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Chapter 1 - Who Wants a Riding Club?


IT was one of those wet Saturdays when you argue for a long time about what you are going to do and in the end you do nothing.

"Everybody thinks it would be an awfully good idea if we had a riding club here in Chatton," said my friend Ann Derry.

"Who's everybody?" I said.

"Oh well, everybody, really. And everybody thinks it would be a jolly good thing if you started one."

"I like that!" I said. "Why pick on me?"

"Well, you do more or less start everything round here, don't you?"

"I'm not starting a riding club," I said. "It's too much jolly fag. If anybody else wants to start one I wouldn't mind joining."

"Oh, yes you would," said Ann, with a flash of insight into my character which I can only describe as supersonic. "I can't see you joining a riding club that Susan Pyke started, or that your cousin Cecilia started. You know you wouldn't like any riding club that you hadn't started yourself."

"There's something in that," I said. "What does a riding club do, anyway?"

"Well, everybody joins, and you get a paddock -"

"Where from?"

"Oh gosh, I don't know. Don't interrupt. There must be millions of paddocks lying around doing nothing. You get one, and you have a meeting once a week or as often as you want, and you get somebody who knows all about equitation to come and lecture to you; and then you school everybody like mad; but the point is, that in the end you can have your own one-day event. Don't you think it would be marvellous to run a gymkhana, for instance, ourselves?"

I thought this over, and admitted it wouldn't be bad at all. In fact it appealed to me very much. It might be worth starting a riding club to run one's own gymkhana, and perhaps it wouldn't be too much of a bind. Perhaps we could get hold of some worthy types of people who would do the actual work.

"How do we begin?" I said.

"You mean, you'll really do it? Nice work!" said Ann.

"If we don't like it we can always give it up," I said. "Who do you think would join?"

"Oh, crowds of people. You needn't worry about people not wanting to join."

"But we don't want a lot of drips," I said.

Ann thought a bit and said, "I expect we'll have to have some drips. I mean, you can't say 'drips not admitted to the riding club', because nobody actually thinks that he or she is a drip. That is only apparent to other people. I mean, there might be people who thought that you and I were drips."

"Don't be silly," I said. "You know what drips are. There are two types; people who can't ride and won't bother to improve, and people who can't ride and think they can. I don't know which are worse. You can't teach either lot anything."

"You might be able to do something with the first lot."

"I'd rather not do anything with either lot," I said. "But from what I know about riding clubs - which isn't much - you've got to put up with anybody who wants to join. You get an awfully mixed entry."

"That's the whole point, I suppose," said Ann. "People join riding clubs to learn as well as have fun. But if you're a properly organised riding club, really important experts are willing to come and teach you because they think they are doing something noble for the cause of equitation."

"I think you'd better run this show yourself if you know so much about it," I said.

"Oh no, Jill, you do it, and I'll back you up."

"That's what you think," I said.

We didn't talk any more about the idea of the riding club, as at that moment Mummy came in and said she would take us to the pictures, seeing it was such a beastly wet Saturday afternoon; but during the evening I thought the idea over.

If you have read my previous books you will realise that I had done quite a lot since I came to live in Chatton five years ago, in fact there seemed to be very little in the local world of equitation that I hadn't had a stab at at one time or another. My adventures, in fact, had already made four books, and I didn't think there was much else that could happen to me. I had one more year at school ahead of me, and that would be mainly marred by swotting for my leaving certificate, after which I had a wild and woolly dream of going to work as a groom at Captain Cholly-Sawcutt's stables - if he thought I was good enough. I hadn't planned anything for the approaching holidays, beyond trying to win a spot of Grade C jumping - if anybody would be rash enough to lend me a horse to do it on - and I thought it would just be the usual round of events. And now Ann had to crash in with this Riding Club idea.

The one thing I hadn't thought of was a riding club, and I could see that it would be quite something for Chatton to have one. Everybody rode, of course. They learned at various riding schools, or taught themselves, or 'grew up on a horse' like farmers' children, or were taught by their adoring but occasionally misguided parents who had themselves learned to ride in the dark bygone ages of about 1932. The only time all these people had the chance to meet one another and exchange ideas was in the show ring, where as you know - what with having the needle and thinking how much better turned out everybody looks than yourself - you haven't much time for exchanging anything at all but nervous glances.

So the more I thought about a riding club the more it seemed to be a useful thing, as well as good fun; only I still kept thinking, why pick on me to run it? Now if somebody like Susan Pyke had chosen to run a riding club I could have understood it - except that I couldn't imagine anybody in their senses joining a riding club run by Susan Pyke. But there were also jolly decent people like the Heath twins. Why couldn't they start a riding club? Oh well, I thought, if it's got to be me, then it's got to be me, and that's all there is to it. Probably nobody will join and it'll all fizzle out, but nobody in Chatton can say we didn't try a riding club while we had the chance.

So the next morning I rang Ann up, and the minute I heard her answer, "Chatton 92" - because all the Derry family answer the telephone in this correct and proper way instead of the usual Hullo - I said, "How do you start a riding club, anyway?" Immediately I realised I had got the wrong person, as instead of Ann's voice I heard Mrs. Derry's rather nervous and milk-chocolaty one saying, "Oh dear, is that you, Jill? What on earth are you going to start now?" I felt like saying, "Measles", but I said, "Please can I speak to Ann?"

I heard her say to Ann, "It's Jill, for you, and I don't know what she's talking about."

I said to Ann, "You'd better come round here," and she said she would. Mrs. Derry, Ann's mother, lives in a perpetual state of thinking there is going to be a disaster, and it isn't much good having anybody like that hovering around when you are planning to do anything.

In the end we went to our orchard and sprawled under the trees, and my ponies Black Boy and Rapide nuzzled us and tried to chew our hair, and it was all very pleasant, especially as Ann had brought some chocolate.

"About this riding club," I said. "How would we start it? I don't mean to say I'm going on with the idea, but one might as well know."

Ann said the thing to do was to tell everybody at school to tell everybody who was interested, and get them to come to a meeting.

"Where do we have the meeting?" I said.

"We can have it at our house on Wednesday, because Mummy's going to London for the day."

"Couldn't we have it here in our orchard?" I said, but Ann thought an orchard wasn't a very dignified or impressive place to have a meeting and we might find that we suddenly wanted to be dignified and impressive. So we decided to have it at her house.

Then before the riding club was even started we began to plan all the things we could do. Schooling and jumping in the paddock, and games and competitions, and perhaps cross country riding. Perhaps somebody with horsy instincts and large grounds might be interested and invite the club for a field day and tea. And then of course we would be able to run a gymkhana.

Ann said, we'd have to have some rules; and I said, why not let all that kind of thing work itself out as we got to it? I felt a few qualms about having rules, because if you have rules you have got to enforce them or it is chaos, and really only a grown-up can enforce rules. As there would be a number of people in the club my own age or older I could see nothing but endless arguments if anybody tried to lay down the law, so I thought it was the best thing to deal with details as they cropped up and not make regular rules to be fought over. Ann said she thought I was a mass of brains and ought to go into the Diplomatic.

"You could get round it," she said, "by not having anybody as old or experienced as us in the club, but then it would be a kids' affair and there wouldn't be any competition for us."

I agreed that we wanted competition and people of our own age or older, because the riding club wouldn't be any fun if it just meant coaching kids.

"And I tell you here and now, Ann," I said, "if I don't like the way the club is turning out I shall wash it all up. The summer holidays are short enough without fagging about doing things you don't care about doing."

"Leave it all to me," said Ann. "We'll have a meeting on Wednesday and see who turns up and how keen they are. Other people make a success of riding clubs and I don't see why we shouldn't. It's about the only thing we haven't tried in Chatton."

This made me think more than ever that Ann was better qualified to run this affair than I was, but Mummy was by now ringing the tea bell and we galloped into the cottage.

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