girls,” Ginty said briskly. “Lovely day for riding!” Having dispensed with the pleasantries, she focused her attention on Issie. “How is Comet doing? Have you changed your mind about selling him to me yet?”
“He’s doing just fine,” Issie replied, “but he’s still not for sale.”
“I see,” Ginty said. “Well, I’ve got a couple of gaps in my team that I’m trying to fill this week before the competition season gets underway. You know where to find me if you change your mind.”
She presented a business card to Issie with her name
and number on it, then turned on her heel and headed back to the Tuckers’ horse truck. The conversation was clearly over.
Tom Avery started the rally the same way he always did, with a gear inspection. There were over fifty club members present that morning, and after Avery had worked down the row, checking stirrup leathers and tutting over dirty bits and loose girths, he divided the ride up into four. The junior members were assigned their instructors and sent off to various training areas. Only the most senior Chevalier Point members stayed with Avery in the jumping ring.
There were eight of them. Issie, Stella and Kate were joined by their friends Dan, Ben, Annabel and Morgan, and Natasha Tucker was there too on Romeo.
As a warm-up exercise, Avery had set up four jumps, positioned around the arena in a circle at three, six, nine and twelve o’clock.
“They’re not very big, are they?” Dan said with disappointment as he eyed up the jumps. The four
fences were quite low, no more than half a metre off the ground.