Liberty and the Dream Ride (9 page)

BOOK: Liberty and the Dream Ride
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“Ohmygod, Marcus, no! I couldn't!”

“Issie, please, it's the only way.”

Marcus looked up at her with pleading eyes and she knew that he wasn't joking. “Issie, I want you to compete in my place. I'm asking you to take over the ride on Valmont Liberty.”

When Issie was a junior rider at Chevalier Point Pony Club she never thought that one day she'd be given the chance to ride a mare like Valmont Liberty. It was the kind of offer that every pony-club kid dreamt of. Which made it all the harder to say no.

“I'm sorry, Marcus,” Issie said. “I can't do it – not like this.”

“Why not?” Marcus said. “You're already registered to compete and so is Liberty – I'm sure Blaire can swap over the paperwork. You won't be breaking any rules. There'll be loads of other riders entering on more than one horse.”

“Marcus!” Issie was stunned. “Those riders have all had months to build a relationship with their horses. You want me to do it with Liberty in one day! We've only got tomorrow before the dressage test.”

“I can help you,” Marcus insisted. “I know how Liberty thinks. I can coach you, teach you how to handle her.”

“The whole idea is mad. I just can't do it. I've got to focus on Comet – I can't afford to be distracted.”

Marcus looked devastated. “I know it's a lot to ask, Issie. I know we've only just met really and you don't owe me anything, but please. If you could just get her round the cross-country and put in a half-decent showjumping round, maybe it would be enough to save my job.”

Issie groaned and then slumped down on to the hospital bed to sit beside him.

“Let me talk to Tom and see what he says,” she said eventually. “But I'm not promising anything.”

Marcus looked incredibly relieved. “Fantastic! Thanks, Issie.”

“Don't thank me yet!” Issie said. “I know what Tom's like. He's going to think that this is a crazy plan. He won't allow anything to interfere with my schedule on Comet. I bet he says no way.”

“I think you should do it.”

“Excuse me?” Issie couldn't believe it. They had dropped Marcus back at his cabin and then she told Avery about the offer of the chance ride. She'd expected him to dismiss the idea outright, but instead, Tom was actually agreeing with Marcus's plan!

“It's a great opportunity,” Avery said. “Riding a horse the calibre of Liberty round the course at Kentucky would be great experience for you.”

“But Tom!” Issie said. “I've only got one day – how am I supposed to bond with Liberty in that time?”

“I'm not expecting you to understand this mare deeply in twenty-four hours,” Avery admitted, “but you're a good enough rider now to get on just about any horse and know which buttons to push to get them round a course. Remember the year that Mark Todd rode Badminton on Horton Point, a horse he'd only just swung a leg over the day before? He didn't have more than a day to get to know that horse and he won it, Issie!”

“But what about Comet? I've already got a horse to ride.”

“Mark Todd rode two horses round Badminton that year,” Avery countered. “And what about British rider Lorna Clarke? She rode three different horses round Badminton in one day.”

Issie sighed. “I do want to ride her, Tom. Liberty is a great horse…”

“So what's holding you back?” Avery asked.

“I just don't want to let everyone down,” Issie said. “I mean, we've packed up our lives and moved to Laurel Farm for this, and everything is riding on me making it into the top ten with Comet – and now Marcus needs me to bring Liberty home as well! It's too much pressure!”

“Issie,” Avery was serious, “a professional rider is always under pressure. When you came to me years ago and asked me to be your trainer I told you that it would be like this, that you would need to be tough – physically and mentally – to cope with this career. As a rider at elite level you go out on that cross-country course carrying the hopes and dreams of your team, your fans and your nation on your shoulders. I know how terrifying that is because I've done it myself. But here you are with this brilliant opportunity, this chance ride, and you're letting your fears get in the way.”

“I'm not afraid,” Issie shot back.

“Then stop hesitating,” Avery said. “Issie, this is what you've been trained to do.”

Issie groaned. “I'm not going to win this fight, am I?”

Avery shook his head. “You might as well give in now and save yourself the bother.”

Issie was silent for a long time and then finally she turned to her trainer. “OK then. I'll do it,” she said. Then she added, “But you have to be the one to break the news to Stella. She's going to have a blue fit when she finds out that she's got two horses to groom for me.”

Avery smiled. “That's my girl! Let's go tell Marcus the good news.”

After the trip to hospital it was past midnight when Issie finally got to bed, but she still set the alarm for 5 a.m. Thursday was going to be a big day.

Her first morning task was a second walk-through of the cross-country course. Marcus wasn't really capable of walking around with his newly broken arm, Stella was grooming both horses in preparation for the trottingup and Tara and Avery were sorting out Issie and Liberty's paperwork with Blaire Andrews, so Issie walked it alone.

She'd been hoping that the cross-country course would be less terrifying this time around, and certainly some fences appeared less daunting. But as she stood on the precipice of the deep, deep ditch in front of the Gamekeeper's Brush she felt completely and utterly sick. If there had been any other alternative she would gladly have taken it, but the Gamekeeper's Brush offered no choice – there was just one way to go.
, Issie thought as she looked at the jump,
there are two ways to go – over the fence or down into the ditch!

Unable to shake off her feeling of dread, she moved on to fence 25, the Tobacco Stripping Table – a flat rustic tabletop. She was confident about this jump. It was very wide, but Comet would clear it easily, and his little stridings would come in useful at the next fence too – the Normandy Bank, which required the horses to leap up on to a grassy mound then take a stride, jump a trakehner at the top of the bank and then jump back down again off the other side of the bank.

As she paced out the stridings, she was trying to imagine jumping the same bank on Liberty. The mare was so physically different to Comet. Her strides would be much bigger.

By the time she arrived back at the stables Issie was even more nervous than she had been last night. At least with Comet, she understood how his mind worked, all his little quirks and his foibles. Like the way he sometimes stood back from a fence and she needed to keep her legs on right until the last moment, or his tendency to veer to the right if he was planning to run out. But with Liberty she didn't have a clue what the mare would do. The horse was a total mystery to her – and she was about to ride her round one of the biggest cross-country courses in the world! Maybe there was still a chance to back out of this.

“The paperwork is all sorted,” Avery announced when Issie arrived at the stables. “Blaire has given the rider transfer her stamp of approval.”

“I've spoken to Mr Valmont too,” Tara told Issie. “He's agreed to let you take over the ride and he's planning to come and watch your dressage test tomorrow.”

“Great,” Issie said. “Really… that's… great.”

Avery looked at his watch. “We've got the trotting-up in half an hour. You'll need to trot both horses for the judges and then you can give Comet his final workout.” Avery turned to Tara. “Issie should be free by two – we can meet you here again then and she can ride Liberty.”

“Excellent,” Tara agreed. “I'll have the mare ready for you.”

The trotting-up was a glamorous event – a bit like the celebrity red-carpet walk before a film premiere. The horses would always be presented perfectly groomed with plaited manes and the riders would dress up in their best outfits. A crowd would gather to watch the horses trot as the judges checked them to see if they were sound and ready to compete.

For her outfit that day Issie had chosen a simple black skirt and a cream blouse, and a pair of flat, black brogues.

“Boring!” Stella had pronounced as she watched Issie getting dressed. She dug around in her own suitcase and pulled out the dress she'd worn to the party the night before, a brightly patterned violet and blue sundress with frills on the edge. “Why don't you borrow this?”

“I'm not trying to scare the horses,” Issie responded.

“It's pretty,” Stella said.

“I don't want to look pretty,” Issie replied, “I want to look professional.”

“You look like a professional bore. At least wear your floral shirt instead of that cream one!”

Issie sighed. “All right! But I don't see what the fuss is about anyway. Everyone will be looking at the horses, they won't be looking at me.”

She was wrong about that. The crowd that had gathered for the trotting-up gave Issie the loudest round of applause when she stepped forward, leading Comet alongside her in his bridle to take her turn.

And when she took the reins with Liberty and trotted the mare back and forth to the approval of the judges, who passed both her horses as fit and healthy, the crowd went wild.

“I don't understand it.” Issie was bewildered and in a daze when she arrived back at the cabin with Stella. “There were loads of famous riders there. How did the crowd even know who I am?”

It turned out that the reason was Tiggy Brocklebent. The writer from
Horsing Around
magazine had been blogging about Issie on her website.

“Tiggy has half a million readers,” Stella said excitedly, “and she's written a whole column about you. Listen to this…”

Stella began to read Tiggy's blog aloud to Issie: “
She's the youngest rider ever to compete here at Kentucky – and not content with trying to get a fourteen-two pony round one of the world's toughest courses, this determined seventeen-year-old girl has now taken on an even greater challenge – a chance ride. Filling in for the injured Marcus Pearce, Isadora Brown will now be riding the Valmont Stables' star performer, Valmont Liberty, as her second mount here in Kentucky. Can this teenage girl change the course of eventing history? Keep reading my blog to find out!”

“Ohmygod!” Issie groaned. “That's all I need…”

There was a knock on the door of their cabin and Avery stuck his head round the corner. “Come on,” he said, “Comet is waiting for his workout.”

After Issie had put Comet through his paces and Stella had tacked Liberty up in her dressage saddle, Issie got some last-minute words of advice from Marcus.

“Liberty is the most sensitive horse I've ever ridden,” he told Issie. “You have to ride her really quietly in the dressage arena because she's prone to, well, explode.”

“Explode?” Issie squeaked, “What do you mean ‘explode'?”

Marcus winced at the question. “The last time I was competing her she got a bit upset when we were doing the flying changes through the middle of the arena and she had a bucking fit.”

Issie's eyes went wide. “You didn't tell me any of this before!”

“I didn't think it was a big deal!” Marcus said. “It wasn't really a fit – it was only three or four bucks. It's not like she was trying to throw me off or anything – she was just a bit excited. And we managed to finish the test after that. I'm sure she won't do it again.”

He had finished adjusting the stirrups and stepped back. “There! All done. Shall we head over to the arena?”

Avery and Tara came over with them to watch, but it was Marcus who took control of the first half of the training session. He was the one who had been riding Liberty for the past six months and he knew the mare best.

“She's better on the left rein, so ride that way first to warm up,” Marcus told Issie. Issie began to ride Liberty around the arena, walking her at first and then trotting and cantering. The mare's paces were huge and ground-covering compared to tiny Comet and her trot was so floaty and elevated that it took Issie a moment to get into the groove.

“Don't ride her too much,” Marcus called out. “Sit really quiet on her. All you need to do is make the slightest move and she'll—”

He didn't get the chance to finish his sentence because Issie, who was trying to get Liberty to canter, had put her legs in the wrong spot and felt the mare go into a huge extended trot down the side of the arena.

“Oops!” Issie said as she brought her back to a walk, “Pressed the wrong buttons!”

Half an hour later, Issie had finally refined her cues and she was feeling much better. The mare was super-tuned and so sensitive that if you put your leg too far forward or back, or shifted your weight to the wrong spot, you could end up doing a piaffe or a pirouette when all you wanted was a basic trot. But Issie felt confident that she had the hang of it now.

“You've got her well trained,” she told Marcus as they stood and waited for Stella to swap the mare into her cross-country saddle.

They weren't allowed to practise the cross-country jumps on the actual course today, but there were several other cross-country jumps available for the riders to train over around the Kentucky Horsepark grounds. They walked the mare to a small group of rustic fences that were set up beside the showjumping arena. There was a massive wooden dog kennel, a trakehner and a substantial ditch and hedge combination a bit like a miniature version of the Gamekeeper's Brush.

“Liberty is inclined to rush her fences and can get away on me sometimes,” Marcus admitted. “I tend to school her at a steady canter rather than let her gallop on too much.”

Issie nodded and then stood up in her stirrups in two-point position and began to canter the mare around, getting her into a rhythm, becoming accustomed to her extravagant movement. Liberty seemed calm enough, but as soon as she caught sight of the first fence it was a different story. She took the dog kennel at a fast canter, leaning on Issie's hands and then by the time she reached the trakehner she was in a flat gallop. Issie sat right back and hauled on the reins to try and pull her up, but Liberty wasn't having it. She flew the trakehner without slowing down and she was still galloping when the ditch and hedge came into view.

BOOK: Liberty and the Dream Ride
10.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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