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Jane Badger Books

Patricia Leitch: Afraid to Ride (eBook)

Patricia Leitch: Afraid to Ride (eBook)

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For a minute that seemed endless Jill lay trapped while ponies that had become monstrous giants plunged above her.

Jill has always longed to ride as well as her cousins, but an encounter with one of the worst of riding schools ends in disaster, and Jill cannot bear the thought of ever riding again. And then she finds she has to go on holiday with her cousins, and not just to any holiday. It is to a riding school. Her cousins, fearless themselves, can't really understand why Jill won't ride. But Jill does find her own way out of her fears, helped by another outcast, Digory, the Fell pony.

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“Right then, who do we have that can ride?” demanded Mr. Morrison.

The twelve pupils from The Burlington School for Girls looked doubtfully at each other. They stood bunched together in the middle of the yard of Morrison’s Riding School. Miss Pilkes, their form mistress, hovered like an anxious sheep dog on the edge of the group.

“Now girls, have any of you ridden before?” Miss Pilkes asked, trying to sound more enthusiastic than she was feeling.

It had been her idea that some of the girls from Junior 5A might like to take riding lessons. She had made arrangements for them to have lessons at Morrison’s Riding School. Over the phone Mr. Morrison had sounded brisk and energetic but now Miss Pilkes was wishing that she had come to inspect his stables before she had brought her girls for their first lesson.

Mr. Morrison was not in the least the sort of riding instructor that Miss Pilkes had expected. He was wearing a pair of dirty corduroy trousers and a polo-necked sweater with holes at the elbows. His red, greasy hair curled down the back of his neck and, really, Miss Pilkes thought, he looked as if he hadn’t washed for a week. Most unsuitable. Vaguely Miss Pilkes wondered if she should take her girls away without letting them ride but decided that it would be too disappointing for them.
“Come on now! Must be one of you can ride,” Mr. Morrison exclaimed in shocked tones.

“Jill can ride,” said Dorothy Gray pointing to Jill Moore, a slim girl of eleven with straight, fair hair.

“Well I can ride a bit,” Jill agreed reluctantly, feeling her stomach churning with its usual mixture of fear and excitement when anyone suggested that she should ride a strange pony.

“You ride every Saturday,” exclaimed Dinah Anderson. “You must be able to ride.”

“But I’m no use, honestly,” said Jill. She stared down at her feet wishing that she hadn’t put her name down for riding lessons. You couldn’t explain to anyone who knew nothing about riding that although you went to Miss Park’s every Saturday and spent an hour on the lunge in the indoor school, you could still be an absolutely hopeless rider.

“And she’s got cousins who have their own horses and ride all the time,” added Betty Davidson.

“Right,” said Mr. Morrison as if the possession of horse-owning cousins settled the matter. “You for Ginger. None of the rest of you know one end of a horse from the other, eh?”

Helped by a scruffy boy who appeared from one of the stables, Mr. Morrison led out eleven horses and ponies and helped the girls to mount.

Jill stood watching, wishing more than ever that she’d had the sense not to come. The horses all had weary, work-worn expressions and even the smaller ponies didn’t seem to have any life about them. Jill had known that Miss Park thought Mr. Morrison was a rogue but she had hoped that riding at Mr. Morrison’s would be more like the exciting riding that her cousins were always talking about. Martin, Susan and Jenifer Ramsay, Jill’s cousins, had roared with laughter when they heard about Miss Park’s schooling and called it Potty Park’s Kindergarten. But Jill realized now that they would laugh at Mr. Morrison’s old crocks as well.

“It’s all right for them,” Jill thought rebelliously, “living in the country and having their own ponies. I don’t care if I never ride the way they do!” But it wasn’t true. More than anything else in the world Jill longed to ride boldly and without a care, the way her cousins did.

“Here’s yours,” announced Mr. Morrison and Jill stopped day-dreaming to realize that Mr. Morrison was holding the bridle of a chestnut pony and waiting for her to mount.

“You can sit a horse, can’t you now?”

“I’m not much good. Really,” said Jill, looking anxiously at the pony.

Ginger was quite different from any of the other ponies that Mr. Morrison had brought out. He stood with his head held high and his ears pricked for the least sound. His eyes rolled wildly from side to side as he whinnied deafeningly through scarlet nostrils and fretted against Mr. Morrison’s hold, refusing to stand still.

“But you have ridden?” insisted Mr. Morrison crossly.

“Yes,” admitted Jill.

“Just keep an eye on him then. If you feel him going up don’t be snatching at the reins whatever you do.”

Jill gulped and clenched her teeth. “Don’t be a coward,” she told herself. “What would Martin think if he could see you now?”

“Buck up, Jill,” someone shouted. “We’re all waiting for you.”

“I’ll give you a leg up,” said Mr. Morrison. “He’s a bit dodgy yet about anyone mounting.”

Jill took Ginger’s reins and Mr. Morrison threw her up into the saddle.

“Are you fit?” he shouted. “Come on then,” and he led the way to the paddock.

The paddock was an oblong enclosure fenced off from the rest of the yard. Its mud floor was baked brick hard and rutted with hoofprints. It would have been small for six ponies but with twelve packed into it there was nothing they could really do except walk round and round, nose to tail.

Jill felt as if she was balanced on top of a keg of dynamite. Ginger had trotted into the paddock at the head of the other ponies and Jill had had a struggle to stop him breaking into a canter. As she had tried to settle him she had realized that Mr. Morrison had been right. At the slightest touch on the bit Ginger sank his weight back on to his quarters ready to rear if he didn’t get his own way. Now he was packed into the circle between a bay horse and a stout, grey Highland.

Jill sat very still, keeping her hands as light as possible and watching the grey Highland’s heels. Twice already he had tried to kick Ginger.

“Watch your pony doesn’t kick,” Jill shouted to Dorothy, who was riding the Highland.

“What?” asked Dorothy, letting her reins go as she turned round to grin at Jill. “Isn’t this smashing? What do you want?”

“Nothing,” said Jill, realizing that Dorothy really had no control over her pony at all and there was no point in worrying her about her pony kicking.

Mr. Morrison stood in the centre of the paddock smoking and watching them amble round. In his right hand he held a long-lashed coaching whip.

“Give them a good kick and wake them up,” he yelled, throwing away his cigarette end. “Show some life there or I’ll need to get going with my whip. Trot on now. Come on, get them going!”

Ginger knew his master’s voice. The minute he heard the command “trot on”, he tried to plunge forward, barging into the grey pony.

“Steady, steady,” whispered Jill, patting his neck which was already damp with sweat. Ginger only rolled his eyes backwards and with his nose stuck in the air began to canter on the spot.

Jill didn’t know what to do. She was afraid to pull on her reins in case Ginger reared and she could think of no other way of controlling her pony.

“Wake ’em up,” shouted Mr. Morrison. “I want to see you all trotting by the time I count three. One. Two...”

“It won’t,” yelled Dorothy, her legs going like windmills against the Highland’s shaggy sides. “I’m kicking like you said but it won’t.”

“What’s up now?” bawled Mr. Morrison.

“He’s trying to gallop and I can’t use my reins in case…” began Jill, thinking Mr. Morrison had noticed the trouble she was having with Ginger.

“It just won’t budge,” yelled Dorothy.

“I’ll make him trot for you. Hold tight!” and Mr. Morrison’s whip cracked over the grey Highland’s quarters, missing Ginger’s face by inches.

Almost before Jill realized what was happening Ginger exploded beneath her. He reared violently, striking out with his forelegs. Just in time Jill let the reins slip through her fingers and grabbed a handful of mane. Ginger touched down, reared again, then charged past the grey pony and was away, tearing madly round and round in a bursting gallop. Jill fumbled to gather her reins in again and tugged desperately at Ginger’s mouth but with ears flattened and neck stretched low the pony plunged on. As they galloped past, the other ponies shied away, trotted suddenly forward or sprang back. Everyone seemed to be shouting or squealing at once. Maddened by the confusion, Ginger flew on.

“Stop! Oh please stop!” pleaded Jill. She knew that if the pony didn’t stop soon she would come off. Her knees were loose against the saddle and she felt herself slipping more and more to one side.

Suddenly Ginger caught his hoof in the uneven ground. He pecked forward, his hind legs slid from under him and he came crashing down, trapping Jill beneath him. She lay winded by the fall, gasping for breath, feeling the bulk of the pony pinning her to the ground and terrified that the hoofs of the ponies who were milling about her would trample on her face. For a minute that seemed endless Jill lay trapped while ponies that had become monstrous giants plunged above her.

Mr. Morrison grabbed Ginger’s reins and urged him to his feet, pulling him clear of Jill.

“What d’you let him get away with you like that for?” he shouted at Jill.

“Just take your time. Don’t get up yet. Just lie there for a minute,” instructed Miss Pilkes, kneeling beside Jill.
Slowly Jill scrambled to her feet.

“Gently now. Let’s make quite sure that you haven’t broken anything,” said Miss Pilkes.

“I’m quite all right,” muttered Jill but somehow she couldn’t stop shaking, couldn’t stop thinking about the plunging hoofs that had so narrowly missed her face. “Really, I’m all right,” she said again and burst into tears.
Miss Pilkes, relieved to discover that Jill was only suffering from shock, turned on Mr. Morrison.

“Quite, quite disgraceful to put a child on a dangerous animal like that.”

“Don’t take that attitude with me,” he snapped. “She said she could ride, didn’t she? So I gives her a good pony. Can’t expect me to be a bloomin’ mind-reader. How was I to know she wasn’t telling the truth?”

But Miss Pilkes wasn’t listening.

“I shall send a cheque for today’s lesson but we will not be back. Neither the instruction nor the horses are what I expected. Girls, ride back to the yard.”

When Jill’s mother heard what had happened she was very annoyed with Miss Pilkes.

“Oh Mummy, you mustn’t write to school. It was all my fault. If you write they’ll only think you’re fussing because I’m an only child.”

“Rubbish, Jill! You might have been killed.”

“Any of the Ramsays could have managed Ginger without any trouble.”

“You are not the same as your cousins. They’ve been riding since they were born. It was most irresponsible of Miss Pilkes.”

“Poor Pilke. What irresponsible action has she committed now?” laughed Jill’s father, coming into the room.

“Poor old Pilke. Always does the wrong thing,” Mr. Moore said after his wife had explained what had happened. “Jolly enterprising of the old girl to think of taking you all to ride. If you’re going to learn to ride you’ve got to learn to fall off.”

“That sort of thing doesn’t happen at Miss Park’s and once and for all I’m telling you, Jill is not the same as the Ramsays!”

Privately Mr. Moore thought it would be quite a good thing for Jill to be more like her cousins. He often wished they could live nearer his sister’s family but his work kept him in Gormcester.

“Just so long as you didn’t break too many bones,” he said, ruffling Jill’s hair.

“I bet you even Susan Ramsay wouldn’t have let Ginger run away with her like that,” Jill sighed. “Oh, I do wish I was a better rider.”

But next Saturday morning Jill didn’t want to go to Miss Park’s. She told her mother that she had a sore throat. The next Saturday she said she was feeling sick, so her mother phoned again and cancelled her riding lesson.

Page length: 150

Original publication date: 1967

Who's in the book?

Humans:
Jill Moore, the Ramsays: Martin, Jenifer, Susan, Jo Frew

Equines:
Ginger, Blubber, Gully, Smug, Digory, Magic, Mermaid, Blitz, Rocket, Bligh, Prince, Kandy, Afron, Rowan

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