If you saw someone using drugs to cheat, what would you do?
Lizzy is riding in the last horse show of the summer before her senior year in high school starts. When she witnesses Orlando, a groom from another stable, drugging horses, she is outraged. One of the horses being drugged is a horse she helped train, so it’s personal. It doesn’t help that Orlando appeals to her in ways no other guy ever has.
Figuring out what to do isn’t easy. The show association doesn’t allow tattle tales, but Lizzy has never hesitated to take a stand. She and a couple of her friends decide to take matters into their own hands and switch the drugs. It won’t be easy, and getting caught would be more than just embarrassing and getting kicked out of the horse show association. There could be legal consequences. Plus it would mean being suspended from school, the end of her training job at the school stables, and her hopes for a riding career.
To make matters worse, Lizzy’s riding isn’t going well, and when her ex-boyfriend shows up, her emotions are even more jumbled. Things get dicey when Orlando suspects what happened. Will he rat her out or ask her out?
Friday was the first day of the Stephenson Stables Annual Hunter-Jumper Show—the last one before senior year started and my last chance to immerse myself in the horse world before the pressure of homework and college planning descended.
At five thirty a.m., the sky was black. The large industrial lights only partially illuminated the parking lot, and the dust and spider web covered light bulbs in the show barn did little more than throw deep shadows along the aisles. Horses rustled around in their stalls, impatient for breakfast hay and grain. Kenna ripped open a feed sack in the tack room while I crept silently along the aisle. My black tee shirt and dark jeans blended into the shadows. Thank God I wasn’t into a bunch of reflective girlie bling.
A man carried a small bucket into one of the stalls assigned to Echelon Stables. He pulled something out of the bucket. It was too dark to tell if it was a syringe. I wanted to get a better look.
He walked out of the end stall and into the next, closer to me. His jeans, western boots, and the way he moved screamed cowboy, not an English rider. A groom, I thought. The stall door was partly open. As he stepped into the small circle of light, he reached into his bucket and pulled out a syringe.
My heart thumped hard against my chest. My breathing was so loud I was afraid he’d hear. Kenna and I were alone in the barn with the cowboy, and if he caught me spyng on him, I had no idea what he might do.
He patted the horse on the rump and turn toward the open door. For a second, his face was toward me. I recognized Orlando, a groom at Echelon. I only knew him by sight, but it bothered me that the person doing the drugging was someone I sort of knew.
I plastered myself against a stall wall out of the light. The aisle was clear, offering no bales of hay or a tack trunk to crouch behind. I hoped the sounds of the horses stamping in their stalls and Kenna setting up feed would cover any noise I made. Orlando paused and looked quickly around. Finally he walked into the next stall, and I slowly let out the breath I’ve been holding.
I stood in the shadows for a moment gathering my nerve. Then hugging the wall, I stepped quietly along the aisle just far enough so I could see into the stall. I tried to come up with something convincing to say in case he turned around and saw me. Sure, our horses were stabled a few yards away, as good an excuse as any for being in the aisle, but as plans go, it was pretty thin, and did nothing to slow my breathing. The horse he was about to stick was First Dibs, my all time favorite horse. I had been his trainer, not his owner, but seeing him sold had been tough, and seeing him shown drugged made me nauseated.
I backed up out of his line of sight. I was pissed off, scared, and wished I could do something. Short of running across the aisle and screaming curses at him, I couldn’t think of anything. Even if it were light enough to take a picture with my cell phone, it would show a guy with a syringe, so what?
I was sickened, and all I could do is watch. I had known Janet, the owner of Echelon, for four years, ever since the seventh grade. She was an amazing rider, and her students were always well schooled. Why would she cheat? Maybe I should have felt a little sad at the loss of respect, but I flat out hate anyone who does that to a horse. Dibs being doped made it personal, and I was angry. I walked quickly back down the aisle telling myself, “I’m going to fix this.”