"Max was very mysterious about the new schooling horse that's coming to the stable tomorrow," Lisa said excitedly.
"Did you see that smile on his face? He's definitely up to something," Stevie said.
It was a Saturday afternoon and Stevie Lake was walking home with her two best friends, Lisa Atwood and Carole Hanson. They'd just come from Pine Hollow Stables, where they'd had a Horse Wise meeting and a jumping lesson. Horse Wise was the name of Pine Hollow's Pony Club, run by Pine Hollow's owner, Max Regnery. Max also happened to be the Pony Club's director and the girls' riding instructor.
The girls hadn't been able to stop talking about Max's surprise since he'd announced at the end of the jumping lesson that a new schooling horse was coming to Pine Hollow on Sunday, but just for a visit. There was obviously something very different and special about this horse, but whatever it was, Max was keeping it a secret.
"Maybe it's one of those Lipizzaner stallions from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna," speculated Stevie. "Or a jousting horse—like the kind they use in medieval festivals!" She paused for a moment to take a bite out of a carrot she'd saved from the bag of treats she'd brought for her horse, Belle. "What could be more special and different than that?" she asked.
Stevie had a habit of thinking big, which for most people would be a positive feature. But with Stevie it was more of a character flaw, since thinking big usually led to thinking bigger, and that often led to one of Stevie's crazy schemes. Her crazy schemes would often put her in hot water, and then Carole and Lisa would have to come to her rescue.
"Knowing Max, it's probably something that involves working hard and learning something new," Carole offered.
The girls nodded. Max was always making sure they learned new and interesting things about riding and horses.
Not that riding could ever become dull, thought Carole. If it were up to her, she'd be at the stables twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. She would choose to share a stall with her treasured gelding, Starlight, over a feather bed any day. Unfortunately, her father insisted that a proper education (one that involved time spent in the classroom, textbooks, and homework) took priority over horses. So Carole had to settle for being at Pine Hollow only a few hours a day, nearly seven days a week, nearly fifty-two weeks a year.
Pine Hollow Stables was a beautiful sprawling horse farm surrounded by acres of scenic pastures and miles of riding trails. The farm was located in Willow Creek, Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., and housed over thirty horses and ponies, most of which were owned by Max and used for the school. Some of the students, like Stevie and Carole, boarded their own horses there. Lisa didn't have her own horse yet, but she regularly rode Prancer, an ex-racehorse that the girls had rescued.
Owning a horse required time and commitment. It also required money. In order to keep costs down and encourage teamwork, one of the requirements at Pine Hollow was that everyone who rode there had to help out with the barn chores. Well, almost everyone.
Veronica diAngelo, the barn prima donna, would never willingly participate in such distasteful tasks as mucking out stalls. Especially not when there were stable hands to do the work for her. Spoiled and used to having her way, Veronica was the worst example of a horseperson that the girls had ever met. More to the point, Veronica was the worst example of a human being that the girls had ever met. If there was an excuse not to pull her own weight, you could be sure that Veronica used it.
But Lisa, Stevie, and Carole didn't mind doing barn chores. They were more than willing to do anything that meant spending more time around the horses and the stable. The three girls knew almost from the moment they met that they shared a strong common bond: their love of horses. In fact, they were so horse-crazy, they had formed a group called The Saddle Club. There were only two rules for being a member: Number one, you had to be crazy about horses, and number two, all the members had to be willing to help each other out. To Stevie, Lisa, and Carole, those rules came as naturally and as effortlessly as breathing.
"I can't believe Max wouldn't even give us a hint about this mysterious horse," Lisa continued.
" 'Different and special,' " Stevie said, repeating Max's words. "That could mean anything. Do you think I should have asked him for an itty bitty hint?"
Carole smiled. "You mean in addition to the first twenty times you asked him?"
"Well," Stevie said, grinning, "maybe all he needed was a little more encouragement."
Lisa shook her head doubtfully. "You know that no one keeps a secret better than Max."
"Hey, I keep a pretty good secret," Stevie replied innocently.
If there was anything that Stevie definitely couldn't keep, it was a secret. Worse yet, she could be so persistent that it made it hard for anyone around her to keep a secret, either.
"Maybe Red knows," Stevie suggested hopefully. "I'm sure if I cornered him, I could break him down eventually."
Carole and Lisa knew from experience that it was difficult, if not impossible, not to be swayed by Stevie's determination, or as some would call it, persistent pestering. And Red O'Malley was no exception. As the head stable hand at Pine Hollow, Red tended to know most of the goings-on there. But he was also extremely loyal to Max and enjoyed tormenting the students with anticipation almost as much as Max did. In this case, Carole suspected that Red knew all about Max's secret horse, and it was just as likely that he would never blow the surprise by telling them.
"This is torture," complained Stevie. "It's cruel and unusual punishment. How am I ever going to make it until tomorrow?"
"Well, the good news is that it's less than twenty-four hours away. Fifteen hours to be exact," Lisa calculated. "I guess you'll just have to wait and see."
"Wait and see?" repeated Stevie incredulously. Lisa, the most practical girl she knew, was always willing to offer practical (and on occasion annoyingly practical) advice. Anticipating Stevie's reaction, Lisa grinned mischievously and ducked behind Carole as Stevie playfully tried to punch her shoulder.
Carole rolled her eyes. "Lisa, did you forget who you were speaking to?"
Even Stevie laughed at that. Wait and see was not a phrase that Stevie liked to hear.
"Patience is a virtue, Stephanie Lake," Lisa teased further, mimicking Mrs. Lake's favorite expression when it came to her exuberant daughter.
Excerpted from Horse Feathers by Bonnie Bryant. Copyright © 2001 by Bonnie Bryant. Excerpted by permission of Skylark, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.