When a new horse has trouble adjusting, Ellie uses her power to help him After a few months in England, Ellie still misses the life she left behind when her parents died, but there is one thing in this strange new country that helps her forget her pain: Spirit, a skinny gray horse whom she loves more than life itself. With him, she discovered a secret talent—the ability to communicate with horses without speaking, and to hear their thoughts in return. But there is one horse in her uncle’s stables who will not open up: a jet-black show hack named Lucifer. Ellie can tell that something is troubling this valuable new arrival, but unless he will speak to her, she doesn’t know how to help. As the horse’s silence continues, Ellie and Spirit must work together to save Lucifer’s life.
About the Author
Linda Chapman grew up dreaming of being a writer and of riding in the Olympics. At least one of those came true. She has now written more than two hundred books including three very popular series: My Secret Unicorn, Stardust, and Not Quite a Mermaid. Although Chapman’s dreams of riding in the Olympics have been shelved (for now), she gives free rein to her horsey obsession by writing about horses whenever she is not writing about mermaids, fairies, or other magical creatures. She lives in Leicestershire, England, with her husband, three children, two dogs, and two ponies.
Read an Excerpt
Loving Spirit, Book Two
By Linda Chapman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2011 Linda Chapman
All rights reserved.
ELLIE CARRINGTON LEANED AGAINST the gate of the circular menage, a horse-training manual open in her hands, the breeze blowing through her long, wavy blonde hair. In the ring, a chestnut pony cantered around her cousin, Joe.
"He needs to go slower, I think!" Ellie called. "It says here: 'the horse should settle into a steady trot.' Can you slow Solo down while keeping him going around the outside?"
"I think so." Joe moved so he was level with the pony's neck. Solo instantly bounced to a stop. With a snort, he turned and raced in the other direction at an even faster canter than before.
Ellie giggled. "Think again!"
Joe frowned in concentration, his greeny-gray eyes intent, his sandy-brown hair flopping over his forehead. His father's horse-showing yard—High Peak Stables—had a top-class reputation and Joe had ridden in the show ring all his life, but Ellie knew he was happiest like this, at home, working with a young horse. That morning, he was trying out a training technique called 'join-up.' It was a method based on understanding how horses acted in the wild, and using body language to communicate with them. It was particularly good for young horses and ponies like Solo when they were first being trained to wear a saddle and carry a rider.
Joe moved towards the pony's hindquarters, but that only made Solo go faster. He tried stepping closer to Solo's head, which made the pony stop, whizz around and change direction again. Joe stayed calm and patient, though. Finally, while staying level with the pony's stomach, he tried stepping back. It worked. Solo slowed to a trot.
Solo trotted around the ring several times, his movement gradually becoming rhythmical and relaxed. Whenever he slowed down too much, Joe moved towards his hindquarters, sending him on. After a few minutes, he began to experiment with making Solo change direction, using just eye contact and the positioning of his body. It was very peaceful in the early morning. The only sounds were the thud of Solo's hooves on the sand and his occasional snort ringing through the air. Behind the schooling ring rose the mountains of north Derbyshire, their peaks and ridges silhouetted against the pale blue sky. Sheep dotted the slopes, the black-faced ewes grazing, the lambs bouncing around.
"What should I look for next?" Joe called.
Ellie checked the book again. "His ear should tilt towards you and he should start to lick and maybe chew. His head might lower even more."
As she spoke, Solo's muzzle reached to the ground and he did exactly as she had just said. "There! Look! That's him saying to you that he wants to join-up."
Turning away from Solo, Joe dropped his gaze to the floor, lowering his head and rounding his shoulders. Solo slowed to a walk and then halted, looking at Joe's new non-threatening body position. Ellie had read that this was the crucial moment, the time when the pony would make the choice whether to come in and be close to the human in the middle, or decide to stay away. If he chose to come in, it would be his way of saying he trusted Joe and they could start backing him. If he chose to stay away, then Joe would turn back and continue to drive him on.
Solo hesitated and then walked towards the center, stopping beside Joe's shoulder. Yes! Ellie thought, her breath leaving her in a rush. It had happened just like the book said it should!
Joe looked outwardly calm, but Ellie was sure he was just as delighted as she was—he didn't need the book to know what Solo coming in meant. After turning to gently rub the pony's face between his eyes, he walked away and Solo followed him. Wherever Joe went, so did the pony. He didn't have to be with the boy; he was choosing to be. By responding to the signals Solo had sent— the pony's way of saying in horse language that he wanted to be friends—Joe had shown Solo that he understood him. The first building blocks of trust had been laid.
"It's worked!" Joe said, coming to the gate.
He and Ellie smiled at each other, sharing the moment.
"Are you going to try putting the saddle on now?" Ellie asked.
Ellie had seen ponies being backed quite a few times and knew that usually they would buck and fight, scared of the weight of the saddle and the tightening of the girth around their stomachs. But as Joe put a headcollar on Solo, then took the saddle from the fence to place it on Solo's back, the pony stood quietly. As Joe fastened the girth, Solo tensed, but Joe reassured him, talking gently, and the pony relaxed again, trusting what Joe was doing.
When Joe asked him to walk on, the pony walked calmly beside him as if he'd had a saddle on his back every day of his life.
It was incredible to watch. Ellie remembered the last time she'd seen a pony being backed. It had been in New Zealand, before her parents had died. She'd been with her dad. They'd watched as the pony had thrown itself around.
"There has to be a better way," her dad had said to her then.
Dad would have loved to see this, Ellie thought wistfully. Mom too.
Loss welled up painfully inside her. Last July, both her parents had died in a car crash. She could barely remember the time straight after, her grief had been completely overwhelming. But over the eight months since then, the intense pain had gradually faded. She still missed them every day, but most of the time now she could get by OK. Or at least she could until something like this happened—a moment that she would want to share with them—and then the fact that they were gone, that she would never see them again, would hit her full-on.
She had many tricks for dealing with the pain. Now, she focused on holding her breath, counting to ten and back again, waiting for the feelings to subside. She hoped Joe was too busy with Solo to notice. He would only ask what was wrong if he saw she was upset and she didn't like to talk about her mom and dad with anyone apart from Spirit.
As Ellie pictured Spirit's pricked ears and dark wise eyes, she felt as if the pain inside her was being wrapped in a blanket. Just the thought of Spirit could comfort her. It felt like he had been in her life forever, but it had only been two months since she had first seen him at a horse sale, bought him and led him back here to High Peak Stables. Back then the countryside had been gripped by winter, snow hugging the bare peaks, a bitter wind blowing across the yard every day, but now the air was warmer and yellow daffodils danced around the fence posts.
Ellie looked around. Even with spring softening the rugged bleakness of the mountains, the countryside here in the Peak District was far from the lush rolling hills of New Zealand where she had grown up. It still felt like a landscape that she didn't quite belong in—part of a life that wasn't really hers.
She had wanted to stay with her grandma in New Zealand, but it had eventually been decided it was best for Ellie to move to England to live with her Uncle Len and sixteen-year-old cousin, Joe. Being only fourteen, she had no say in the matter. She wondered what her life would be like if she'd hadn't left New Zealand. It was hard to know how to feel about that, because then, of course, she wouldn't have met Joe or bought Spirit. Her mom had used to have a saying: 'every ending is another beginning.' It was true, she realized. So many new things had begun since her life in New Zealand had ended ...
Joe led Solo over to the gate, pulling her out of her thoughts. "I'll make that do for today."
Ellie tried to focus on the horse. "He's being really good. Why don't you try backing him?" In the book, it suggested you could back a horse in the first session with join-up.
"Not today." Joe patted Solo. "It would be stupid to rush him."
"But he looks really relaxed." Ellie looked at him hopefully. "I'll get on if you want."
"Nope," Joe said, starting to untack Solo. "I'll leave it."
"No," Joe didn't rise to her urging. "He's not being ridden today."
Ellie sighed. Joe's steady, thoughtful approach to life reminded her a lot of her dad who had been very patient and calm. She knew it was a good way to be with horses and she tried to be like that when she could, but it didn't come naturally. She was far more like her mom had been—a whirlwind who swept through life, hating to wait for anything, jumping into things head first. Still, at least they got things done, as her mom always used to say.
She took the saddle from Joe and they started to lead Solo in.
"I wonder what Dad would say if he could see what we'd just done."
"Yeah." Ellie couldn't wait to see her uncle's face when he saw them finally riding Solo. Her uncle was one of the top producers of show horses in the country, but he had no time for new techniques like join-up, preferring to stick with the traditional methods he'd known all his life. They have to know who's boss, he often said when talking about horses. He'd only agreed Joe could try and join-up with Solo because he thought handling was good for a young horse, but he'd made it clear he didn't think Joe would get far with saddling the pony.
"So, when are you going to show him what you've been doing?" Ellie asked curiously.
"What?" Ellie was taken aback. "Why?"
Joe shrugged. "I just don't see the point. You know Dad'll never come around to join-up himself and if I try and tell him how good it is, it'll only cause a massive fight."
"But if he sees you riding Solo and knows it's been done so easily, then he'll have to believe in it."
Joe laughed drily. "Is that a pig flying past me? Come on, Els, you know what Dad's like. He'll just say Solo's an easy pony and dismiss it that way and then we'll have an argument."
"But if you're not going to show him what you've done, what's the point in doing it?" Ellie looked at him in frustration.
"The point is that it helps the horses." Joe patted Solo affectionately. "If I can get every youngster started like this, it'll make the whole process easier before Dad comes to them. That would be a good thing to do, wouldn't it?" he appealed.
"I guess," Ellie agreed reluctantly. She still felt they should use the opportunity to show Uncle Len what could be achieved.
Joe saw her face. "Ellie, you're not to say anything. It really would cause trouble. I don't want that."
She looked at him.
"Promise you won't?"
She sighed. She could see why Joe didn't want to get into trouble with his dad. He had a fierce temper and often lashed out at Joe when he was angry. "OK, I promise."
They reached the pony barn. There were two American-style barns at High Peak Stables as well as two schooling rings and a smart main courtyard with neat hanging baskets, a wash barn, tackroom and rugroom, and ten spacious stables around three of the sides.
A small bay pony inside the barn whinnied shrilly as he heard their voices. He was too little to do more than poke his nose over the top of the door. Joe led Solo nearer and leaned over to pat the pony's neck. "Hey there, Merlin."
Merlin had been Joe's first pony. He was kept on the yard for when children came for lessons with Len. "He's looking well," Ellie said, stroking Merlin over the door too. The pony nuzzled her hand, searching hopefully for treats.
"He's looking much too well with all this spring grass. He could do with some more exercise."
"We could take him and Spirit out for a ride later," Ellie suggested.
"My legs are down to his knees now!" Joe laughed.
"But you're not too heavy for him." Although Joe was quite tall, he was slim and wiry. The sturdy Welsh pony would have no problem carrying his weight.
Joe didn't need much persuading; he still loved riding Merlin. "OK. Should we go out at lunchtime?"
Ellie nodded. "Cool!"
They smiled at each other and, as she met his familiar greeny-gray eyes, Ellie felt her heart skip a beat. In an instant, she was back to a time barely two weeks ago when she and Joe had almost kissed. They had been interrupted and neither of them had mentioned it since, but Ellie hadn't forgotten.
Her cheeks started to redden and she moved quickly away from the door, glad Joe couldn't read her mind. "Shall ... shall I put Solo away?"
Joe checked his watch. "Look, it's almost seven o'clock. Dad'll be out for morning feeds in a few minutes. Why don't I sort Solo out, then you can see Spirit before feeding starts?"
"Thanks!" Ellie leaped gratefully at the thoughtful offer. Joe knew that once the morning routine started she would be too busy to see Spirit until lunchtime.
"I'll see you in the feedroom then."
"Don't be late though, will you?" Joe said anxiously. "You know it'll only make Dad mad."
But Ellie was already hurrying away, her thoughts too full of seeing Spirit to reply.CHAPTER 2
SPIRIT WAS KEPT IN one of three large foaling stables set slightly away from the main courtyard down a quiet path. Len liked Spirit to be kept out of sight so that potential clients who came to look around the yard would not be put off by seeing him. Although Spirit was in much better condition than when Ellie had bought him at a horse sale, his ribs still showed and the scars on his legs and shoulder would be with him always.
"Spirit!" Ellie called softly as she turned down the path.
Spirit whickered, coming to his door. Slipping into the stable, Ellie could feel his happiness at seeing her. She would never forget the day they had first met. He had been standing in a metal pen, neglected and in very poor condition, but he'd lifted his head and stared straight at her and in that moment the world had changed; she'd felt like she knew him—that she had always known him. She'd never experienced anything like it in her life. The love had been instant and, once she had felt it, she had known she couldn't go home without him. Impulsively, she'd bought him and then had faced the task of persuading her uncle to let her keep him at High Peak Stables. It had been touch and go for a while, but eventually her uncle had agreed.
Stroking Spirit's neck, she slowed her breathing and focused. Spirit? she thought.
Several weeks into owning him, she had discovered that when she and Spirit were alone together, they could communicate with their minds. She didn't know how it happened, but if she relaxed and thought about nothing but him, their thoughts would connect and then she could ask him questions and he would reply. Ellie couldn't always understand exactly what he meant, but it was amazing to understand him even some of the time.
Ellie hadn't told anyone about being able to talk to Spirit. She'd once tried to tell Joe, but even he hadn't understood. She didn't blame him. She had to admit, it did sound incredibly weird. But it was true. They really could communicate.
Spirit? she thought again, concentrating her mind. She let the world shrink to just her and her horse, feeling the restless, burning energy that seemed to buzz through her most of the time begin to calm and settle. The air around her and Spirit seem to shift and then she felt the connection open.
Ellie felt a rush of delight. Yes, I can hear you. Are you all right?
When they had first started talking, Spirit had shown her images of the neglect and harsh treatment he'd suffered at the trekking stables he had come from, the trauma he'd felt when he had been badly beaten in his earlier days at a showing home, and his early happy life as a foal. He had listened, too, as she'd shared her past with him—the pain-filled memories of her parents, things she hadn't wanted to talk about with anyone else. Now, although they still shared those things when they needed to, they also had a simpler daily communication as well.
Into her head came a picture of the field behind the stables.
You'd like to go out in the field? she guessed.
A wave of positive energy flooded towards her. Yes.
Ellie saw a new picture, this time of herself riding Spirit. And you'd like to be ridden?
Only by you.
I'll ride you later, Ellie told him. We'll go out in the woods with Joe and Merlin later.
She became aware of a slight ache in her bones, particularly lower down her legs. She frowned, wondering if the feeling was coming from Spirit, but as soon as she started to focus on it, it disappeared.
She waited to see if she felt it again but she didn't.
A picture of the field pushed back into her mind, this time with Spirit grazing in it in the spring sun.
Ellie smiled. OK, I get the message. You can go out straight after breakfast. She realized time must be passing and, stepping back, she let the connection between them fade.
As she did so, she heard doors banging on the yard and horses whinnying. She glanced at her watch. It was ten past seven. She'd lost track of time. "Oh, great," she groaned under her breath, suddenly remembering Joe's warning about not being late for morning feeds. "I must go," she told Spirit. "I'll be back with your breakfast soon."
Excerpted from Dreams by Linda Chapman. Copyright © 2011 Linda Chapman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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