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Jane Badger Books

Josephine Pullein-Thompson A Job with Horses (paperback)

Josephine Pullein-Thompson A Job with Horses (paperback)

Illustrator: Jennifer Bell

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It's always been the two of them – just Kate and her mother.

But now her mother has remarried, and has a new baby. Kate is happy about none of this. She's offered a job at a castle being in sole charge of children's ponies, and horses used for jousting. Kate has the normal sort of worries anyone has about their first job. Will she cope? Will the children like her?

This book has all the Pullein-Thompson technical detail you expect as Kate teaches three children who've taught themselves to ride that there is a Better Way, as well as schooling the horses used for jousting. But in amongst normal horsy life, something odd is going on at the castle. Are there prowlers, or is it Kate's imagination? And where does Charlie vanish to during the tournament?

Combining solid horse detail with adventure, this is the last fictional title Josephine Pullein-Thompson wrote, and it's one of her best.

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Read a sample

I had left home and was on the train, speeding towards my first job, before my anger with my mother began to cool. As my anger faded my courage seemed to go with it, and the feeling that I was setting off on an adventure, launching myself on a brave new world, gradually gave way to doubt and dismay.

I still looked out of the train window, but I had ceased to see the spring-flushed fields and woods freewheeling past. Instead I saw Mum standing at the gate of 88 Holmwood Road and waving goodbye. Small and dark, dressed in jeans and a long red shirt, she looked great, younger and trendier than most of my friends' mothers, though her face still wore the expression, hurt but conciliatory, that had so irritated me over the last few months.

It was then I admitted to myself that, without the anger, I would never have been brave enough to have taken the job at Sterne Castle.

I was not a particularly brave or independent person. I think this was partly due to my upbringing. My father had deserted my mother when I was three, leaving her to rear me on my own, and the fact that there were just the two of us had made us very close.

Of course I had gone to school and she had worked, but though a chronic shortage of cash had forced us to live rather unexciting lives, we had always got on well and spent most of our free time together.

Greg Masters had upset everything. He had appeared around my sixteenth birthday and at first I liked him. A bit overweight, he wore glasses and some of his jokes were pathetic, but he had a car and had taken us on trips at weekends.

The fact that Mum had stopped feeling depressed, had taken to singing a lot and actually bought clothes that weren’t from the Oxfam shop, should have alerted me to change, but I had been blind. It never occurred to me that their relationship was getting serious. So when on the way home from Pony Club camp she told me that they were thinking of getting married, I had reacted with shock and horror.

"But you must have seen we were in love, Kate. We made it so obvious," she had protested reproachfully. "I thought you realised and were happy with it. You've always liked Greg."

"I thought he was just a friend. You've had other boyfriends and they didn't last," I had argued desperately.

"But aren't you happy for me now I've found one who is going to last? It's quite a hard life being a one-parent mum, don't I deserve a break?"

Despite my desperation, I couldn't tell her the selfish truth; that to me she wasn't a person with ambitions and needs, but just my mother and I wasn't prepared to share her with anyone. Nor did I tell her that, in my eyes, she and Greg were both old; much too old to fall in love.

"I don't want a stepfather," I had answered. "I know girls at school who have them; it's a disaster."

"Don't be childish," Mum had snapped at me, "Greg is Greg, you've known him for months. You know he likes you, and you can't suddenly cast him as a wicked stepfather."

"Look, do try and face this honestly, Katey," she had begged me later, "you're almost grown-up, you aren't going to need me for much longer and I don't want to turn into one of those lonely old mums who nag their daughters to come home every weekend. If I marry Greg you'll have a proper home and you can come back whenever you like, but there won't be any need for guilt when you want to go off with friends. And that will happen you know; everyone grows up."

But I had always been the most important person in her life and I wasn't going to be pushed out by Greg so I had raged inwardly, sulked outwardly and was foul to them both.

Mum had done her best to placate me with special treats and extra love and when they failed, she had resorted to reason. She had seized every opportunity to point out the advantages of being a two-parent family, and launching into explanations on the difference between mother love and sexual love, with great emphasis on the fact that they were not mutually exclusive.

But everything she said or did had increased my anger, while my jealousy of Greg had made me snub his overtures, scorn his presents and sabotage his attempts at peacemaking.

Then one Saturday a couple of months later, they had announced that they were getting married at the registry office that morning.

"No fuss, just two witnesses," Mum said, "but we would like you to come too."

It was a strange wedding. We had worn our everyday clothes and eaten a huge lunch at the local Italian restaurant with Polly, Mum's friend from work, and Greg's sister making the most of the conversation.

After Christmas we had moved into Greg's house. It was much larger and more comfortable than our flat and I was given a room with a view of the garden.

Mum had continued to fuss over me and Greg had tried to include me in all their plans, but the harder they tried the angrier I became.

I had discussed my problems endlessly with Mandy and Sara at school and they had agreed that my only hope was to get away. So when the summer term ended I didn't wait for my A level results, but announced, in the middle of a barbecued supper on Greg's paved patio, that I was going to get a job with horses and leave home.
At first Greg had merely shaken his head and talked about the importance of further education. He had nursed a faint hope that my A level grades might turn out better than forecast, and allow me to scrape into university. Mum, more realistically, had pleaded with me to take a course at the local polytechnic; for some unknown reason she favoured catering.

When my grades turned out to be almost as feeble as I had expected, Greg had begun to bring home piles of career guidance pamphlets and had even offered to pay for professional counselling.

I had refused to consider any of their suggestions. Mum apart, all the happiness of my life had been with horses. From my tenth birthday, the Croome Hill Riding School had filled the gaps when Mum was working and made up for being a latch-key child. We had afforded a weekly lesson, with extras for birthday and Christmas, and the rest of the time I had helped with mucking-out, grooming and tack-cleaning.

As I had grown older and become useful the Martins had given me free rides in exchange for my work, and later, because I was light enough to ride the small ponies, I found myself trying out the new ones and re-training those with bad habits. Since my sixteenth birthday I had been promoted to schooling the young ponies, teaching beginners and helping to escort the rides.

I loved horses, I loved riding and I was good at it. I had decided that I wasn't going to spend my life in an office or a hotel.

Finding that his calm reasoning and offers to pay for secretarial and computer courses were having no effect, Greg had finally exploded.

"Working with horses is the worst paid, most menial job there is," he had shouted at me, "there's no career structure whatsoever. Silly little fools like you imagine themselves show-jumping, but it isn't like that. If you're a groom you'll stay a groom for the rest of your life."
I had shouted back, mostly about secretaries never becoming directors, but remaining secretaries for the rest of their lives.

Mum had tried to calm us both.

"If Kate’s sure that she wants to work with horses, why don’t we find out if she can make it into a career? Didn't I read somewhere that you can train as an instructor? After all no qualification is ever really wasted," she had told Greg, “and we can probably afford it as long as I'm working.”

After that Mum and I had paid a formal visit to the Martins to discuss my future. They had been in favour of proper training, and suggested that we approached a very high-powered establishment called the Kingsdown Equestrian Centre which had just opened some seven miles from our Buckinghamshire town.

Rather unwillingly, as I was convinced that such a grand set-up would be far too expensive and anyway I wanted to make a bigger gesture and escape from home, I had written a letter asking about the courses for the BHS Assistant Instructor's exam. The answer, that they were taking working pupils as well as paying ones for the exam, and would like to interview me at once, came as a surprise.

Mum was delighted when Major Braithwaite, the principal, agreed not only to take me, but to my living at home, provided that I was at the stables by seven-thirty every morning.

Page length: 260

Original publication date: 1994

Who's in the book?

Humans: Kate Winton, Lisa Adams, Mr and Mrs Sterne, Felicity, Charlie and Ben Sterne, Mr Melville, Mark Chandler, Chris Clarke
Equines: Snowy, Tarka, Romany, Marmaduke, Fiesta, Rufus

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