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Authors: Bonnie Bryant

Gift Horse

BOOK: Gift Horse
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WHO IS NO-NAME’S REAL OWNER?

A roar went up from the rest of the crowd, and Lisa quickly turned her attention back to the race, forgetting all about the girl who seemed so interested in Stevie and her horse. Joey Dutton was crossing the finish line yards ahead of his closest competitor. Lisa cheered, her voice almost lost among the others around her.

But a moment later one voice could be heard above the rest, shrill and angry.

“That’s my horse!” the blond girl cried, pushing her way to the front of the crowd and pointing at No-Name. “That’s my horse!”

RL 5, 009–012

GIFT HORSE

A Bantam Skylark Book / January 1995

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 Club, Inc., at The Kentucky Horse Park, 4071 Iron Works Pike, Lexington, KY 40511-8462.

All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1994 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: 978-0-307-82524-7

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

Many thanks to Lisa Scott of Breyer Horses for her help and expertise, and to Sue Cook of Transworld, whose research inspired this story.

 

I would like to express my special thanks to Catherine Hapka for her help in the writing of this book.

Contents

“T
HE EYE PATCH
, Veronica! Don’t forget the eye patch!” called Stevie Lake frantically.

“Oops!” Veronica diAngelo took her foot out of the stirrup and headed back to the cardboard box on the ground. Veronica was one of the most stylish and fashion-conscious girls Stevie knew—but at this precise moment nobody would ever have guessed it. She had hurriedly pulled on loose red pants and a black vest over her riding clothes, and a black felt pirate’s hat was jammed over her hard hat.

Stevie held her breath and glanced over at the other Pony Club teams competing in the costume relay race. This was the last leg of the race, and the top three teams’ scores were so close that the order of finish would decide which team won the day’s competition. She saw that two
of the seven other racers were already mounted and riding toward the finish line. The crowd was cheering wildly. If Veronica didn’t hurry, Stevie’s team wouldn’t stand a chance of winning.

Veronica grabbed the black eye patch from the bottom of the costume box and snapped it on over her head. “Sorry about that, guys,” she called to her teammates as she mounted her Arabian mare, Garnet, and took off.

Stevie shot a surprised look at her other two teammates, who also happened to be her two best friends, Carole Hanson and Lisa Atwood. They returned the look. If there was one thing Veronica diAngelo was
not
known for, it was being a team player. If there was one thing she
was
known for, it was never apologizing for anything she did—or taking responsibility for it, for that matter. In fact, Veronica had been suspended several times from Horse Wise, the chapter of the U.S. Pony Club based at Pine Hollow Stable, where the girls all rode. Because the diAngelos were the wealthiest family in their hometown of Willow Creek, Virginia, Veronica thought she didn’t have to follow the same rules other people did. That attitude had gotten her in trouble more than once with Max Regnery, the owner of Pine Hollow and director of Horse Wise. As far as he was concerned, rules were made to be obeyed—even if you were Veronica diAngelo.

Carole, Stevie, and Lisa couldn’t imagine ever being suspended from Horse Wise. Riding was very important to all
of them. In fact, it was so important that they had formed The Saddle Club, which had only two rules: Members had to be horse crazy, and they had to be willing to help one another out in any way necessary. In addition to the three girls, there were several out-of-town members, including Stevie’s boyfriend, Phil Marsten, who lived in a nearby town and was a member of Cross County, one of the Pony Club teams competing today. According to Stevie, Carole, and Lisa, The Saddle Club was a perfect organization, since it was the perfect combination of horses and friendship.

They all thought the U.S. Pony Club was a pretty great organization, too. One of the things the Pony Club did was sponsor rallies like the one that day. But the most important goal of the organization was to teach young members about every aspect of horse care. That meant riding, of course, but it also meant stable management, veterinary care, and all kinds of other things. Although some of the things they learned were definitely more interesting than others, The Saddle Club thought that learning everything they could about horses made riding even more fun.

They wouldn’t have expected Veronica to agree with them, though. She was never very enthusiastic about Horse Wise, even when she wasn’t on suspension. Stevie, Carole, and Lisa had been dismayed when Max had assigned Veronica to their team for the two local rallies being held this weekend and the next. But much to their surprise, Veronica had been more bearable than usual. For some reason
she didn’t seem interested in her two favorite activities—complaining and bragging. Instead, she actually seemed as eager to do well at the rally as her teammates were. Despite her faults, Veronica was a better-than-average rider. When she paid attention and did her best, she added a lot to the team.

“She’s catching up,” Carole cried excitedly, jostling Stevie with her elbow.

“Go, Garnet, go,” Lisa chanted.

Stevie just held her breath and watched as eight horses cantered toward the finish line at the other end of the ring. Seconds later the race was over. Veronica and Garnet had done their best to make up ground, but they ended placing third in the race—which meant the Horse Wise team finished third overall. A team called Fairfax came in first, and Cross County was second.

“Oh well,” Lisa said philosophically as the girls waited for Veronica to rejoin them. “Third out of eight teams isn’t bad at all.”

“And we weren’t bad at all, either,” Carole added. “In fact, we were pretty great.”

“But Cross County was a little greater, weren’t they?” Stevie said, frowning just a little as she patted her horse, a spirited, part-Arabian bay mare her parents had recently bought for her. Stevie hadn’t decided on the perfect name for her new horse yet, so for the time being she was calling her No-Name. No-Name tossed her head and snorted,
staring across the ring at the finish line. “See? No-Name agrees,” Stevie said. “She thinks we should have won.”

Carole and Lisa exchanged glances. They could guess what was on Stevie’s mind. Stevie and her boyfriend, Phil, had a lot in common—including a competitive streak a mile wide. Once Stevie got it in her head that Phil thought he might be better than her in some way—especially if that way involved riding—she wouldn’t rest until she’d proven him wrong. Her competitiveness had come between them more than once. It had come between Stevie and her friends a few times, too.

Lisa decided it was time to change the subject and take Stevie’s mind off Phil. “No-Name sure was wonderful today, Stevie,” she said. “Especially considering it was the first time you two were competing together.”

“She was great, wasn’t she?” Stevie agreed, suddenly all smiles again. She gave the mare a hug. No-Name snorted and nibbled on Stevie’s long dark-blond ponytail. Even though she’d owned No-Name for only a few weeks, Stevie couldn’t imagine how either of them had ever gotten along without each other. They had similar personalities, mischievous and independent. It made No-Name a challenge to ride at times, but it also meant that Stevie could usually figure out the best way to handle her. “It feels as though I’ve been riding her for ages. And she’s good at these games. She really seems to like them.”

Just then Veronica trotted up on Garnet. She dismounted and pulled off the pirate hat and eye patch. “Hey, don’t you think you guys are a little overdressed for this occasion?” she remarked as she stepped out of the loose red costume pants and tossed them into the box.

Stevie, Carole, and Lisa glanced at one another and burst out laughing. In the excitement of Veronica’s finish, none of them had bothered to remove the costumes they’d put on for their legs of the race. Carole was wearing a red clown nose and a baggy spotted jumpsuit. Stevie was outfitted as a baby, complete with a bib and a frilly white bonnet. And Lisa wore the hat, bandanna, and chaps of a cowgirl.

“Thanks for the fashion tip, Veronica,” Stevie said, pulling off the bib. As the words left her mouth, she thought they sounded familiar, and she thought she knew why. She had said the same thing to the spoiled rich girl plenty of other times when Veronica had made fun of Stevie’s faded jeans or dusty riding boots. But this time Stevie wasn’t being sarcastic—at least not in the same way. Because this time she knew that Veronica was laughing
with
her rather than
at
her.

Once all four girls’ costumes were back in the box, they led their horses toward their temporary stalls in Linton Stables’ big barn. Different local Pony Clubs took turns hosting the rallies. Today’s it was at Linton. Cross County was hosting a larger rally the following Saturday.
No-Name pranced along the whole way to her stall, her intelligent eyes taking in everything around her.

As soon as all the horses were comfortable, Stevie, Carole, Lisa, and Veronica rejoined the rest of the Horse Wise team. It included several other members of the girls’ intermediate riding class, as well as a team of younger riders known as the Pony Tails. Right now, all the riders were milling around the grassy area behind the barn where Pine Hollow’s horse vans and cars were parked. Max was standing near the open back door of his station wagon with his mother, universally known as Mrs. Reg. The two of them were doing their best to hand out the sandwiches and sodas they’d brought, but they were having a hard time keeping up with the demands from the hungry riders.

BOOK: Gift Horse
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