Starley is a young girl living in Hawaii who dreams of the being the best rodeo rider in the state. With the encouragement of her friends Liko and Heidi and the devotion of her talented chestnut mare, Sunshine, she just might have what it takes to win. North Shore 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: Steer Undecorating
The announcer’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers. “A big aloha to everyone this fine day, and welcome to the annual Hawaiʻi Women’s Association Rodeo! Our next event in the main arena is steer undecorating—keiki division. Riders, take your places.”
I followed Mom past the horse trailers to the outer gate. We were last on the list, and I could hear the other riders taking their turns. Sunshine nuzzled my shoulder as we waited, almost like she knew what was about to happen. My stomach felt like it did when I ate too much Spam musubi.
I breathed in the smells of the food trucks mixed with the sharp tang of cows. Sunshine nickered as we got closer to the arena. “I know, girl,” I said. “It’s exciting but kind of scary at the same time, huh?”
Sunshine’s ear flicked forward. Sometimes, I really believed that she understood me.
A bell clanged to announce the next rider, and I finally became aware of Mom calling my name. “It’s time, Starley,” Mom said excitedly, holding Sunshine so I could mount up. “No matter what happens, I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, and tipped my hat to her.
I sat in the saddle and squeezed my legs together to urge Sunshine forward. Mom blew me a kiss and stepped back so Sunshine and I could walk past.
The announcer talked over the music still playing. “Our last contender in the keiki division comes from the north shore and is from a long line of cowboys, or—as we call them in Hawaiʻi—paniolos. Let’s make some noise for Starley Robinson.”
The crowd clapped and cheered. I felt Sunshine’s muscles bunch beneath my legs. She was getting ready, and so was I. My thumb brushed over the raised silver belt buckle Tutu had given me this morning. My grandmother had won first place in the keiki division when she was ten. Now it’s my turn, I thought. I can’t let her down.
I nodded to the man who was wearing a western shirt and waiting for my signal. The steer bellowed in the pen, the metal gate clanking as it opened. The steer took off running. In seconds, it passed the first pole. The man holding the rope in front of Sunshine dropped it with a shout.
I squeezed my legs and leaned forward, my eyes glued to the steer running across the arena. My stomach didn’t have a chance to catch up to my body as Sunshine lunged forward. The hazer—the other rider that kept the steer running straight—guided the steer toward the middle of the arena.
I nudged Sunshine, asking her to go even faster. The bright pink ribbon on the steer’s shoulder was all I focused on. I gripped the reins in my right hand and urged Sunshine closer to the ribbon—closer to winning.
Everything we’d trained for came down to this moment. My braid bounced against my back, and I could hear the hazer calling to the steer. Her shouts kept the steer running in the right direction.
I pointed the reins forward, and Sunshine raced toward the steer. One hand gripped the horn as I leaned to the side. The bright pink ribbon is so close! I reached for it, my fingers brushing the silky material before I wrapped my hand around it and pulled.
The ribbon didn’t come off right away, so I tugged harder. This time it pulled loose, and I quickly raised my hand straight over my head.
A buzzer sounded loudly. The crowd cheered even louder.
Sunshine trotted to the side of the arena. Mom beamed at me as they announced my time.
Six seconds! The fastest time for my division and my personal best! The blood in my veins rushed, and it felt like I was still in the ring, galloping with Sunshine.
“You did it, honey!” Mom danced through the gate and waited for me to dismount before she scooped me into a giant hug. “I’m so proud of you.”
I laughed and danced with Mom in my own mixture of running in place and straight-up jumping. Mom laughed and snapped her fingers together. Mom couldn’t dance without snapping—something my older sister, Megan, and I loved to tease her about.
“Congratulations on a spectacular ride,” said a woman’s voice behind me.
When I turned, I could barely believe who stood there. It’s Maria González! She had on a battered black cowboy hat, pulled over her dark curls, and red boots that matched her lipstick.
Maria smiled. “That was some pretty spectacular riding. I bet you could outride most adults.”
I wondered with embarrassment, How long did my mouth hang open before I remembered to close it? “Um . . . thank you,” I said. I couldn’t believe the Maria González was standing in front of me, complimenting my riding! I realized she was still talking, and I forced myself to tune back in.
“Is that something you might be interested in?” Maria asked, her gaze swinging between Mom and me.
Mom smiled at me. She seemed to be waiting for me to answer, only I wasn’t sure what the question was.
“What do you think?” I asked Mom, hoping she’d clear it up for me.
Mom hiked her purse higher on her shoulder. “I think it’s something we should talk about as a family. It’s a very generous offer, Miss González. Thank you for thinking of Starley.”
Maria reached into her back pocket and pulled out a small card. “Here’s my cell number and email. Give me a call when you’ve all had a chance to talk. I’ll need an answer by next week.”
My curiosity soared, and I wondered what she needed an answer to. Why wasn’t I listening instead of daydreaming? I couldn’t wait to get Mom alone so I could ask her, only I didn’t want Maria to leave. When will I ever get a chance to talk to someone who can ride like her?
“I’m so sorry,” Mom said, pointing to where Dad, Tutu, and Megan were standing. “I see my family waiting for us.”
Maria held out her hand to me. “Of course! It was a delight to meet you, Starley. I’ll be cheering for you later this afternoon, when you get your prize at the closing ceremony.”
Her hand was rough and lined with calluses, and her strong fingers squeezed mine. I smiled with pure gladness. This day can’t get any better, I thought as I watched her walk away.
Chapter 2: The Offer
Megan ran to me with wide eyes. “Did you get to talk to her?”
I nodded, my smile growing even bigger. I could tell Megan was impressed by the way she tossed her perfectly curled hair and tried not to smile.
Dad stepped in between us and hugged me so tight, I gasped. I laughed as he twirled me around. “My daughter, the superstar rodeo queen.”
“Let me see her, Howard,” Tutu commanded, holding on to Sunshine’s bridle with the confidence of someone used to horses. She handed me the reins. “A responsible cowgirl always takes care of her horse before herself. You did good out there, keiki, but it’s not only about you, yeah?”
I bowed my head. For the last few minutes, I’d forgotten about Sunshine. I vowed silently to make sure I gave her extra treats to show her how much I loved her.
“Yes, Tutu,” I said. “You’re right.”
“Of course I am,” Tutu said with a snort. She sounded almost like a horse for one second, and I struggled not to laugh.
Megan must have thought the same thing, because she giggled and said, “You totally sounded like Sunshine, Tutu.”
Tutu frowned, and Megan stopped mid-giggle. Tutu was pretty much the only person who scared Megan. “Just remember, you two, anything worthwhile in life has to be earned with hard work and patience.”
“Yes, Tutu,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure I believed her. Dad and Mom worked really hard, especially lately. But they were always worried about money and stressed out all the time.
“Why don’t I take a picture with Starley and Tutu next to Sunshine?” Megan asked, holding up her phone and sounding as sweet as maple syrup. “You know, so we can have a memory of this special day.”
My parents and Tutu agreed, and we spent the next ten minutes taking “memory pictures.”
When my stomach growled, Dad chuckled. “How about we all help you groom Sunshine? After that, we can go hit up the food trucks.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, my mouth watering as I thought about kālua-pork sliders.
“Sounds like a wonderful idea!” Mom said. “I could use something to drink.”
“What did Maria González want, Mom?” I asked. “I was sort of too excited to hear what she said.”
“I thought you seemed unusually quiet,” Mom replied, with a smile. “We can talk about it while you girls groom the horse.”
I quickly unbuckled Sunshine’s saddle. Megan helped me lift it off and place it on the sawhorse next to us. I grabbed two curry combs and handed one to Megan.
“Maria invited Starley to the horse camp she runs the last two weeks in June,” Mom said. “She was impressed with Starley’s riding and wants to mentor her. She even offered a scholarship.”
Dad’s eyes widened, and Megan grinned.
The curry comb dropped right out of my hand with a soft thunk onto the solid, packed red dirt. “I’ve always wanted to go, but you said it was way too expensive! I can’t believe this! Can I go? Can I?”
Tutu picked up the comb and started to brush Sunshine’s sweaty coat. “You know my father worked as a paniolo on the Big Island. He taught me to ride before I could walk, and he’d be so proud of Starley. I think this is a wonderful opportunity for her.”
Maria wants to mentor me? I could only imagine how much I could learn. This was my chance to work toward my dream of being a professional rodeo rider!
“Yes. But two weeks is a long time,” Mom said. “Starley wouldn’t know anyone.”
“You went away to camp when you were her age,” Tutu reminded her. “We could always visit on the weekends. It’s only an hour-and-a-half drive.”
I smiled at Tutu. I knew she would understand how important this was to me.
Mom nodded, and I could tell she liked the idea of visiting me.
Dad cleared his throat and looked at me with a serious expression. “Two weeks is longer than you’ve ever been away from home.”
“Please, Daddy,” I begged. “I’ll be fine, and I really want to go!”
Dad looked at Mom, and she gave a little nod. “We’ll talk about it,” he said, but his grin told me the answer was yes.
I ran over and hugged Dad and then Mom. “Thank you so much. I can’t believe this is happening!”
Mom laughed. “It’s not decided yet,” she teased.
“Hooey,” Tutu said. “Put the girl out of her misery already.”
“We still need to figure out the details . . .” Mom tapped a finger to her chin like she was in deep thought.
Dad chuckled at my hopeful expression. “Okay. I think we’ve teased her enough. You can go, little star.”
Sunshine whinnied, and I quickly ran back to her side. “Did you hear that, girl? We’re going to Maria’s horse camp!”
Dad’s smile faltered. “I’m not sure Sunshine can go with you. We’ll need to ask Mr. Griffin. He was nice enough to let you ride her in the rodeo. I’m not sure what he’ll say about her going with you for two weeks.”
I hugged Sunshine’s neck. “But I can’t go without her!”
“You might have to,” Mom said gently.
“Why can’t we just buy Sunshine from Mr. Griffin?” I asked, even though I knew the answer. Money. Or, in our case, not having enough of it. That was why we sponsored Sunshine instead of owning her.
Dad rubbed the back of his neck. “You know the answer to that, little star.”
“Don’t be a brat,” Megan said. “Mom and Dad pay grouchy Mr. Griffin every month for you to sponsor Sunshine. It’s better than not having a horse at all.”
I hung my head. Megan was right. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. I loosened my arms and let them fall. Sunshine snuffled my hands looking for treats. She trusted me, and I trusted her. That was why I couldn’t just wait for Mom and Dad to save enough to buy her. I would have to do it myself.