Monday, May 13, 2013

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Campen Rev 1

Name: V Campen
Genre: Upper Middle Grade
Title: Riding Double_ Revision 1

Dad drove slowly through the Malibu hills, ignoring the line of cars bunched up behind us. Our old truck couldn’t go any faster, not while pulling a horse trailer along the steep, bending roadway.

A sign for Creekside Riding Club finally came into sight and Dad turned onto the gravel driveway, coasting to a stop under a canyon oak that stood beside the main riding arena. We cranked down our windows to wait. “This pony sounds like a good deal,” he said. “Even better, the seller doesn’t know beans about horses. We can use the dead pony story on him.”

I must have sighed, because Dad looked over and grinned. “Aw now, it’s just a little play-acting to get the price down. All part of the horse-trading business—right, partner?”

“Right, partner,” I said, trying to sound game.

It was barely nine o’clock and you could already taste the June heat in the dry air. In the riding arena six pokey old lesson horses trotted in a dusty circle, ridden by girls my age dressed in stylish riding breeches, clean white shirts, and velvet hunt caps. None of them could ride worth a hoot; they jerked and bounced, elbows flapping like chicken wings.

I was wearing blue jeans and a pink tee-shirt, and had my hair in pigtails. On horse-shopping trips Dad wanted me to look like a child, even though I’d start eighth grade next September. Sellers got soft-hearted about girls and ponies, and a price might drop fifty dollars if I acted sad when Dad said a pony cost too much.

A fancy station wagon drove past and parked near the barn. The driver got out and headed toward our truck, stepping carefully around a pile of horse manure in the dirt. I noticed he wore khaki pants and, instead of boots, loafers with little tassels on them. Dad saw it, too. “That’s our guy. Dead pony story, definitely.”

Dad jumped out of the truck, smiling like a goof. “Hi, I’m Joe Coogan, and this is my daughter, Sunny.”

“James Smith.” The man shook Dad’s hand. “The pony’s this way. We bought her two years ago and now my daughter’s lost interest. She hasn’t ridden in months.”

Dad started his act. “Heck, I wish Sunny would lose interest. I don’t know much about horses, I grow oranges.” Another part of the act; it was our neighbors, the Frantelli’s, who owned an orange grove. “But she wants a pony. She had a great one, a real trooper. He died last week.”

I recognized my cue and looked down, dragging my boots in the dirt and pretending to feel sad about a pony who never existed.

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Smith said. He placed his hand briefly on my shoulder, which made me feel bad for real. He seemed nice.

We walked behind the barn to a small dirt paddock. The little mare inside pricked up her ears and watched us. She had knots in her mane and mud caked on her side, but she was cute, a bright chestnut color with four flashy white socks. She stood at least fourteen hands high, a large pony, which was good because I took after Dad in height.

“Here’s Cricket,” Mr. Smith said, but didn’t make a move to open the gate.

“She’s a pretty little thing,” Dad said, picking up a halter that hung on the fence and handing it to me. “Can Sunny bring her out?”

Cricket acted like a brat, yanking at the lead rope and pawing the ground while I brushed her. She pinned her ears and threatened to bite when I tightened the girth on her saddle. It didn’t bother me. The horses we bought weren’t perfect—that’s why we got them cheap. Some of them had been mistreated, but most had simply been mishandled, allowed to act rude for too long. Horses are geniuses at figuring out who’s the leader, and if you don’t act like a leader, they’re happy to take over. It doesn’t mean they’re bad.

I led Cricket and we all walked toward the arena, where the riding-class kids had lined up at one end of the ring to take turns trotting over a small jump. I heard the clunk of lazy hooves hitting the wooden jump pole as the lesson horses ambled over it. Cricket jerked her head and tugged at the reins, trying to walk faster.

Mr. Smith stopped and leaned on the arena fence while Dad walked inside with me. “This pony is half-wild with boredom,” he said in a low voice. “She’s gonna act up—let her.” He cupped his hands and gave me a leg up.

Cricket zoomed off like her tail was on fire as soon as my butt hit the saddle. I gave her a loose rein and let her run—it wasn’t fair to start working her right away, not after she’d been cooped up in her tiny paddock for months. She cantered a half-dozen fast, large circles before stretching her head down and snorting, a sign she was starting to relax. I loved these first moments with a horse, figuring out their personality, finding a way to work together. I stroked her neck and took up the reins; she tossed her head but listened to me and slowed to a trot. We circled to the left and to the right, halted and backed up, then cantered again.

Dad arched his eyebrows in a silent question as I rode by. I nodded and settled down to the part of my job I hated. Fooling people was one thing, but fooling a horse seemed downright puny. Horses never lied, or pretended to be something they weren’t.

I needed to get Cricket to do something bad, something Dad could use to bargain with Mr. Smith. I asked Cricket to trot and shortened the reins, making the bit bump her in the mouth with every stride. I squeezed with my legs. I was asking her to do two different things at once. Pulling on the reins meant stop. My legs said go.

Cricket pranced sideways, trying to figure out what I wanted. Then she got mad. She flattened her ears and did the best thing possible. She bucked. Not a big buck, just a little crow-hop. I could have stayed on, easy, but let myself topple over her shoulder into the soft dirt.

“You OK Sunny?” Dad called.

“Yes,” I yelled. I stood up and made a big show of brushing dirt off my jeans while Cricket trotted over to stand with the other horses. The lesson girls had halted and were staring at me open-mouthed, like they’d never seen anyone fall before. I hated this part, too, acting like I didn’t know how to ride. I trudged to the end of the ring and caught Cricket, then led her back to the railing where Mr. Smith stood apologizing to Dad.

“Gosh,” said Dad. “I didn’t realize she bucked. Three hundred seems high for a bucker. We’d have to find a trainer to work with her. Do you like her, Sunny?”

“Oh yes, Daddy,” I said, stroking Cricket’s nose.

Mr. Smith frowned and pursed his lips. I knew what he was thinking—he’d have to keep paying the stable bill until Cricket sold, whether or not his daughter rode. A fancy stable like Creekside probably cost a hundred dollars a month, at least.


  1. Hi,

    Wow. This reads much better. I'm engaged more quickly, and it flows without any seeming effort.

    I'd love for you to set the date in the past a little earlier, and I wonder if you can vary your sentence structure a bit more. You tend toward combining clauses with "and" or "as" -- which is fine as long as the "as" clauses are truly simultaneous, but breaking the rhythm in time with the flow of her thoughts and excitement can keep the reader's interest more easily.

    That's really it. You've done a great job!

  2. Thanks for the comment about sentence structure -- I see what you mean!

  3. I don't know what happened, but I swear I didn't see this one until just now. I'm so sorry. Should I comment now at this late date or just wait until next week?