(Note: I loved this scene, which was one of the first ones I wrote for Red Gold Bridge. I felt like it did a lot of great story work. It showed where Kate was after Gordath Wood and the kind of person she had become. The problem was, it distracted from the story arc and weighted the sequel too much toward Kate and away from the rest of the characters. And so it had to go. The final book is stronger without it, but if you believe that characters live on while we close the pages of the book, this is something that happened to Kate and Allegra in their own lives outside the story.)
“Kate! Look over here!” It was her mom, with the new digital video camera. She waved. Kate Mossland tried to smile and sat straight on Allegra’s back. The mare tossed her head and shied sideways as if the camera were a dangerous weapon. Kate sat deep in the saddle, her gloved hands expertly collecting the reins as the undisciplined mare acted up.
Kate was in full show drag – dark blue hacking jacket, white shirt and stock, fawn breeches and black boots. The velvet hunt cap sat securely over her hair, now tamed into a french braid with hairspray and bobby pins. She had given in to her mom’s urging and gotten highlights, and she knew that where the braid peeked out from the back of the cap, her brown hair gleamed.
Look at me, she thought, giving her mom another smile and urging the dark bay mare into trot in the warmup ring. No longer the sloppy horse-crazy girl she had been. Just like everyone else now. She posted to Allegra’s trot, putting the mare into circles and half halts, and the mare settled into the work. The trick was to keep her busy. The mare that was, though Kate thought it probably went for herself too.
The loudspeaker blared, making Allegra snort and break into a gallop before Kate brought her back. “Intermediate Hunter-jumpers over fences, ring four. Hunter-jumpers, ring four.”
Kate followed the others as they filed out of the practice ring toward ring four. Lynn caught up with her, clipboard in hand.
“How’s she doing?” she said. She wore sunglasses, and all Kate could see of her was her serious mouth, pursed over her notes.
“Same old. She’s such a pain.”
Lynn smiled. “Well, there’s a good chance you won’t have to worry about it much longer. This one couple is interested. They want to buy her for their daughter.”
“Poor kid,” Kate muttered. As if she understood the sentiment Allegra snorted and reared. People shouted and scattered. Kate sat it like a statue. Lynn put out a hand and took Allegra’s rein when she landed, blowing.
“Kate stop it. It’s not her fault.”
Kate gave an exaggerated sigh. “I know that.” Allegra used to be owned by Carolyn, a self-absorbed rider, not even a real horsewoman, who took the high-strung Thoroughbred and ratcheted up the hysteria until the mare was almost unrideable. By the time the gordath destroyed almost half of New York, Carolyn had fled, leaving Allegra behind. Kate had been working with her, and while there were times the mare could be fun – she was bouncy, loved to jump, and would make an experienced rider a good mount – she could fly into inexplicable rages and be truly dangerous.
Instead of scolding, Lynn put a hand on her knee. “Hey,” she said softly. “You okay?”
Kate bit her lip. “I don’t know. I guess – I don’t know.”
“I know. It’s been crazy for me too.”
Kate didn’t know all of what had happened to Lynn in Aeritan, but she knew that she had to leave her boyfriend behind – he was a guardian now, helping to keep the gordath closed. Sure, Lynn owned Hunters Chase, but Kate knew it hadn’t been easy for her. Lynn gave her a reassuring smile and stepped back. “Okay, deep in the corners and remember to look your turns.”
It was such Lynn advice that Kate smiled back, and her spirits lifted a little. She collected Allegra and turned her toward the entrance to the ring, waiting for her number to be called.
The course was fairly straightforward, the fences no higher than three foot six, with nothing tricky except for the triple combination and a lead change crossing the diagonal. Allegra could do all of it, unless she decided to have a nervous breakdown in the middle of the ring.
At last her number was called and she urged the mare through the gate. Kate nodded to the judge, the whistle blew and she pushed Allegra into a canter, making a wide circle.
When she came on the first fence she collected the mare so that she launched herself from her haunches in a great arc. Kate kept contact with her hands and calves, her heels down to give her muscles strength, her back arched to lower her center of gravity. She sat Allegra as if she were glued to the saddle. Kate couldn’t help it – she grinned. So it’s going to be like that, huh? she thought at the mare. Allegra was on. Her petal-shaped ears were straight forward until the tips almost touched. She hated being talked at or clucked to by her rider so Kate kept her silence, using only her hands, her heels, and her balance to communicate.
Allegra took every fence that way, knees practically up to her chin, great springing jumps for sheer athletic joy. At the triple combination, a set of jumps with one stride between the first two fences and two long strides before the third jump, Kate stopped time in her head. She checked the mare so Allegra landed compactly, launched her with her heel behind the girth, and leaned slightly to the inside in the air over the fence. She let time go again. Allegra landed correctly, on the right lead, and flew over the next fence, aimed on the diagonal across the ring. The barrels were a breeze. Kate finished, brought Allegra to a trot and a walk and they exited the ring to hushed cheers. Kate’s heart swelled with joy from the great round they had gone. She wanted to jump off Allegra’s back and give the mare a hug. Instead she slid a sedate hand along Allegra’s wet shoulder. The mare tossed her head and snorted – even that much affection disturbed her. Kate bit her lip to keep her happiness from overwhelming her. Instead she muttered under her breath, “You are a great horse. You are a great horse.”
Allegra flicked an ear back at her and Kate knew she had heard.
When they left the ring she slid to the ground and put her forehead against Allegra’s, trying to hide her tears of happiness, mixed, as they tended to be these days, with sorrow. I am just a mess, she thought. Just one hot mess. She dried her tears hastily as Lynn came up with the interested couple and their daughter. Lynn gave Kate a brief glance of concern, then turned back to the couple.
“So, here she is. As you can see, for an experienced rider, she can be a joy.”
The girl was about thirteen, skinny, freckled, and serious in her breeches and jacket. She looked at Kate and Kate flushed, knowing the girl could see the streaks of tears on her face.
“You should have shortened her stride at the in-and-out. She took it too fast.”
Embarrassment turned to anger. “Really?” Kate said coolly. “Imagine that.” I’d like to see you even stay in the saddle over a course like that, you little snot.
Lynn coughed. “Now, she would also be a great dressage prospect but we haven’t started her yet. We figured her new owner would like to develop her –”
“Dressage is boring.”
There was a moment of silence all around. The girl’s mother said anxiously, “Is she, is she a nice horse?”
Allegra laid her ears back and bared her teeth at a passing chestnut mare.
Lynn had a strange expression on her face as if she was trying to keep back a laugh. “She can be tough. She needs a firm hand.”
“Oh,” the mother said anxiously. “Well, honey, don’t you want a horse who can be a friend? Like your Dandy was?”
“I just want to win at Nationals, mom. I don’t care what the horse is like.”
The girl’s father chuckled. “That’s my girl. She’s got a real competitive spirit. When can we come by the farm and let Kelsey give her a test drive?”
Kate looked at the irascible horse who had been her nemesis for months. She looked at the girl. The girl had taken her phone out and was now texting.
“We’re closed tomorrow, so how about Tuesday –” Lynn began.
“Actually, we’re thinking about her too,” Kate cut in. Everyone looked at her. Even with sunglasses, Lynn’s surprise came through bright and clear. “So, ummm, I’m just going to talk to my mom, actually, about her. And here she is.”
Mrs. Mossland came up, camera still in hand, looking at everyone, a bemused expression on her face.
“So, can we buy her?” Kate said. “Please?”