never does stuff like that with beginners. Or anyone whoâs nervous, even. Sheâs really smart.â She patted the mare on the neck. âArenât you, Cloudy?â
âOkay.â Bridget sounded a little dubious. âStill, I donât want to totally let go of the reins. You know, just in case.â
âYou donât have to,â Maddie said. âIâm just saying, you donât have to keep them quite so tight, okay?â
Leaving one hand on Cloudyâs bridleâmore to comfort Bridget than for any other reason, since the pony was standing quietlyâshe tugged at the reins until Bridget let them slide out to a reasonable length.
âOkay, now Iâm going to walk her forward,â Maddie said. âTry to relax and go with the motion.â
âEasy for you to say,â Bridget muttered.
As Cloudy moved off at a slow amble, Bridget let out a squeak of alarm and hunched forward. âSit up straight,â Maddie said.
âBut I feel like Iâm going to fall off!â Bridget protested.
Maddie shrugged. âYou donât look like youâre going to fall off.â
That was true. As Maddie had mentioned, Bridget had taken dance classes for years. Her hips were automatically following the ponyâs movement, even though her upper body still looked tense.
Maddie knew that if Bridget would just relax, sheâd have a better time. But how could she get through to her?
Suddenly she had an idea. âHey, remember when you were telling me about the breathing exercises you learned in that acting class you took last spring?â she said. âYou said they really helped with stage fright.â
âThey did,â Bridget agreed. âI used them a lot at camp last summer.â
âOkay,â Maddie said quickly, not wanting to get sidetracked by that particular topicâand the particular boy it was likely to bring up. âWhy donât you try some of those exercises now?â
âHuh? Are you kidding?â Bridget sounded confused. âIâm riding a horse, not getting ready to go onstage.â
âHey, howâs it going out here?â
Maddie turned and saw Seth standing in the doorway watching them. He hurried forward and leaned on the ring fence.
âHi,â Maddie greeted him, glad that Bridget was too distracted to be likely to mess around and tell him anything embarrassing. âSheâs a little nervous.â
âYeah, this is totally terrifying,â Bridget called to him. âBut Iâm going to try some breathing exercises I learned in acting class.â
âYouâre an actor?â He looked impressed. âCool!â
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.
âHey, it worked,â she said. âI feel more relaxed already. I think I may even be getting the hang of this riding thing!â
Maddie smiled. Bridget did look more relaxed. âMaybe you just needed an audience,â she joked, nodding toward Seth. âYou are an actress, after all.â
Both Bridget and Seth laughed at that. âMaybe,â Bridget agreed.
âLooking good up there!â Seth called. âAre you going to try a trot?â
âDonât pressure her,â Maddie warned him. âSheâs just getting the hang of walking.â
âNo, heâs right,â Bridget said. âI think Iâm ready. Can we trot now?â
Maddie was surprised, but she had to admit that her friend looked pretty solid up there now that sheâd settled down. Her body was following the motion of Cloudyâs 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