When Issie and her friends woke up the next morning, Avery wasn't around.
"He got a call from Tara early this morning saying her flight was landing soon. He went to pick her up." Francoise explained when the girls asked the whereabouts of him.
She served up a breakfast of pancakes which the girls eagerly devoured before heading outside to feed and turn out the horses.
"Are you going to ride this morning Is?" Kate asked.
"Later, Tara should be here soon and I don't know whether her and Avery want to do some training with us today." Issie responded as she unclipped Storm's halter and watched him gallop into the field, kicking his heels up.
The girls sat on the fence talking and watching the horses for a while until they heard Avery's truck on the gravel drive. Looking at each other eagerly, they jumped off the fence and ran up to the house.
"Issie, it's great to see you again!" Tara smiled warmly as she stepped out of the truck. "And Stella and Kate." Tara turned slightly to take in the other two girls in her smile, and then looked around, surveying the farm.
"You have a nice set-up here." Tara said, turning to Avery who nodded.
The girls helped Tara and Avery take Tara's luggage from the truck and into the house.
"You must be Tara!" Francoise smiled as the small group entered the kitchen.
"And I'm guessing you are Francoise!" Tara smiled back. The two women had not met until now, however each had heard of the other through Avery.
After the quick greetings, Tara turned to Issie.
"Well, I'll just take my things to my room and then we can get started! I'd like to see you jump Comet first if that's ok and then you can introduce me to the others. Lastly I want to see you practice your dressage on Storm."
Issie nodded, barely suppressing a grin. Typical Tara, getting straight down to business!
Avery and Francoise helped Tara take her bags to the room she would be staying in for the night and then again once they returned from the Badminton trials whilst Issie, Stella and Kate went down to the stables to groom the horses.
By the time Tara came down to the stables, followed by Avery and Francoise, Comet was already tacked up and Issie was about to mount him.
"Warm up as you do normally, and if you all wouldn't mind helping me set up a course please." Tara said to first Issie and then Stella, Kate, Avery and Francoise. She turned to them and dictated which jumps she wanted where and from what direction they were to be jumped. Issie, meanwhile, was warming up a hot-headed Comet. He had seen the jumps come out and knew what he was going to be doing. Still, he eventually settled and listened to what Issie was asking of him, executing perfect flying changes and walk to canter transitions on command.
"Excellent work Issie. Now, just pop him over the cross fence to start with." Tara instructed, indicating the fence which measured 1 meter 20 at the sides, but only 1 meter in the middle where the horse was supposed to jump.
Issie nodded and nudged the coloured pony into canter before circling him and turning him to the jump. As soon as he had it in his sights, he shot forwards.
"Turn him away!" Tara yelled, pleased to see that Issie had already started to do just that. "Try bringing him in at a trot, and don't give him such a long run up."
Issie did just that, and as the pony turned to face the jump for a second time he went from trot to canter, but did not have the time to bolt before the fence. Instead, when he got there, he jumped the middle of the fence as though it measured 1 meter 30, rather than 1 meter.
Tara rolled her eyes at the pony's antics, smiling. He may be small, but he had a big character! She walked over and lowered one bar of the cross fence, lifting the other pole so it was now an upright fence measuring 1 meter 20.
"Right, I want you to take him over this, hopefully he won't try and race to it this time, then turn across the diagonal and take the double. Then come up that long side and go down the line from the upright then there should be five strides to the oxer. Turn him across the other diagonal and bring him over the triple bar and then pop him over the wall to finish."
The fences ranged in height from 1 meter 20 to 1 meter 50. Although Comet would never have to jump 1 meter 50 in the show jumping phase of eventing, she wanted to see just how the pony coped. Besides, Avery had expressed his interest of Issie doing some show jumping with the horses over the winter season when the eventing season had come to a close.
Issie cantered around the ring once before turning Comet to the first upright. Now that the fences were a decent height, he listened to her and did not rush.
"One, two, three!" Tara counted in her head and nodded as the pony took off perfectly. She turned as Issie took the little gelding to the double, popping in and out neatly. The line was next, which should have five even strides between the jumps.
"One, two, three, jump! One, two, three, four, five, jump!" Tara grinned and watched as Issie turned to the triple bar, measuring 1 meter 50 at the highest point. The pony jumped perfectly and it was onto the wall. No problem.
"Textbook stuff Issie! Brilliantly done!" Tara called as Issie brought the pony back to a trot and then a walk, giving him a big pat on his neck.
"I think we'll call that it for today. Give him a walk off and then we'll see what we're going to do with the others."
Tara decided to work over the same course, at a smaller height, with Dancer. The dapple grey mare was careful and scopey. Perhaps the only thing missing was the speed, but that would come as the mare became bolder. For her, the jumps went up to a height of 1 meter 20 and she cleared them easily. They had then gone through the dressage test in a simple manner with Raven. He could not do the more advanced moves required yet, but it gave Issie some extra practice at the test.
Now, Issie was warming up Storm. The young bay stallion was almost floating down the long side of the arena. When she felt he was suitably warmed up, she nodded to Tara who signalled to Avery, sitting in the truck, to sound the horn. This was the last time they would be able to practice the whole test on Storm. They could practice the various movements at the Badminton grounds, but they could not risk him learning the test himself and anticipating the next movements. Tara watched as Issie and the horse almost became one, completely in tune with each other as they performed one-time changes, shoulder-in, half-pass and other complex movements. There was silence as the team watched Issie, not just because they did not wish to disturb her concentration but because the pair were mesmerising. It was impossible to look away.
Finally, Issie brought the horse to a perfect square halt and saluted to an imaginary judge, leaning forwards to give Storm a small, professional pat on the neck before walking on a loose rein. As soon as she got back to the track at the edge of the school, the spell was broken. Francoise, Avery, Tara, Stella and Kate burst into applause as Issie grinned and gave her horse the warm, less professional pat she always had to fight the urge to do at the end of the test. She looked up at Tara and Francoise, wanting their comments. The both grinned and shook their heads. Nothing needed to be said. The performance had been flawless.
"You've come such a long way since we met in Australia." Tara smiled as she and Issie discussed the training sessions before dinner that evening. "Of course, I knew that after seeing you at Kentucky, the way you got on a brand new horse and rode her to win was incredible and certainly nothing you could have achieved a few years ago!"
Issie grinned, remembering when she had tried out the brown gelding, Victory, who she had ridden for the Young Rider Challenge. She admitted she was pretty much useless when she first got on him, but thanks to some quick coaching from Tara she had pulled herself together and had managed to get a half decent performance from him, meaning that Tara had been happy to assign the ride of him to Issie for the competition. Issie still remembered Tara's words. "You'll learn a lot from him over the next two weeks." She had been right, as Issie imagined Tara always was. She had learnt then that praise from Tara was hard to come by so any you did get was more than deserved. And now here she was, really complimenting Issie's riding today and from the Kentucky trials.
After dinner, the girls went outside to put the horses away for the evening and load the horse box. They would be leaving early in the morning. They caught the horses and gave them a groom before putting them in their stalls with their evening feeds and then carried the tack out to the horse box.
"You won't look out of place this time!" Stella giggled. Issie grinned in response. When they had gone to the Kentucky trials they had been using an ancient horse box Avery had hired. And as if it wasn't strange enough pulling up to one of the biggest events in the world in that, they had had Comet with them. There was no doubting that the little pony shared the ability of the bigger horses, but he did not share their flashy looks. Several other competitors had shot them rather bemused looks as Issie had led the pony to his stall there. This time, though, they would be in their own horse box which was a great deal smarter than the one they had hired. As they reached it, Issie noticed that Avery had obviously used it since they had been back as it now displayed the names and logos of Issie's sponsors.
Another factor which would mean Issie didn't look out of place was the fact that she was taking Storm. He was a typical eventer build. Of course, Issie was still a great deal younger than the other competitors but she had more than proven herself at Kentucky!
Before they all went back up to the house, Issie looked in on Storm.
"Good night Storm, get some rest." She said softly.