“OUT OF MY WAY!” MADDIE Martinez burst through the back door into her family’s sunny yellow-tiled kitchen. “I’m late!”
Maddie’s older sister, Tillie, looked up from making a sandwich at the counter. “Whoa—it’s summer vacation, remember? What’s the rush?”
“My riding lesson’s in less than an hour.” Maddie didn’t slow down as she headed for the stairs. “Where’s Dad?”
“Doing laundry. I’ll warn him that you’re home.”
“Thanks!” Maddie took the steps two at a time. The room she shared with Tillie was at the far end of the hall.
Maddie crossed her fingers, hoping Tillie hadn’t gone on one of her cleaning sprees today. If she had, Maddie would never find her riding stuff.
Whew! The place looked the same as it had when she’d left for soccer practice. Tillie’s half was spotless, her dresser and closet tidy and her bed neatly made with crisp white sheets and an assortment of throw pillows. Maddie’s half looked as if a hurricane had just rolled through.
But Maddie knew where everything important was. Her breeches were draped over her judo trophies, and her well-worn paddock boots sat atop a stack of magazines. As she reached for the boots, she kicked off her cleats. One landed on a pile of clean clothes—oops!—but the other rolled through the closet door.
“Score!” Maddie mumbled, already yanking off her shirt. It was bright purple and had the logo of the Inner Bay Real Estate Pelicans printed on the front in silver. Most of Maddie’s teammates considered their mascot kind of lame, but Maddie thought it was hilarious. Her family moved every few years because her mother was in the Air Force, which meant Maddie had played on four
different local soccer teams since she was five years old. Two of them had been called the Tigers, and a third was the Lions. At least Pelicans was different!
Maddie paused at her dresser just long enough to glance in the mirror and check that her thick, wavy dark hair was still mostly contained in its ponytail. Then she grabbed her boots and sat down on the bed, almost squashing her laptop. That reminded her—she hadn’t checked in on the Pony Post yet that day.
The Pony Post was a private message board dedicated to Chincoteague ponies—specifically, the ponies owned or ridden by the four members. The girls had never met in person, but they’d bonded online over their love of the special breed. It had been Maddie’s idea to start the site, and for well over a year now the four of them had checked in daily and become fast friends.
Maddie flipped open the laptop. She hadn’t had time to check in before soccer practice, so she couldn’t resist logging on now, even though she was in a hurry. She’d posted several new photos of Cloudy the previous night, but due to the time difference—Maddie was on
the West Coast, while the others lived in the Eastern or Central time zones—she knew her friends wouldn’t have seen the pictures until that morning. It would only take a second to see if they’d posted yet. . . .
Maddie smiled as the familiar Pony Post logo popped up on the screen. Nina had designed it with help from her mom, who was a real-life artist. It showed four Chincoteague ponies galloping through the surf with the sun rising behind them. Below that were all four girls’ names—Madison Martinez, Nina Peralt, Brooke Rhodes, and Haley Duncan. The rest of the screen provided space for the girls to share news, photos, and links. There were several new entries.
[BROOKE] Wow, I can’t believe how much Cloudy looks like the original Misty of Chincoteague in that first pic!!
[NINA] I know, right? The only way u can tell it’s not Misty is by looking at the background, lol. I keep expecting to see the waves of Chincoteague instead of the scenery of NorCal.
[HALEY] Great pix! Hey M, did u and Cloudy sign up yet for the Snack & Swim trail ride thing at your barn u were telling us about? It sounds like soooo much fun!
[NINA] Ya, and Cloudy will be fab at the swimming part! After all, she already swam across the channel to Chinc. when she was a baby.
[BROOKE] Just like the rest of our ponies. They would love that ride too! I wish we could all go!
[HALEY] Me too!
[NINA] Me three!
“Me four,” Maddie said aloud. Clicking open a new text box, she got ready to type a response.
“Mads?” Her father’s voice drifted upstairs. “You almost ready to go?”
Oops! Maddie realized that responding to her friends
would have to wait. If she didn’t leave now, she’d be late for her lesson. And Ms. Emerson was pretty strict about stuff like that. Leaping up, Maddie rushed toward the door, figuring she could tie her boots in the car.
Maddie stared out the car window at the scenery flashing past, bright green lawns and landscaping vivid against the browns and yellows of native summer grasses. Normally she rode her bike to the barn, but it was a long ride, and on Saturdays she had both soccer practice and riding lessons, and not much time in between. Her dad was a part-time nurse at the local hospital, but when he wasn’t working a weekend shift he usually drove her so she wouldn’t have to rush through grooming and tacking up.
She was especially glad for the extra time today—and not only because Coach Wu had decided to throw in a few extra passing drills before she’d let them go. The comments from her Pony Post friends had reminded Maddie about the Snack & Swim, a group trail ride that ended in a bareback swim in a local creek and a picnic on the shore. The Snack & Swim ride was an annual event at Solano
Stables, but this would be Maddie’s first year doing it. She’d wanted to go last year, but she’d only been riding Cloudy for about five months at the time and Ms. Emerson had decided the two of them weren’t quite ready for that kind of adventure yet. But this year they were definitely ready, and Maddie couldn’t wait.
“How’s the team shaping up this summer?” Maddie’s father asked, interrupting her thoughts of splashing into the cool water on Cloudy’s round, warm back.
“Team?” Maddie turned and blinked at him. “What team?”
Her father grinned. “The U.S. Olympic Team,” he joked. “What team do you think? I’m talking about the Pelicans!”
“Oh, soccer.” Maddie shrugged. “It’s fine, I guess. We won our first game last weekend, remember?”
“Hmm.” Her father spun the wheel to take the turn onto the road leading to the stable. “You don’t sound too excited. Don’t tell me you’re losing interest in soccer now.”
Maddie couldn’t help rolling her eyes. For some reason, her parents had decided she had a short attention
span. Probably because she’d given up judo when she’d discovered riding—and realized it was more fun than anything else she’d ever done. What was the big deal about that? Other people were allowed to change their minds. Hadn’t Tillie totally dropped her interest in ballet after discovering boys a couple of years ago? And one of her younger brothers, Tyler, seemed to come up with a new hobby every few weeks.
“Don’t worry, I still like soccer,” she assured her father.
“Good. Because you’re terrific at it.” He glanced over at her. “Besides, it’s the type of activity you’ll always be able to enjoy. It’s easy to pick up anywhere in the country—or the world, for that matter.”
Maddie shot him a surprised look, but he’d returned his gaze to the road. Why would he say something like that? Was it a hint? Did he think the Air Force was going to transfer Mom again? Maddie hoped not. After being there for more than two and a half years, Northern California felt like home. She had good friends there, she liked her school, and she’d probably make varsity basketball next year. And then there was Cloudy. . . .
Just then the familiar Solano Stables sign came into view up ahead. “Here we are,” her father said. “Told you I’d get you here in plenty of time.”
“Yeah.” Maddie pushed her worries out of her mind. Why freak out about something that hadn’t happened yet? “Thanks, Dad.”
Maddie breathed in deeply as she hurried into Solano Stables. She loved the smell of the barn—a combination of horses, hay, leather, and fresh air.
The barn office was just inside the main entrance. Two of Maddie’s friends were standing in front of the bulletin board by the door. Victoria and Valerie, better known as Vic and Val, were identical twins. They were also the reason Maddie had started riding. Vic had sat behind Maddie in fifth grade homeroom, and she’d spent so much time chattering about the riding lessons she and her sister had just started that Maddie had decided to give it a try—and the rest was history.
The twins both had wavy reddish-brown hair, though Val’s was neatly pulled back in a ponytail while Vic’s hung
loose and wild. Vic was leaning forward, writing something on a sheet of paper hanging on the board while her twin watched.
“Stop!” Maddie exclaimed in mock dismay. “Neither of you better be signing up to take Cloudy on the Snack and Swim, or there’s going to be trouble.”
Vic giggled. “We wouldn’t dare!”
“You don’t have to worry,” Val added. “Ms. Emerson wouldn’t let anyone else sign up for Cloudy. She knows you’ve been looking forward to this all year.”
“True,” Vic agreed cheerfully. “And she knows you and Cloudy make an awesome team.”
“We definitely do.” A pen was hanging from the sign-up sheet by a piece of baling twine. Maddie grabbed it and scrawled her name below Vic’s, along with Cloudy’s. “There, now it’s official.”
“Cool.” Vic lifted her hand for a high five. “The Snack and Swim is going to be epic!”
Meanwhile Val checked her watch. “We should start tacking up,” she said. “Our lesson starts in thirteen minutes.”
Maddie grinned. That was Val for you—she was very precise. “Okay, see you guys in the ring.”
She ducked into the tack room beside the office to grab a brush and a hoof-pick, then took off toward Cloudy’s stall. When she was a few doors away, she let out a short whistle. Immediately Cloudy’s head poked out over her half door. The pony nickered, her ears up and framing the perfect white blaze running down her butterscotch-colored face.
Maddie’s Pony Post friends were right—Cloudy really was the spitting image of Misty, the Chincoteague pony made world famous in the book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. That was why a local family had paid lots of money for Cloudy as a foal almost ten years ago at the annual Chincoteague wild pony auction and then spent even more to ship her all the way out to California.
Unfortunately, they hadn’t really known what to do with the spunky little weanling once she got there. Over the next few years, Cloudy had grown older and wilder as the family’s kids had “trained” her by trial and
(mostly) error. After getting kicked out of yet another local barn when the now eight-year-old and still unruly Cloudy had knocked down one of the barn workers, the perplexed and fed-up parents had offered to sell the pony cheap to Ms. Emerson. The barn owner had had her doubts, but she believed in giving every horse a chance. So she’d bought Cloudy and brought her to Solano Stables.
And to her surprise, Ms. Emerson had discovered that beneath the lack of discipline, the little pinto mare actually had a nice, willing temperament. A month or two of training later, Cloudy was already being used in lessons by advanced students. And a couple of months after that, Maddie—who had been intrigued with Cloudy since the mare’s arrival—asked if she could give the pony a try. Ms. Emerson had been dubious, since Maddie had only been taking lessons for a few months at that point. But Maddie had talked her into it, and she and Cloudy had quickly become a great team.
Almost a year and a half later, the mare was now a reliable school horse, popular with beginners and experienced
riders alike. But Maddie was pretty sure Cloudy loved her best!
“Hey, girl,” she said, letting herself into the stall. “What’s up?”
Cloudy nickered again, nudging at Maddie’s arm with her soft nose. Maddie smiled and dug a peppermint horse treat out of her pocket.
“Just one for now,” she said as the pony carefully lipped the treat off her palm. “We have to hurry and get ready. Good thing you’re pretty clean today.”
As she started grooming the pony, Maddie heard the twins calling her name from the aisle. She poked her head out of the stall.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, noting their worried faces. That wasn’t so unusual for Val—she was often worried about something or other. But Vic looked anxious too.
“We just noticed something,” Val said breathlessly. “We were looking at the lesson list to see who we’re riding today . . .”
Maddie nodded. Ms. Emerson posted a list on the
bulletin board with the day’s horse assignments, though Maddie never bothered to check it anymore. She always rode Cloudy.
Vic finished her twin’s sentence: “. . . and we thought we were seeing things,” she said. “Because you’re not assigned to ride Cloudy today—Ms. Emerson wrote you down to ride Wizard instead!”