Juniper is a young girl who dreams of making it big in the movies along with her horse, Able. In particular, Juniper is obsessed with getting Able onto her favorite television show, Castle MacAvoy, and will do anything, even slay dragons, to make that happen. Hollywood is part of a series of books written by several authors highlighting the unique relationships between young girls and their horses.
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Chapter 1: The Big Chance
Juniper gripped the reins tighter as her horse sped across the paddock. Balancing carefully, she pulled her right leg up and over her horse’s back. She crouched on the stirrup at his side, and when her target was near, Juniper thrust out her arm.
“Take that, fire breath!” she shouted, brandishing her makeshift sword into the air. “We got it, Able. We got the dragon!”
As the horse sped away, Juniper pushed up onto Able’s back again. She flipped around so she was sitting backward, then grinned at the massive elm tree they had just passed, its crooked branches like clawed arms reaching out to catch them.
Juniper patted her horse’s side as he slowed to a trot. “If that really was a dragon, Able, we could’ve taken it. You and me—we’re the best team ever, right?”
She peered over her shoulder as Able neighed, nodding his head as though he agreed wholeheartedly.
Juniper spun around to face forward and said, “Let’s go again. This time, let’s circle around, like Lady Penelope does on Castle McAvoy.”
Able’s ears twitched as Juniper hunched over his neck, then the horse took off.
“Woo-hoo!” Juniper shouted. “Watch out, all ye drag—”
The rest of her war cry got stuck in her throat. A figure over by the stables caught her eye. It was someone who wasn’t supposed to be there. Someone who had said he’d be working in his office for at least the next hour.
Juniper quickly pulled back on Able’s reins.
“Abort! Abort!” she said, steering the horse toward the stable. With a nervous laugh, she whispered, “The real dragon is watching us now.”
Juniper’s father shook his head as they trotted toward him.
“What are you still doing in the paddock?” Her father took hold of Able’s reins while Juniper slid from her horse’s back. “Able’s supposed to be cleaned, fed, and resting by now.”
“I was going to . . . ,” Juniper began, trying to think of an answer that didn’t include swords or dragons, but nothing came to her mind.
Her father brushed dust off Able’s side. “You can’t clean him from the saddle, you know.” His eyes dropped to Juniper’s waist, then narrowed. “And why is the rasp tucked into your belt?”
Oops! Juniper looked down and yanked the rasp out from where she had secured it tightly between her belt and her jeans. She waved it in the air like she was using it to attack an enemy. “It was my sword?” Each word was filled with uncertainty, as though it wanted to run back into her mouth and hide.
“Wait, don’t tell me: A troll is on the grounds, and you just had to protect the ranch.” Her dad’s lips loosened like there was a possibility of a smile inside them.
Juniper jumped on the chance to bring it out. “A dragon, actually. Fifteen feet high! No . . . twenty! And it was getting ready to burn the whole kingdom—uh, ranch—down, and everything in it. You, me, Mom, Rose—everyone. Remember what the dragon did in the last episode of Castle McAvoy? Able and I couldn’t let that happen here. We had to save you guys.” She ventured a grin.
“A dragon, huh? In the paddock?”
“A huge one,” Juniper said. “The exact size of that tree, in fact.” She pointed at the old elm with the claw-like branches.
Her father looked at the tree, then back at Juniper. “So, what you’re saying is, if you didn’t have to battle a dragon to save our ranch, you would’ve had Able brushed by now?” He raised one eyebrow, and a giggle bubbled up inside Juniper.
She nodded. “Exactly.”
“Okay.” Her father whirled around and faced the tree. He stood tall and raised his arms wide.
“Dragon!” her father shouted. “I, King Paul of Ranch Bar K, demand that you halt your threat until . . .” He paused, glancing at Juniper. “Tomorrow afternoon, after school! Be gone until then, oh fiery dragon . . . thing.”
He turned to Juniper, slapping his hands together like he’d just finished a job well done.
“There. You can pick up where you left off tomorrow, but after you’ve finished your homework.” He smiled. “Deal?”
Juniper bowed low. “Your wish is my command, my king.”
“Good, because I need Able happy and healthy tomorrow.” He rubbed the horse’s nose. “He might have a job.”
Juniper’s eyes grew wide. “Really? You think he’s ready?”
Her father nodded. “He’s been doing great with you here at the ranch. And this role sounds perfect for him.”
“What it is?” Juniper wiggled her fingers back and forth at her side, excitement building within her.
“It’s . . .” Her father held on to his next word, and the suspense bit into Juniper.
“What?” she pressed. Then she saw the twinkle in her father’s eye.
“Wait! It isn’t . . . Is it . . . Do they want him for . . .” Juniper gulped. “Castle McAvoy?”
Her father cracked another smile, and Juniper released all her excitement in a jump and an “AAAAHHHH!”
But her father put up his hands. “Don’t get too excited. They like his photo, but he hasn’t got the part yet. And while he’s been doing well with you here, he doesn’t have any experience on a set with different handlers. He needs lots of rest tonight so he’ll be less stressed tomorrow.”
“He’ll do great.” Juniper began to undo the straps of the saddle on Able’s back. “Won’t you, Able? You’ll be the best horse on the show.”
“Well, we’ll find out when he auditions on the set in the morning,” her father said, grabbing a brush and holding it out for Juniper. “You just make him shine.”
“I can go with you.” Juniper laid her hand on Able’s back, her tummy flopping inside her as she willed her father to say yes. “You’ll need someone to take care of Able while you’re talking to Fay and all the other studio suits.”
“You’re eleven,” her father said. “Eleven-year-olds are in school on Thursdays.”
“But Able will need me, especially since it’s his first time.”
“He’ll do just fine with me. Won’t you, boy?” Her father rubbed Able’s nose, and the horse nickered.
Juniper bit her lip. She had to say something to get her dad to take her. “But there are kids on Castle McAvoy, and they go to the studio.”
“They’re actors, and they go to school on the set.”
“I could—” she started, but her father cut her off.
“We’ve talked about this, Junebug. We’re the trainers. The animals are the actors in this family.” Her father filled up a bucket with water and placed it next to her feet. “I’ll come out and say good night to Able when you’re done.”
He tweaked her ear, then strode toward their house.
Juniper watched him go. “You horses get to do all the fun stuff. You’re going to love it, Able. A set for a show is so exciting. Mom and Dad used to take Rose and me when we were little, but now it’s all school, school, school. I wish I could go with you.”
She brushed dust and mud off Able’s sides.
“You’re perfect for Castle McAvoy. Maybe you’ll get to defend the castle. Won’t that be fun?”
Able’s ears twitched as Juniper started combing his mane. “I wonder if Sir Gregor will ride you. Or Lady Penelope. They’re my favorites. Sir Gregor is the bravest of all the knights—and he’s funny, too. But Lady Penelope can outsmart anyone. Plus, she’s the best with a sword.”
Juniper parried with the comb, and Able snorted.
“I wish we had a TV out here so you could see them,” she said, lifting one of his hooves to make sure there were no splits or stones. “The best part about the show is, they’re all kids like me, battling dragons and trolls and protecting their castle. So amazing! I’d give anything to be in Castle McAvoy. Anything!”
When Juniper finished checking Able’s hooves, she dampened a cloth and gently wiped his face.
“I know you’ll get the part, Able,” she told him. “You’re the best at all the tricks. Just remember to breathe, know that you’re safe, and Dad will be there the whole time with you.”
Able nuzzled Juniper’s neck, which made her smile.
“I wish I could go, too. With us together, I know you’d make it onto Castle McAvoy. After all, Dad did say you’re doing great with me.” She looked into his deep brown eyes. “I’ll think of you all day. I promise.”
After giving Able a quick kiss on his nose, Juniper led him into his stall, closed the door, and told him good night.
In her bedroom later, Juniper logged onto the Hoofprints Horse Riding Forum, as she did every night. She wished she could tell someone—tell everyone—about Able’s audition, but her dad always said they had to keep quiet until after a role had aired so they don’t jinx it. And she definitely didn’t want to jinx this.
Holding back her urge, she checked out the new posts, but her mind wasn’t on them. She couldn’t think of any supportive comment to put on HrseGrl25’s bad fall video, and even CutesyHorse’s latest Horse in a Hat picture didn’t make her laugh. Juniper was too busy worrying.
Able was a great horse, and Juniper loved him more than anything. But her father was right that Able did his best tricks when she was there. She’d seen Able when her dad was working with him, and he was good but got distracted easily. When she was with Able, he held his head higher and trotted with the enthusiasm of a puppy with a new toy.
Juniper sighed. She really wanted Able to be on Castle McAvoy, but how could she make sure he did his best if she wasn’t there?
She flipped through a few more posts, then went to the thread she saved for last every night: Showmanship with Claudia Rains. Claudia posted a picture and inspirational message every day, and Juniper felt that if it was the last thing she saw before she went to sleep, she’d be able to soak up all of Claudia’s wisdom and talent in her dreams. Claudia was perfect in every video she posted. She had won more medals at the Greater American Trick Riding Championship than any other rider, and Juniper wanted to be just like her.
But when she gazed at the picture and message Claudia had posted that day, Juniper gasped. In the photo, Claudia was standing next to her horse, Sahara. All their medals were draped on Sahara’s back, and on top of the picture were the words “To be successful, you can’t let anything stop you. You have to stack the odds in your favor. Do it!”
Juniper thought of Able and how if she was at his audition, the odds would be stacked much more in his favor. She felt like Claudia was speaking just to her, telling her what she had to do.
A plan started to form in Juniper’s mind.
Chapter 2: Stowaway
Sitting at the kitchen table the next morning, Juniper felt like a herd of horses were stampeding in her stomach. Her mother had put a steaming plate of pancakes in front of her, but all she could focus on was the scene outside the kitchen window.
Her father was hooking the horse trailer to his truck. She had to get in place before he left, and there wasn’t much time.
“Rose, breakfast!” her mother called, then turned to Juniper. “Not hungry, Junebug? You barely ate last night, too. After all that kingdom-saving you and Able did, I would’ve thought you’d gobble up a feast this morning. Are you feeling okay?” She reached out to place the back of her hand on Juniper’s forehead.
“I feel fine, Mom,” Juniper said, jumping up from her chair. “I’ll go get Rose.”
Juniper couldn’t let her mother think she was sick. Her mother would keep too close an eye on her, and Juniper’s plan would be ruined. To prove that she was feeling okay, Juniper cut off a large piece of pancake and plopped it into her mouth, then ran upstairs to get her sister.
Rose’s room looked like a wardrobe had exploded. Clothes were on the bed, the desk, the beanbag, the dresser. Just about the only place that didn’t have clothes was the floor, as though Rose had tried on every outfit she had, then discarded them all carefully. Juniper never thought much about what she was wearing. She usually wore some combination of jeans and a T-shirt. She wondered if she’d care more when she started high school, like Rose had.
Juniper heard the bathroom door open, then Rose appeared in the doorway.
“What are you doing in my room?” Rose’s voice was laced with annoyance.
“Looking for you,” Juniper said. “Breakfast is ready, and the bus will be here any minute.”
“I know. Don’t hurry me.”
Juniper knew her sister hated to be hurried, but this day was too important. She wished she could tell Rose her plan. Castle McAvoy had been her favorite show, too. They had watched it together every Sunday, but that was another thing that changed when her sister started high school. Juniper had to do this alone now.
Rose took a last look at herself in her full-length mirror, puckered her lips as though she wasn’t sure she liked what she saw, and grabbed her backpack.
“Come on, then,” she said, waving Juniper out of her room before she shut the door behind them.
Juniper followed her sister down the stairs and into the kitchen, glancing out the window to check on her father’s progress. The trailer was in place, and her father was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he was getting Able now. She prayed that he’d take a long time.
“See you, Mom,” Juniper said, stuffing another big piece of pancake into her mouth.
“Wait! Rose, you haven’t eaten.”
“I’ll get something at school,” Rose said, and Juniper said a silent thank you in her head.
“At least take some fruit.” Their mother picked up an apple from the bowl on the counter and tossed it across the kitchen to Rose, who was already at the back door. Juniper reached out and grabbed it after her sister missed, then placed the apple in Rose’s hand.
“Thanks,” Rose said, and waved at their mother as Juniper shut the door.
The bus was just pulling up when the sisters got to the bus stop. It was the only bus that came to the houses this far out of town and it was always packed by the time it got to their ranch. As soon as Juniper saw it, the herd in her tummy turned into a whirlwind. This was it. She had to do everything she’d planned perfectly.