Read Race Girl Online

Authors: Leigh Hutton

Tags: #Young adult fiction, #Fiction - horses

Race Girl

RACE GIRL

LEIGH
HUTTON

First published in 2016

Copyright © Leigh Hutton 2016

All rights reserved . 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 prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

ISBN 978-0-9924956-7-1 (eBook)

Leigh Hutton Books

Brisbane | Calgary

PO BOX 828

Samford, QLD 4520

Australia

www.leighhuttonbooks.com

eBook edition distributed by

Port Campbell Press

www.portcampbellpress.com.au

eBook Created by
Warren Broom

RACE GIRL, the story and its characters, are fictional. Although some celebrities' names and real entities, places, venues and events are mentioned, they are all used fictitiously.

This book is dedicated to Michelle Payne and any girl or woman who is brave enough to chase their dreams.

1

Race the boy

Tully Athens swung up into the saddle, her fingers clinging to the reins and a clump of mane, her chest constricting with panic. The ex-racehorse danced beneath her, tossing his head with the excitement of being free from his paddock. A hot, humid breeze whipped at her face and the smell of jacarandas – the purple flowers her mother had so loved – sent Tully's mind reeling. Images of her mum being slammed into the turf struck Tully like a tsunami. She gritted her teeth, squeezing her eyes tight, willing the terrifying memories away. But the doubt, the fear, kept washing over her . . . Maybe her father was right; maybe she shouldn't be riding. Maybe she didn't even want to.

Greg leapt forward, catching Tully off-guard. She clamped onto his back like a cat with its claws out, freezing stiff with terror as the lanky bay trotted freely away from the stables, down towards the row of turnout paddocks. The other horses whinnied and jumped about with excitement, some cantering up to greet them.
You're gonna die,
Tully
—she screamed at herself—
if you don't snap out of it!

Greg plunged into a canter, eating up the ground with his huge thoroughbred stride. He carted her across the driveway, jumping a crack in the dry, drought-eroded earth. The force of the landing sent Tully dangerously off balance, punching a breath from her rigid body. She closed her eyes for a split second, the world going black as she groaned with the effort of pulling herself back into the tiny saddle and grabbing at the reins. She hovered for a moment, still frozen with fear, her mind whirling.

Just ride.

The words materialised in her mind, white as an angel's wings. She gasped for breath . . .

It was the horse's scent that brought Tully back into her body. Sweat had breached his skin, his soft coat radiating that wonderful horsey smell revered by all who love them. She righted herself, gripping on to him, listening to the big horse's breathing, matching it without thinking –
in out, in out.
She curled her fingers around the stiff rubber of the reins, pulled for Greg to stop.

He mouthed the bit, slowing his gait. He'd been her mother's favourite horse after she had saved him from the doggers and Tully had helped nurse him back to health. No one had ridden him since her mum.

Tully's feet found the stirrups of the small racing saddle next, easing her heels down. Shortening the reins, squeezing harder. The powerful horse tossed his head, but obediently came back to a trot.

Strands of Tully's long strawberry blonde hair fell free from her helmet, tickling against her freckled cheeks. She managed to grip the horse's flanks with her calves, relaxing into her seat and bringing him back down to a walk.

As they clopped along past the last of the turnout paddocks, Tully released a slow, thin breath, her eyes creeping left, then right, her mind catching up with what was happening –
I'm riding,
she realised.
Really
riding,
in control . . .
Greg's free gait transported her back to the days of riding out with her mum, of kicking hard to keep up aboard little Frangipani, or in the later years, when her mum let Tully ride Greg for morning track work, right alongside the going racehorses. Tully sucked in a deep, ragged breath as the wonderful, happy memories curled within her, and a smile spread across her lips.

Tully had been building up the courage to get back on Greg since her mother's accident that winter. She'd tried about a dozen times, but always chickened out after getting him caught and groomed. This morning, however, she'd finally had enough. Her body – her mind, too – were so anxious to get back on a horse that in recent nights she'd been struggling to sleep and could hardly think of anything else. She'd filled all of her notebooks with horsey sketches, was only just scraping by Year 10 and constantly feared she was going to get the sack from work for dropping orders, including three soft serve ice cream cones into a customer's lap. She
had
to ride or she was going to explode. It was in her blood.

So this morning she'd pulled on her lucky pink pony socks and favourite riding jeans, and headed out into the misty dawn to tack up Greg. Her father and their head track work rider had trailered their going racehorses into the track in town for fast gallops, as they did most Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Fortunately, they'd scraped together enough money to put fuel in the rusty old ute and pay the track fee this morning, much to Tully's relief, as it was her only time alone on the farm.

Tully grinned as she peered through the tips of Greg's ears. ‘Easy, mate,' she said gently, turning him into the entrance of the exercise track, up and over a rise.

Greg lifted his nose and pricked his ears, his eyes darting across the wide dam – the centerpiece of Avalon Downs – to a chorus of cheeky cockatoos and pink and grey galahs enjoying fallen feed. Tully wiped beads of sweat from her eyes, giggling at the familiar taste of dirt and horsehair. Her stomach lurched when she smelled the jacarandas again, but she steeled herself to keep calm. They were springtime blossoms, but a few flowers had managed to hold onto the branches of the trees that lined the length of the winding driveway to the old homestead of Avalon, crumbling high on the side of the valley and cradled by the green mountain range all around. Her mother's frangipanis still bloomed on either side of the front verandah too, a mass of white and yellow, lovely despite being hacked at and cursed by her father. Every night when Tully was done at the stables, when she was feeding and watering the dogs and the chooks, she secretly watered them too.

Tully peeled her eyes from the jacarandas, got a firm grip on the reins, lifted her narrow hips from the saddle and forced herself to click Greg up into a trot.

Up the rise towards the far paddocks, gaining speed, a cloud of dust billowing out behind them. Past the strappers' and workers' quarters – a Queenslander-style cottage in only marginally better shape than the dilapidated main house, with its sagging floor and rusted roof. Along the drooping, once-white rail, the last shards of paint curled and fell to the ground like the bark off the ghost-like gums standing tall down by the dried-up creek bed. A few wallabies started as she went by, bouncing off through the dead grass and wilting weeds, bounding down towards the creek.

Tully loved the way Greg's coarse mane tickled at her arms and she felt once more the keen burn up the back of her legs. Her body buzzed with excitement and the thrill of freedom only riding could ever give her. She grinned in her helmet, nodding her appreciation of her eager mount.

Greg was behaving himself. She
did
know how to ride.
‘It's worth the risk, Tully,'
her mother's mantra reverberated within her mind and suddenly she understood. It
was
worth it. Nothing else could compare.

The sun cut through the early morning haze, spilling hot and yellow down into the valley from the stable across the road. Tully's favourite time of the day – when the leaves of the gums transformed into glittering golden stars. She glanced across the dam and Avalon's worn fences, over the bitumen of Beaudesert Lane.

Greg picked his way over a hard patch of dirt – parts of the track were in serious need of maintenance – and leapt over a newly-formed crack in the ground, jumping it like a steeplechase fence. Tully laughed, clinging on, then righted herself and moved forward, feeling the familiar thrill as Greg took off around the far corner, down towards the road.

A few easy laps around the track, their dust beginning to hang in the air. She finally felt ready and she clicked her tongue – Greg instantly plunging into a canter. Tully was laughing and grinning like a real jockey as they tore down the strip of land between the road and the dam, nearing the home corner. The front entrance of their property was just ahead, with its faded ‘Avalon Downs' sign hanging from an archway flanked by palm trees.

Tully relaxed into Greg's stride, finding her rhythm. He flicked his head to pick up the pace, ears firmly forward, a smile on his face.

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