Chloe's screams ran across the yard. Edward, who had previously been reading a paper and discussing the day's news with an elderly race horse named Henry came running at the speed of light, certain that some great disaster had befallen someone or something or somepony.
"What" he panted bending over and supporting himself against the side of a stable. Chloe was stood holding Clove with a look of complete fear and anguish.
"Clove's lame" she squealed in a panicked and slightly hysterical voice.
"Seriously is that all, could you not have just come and found me?" Irritated Edward walked over to the roan pony who was currently attempting to reach into a nearby stable having spotted an unguarded hay rack.
"Is that all?!?!?!" Chloe shouted looking as if she might explode at any moment "Is that all?!?!?!? I have a Pony Club games tournament in a week!!!"
Edward remembered her having been incredibly over excited a few months ago having made the team. Ever since she had bought Clove she seemed to be on this team or that team or at this competition or that competition. It was no wonder the pony was lame he thought, all these events and training sessions. Meanwhile poor Crackers gets the odd hack and a few schooling lessons. He could understand it though, his sister clearly loved Crackers to pieces but having a pony that actually did what it was asked for once had been a complete delight. When Chloe had finally made the Pony Club games team for her local club she was over the moon. Emma who had only been at the yard a few months was also on the team with her star pony Bluejay. Chloe and Emma were becoming increasingly close and seemed to spend half their time planning how they were going to beat the other Pony Club teams.
"OK, well let me have a look" Edward walked up to Clove and felt all her legs, "there's no heat anywhere so that's a good sign" he smiled reassuringly at his sister.
"Why don't you trot her up for me?" On inspection he could see what Chloe meant, there was definitely something off about one of her hind legs.
"OK we'll put her on box rest and see how she goes, but in the meantime I think you might want to start working with Crackers..." Edward's voice trailed off as he saw the look on his sister's face. She stormed over to Clove's stable and quickly put her in before trudging off with a resigned look on her face to fetch Crackers.
Meanwhile Crackers had been watching the proceedings from his favourite vantage point on the small hill in his field. He had been watching the mares last night running around like crazy creatures and had made a mental note when Clove had slipped on a patch of mud. He didn't like Clove much. Sure he loved the fact that nobody made him have silly plaits in his mane or go and stand with the posh ponies at events any more but still, she seemed like a bit of a goody two shoes.
Chloe trudged up to Crackers and held out a bucket of food. Before he knew what had happened the leadrope was round his neck and the headcollar on.
Disturbingly easy she thought to herself as she led him onto the yard.
Over the next week Chloe road Crackers in the school every day. They worked on everything, from bending to flags to every other obstacle she could think of. Chloe fell off six times, each one because Crackers had either got rather over enthusiastic or because he'd spooked. He hated flags. And sacks. And everything or that matter. Particularly the strange shadow next to the C marker in the school.
Of course Emma had been kind and sympathetic and offered to lend Chloe one of her ponies but Chloe now felt nothing but resentment for her new friend. How nice it must be to have three perfect ponies so that you always have a back up. Her back up pony was a grumpy sod who hated everything and everyone and at the moment particularly hated having to do schooling. Pony Club games never was his weak point, Chloe still remembered (sorely) the time he dislocated her elbow by bolting halfway through her mounting.
On the positive side, by the Friday he did seem to be improving. He was spooking less and was definitely a lot more well behaved than he had been. Maybe it was the regular work, or maybe he was up to something, one could never quite tell with Crackers. That said the other team member's didn't really seem enthusiastic about her using him and were desperate for her to ride another pony, any pony other than Crackers.
The Friday before the event Chloe brought Crackers in and proceeded to give him a bath. Why she had ever bought a coloured horse she did not know. It seemed all he had to do was look at a field and he got muddy. In today's case he had a nasty stable stain on one side and a weird yellow mark on the other. It took her about an hour of scrubbing to get him looking half decent (although she was well aware that over night he would probably remove his rug and roll in some poo). She decided to practice her plaiting and put a nice long running plait in his mane and a plait in his tail. Of course she added some pink bows for good measure.
Crackers groaned inwardly to himself. He could see Billy stood in his stable chuckling at the pink bows. He knew he had to behave, but it was so hard when everyone insisted on trying to make him look "pretty" all the time. All he wanted was to gallop around and roll in mud and generally be a horse. He could not see why the other ponies enjoyed Pony Club games so much! They all seemed to love it, talking about how much fun it was running up and down and around and racing each other. But for Crackers it all seemed a little pointless.
Firstly he had to 'not spook' at terrifying objects. Crackers is of course a very brave horse, but blue flags, cones, sacks, batons, other ponies, shadows and a multitude of other items are incredibly terrifying and could have resulted in him suffering a mortal injury.
Secondly all you did was run up and down again. You didn't get to run round the field. You didn't get to play. You couldn't buck and you couldn't prance around in excitement. Just up and down. Occasionally you had to bend around these pole things which required a level of coordination that Crackers simply did not possess.
And thirdly (and this is most important). Competing required several things which Crackers hated. These are baths, plaits, travelling, other ponies and strange places. Once whilst he was at a particularly competition with Chloe a dog had escaped ran up to him and nipped his heels. He had never forgotten this and was now always wary when entering strange arenas.
"How you getting on?" Chloe's mum smiled as she walked up to see her daughter. "He looks very smart!" She laughed patting him on the neck.
"I've got something for you"
Sandra handed Chloe a plastic bag, immediately getting a sharp reaction from Crackers who flushed his ears back and paced several steps away from the untrustworthy object.
Chloe opened it up and inside discovered a smart new browband, new saddle cloth and a pair of new brushing boots, all in Crackers size.
"Well if he is going to be part of the team he might as well look like it" she smiled as she sneaked a sugar lump to Crackers hoping her daughter wouldn't notice and tickled him in his favourite spot behind the ear.
"What you go there?" Emma bounded up with her usual enthusiasm. "Ooo check out the sparkles on that browband! Crackers is going to look amazing tomorrow!"
"Let's just hope he performs amazing as well" Chloe grimaced. But she had to agree. All washed and plaited him he did look incredibly smart.
"O well I'm off to pack" Emma said as she bounced off to load her tack into the lorry.
"I'll change over that browband, you get Crackers securely wrapped up so that he doesn't get dirty over night" Sandra took back the gifts she had just handed her daughter and headed to the tack room where Crackers neatly cleaned tack was all laid out ready to be packed up for the next day.
Chloe smiled and wrapped up Crackers in as many layers as the warm weather would allow before putting him into an exceptionally clean stable.
"Sleep tight" she smiled patting him on the neck and giving him a huge hug "please don't roll!"
She turned to look at him one last time, before walking to the tack room to help her mum move the final tack into the lorry before tomorrow. She'd need an early night, but with her first team competition tomorrow she wasn't sure she was going to sleep.
How will Chloe and Crackers get on? Check back Sunday to find out!