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Jane Badger Books

Gillian Baxter: The Perfect Horse (paperback)

Gillian Baxter: The Perfect Horse (paperback)

Illustrator: Ivan Lapper

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Paperback

Surely no horse could really be as kind and reliable and as perfect a performer as Minos appeared to be? Sooner or later, surely, a fault must appear ...

Ellen, Bobby’s cousin, wants Bracken Stables to find a horse for her, and not just any horse. Ellen wants to ride at Badminton.

They find a horse: beautiful, brave dun Minos. He never puts a foot wrong. If something’s not quite right, he will sort it out. Bobby can’t put her finger on what worries her about Minos. She knows perfectly well what worries her about Ellen. Ellen is not ready for Badminton, nor is she likely to be, but Minos is such a good horse it’s easy for Ellen to fool herself about her abilities.

Why exactly is Ellen suddenly so keen? Despite Guy and Bobby’s misgivings, Ellen and Minos are entered at Badminton. What will happen if Badminton asks Minos one question too many?

Fully illustrated paperback with all the original Ivan Lapper illustrations

When will I get my book?

Paperbacks are printed specially for you and sent out from our printer. They are on a 72-hour turnaround from order to being sent out. Actual delivery dates will vary depending on the shipping method you choose.

Read a sample

They dropped the riders at Bracken House and returned to the stables through the darkening lanes. Dusk was coming down fast with the grey sky, and the lights were on in the stable yard. Bobby felt her usual surge of pleasure in getting home.

The stables were almost completely rebuilt now, after the plane crash and fire which had nearly flattened them a year ago. The brick-and-timber loose boxes faced each other across the cinder yard, with the big indoor school and extra boxes, untouched by the fire, shadowy behind them.

Across the top of the yard the tack-room and feed barn hinted of warmth and quiet activity. In this orderly atmosphere, with tidy boxes waiting for returning horses, and Guy’s tall figure coming out of the brightly lit tack-room to meet them, leaving Mrs. Costello, one of the livery owners, cleaning tack inside, the horror of that dreadful night and the following days of struggle and near disaster, with no money and their customers’ faith in them flagging, were almost forgotten. Almost, but not quite, realised Bobby, as Guy came towards her, for he still moved with a slight limp that was his possibly permanent legacy from that night.

‘How did it go?’ he asked them.

‘Oh, fine.’ Heath was running the stirrup irons up the leathers on the brown pony, Coffee’s, saddle. ‘They liked it, didn’t they Bobby?’

‘Very much,’ Bobby told him, taking off her crash cap and shaking loose her soft, wavy brown hair. ‘Mine said it was much better than riding with Captain Roberts.’
‘Good.’ The slightly anxious expression on Guy’s broad, gentle face vanished and he smiled at her, suddenly looking a lot younger than he had done recently. Getting the Bracken House contract had meant a lot towards putting the stables back on their feet after the bad time following the fire, and Miss Wilson would be down very quickly on any faults their rides showed.

Mrs. Costello, a grey-haired, gentle woman with a sweet expression, came to help stable the ponies, and very soon all nine horses were unsaddled and those who lived in were rugged up while Yoland took the three rough ponies out to their field. Ballerina was staying in this winter, owing to her age, but she did not appreciate this concession, and hung over her box door whinnying longingly after her three friends who had the freedom that she preferred.

‘Is there an evening ride?’ inquired Bobby, as they gathered in the warm tack-room.

‘Not tonight.’ Heath was looking in the book. ‘Rowland said he’d come and give Emerald some schooling, though, so he’ll be using the school.’

Rowland Green was the owner of two of their newer and more important liveries, Sapphire Smoke and Emerald Isle, the first a well-known combined training horse, the second an up-and-coming novice. He had stabled his horses at Bracken for only a few months, previously to that he had looked after them himself, but the increasing pressure of his work in London, where he was a rising young barrister, had made that impossible.

It had been after seeing the success of another of their liveries, Isabel Goldman’s Phoenix, at Stonefell Park Horse Trials, that he had asked them to take his two. His show of faith in them by doing this had done them a lot of good, raising their morale and proving a fine advertisement for them, though Phoenix had also done his share, as they had schooled him and taught Isabel to ride him properly after many people had condemned him as dangerous. Sapphire and Emerald, as well as Phoenix, were all probable Badminton entries for the spring.

The tack was finished and the horses fed, and then Yoland said, ‘Good night,’ and set off for her home in the village. Yoland, who was slight and fair and very dainty, had ridden Guy’s junior jumpers, show ponies, and gymkhana ponies for years, and now she was realising her ambition of training properly with him for her British Horse Society examination.

Her parents had insisted that she should first take a secretarial course, so that she would always have a job in her fingers if horses palled or she found the work too hard, but now that she had completed that she was free to follow her real interests and she had never been happier. Guy switched off the tack-room light and he, Bobby, and Heath piled into the Land Rover to drive back to Guy’s big, ugly Victorian house, Cedarwood, where they all lived. It was here that resident pupils were boarded, when they had any, and the house was run by a Mr. and Mrs. Joyce, who had now been with Guy for a long time and who were used to dealing with the odd hours, emergencies, and packed lunches inseparable from work with horses.

There was an appetising smell of supper cooking as they entered the big, white-panelled hall, and some letters lay on the small table. One, Bobby saw from the writing, was from her cousin Ellen, whose parents, Charles and Helen Camberwell, had been her guardians since her father died about four years ago. Bobby’s mother had died when she was small. Before going upstairs to wash, Bobby took a quick look at the contents of the letter and received a shock. The last time that she had heard from Ellen her cousin was still at finishing school in Switzerland, and intended to come home at the end of the term ready to start out on the social round necessary to a successful daughter of Helen Camberwell. But now, out of the blue, Ellen wanted to come to Bracken as a resident pupil. She gave no reasons, but merely stated that she would like to know how soon they could take her, and that she would also like them to help her to buy a horse. Washing forgotten, Bobby read the letter through twice, trying to guess Ellen’s reasons for such a change of plan. Her cousin did ride, certainly, and when Bobby first went to live with the Camberwells she had owned a horse. But it had been sold when she went to Switzerland and she had never been really keen, certainly not on serious riding, such as she would be taught on any course at Bracken.

‘Bobby,’ called Heath over the banisters from above. ‘Are you deaf? I’ve told you three times that I’ve finished with the bathroom. Who on earth is that letter from? Hollywood?’

‘Idiot!’ Bobby started up the stairs. ‘It’s from Ellen. I’ll tell you about it later.’

She told them about Ellen’s request during supper. Guy was equally surprised and rather amused, but willing to take her.

‘You don’t mind her coming, do you?’ he asked Bobby, who assured him that she did not. She had not liked her cousin at all at one time, when she had been living with her guardians at their lovely house in Sussex, or while they had been at school together at Bracken House, but since then they had become quite friendly, partly through a joint need to stand up to lovely but cruel Helen Camberwell, and partly as they both matured and began to find their own ways in life. Naturally they had totally different outlooks on life, but they had both to a certain extent learned to understand each other.

‘I’ll write to her this evening, and tell her she can come when she likes,’ Bobby told Guy.

She wrote the letter after supper, sitting at the big table under the reading lamp, with her brown hair rumpled and untidy, and her lipstick completely worn off, so that Guy, watching her from across the room, could not help thinking that she looked much younger than her eighteen years. But there was maturity in the shape of her mouth and in her small vivacious face and he knew that she was no longer merely the pretty, attractive schoolgirl that she had been when he first her. He had told himself to wait before tying her to him officially with an engagement ring and definite plans for marriage, but soon, he knew, there would be no reason to wait any longer, for Bobby was now mature enough to know her own mind and have no regrets later about having settled down. But there was still one reason to wait that he found increasingly bitter.

Page length: 266

Original publication date: 1963

Who's in the book?

Humans: Roberta (Bobby) Morton, Ellen Camberwell, Jay and Darren Ashford, Guy Mathew, Heath Graham, Mrs Costello, Isabel Goldman, Rowland Green

Equines: Minos, Phoenix, Shelta, Orky, Goldcrest, Pink Froth, Coffee, Emerald, Sapphire, Silver Fountain, Snow Goose, Tapestry, Folkweave, Kestrel

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