A Winning Gift

A Winning Gift by Catherine Hapka Read Free Book Online

Book: A Winning Gift by Catherine Hapka Read Free Book Online
Authors: Catherine Hapka
never does stuff like that with beginners. Or anyone who’s nervous, even. She’s really smart.” She patted the mare on the neck. “Aren’t you, Cloudy?”
    â€œOkay.” Bridget sounded a little dubious. “Still, I don’t want to totally let go of the reins. You know, just in case.”
    â€œYou don’t have to,” Maddie said. “I’m just saying, you don’t have to keep them quite so tight, okay?”
    Leaving one hand on Cloudy’s bridle—more to comfort Bridget than for any other reason, since the pony was standing quietly—she tugged at the reins until Bridget let them slide out to a reasonable length.
    â€œOkay, now I’m going to walk her forward,” Maddie said. “Try to relax and go with the motion.”
    â€œEasy for you to say,” Bridget muttered.
    As Cloudy moved off at a slow amble, Bridget let out a squeak of alarm and hunched forward. “Sit up straight,” Maddie said.
    â€œBut I feel like I’m going to fall off!” Bridget protested.
    Maddie shrugged. “You don’t look like you’re going to fall off.”
    That was true. As Maddie had mentioned, Bridget had taken dance classes for years. Her hips were automatically following the pony’s movement, even though her upper body still looked tense.
    Maddie knew that if Bridget would just relax, she’d have a better time. But how could she get through to her?
    Suddenly she had an idea. “Hey, remember when you were telling me about the breathing exercises you learned in that acting class you took last spring?” she said. “You said they really helped with stage fright.”
    â€œThey did,” Bridget agreed. “I used them a lot at camp last summer.”
    â€œOkay,” Maddie said quickly, not wanting to get sidetracked by that particular topic—and the particular boy it was likely to bring up. “Why don’t you try some of those exercises now?”
    â€œHuh? Are you kidding?” Bridget sounded confused. “I’m riding a horse, not getting ready to go onstage.”
    â€œHey, how’s it going out here?”
    Maddie turned and saw Seth standing in the doorway watching them. He hurried forward and leaned on the ring fence.
    â€œHi,” Maddie greeted him, glad that Bridget was too distracted to be likely to mess around and tell him anything embarrassing. “She’s a little nervous.”
    â€œYeah, this is totally terrifying,” Bridget called to him. “But I’m going to try some breathing exercises I learned in acting class.”
    â€œYou’re an actor?” He looked impressed. “Cool!”
    Bridget just smiled. Then she closed her eyes briefly. Maddie could hear her counting under her breath.
    She just waited, keeping Cloudy wandering around the ring at a slow walk. They were only a little over halfway around when Bridget stopped counting.
    â€œHey, it worked,” she said. “I feel more relaxed already. I think I may even be getting the hang of this riding thing!”
    Maddie smiled. Bridget did look more relaxed. “Maybe you just needed an audience,” she joked, nodding toward Seth. “You are an actress, after all.”
    Both Bridget and Seth laughed at that. “Maybe,” Bridget agreed.
    â€œLooking good up there!” Seth called. “Are you going to try a trot?”
    â€œDon’t pressure her,” Maddie warned him. “She’s just getting the hang of walking.”
    â€œNo, he’s right,” Bridget said. “I think I’m ready. Can we trot now?”
    Maddie was surprised, but she had to admit that her friend looked pretty solid up there now that she’d settled down. Her body was following the motion of Cloudy’s walk, and her hands had relaxed on the reins. She was sitting up straight and looking where she was going. Even Ms. Emerson would probably agree that she was

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