The Perfect Ponies series is written by Katie Price, and published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House Group Company. Katie Price is also the acknowledge Copyright holder for these works. No infringement is intended, nor any profit made, through this work of fiction. Any resemblance to any events or people, actual or fictional, is accidental.
Cara walked across the yard of Vicki's Riding Stables, carrying a saddle in her arms, glancing sideways at her best friend, Mel. As autumn was coming, both girls were dressed in pullovers, thick jodhpurs and fleece-lined riding boots.
"This is going to be wicked."
"I can't wait to get going."
Cara chewed her lower lip, nervously.
"I'm not sure I'm up for this."
"Relax, Babe. You'll be brilliant."
Cara gave her a faint smile, and they continued towards the stables.
Cara and Mel had been at Vicki's Riding Stables for over a year, now. And they had taken to each other immediately, despite their differences. Mel was a dark-skinned outgoing girl with black hair, who had a fiery personality. Cara, blonde-haired and kind, was more shy and reserved. As Yard Girls, they were each responsible for one Pony, along with their friends Sam, Amber and Jess.
Vicki had recognised each of them as someone responsible and dedicated, who cared for Ponies as deeply as she did. In exchange for their work, she gave them a free riding lesson every week. To stretch their abilities, Vicki had organised an orienteering ride into the woods behind the stables. The woods were part of Vicki's property, and totally fenced off, so they couldn't get lost
"It's high time you girls got more used to riding independently."
Vicki had said.
Entering the stable block, they found Taffy and Candy waiting patiently, who nickered softly upon seeing them. Cara placed Taffy's saddle on his back, tightening the straps and patting the side of his neck. Taffy had always been patient, solid and dependable, making him the perfect pony for his slightly anxious mistress. Candy, in contrast, was every bit as spirited as Mel, matching her stride for stride.
Securing their bridles, they lead the Ponies out into the yard, where the other girls were waiting. Red-headed and freckled Sam with Beanz, sweet Amber with Rose and brown-haired, sensible Jess with Stella, and their friend Darcy. Camilla and Henrietta were there too, dressed in their designer riding clothes. All three were Livery Girls, although Camilla and Henrietta considered themselves too posh to associate with the Yard Girls. Darcy was alright, however, hanging around with the others and helping around the yard. Like always, she had her down in a long plait that fell down her back.
Vicki came out of the stable block, leading Whisper by his reins and smiled at the assembled girls. Tall and slender, with rich brown hair, Vicki was classy and superb horsewoman.
"Alright, everyone. Are you ready? Okay, we're going to ride in single file to the woods. I'll give you more instructions there."
Putting on her helmet, Cara mounted up, patting Taffy's neck and glanced over at Mel, who gave her a reassuring smile.
Vicki led them out of the Yard, down the hill that ran behind her Stables. The sun was low in the sky, and a faint breeze stirred Cara's hair.
Mel followed behind Cara, eager to get going. However, she mastered her impatience, keeping Candy on a shorter rein to prevent him from breaking into a Canter.
After five minutes riding, Vicki led them into the woods, using her left-leg to turn Whisper to face them. Waiting for them was Suzie, who would be helping during the ride.
"Here's what I want you to do. We've planned four different routes through the woods, ending up at The Crossroads Stone. Working in pairs, you'll have to follow these routes as best you can. Pair yourselves off and we'll give you the maps of your routes."
Quickly, the girls divided themselves up;
Mel and Cara, Jess and Sam, Darcy with Amber and, predictably, Henrietta and Camilla. Suzie handed out the maps and Vicki continued.
"Remember, the purpose of this isn't speed; it's how well you can control your Ponies to follow a precise path. Helpers, including some of your parents, will be along your routes, in case you need help. However, they will not be able to give you directions. Is that understood?"
Everyone nodded, and Vicki smiled;
"Alright. I'll be waiting at Crossroad's Stone. Good luck and have fun."
With that, Vicki nudged Whisper into motion, heading off between the trees.
Cara watched her go, feeling butterflies in her stomach. She patted Taffy's neck, getting a reassuring whinny, before turning to Mel.
"Let's have a look at the map."
They rode a short way from the others, taking out their maps.
Their position was clearly marked, as well as a dotted line that wound through the woods, and Cara felt her heart sinking.
"It's so long. And I don't recognise half these places. How are we ever going to do this?"
Mel gave her a confident grin;
"Relax. We'll just take it one step at a time. Look, we can find our way to the first point easily."
Cara looked back at the map, seeing the words 'Tremble Bridge'.
Mel was right; they knew the place well.
"Alright, let's go."
"You go first."
"That'll help to keep Candy in line."
They set off at a gentle trot, following the path between the trees, emerging a few minutes later by the side of the stream. Ahead they saw Tremble Bridge and Cara urged Taffy towards it. Tightening her reins and sitting straighter in the saddle, Cara guided Taffy onto the bridge. The bridge shook a little under their hooves, and then they were across. Cara patted Taffy's neck again, thanking him. Looking around, they saw someone wave and start walking towards them. As the person approached, they saw it was Mrs Spencer, Sam's Mum, who smiled warmly.
"Hello, Mel, Cara. How are you doing?"
"We're fine, thank you, Mrs Spencer."
Cara replied, politely.
"Alright, dears. I'll leave you to it. Good luck."
They thanked her, and Cara turned to Mel.
She asked, and Mel pulled out the map, saying.
"If we go left here, we should be on the right track. Let's go."
As they continued on their way, Cara caught sight of movement through the trees. Looking to her left, she saw Camilla and Henrietta standing at a forked junction. When Camilla saw Cara, she gave her a dirty look, before grabbing the map from Henrietta. Cara turned away; Camilla wasn't worth her time or worry, although she was glad they hadn't met face to face.
After a few minutes riding, they came onto a wider trail.
"We'll need to go right up ahead, where the path forks."
Mel announced, after consulting the map.
"I'll go first here, and we can do a bit of a canter."
Cara nodded, and Mel took the lead, loosening Candy's reins and squeezing her legs into his sides. He took off eagerly and Cara followed suit, feeling her stomach lurch as Taffy accelerated. She had never been entirely comfortable with Canter, although Taffy had always kept her safe. Ahead, she could see the turn approaching, and Cara adjusted her reins in preparation. Without warning, Candy suddenly shifted direction, and Mel gave a shout of surprise. Instinctively, Cara turned to follow her. They were now heading down the left path, away from where they should be going. Cara could see Mel sitting tall in the saddle, pulling firmly on the reigns, attempting to bring Candy to a halt. Knowing she could do little to help, Cara focused on following, while keeping Taffy at a safe distance. Mel kept her cool, holding Candy on the main path, avoiding the smaller, more treacherous trails. Eventually, Candy slowed and Mel quickly shortened her rein's, coming to a halt. Cara approached, slowly, so as not to set Candy off again.
"Are you alright?"
She asked, breathlessly, and Mel nodded, although she looked slightly shaken.
"I'm fine. Something startled Candy, that's all."
Mel looked back, unsure which way they had come from.
"Well, there's no point in going back that way. We'll just lose all sense of direction. Let's follow this path, until we get back to the main trail. We should come to a landmark we can recognise."
They set off slowly, stopping regularly to check the map. However, they soon came to a break in the trail, where the path went in three separate directions. Consulting the map proved unhelpful, as they were unsure where they were.
"We went left back there so, if we go right, we should get back on track." Mel said.
Cara wasn't sure, but she didn't have any better ideas. They continued on for half an hour, taking right turns whenever they were presented with a choice. The sun was close to setting now, and the air was getting colder. To make matters worse, neither of them could get any signal on their mobiles, so they couldn't ring Vicki v Cara was starting to get scared; what if Vicki and the others left without them?
As if reading her thoughts, Mel said;
"Don't worry, Car. Vicki'll probably be looking for us, by now."
They carried on, as the shadows lengthened, and Cara shivered. They were never going to find their way back.
She felt tears prickle her eyes, and gave a choked sob. Mel must have heard, because she reined Candy round and rode back towards her.
"Hey, what's wrong, babe?"
She asked, softly.
Between sobs, Cara managed;
"We're...we're lost, aren't we?"
Mel fished in her pocket and produced a handkerchief, which she handed to Cara.
"Come on, Car. It's bad, sure, but we're bound to meet someone, eventually."
Car dabbed her eyes, and nodded;
They set off again, until they came to yet another crossroads. Mel was about to lead them to the right, when Cara called out.
"Hang on. I know this place!"
Mel turned to look at her, expectantly.
"I think Vicki took me riding this way, once. Back when I first started. I was feeling sad...about my dad...and she wanted to take my mind off things."
Cara pointed to a large, flattened tree-stump.
"Vicki told me that she likes to come out here sometimes, when she feels upset. When we rode back, we went this way."
She finished, pointing to the middle path.
Mel asked, and Cara nodded.
"Alright. Let's give it a go."
They set off again, this time with Cara leading. Maybe it was her imagination, but Cara felt sure that the trail was getting wider.
They emerged onto a much larger trail and Mel gave a whoop of joy.
"Cara, you genius! This is the Oak Run."
Oak Run was the last leg of their journey, a wide trail lined with Oak Trees.
"Come on, it can't be far, now."
Turning left, they set off, riding slowly, because they could barely see the ground in front of them. Suddenly, Cara sat bolt upright in her saddle;
Ahead, she could see two lights, coming down the path towards them. As they got closer, she saw it was Vicki and Suzie, riding on Jelly and Whisper, carrying torches.
"What happened to you? Are you both okay?"
Vicki asked, sounding breathless and concerned.
Quickly, they filled her in, Vicki's expression turning serious.
"Okay. You're parent's are waiting back at the stables. Come on."
She turned and led them back up the trail, with Suzie bringing up the rear. Cara's stomach was churning; was Vicki mad at them?
Ten minutes later, they were riding back into the Stable yard. They dismounted and Vicki said;
"Untack Taffy and Candy and put them in their stables for now. Then, come to the Tack Room.
Both girls did as they were asked, and then made their way to the Tack Room. Inside, they found Sam, Jess, Amber and Darcy, along with their parents, sitting around in sombre silence. Sam looked up and gave a shriek when she saw them. Immediately, Mrs Knowles and Simon, Mel's Dad were on their feet, surrounding their daughters and wrapping them in fierce hugs. They released them and their friends crowded round, all talking at once, saying how worried they'd been and that they were glad they were safe.
"Alright, alright. Let them sit down."
Vicki called from the door, where she stood, carrying two mugs of tea. Passing them to Cara and Mel, she said;
"Drink up, you two. Now, what happened out there?"
As they related what had happened, Cara watched Vicki, seeing a slight frown creasing her brow, but she remained silent.
"...and then, you found us."
"That must have been well scary."
"At least you're both safe. And Taffy and Candy, too. "
"That's the important thing. And your Ponies will still need seeing to. Do you both feel up to it?"
She asked, and both girls nodded.
"That's my girls."
Vicki said with a smile.
Cara and Mel were in the Stables, brushing down their Ponies, when Vicki approached.
"Cara, Mel, could you come outside, please?"
She called, her voice serious.
Both girls stepped out into the stable yard, and Vicki fixed them with a steady stare.
Now, I need to talk to you both."
Cara gulped, and Mel looked slightly stricken.
"I need to tell you ...just how proud I am, of both of you. That was a difficult situation you found yourselves in. From everything you've told me, you both kept your heads and didn't panic. And you kept your Ponies under control, too."
Mel grinned, broadly, and Cara felt herself blushing.
"You're not mad at us?"
Cara asked, and Vicki looked startled.
"Of course not, sweethearts. Why would you think that?"
"We...worried you. And something could have happened to Taffy and Candy."
"We didn't want to let you down."
Mel put in, anxiously.
Vicki put a hand on both their shoulders.
"You're two of the best riders I've ever taught. If I didn't trust you with Taffy and Candy, I would never have let you go out in the first place. And today hasn't changed that. Things like this happen, and you have to deal with them when they do. I know you were frightened but, you'll know you can handle it next time. You're stronger because of this."
Both girls gave Vicki a hug, and she smiled.
"Okay, you need to finish here, so your parents can take you home."
She turned and strolled across the yard, stopping to look back over her shoulder.
"By the way, I'm planning to do an organised hack across the moor this month. Think about it."
She disappeared back into the main building and Mel turned to Cara, an excited grin on her face.
"That sounds well wicked. Do you want to go?"
"As long as we're together, we can take care of it."
There came a loud whinny from the stables, and Cara said.
"And you two, of course."
Both girls descended into giggles, at the responding snorts that seemed to say;
About time, too.
Any comments, suggestions or constructive criticisms would be most welcomed.