I'm looking over at my daughter sitting straight and tall, leg at the appropriate angle, for all the world defining what is meant by a natural seat. As young as she is her talent is already far outshining mine, so I'm sure I'll be scribbling on horse related paper for many years to come. At the moment I'm balancing writing and watching her for support without distracting her. Stopping in the middle of her lesson to wave at Mommy probably isn't on her instructor's list of things to do today! Of course, the fact my little girl laughs out loud sometimes with happiness while she's riding isn't on the instructor's list either, but it always makes her smile.
The fact that Susan, the heroine of my new novella (Never Trust a Matchmaking Witch), shares many of these experiences, makes her near and dear to my heart. Of course, just to make things even more interesting, I added a magical horse with a mischievous sense of humor and a head trainer who happens to be a witch. Toss in Susan trying to overcome a fear of horses to help her horse-crazy niece and her secret passion for handsome boarder Brad Conway and we have a recipe for a wild ride!
Here's a sneak peek:
Susan wrinkled her nose at the smell as she dragged the muck bucket, a large plastic bucket filled with soiled bedding, across the brick aisle of the beautiful barn. The stalls gleamed with a high finish on dark wood and were light-filled and airy. The building exuded an aura of class befitting the wealthy clientèle who boarded their horses here.
Leaving the bucket a few feet outside Jake’s stall door, she opened it and tentatively stepped inside. A large brown jumper stared her down.
“Now, look,” she said firmly. “We each have a job to do here.”
Alicia had told her that Jake, the horse now eyeing her with obvious evil intent, was just testing her. Unfortunately, his tests involved much stamping of his huge feet and dancing around while she tried to clean his stall.
“Okay, buddy.” Susan gathered her courage. “If you don’t behave this time I’ll have to take you out on the cross-ties while I clean your stall. Then you won’t have any hay to munch.” Susan planted her hands on her hips.
Susan and Jake continued to eye each other. Finally, Jake snorted with a shake of his head and returned to his hay. Triumphant, Susan turned to go back for the pitchfork and the bucket. A bump from Jake in the center of her back made her lose her balance. Flailing, she grabbed for the wall of the stall before landing spread-eagled across the bucket, which was now in the middle of the stall.
“Um, can I help you?” Dr Bradley Conway peered in the stall where she lay flapping like a fish out of water as she struggled to rise.
He placed one arm under her belly and her muscles tightened in response. He gripped her upper arm with his other hand and gently pulled. This can’t be happening, she thought as Dr. Conway gallantly levered her up onto her feet. He gently deposited her outside the stall and reached back in to tug the bucket through.
“Thank you.” Susan desperately wished the floor would open up and swallow her, but no such luck.
“No problem,” he hefted the bucket easily and deposited it in the corner. “I’m used to it.”
“You clean stalls?” Susan asked incredulously, and then bit her lip.
“Well, not lately, but as a kid I did plenty of them. Want some help?”
“Oh, no. I can handle it. Uh, how’s Jen doing in her lesson?”
“Alicia’s working her and Ritchie over a gymnastic. She’s loving it.”
“A gymnastic? Isn’t that the wrong sport?”
“Not in this case.” He laughed and she noticed deep creases by the sides of his mouth. He was too manly by far to have dimples. “Come look,” he added.
He placed a hand briefly at the small of her back to urge her forward. Just a common courtesy, Susan told herself as a warm tingle flowed through her core and down her arms. She preceded him through the wide doorway to the indoor riding arena.
Together they climbed the bleachers that lined one wall and were separated from the riding area by a low wall.
Casting about for something to say, Susan’s eyes lit on the ceramic owls set in the rafters in the four corners of the barn. “Interesting decoration.”
“What is?” Brad asked.
“Those,” Susan pointed at the nearest owl.
Looking where she indicated, Brad said “Ah, those aren’t decoration.”
“They’re not?” Susan frowned at them.
“Nope. The plan is to scare other birds out of here.”
“Why would we want to do that?”
“Well, cleaning up after them isn’t a fun job.”
“Oh.” Knowing the odds of her being the one doing the cleaning, Susan looked back gratefully at the owls, then blinked. They had moved. Hadn’t they? They were in the center of each wall instead of the corners.
“Is anything wrong?” Brad was looking at her closely.
“No. Nothing.” Susan looked again. The owls were in the corners of the barn. I really have been working too hard, Susan thought. She glanced at the owls again and one winked at her.
Susan jumped sideways against Brad’s shoulder.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” His arm came around her.
“Fine. Thanks. Um. . . do those owls have any moving parts?”
“I don’t think so.” Brad frowned at the owls.
“I just thought, you know, to scare the birds, they might have them move or something.”
“I’ve never heard of it, but good idea, though.” Brad grinned at her. “You should send the idea in to a horse magazine. Barn owners everywhere would be thanking you.”
“I’ll think about it.” Susan smiled back at him, forgetting the owls as she got lost in his warm hazel eyes. She must have just imagined the wink.
“See those?” His thigh brushed hers as he leaned forward to point toward the center of the ring.
Susan nodded, noting Jen astride the trotting Ritchie before looking to the area he indicated. Three jumps in relatively close succession were set up down the far side of the ring. The first was a cross rail fence Jen was used to jumping, followed by a straight rail that looked a little larger than what she was used to. It was the height of the last fence which had Susan sitting forward in alarm. “Jen’s not going to jump those three, is she?”
“Sure. That’s the gymnastic.”
Susan stared at Brad, all inhibitions lost. “How high is that last fence?”
“Well,” Brad considered a moment, “I’d say about two-nine to three feet.”
“What!” Susan jumped off the bench. “Jen’s never jumped that height before.”
“Relax, Susan. She’ll be fine.” Brad tugged her back down on the bench beside him. “Alicia knows what she’s doing. That’s the whole purpose of a gymnastic. The horse is set up correctly to jump so the rider can focus on her balance and strength over fences.”
“What if she loses her balance?” Susan’s small fingers gripped her knee.
“She’ll be fine. Alicia has the jumps spaced to be easy for Ritchie. This way Jen can focus on her position. Watch.” Gently Brad pried Susan’s fingers off her leg and held them loosely in his hand. Even through her agitation Susan’s body reacted to his touch and she glanced down at their joined hands before Alicia’s voice jerked her attention back to the drama at hand.Hope you enjoyed this snipped from Never Trust a Matchmaking Witch. I had so much fun with this story! BTW, my daughter secretly organized the barn staff and other parents to sing Happy Birthday to me. I've just been serenaded. Even the horses looked attentive, if a bit confused. Sometimes we horse moms do get some unexpected rewards!
All the best,