When fate threatens to take Spirit away from her, Ellie fights to save her horse When she moved to England after her parents’ death, Ellie felt alone until the day she met Spirit, the skinny gray horse who seemed to see directly into her soul. At first, she simply loved him, but soon she learned of their secret connection—and her incredible ability to speak to horses without opening her mouth. This gift has helped her feel at home on her cruel uncle’s horse ranch, but when Spirit is threatened, her power may not be enough to save him. Ellie gets worried when Spirit stops eating. He tells her that he’s happy, but how can she be sure? With her relationship with her horse and her cousin Joe both in danger, Ellie learns a hard lesson about love. But nothing can break the special bond that she and Spirit share.
About the Author
Linda Chapman grew up dreaming of being a writer and of riding in the Olympics. At least one of those came true. She has now written more than two hundred books including three very popular series: My Secret Unicorn, Stardust, and Not Quite a Mermaid. Although Chapman’s dreams of riding in the Olympics have been shelved (for now), she gives free rein to her horsey obsession by writing about horses whenever she is not writing about mermaids, fairies, or other magical creatures. She lives in Leicestershire, England, with her husband, three children, two dogs, and two ponies.
Read an Excerpt
Loving Spirit, Book Three
By Linda Chapman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2010 Linda Chapman
All rights reserved.
THE STABLE WAS WARM, the air close and still. Outside on the busy yard there were sounds of stable doors banging, hooves clattering on concrete, grooms calling to each other. Ellie pushed the body brush over Spirit's gray coat, cleaning it with every stroke of the curry comb. Her mind emptied as she lost herself in the regular rhythm—brush and clean, brush and clean ...
Back in February, when she had bought Spirit at a horse sale, he'd been thin and scarred, destined to go for meat, but as soon as Ellie saw him, she had felt a connection between them. From the moment she'd looked into his eyes, she'd known she couldn't leave the sale without him and so she had bought him and walked him back through the bitterly cold wind to High Peak Stables where she lived. He looked like a different horse nowadays: his white mane and tail tangle-free, his once-dirty coat clean. Ellie ran a hand over his side, pleased with thevelvet-soft feel. However, she could feel his ribs bumping too sharply against her fingers. Although Spirit had put on weight after she'd brought him back from the sale, over the last couple of weeks he had gone off his food and was growing thinner again. She frowned, worried, as she looked at his tucked-up stomach. Why wasn't he eating?
"Should we talk?" she whispered, putting down the grooming tools. When she and Spirit were quiet and still, her mind could connect with his. Sometimes they would communicate with words; sometimes he would send her images and feelings that she would interpret.
At first, Spirit had been the only horse Ellie had been able to communicate with, but then he had shown her how to talk to other horses too. Now, if horses were unhappy or in pain and people didn't know why, Ellie could find out. No one knew about her ability, only Spirit.
Shutting her eyes, she placed a hand on his shoulder and began to breathe deeply and slowly, clearing her mind, sending out love. Every person and animal in the world had their own energy field. Being able to talk to an animal with her thoughts involved opening herself up and connecting to that energy, waiting for the images and words to come. Every bit of her mind was focused on Spirit. Gradually she felt the familiar sensation as their minds merged. It was as if a door was opening.
A thrill ran through Ellie. Even though she had talked to Spirit many times like this it always felt amazing when he answered.
How are you feeling today? Opening her eyes, she moved closer to him. Spirit had arthritis and his joints were often stiff. Maybe they were hurting now and she wondered if that was why he hadn't been eating. Is your arthritis all right?
Are you sure? You haven't been eating your food.
I don't feel hungry.
But you're losing weight.
Spirit sent her a wave of reassurance in reply. A picture of him as a foal came into her mind. He was cantering around a field. It was one of his early memories and Ellie experienced it now as if she was him. She could feel the sun on her back, the cool grass under her feet. She felt the instinctive urge to gallop and buck in delight. Happiness surged through her and she knew she was feeling what Spirit had felt back then.
She wondered why he was showing her the memory—what he was trying to say. You were happy then? she questioned.
Yes. It is how I feel now.
Ellie breathed a sigh of relief. If Spirit didn't think there was anything wrong that was good enough for her. She rested her head against his neck and changed the subject.
I managed to speak to Gem this morning, Spirit. I wanted to find out why he's always so tense.
Gem was one of the hunter ponies she rode for her uncle. He was only young, a blue roan pony, and about to start his first season of showing. Ellie loved him like she loved all the ponies on the yard, but she found him quite difficult to ride because he was so anxious and needed constant reassurance. She'd been keen to find out more about him and his past.
What did he tell you?
Ellie began to share Gem's thoughts with Spirit, showing him the pictures the pony had shared with her earlier that day—the first memories from when Gem had been with his mother in the field and then the day he had been taken away from her. Ellie had lived through the moments with him—as he had walked inquisitively up to the man with the headcollar and then been put into a horsebox with three other foals. There had been noise and confusion, men shouting, the other foals whinnying frantically.
Ellie had felt Gem's terror as the ramp had clanged shut. He'd been very young to be separated from his mother—only four months old. There had been the smell of diesel fumes from the engine and the fear radiating from the other foals. She had heard his desperate cries for his mother as the horsebox started moving away. He'd never seen his mother again.
Gem had told her he'd been taken to a showing yard where he stayed for a couple of years. There he had been fed and watered, but the grooms were busy. After his attempts at seeking affection—nuzzling, pushing against them, pulling at their clothes—had been met with slaps and sharp words, he became nervous. When he was old enough to be ridden he'd been sold on again, this time coming to High Peak Stables, Ellie's uncle's yard in north Derbyshire.
Scared and bewildered, Gem had arrived in the autumn, just eight months ago. He had been broken in and taught to wear a saddle and bridle. Too scared to fight, he had accepted a rider without protest. But Ellie had felt an anxiety deep within him about what would happen next in his life.
It's OK, she'd told him, longing to take his nervousness away. Nothing bad's going to happen. You're safe here. Her uncle was firm and hard with his horses, but he wasn't cruel to them. And I'm here to look after you now. I'll love you, ride you, groom you.
The young pony had sighed and rested his head against her chest as she talked to him. She'd felt his relief wash over her that finally someone was listening.
I think I can make him happier, Ellie told Spirit. Now that he trusts me and I know why he's nervous. I'll try to help more.
She felt Spirit's warm breath on her hands and felt his pleasure. Good.
Ellie put her arms around his neck. Thank you, she told him. Thank you for showing me how to talk to other horses. I want to help as many as I can.
Spirit snorted softly and Ellie felt love well up inside her. The bond between them was so strong. She couldn't imagine how her life would be now if she hadn't bought him that day at the sale.
Rubbing his forehead, she reluctantly stepped back, letting their thoughts separate again. She could stay talking to him for hours, but there was too much to do on the yard.
"I'd better go." She gave him a last hug. "I'll see you later."
Picking up the grooming kit, Ellie left the stable, her heart light. She stopped to greet the black gelding in the next stable along. He was a valuable show hack called Lucifer. When he had first arrived back in March, he'd been very unhappy on the yard, but eventually Ellie had talked to him and worked out why. After that, she'd been able to help him settle in.
I wonder which horse I'll talk to next, Ellie thought as she headed towards the main yard. She'd love to talk to all the horses there, but it was hard to find the time. It wasn't something that could be rushed. Some horses would talk straight away but with others she would often have to just stand for a long while, waiting until they relaxed and their minds connected with hers. She would happily have given up the hours needed, but now it was May there were shows nearly every Saturday and Sunday, often in the week too, and her uncle had a constant list of jobs for her to do. It was hard enough finding the time just to groom and ride Spirit.
Ellie reached the main yard. Here a large courtyard was enclosed by ten spacious loose boxes. The remaining twenty horses were stabled in two American-style barns. The countryside around the stables was majestic and wild. Somehow the peaks of the north Derbyshire mountains that rose up behind the yard looked bleak and untamed even in the middle of summer with the sun shining. In contrast, the yard was an enclave of order and control. Headcollars were hung neatly from hooks and the yard was perfectly swept. High Peak Stables was one of the top showing yards in the country and her uncle, its owner, Len Carrington, believed in neatness and order at all times.
As Ellie reached the yard, she saw her sixteen-year-old cousin, Joe, leading a chestnut pony with a flaxen mane and tail out of the pony barn. Stuart, the yard manager, was lunging a horse in the small schooling ring by the car park, while Helen and Sasha, the two grooms were cleaning tack in the sun. Luke—Joe's cousin from the other side of the family, who also worked full-time for Len—was going out on a hack on one of the hunters. Everyone on the yard was always busy. Len had huge amounts of energy himself and would not tolerate any slacking. Anyone found not working could expect a torrent of sharp words. The days started at 7 a.m. or earlier and often didn't finish until late at night if there was a show on.
It was a completely different life from the one Ellie used to have. She had grown up in New Zealand with her dad, Len's younger brother, who had been a vet, and her mom who had been a kindergarten teacher. Ellie had been very happy. She and her mom kept horses and ponies, and she used to travel with her dad on his vet rounds. But ten months ago her world had turned upside down when both her parents were killed in a car accident. At first Ellie had lived with her grandmother, but her grandmother was old and in January it was decided that Ellie should move to England to live with Len and Joe. She would never forget her arrival—how she had hated her uncle, hated the oppressive gray skies of the Peak District, hated being torn away from her home. But after she and Joe became friends and she found Spirit, her life had started to improve.
Her mom used to have a saying: every ending is a new beginning. Recently Ellie had begun to think how true that was. Her old life had ended, but this new one had started. If she hadn't moved from New Zealand, she would never have met Spirit or discovered she could talk to horses. She would always, always wish her parents were still alive, but she did find comfort in the truth of the saying, and slowly but surely High Peak Stables was beginning to feel more like home.
Joe had helped with that, Ellie thought, smiling at her cousin taking Milly to the wash-barn. Joe had been welcoming from the moment she arrived and now they were the closest of friends. For a while it had seemed they might become more than that, but although Ellie hadn't seen them being cousins as a problem, Joe had, so eventually they'd decided to remain just as friends.
Ellie went over, feeling slightly guilty for having spent so long with Spirit. "Do you want some help with Milly?"
The chestnut pony was pawing the concrete on the yard. She was completely different from Gem, a feisty outgoing ball of energy who fidgeted constantly. It was one of the things Ellie loved about horses; they all had their own personalities, just like people and they all needed different handling.
"If you've got time," Joe replied, pushing his sandy brown hair from his forehead, where it kept falling. "I've read about a new way to persuade her to stand still in one of my books," he went on. "Can you fetch the hosepipe for me?"
"Sure." Ellie put the grooming kit down and pulled out the hosepipe. "So, what are you going to do?"
Joe loved exploring new ways of training horses. He read a lot of books by trainers who were into natural horsemanship, people who believed in working with horses in a partnership rather than using force.
"Well, rather than shouting at her and trying to make her stand still like we usually do while I bathe her, I'll let her move—but make her move more than she wants to, so in the end it'll hopefully persuade her that standing still is better. You'll see what I mean when I do it. Come closer with the hose, just one step at a time. We'll only do her tail and legs, the rest of her is clean."
Ellie started walking towards Milly with the hose. Milly stood still and he praised her, but then as Ellie came closer the chestnut pony started to swing around. Rather than stopping her, Joe let her move, but began turning her in a tight circle. At first Milly moved around swiftly because it was what she had wanted to do, but when Joe continued to make her turn she began slowing down, only he wouldn't let her stop for ten whole circles. When he did halt her, she was so glad to be still that she stood quietly while he praised her by rubbing between her eyes.
"Ok, come closer again," he told Ellie.
Ellie took another step closer with the hosepipe. Immediately the pony started to move again. Joe patiently repeated exactly what he had done before, turning her around and around, stopping after ten circles to praise her.
"Try again," he told Ellie.
This time, Ellie saw Milly hesitate before moving. It was as though she realized that if she tried to move she would have to move far more than she wanted to. She stood still until Ellie was right beside her tail this time, then she fidgeted. Joe repeated the turning all over again. This time, when he stopped, Ellie saw the understanding in the pony's eyes. By staying calm and patient and repeating things, Joe was making it very clear to her what he wanted—if she stood still she was praised; if she moved she had to turn in a lot of circles.
"Shall I try again?" Ellie asked.
Joe nodded, stroking Milly and murmuring softly to her now that she was still. This time Milly stood as Ellie began to hose her tail and legs and rub in shampoo. She was a quick learner and although they had to break off a couple more times to repeat the process, by the time they had finished washing her, Milly had learned the lesson and was standing perfectly. Joe was able to put the leadrope over her neck and not even tie her up.
"That's made such a difference!" Ellie said in delight. "And it's so simple!"
"I know." Joe looked pleased. "It's all from this book I've been reading about making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard work, then letting the horse choose which it wants to do, rather than getting into a fight and shouting at her to stand still." They smiled at each other over Milly's neck. Ellie wished she could tell Joe how she talked to horses—she had tried once, but even he had found it too hard to believe.
It was hard for Ellie to keep such a big thing a complete secret though, particularly when she could help so many different horses on the yard. Her uncle and Stuart put her ideas down merely to natural horse sense and good instincts. But she longed for someone to know it was more than that.
She wondered if the alternative techniques Joe had started using recently would make him more open to what she could do.
"Joe." Ellie ducked under Milly's neck.
Ellie took his hands. This was going to be hard. "If I tell you something weird, will you promise to try and believe me?"
"I guess," Joe said curiously. "What is it?"
But before she could say any more, there was the sound of hooves and Len appeared, leading Solomon, a steel-gray novice hunter, down from the main schooling ring. Ellie quickly dropped Joe's hands.
"What's happening here?" Her uncle's blue-gray eyes were the same color as Ellie's but his were granite-like. His weather-beaten face furrowed as he looked at them.
"Nothing." Ellie felt flustered as she realized he'd seen her holding Joe's hands.
"Ellie was just about to tell me something," Joe said.
"Nothing important," Ellie added hastily.
Her uncle looked sharply between them, but to Ellie's relief he was distracted by Milly. "What's that mare doing not tied up?" he demanded.
"She doesn't need to be," Joe replied.
"Doesn't need to be?" Len stared as if he'd gone mad. "She'll be off like a damn rocket any moment. Don't be stupid, Joe. Tie her up."
"She's fine, Dad. I've been teaching her to stand still. I read about it in my books. You give them a choice and—"
"Choice! She's a horse, not a flamin' person!" Len snapped. He seemed to be in one of his darker moods that day. "You and your ruddy books!"
Excerpted from Hopes by Linda Chapman. Copyright © 2010 Linda Chapman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.