Loretta couldn't help but smile as she leaned her head back into the sun, rolling it around on her neck. It got a little stiff and boring, sitting here in the saddle all day (and keeping her posture on point did lend itself to stiff joints), but really, someone had to show the newbies how it was done. And it was worth it, to keep up a good image for Moorland Stables. Nobody would take the stable seriously if the riders slouched in their seats, after all. Which was the main reason why Loretta was the only one there ever seen on horseback. It was a worthy sacrifice. And besides, if she was up here all day, she wouldn't risk getting her white riding trousers dirty.
The sun was nice, though, she had to admit that. Well, when it wasn't beating down on her in the height of summer, anyway. Fortunately, there was a tree between the paddock and the pole bending course where she could sidle over to if it ever got too hot. And there was always a gang of Bobcatz hanging out near her, ready and able to run and grab her a bottle of water (and a can of deodorant) if she required it.
But as nice as the sun was, Loretta was definitely glad to be able to take a break. It was lunchtime now, and Jenna had just rung the bell to signal all riders to come inside the stable for lunch. Loretta was very much looking forward to it, her stomach growling. Sure, it was only sandwiches, not something super nice like sushi or something else from Jorvik City, but Jenna made some pretty good sandwiches. Rumour had it that Thomas Moorland liked her sandwiches, but Loretta had no time for idle gossip. She only cared about her own romance. Speaking of, Justin was nowhere to be seen today. Drat. The druids had obviously dragged him away on some business again. Well, if he didn't return by tonight, she'd set out in search of him. It wouldn't be the first time she'd rescued him, after all.
As if to make up for the absence of Justin, Maya seemed very excited today, showing everyone a photograph that she otherwise kept clutched close to her chest.
"What's all the commotion about?" asked Loretta, sauntering over to her. It was a blessed relief to be walking, too, though she was definitely getting a bit saddle-sore. Oh well. Only a few hours to go, and then the stable would be closed for the day and Loretta could sit back and relax on a nice, comfy couch.
"Oh my gosh, it's so amazing," said Maya, her eyes shining. Loretta hoped she wasn't about to start crying again. For an honorary Bobcat, Maya could be so uncool. Seriously, who cried over a broken bowl and a naughty horse?
"What is?" asked Loretta, genuinely interested despite herself.
"Look!" said Maya, finally showing the item to her. It was a photograph featuring a girl on horseback leaping over a jump in a show jumping arena. In the bottom half of the photo was scribbled 'To Maya- aim high!' followed by a scribbled autograph. Loretta's eyebrows rose, an unconscious action.
"No way," said Loretta, looking from the photo to Maya and then back to the photo. "How did you get Reed Kessler's autograph?"
"Well, I asked that new girl here, you know, the one who saved the stables from GED, to go and get her autograph because I'd heard that she was at the riding hall outside Silverglade Manor, you know the one?" said Maya, babbling in her excitement. She held her hand out, and Loretta gave the photo back to her.
"Duh," said Loretta, nodding. "I used to do dressage there but now a bunch of newbie riders from the summer camp keep putting on performances there. They don't even know the difference between dressage and drill time, god, it's ridiculous." She rolled her eyes.
"Well, anyway, I think she's still there," said Maya. "I mean, she must be, I just got this autograph this morning. I just, eee, I'm so excited!" Maya jumped up and down, giving an excited little squeal. Loretta shook her head, smiling.
"Thanks for the heads-up," said Loretta. She left Maya to her celebrations, hearing her yammering on about how amazing it was that she had an Olympian's autograph and how cool it was that there was an Olympian on Jorvik. Privately, Loretta agreed, though she wouldn't go on about it like that. Gushing was so uncool.
"Loretta, how can I help you today?" asked Jenna, giving Loretta her best 'helpful' smile. Loretta was willing to bet that Jenna was getting a little tired of giving fake smiles all day. She sure was, and she hadn't even had to handle the newbie fights and other shenanigans in the stableyard.
"Why, Jenna, whyever would you think that I'd want something from you?" asked Loretta. "Your sandwiches are delicious, by the way."
"Do I look like I came down in the last shower to you?" said Jenna with a chuckle.
"Fine," said Loretta, giving a little roll of her eyes. "There's, like, an Olympian or something in the riding hall, and I want to go check it out. Could I have the afternoon off, pretty please?" She fluttered her eyelashes.
"If it means you'll be exercising your own horse today, sure thing," said Jenna, grinning. "I'm sure one of the other Bobcatz will be able to temporarily relieve you of your post, they have nothing better to do."
"Right?" said Loretta with a little laugh. "Thanks, Jenna, I'll try not to be back too late."
"I've heard that before," Jenna muttered as Loretta walked away.
Bartok was more than ready to go for a ride, actually giving a nicker of excitement and a swish of his tail as Loretta approached him.
"Hey now, remember to stay cool," said Loretta, giving him a stern look. Bartok blew in her face, causing Loretta to wrinkle her nose in distaste.
Once she'd saddled up and climbed into the saddle, though, Bartok was as good as gold. Loretta smiled as she rode him out of the Moorland area, taking him up to a canter as they passed into the Silverglade area. No stupid purple car to get in her way today, it seemed, though she'd heard that the driver had suffered an accident. Served him right, honestly, he'd spooked her girls and their horses and ruined trail rides far too many times.
Loretta took the opportunity to look around as she rode past Silverglade Village. She hadn't been here in a while; usually, she sent some newbies on errands to fetch things for her. It was rather nice to be out in the countryside, feeling the sun on her face and the wind in her hair. She should definitely do this more often.
As she passed the winery, Loretta considered stopping there to sample some of the fine wine that she'd heard was produced there. It smelled so nice, and she was a little thirsty. But, she figured, it would be pretty lame of her to show up to an Olympian with alcohol on her breath. Maybe she could stop by on the way back, just for a glass. Surely, the Baroness would give out samples, especially to her future granddaughter-in-law (once Justin agreed to the marriage, anyway).
Her mind was set, though, and Loretta carefully guided Bartok down the rather steep hill to the riding hall. Or riding arena, she'd heard it called both names. It was more of a hall, though, and a shoddy-looking one at that, but apparently it was good enough for Reed Kessler. So maybe it wasn't so bad after all. Or maybe, she considered, it was just the only one currently accessible on Jorvik. So lame.
But inside the riding hall, on the showjumping side, stood a girl who Loretta recognised not only from the photograph that Maya had shown her but also from TV. She also had one small poster of Reed in her room, and she may have gone through a brief obsession with her. An Olympian at the age of just eighteen, that was impressive. Trying to appear cool and calm despite her racing heart and slightly trembling hands, Loretta dismounted Bartok and walked over to Reed, leading Bartok behind her.
"Hi there!" said Reed, turning to look at Loretta with a grin. "Have you come to get an autograph from me too?"
"That wasn't my sole reason for coming here," said Loretta with a laugh that she hoped didn't sound as lame as she thought it did. "I wanted to, like, meet the real-life Olympian."
"Are you a fan? That's sweet," said Reed, still smiling. "It's always nice to meet a fan. Unless they're a weird one. You're not a weird one, are you?"
"Oh, god, no," said Loretta, her laugh more genuine this time. "I'm the leader of the Bobcatz, the coolest club around."
"Hmm, can't say I've heard of them," said Reed, making Loretta gasp in shock. "But when there's so many clubs on Jorvik, it's easy to forget names or mix them up."
"Well, we're from Moorland," said Loretta. "Moorland's best and only riding club. And also the best club in Jorvik, no matter what the Bulldogs tell you."
"Never heard of the Bulldogs either," said Reed, looking a little confused.
"That's good," said Loretta. "I mean, it's fine. But gosh, I used to, like, idolise you."
"Used to?" asked Reed, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh, no, like, I still admire your achievements," said Loretta. "You were in the Olympics, that's impressive."
"Thank you," said Reed.
"I'm just, like, more into dressage, myself," said Loretta. "My horse Bartok is pretty good at it, too. He might not be a Lusitano or a Friesian or a Lipizzaner, but he's still pretty good."
"Well, sometimes, the breed doesn't matter so much," said Reed. "It's your riding ability that counts. Maybe you could show me how you ride these jumps?"
"Oh, um... I'm not too good at showjumping," said Loretta. She felt horrible, saying it, but the idea of making a fool of herself in front of Reed Kessler made her want to die.
"That's okay, if you show me what you can do, I'll be able to give you some pointers,” said Reed, smiling warmly. Loretta hesitated, but finally nodded. Showjumping was a good discipline too, she guessed. It might not be as good or fancy as dressage, at least in Loretta's books, but maybe it would at least impress Justin. He liked jumping with his Saga.
"Okay," said Loretta. "You’ve convinced me. I'll give it my best shot, but don't laugh if I knock all of the poles off." Reed laughed.
"Just do your best," said Reed. Feeling entirely more nervous now, Loretta mounted Bartok again while the other girl in the riding hall set up the first showjumping course. It was a rather simple one, just the ones around the outside, followed by crossing over into the middle, and then going around in the other direction.
"Do the numbers mean anything?" asked Loretta, looking at them.
"Well, in proper showjumping courses, they do," said Reed. "But as this is only a practice one, you don't need to worry about them. Just follow the directions."
"Right," said Loretta, nodding. She felt completely out of her depth, but what was the worst that could happen? Loretta took a deep breath, waited for Reed to count her down, and then set out at a canter. When the first jump came up, she leaned forward and urged Bartok to jump. To her relief, the poles remained in place and Bartok didn't hit a single one. Loretta relaxed. Maybe this would be easier than she'd thought.
The jumps around the outside went fairly well. Swimmingly, even, she might say. But when it came time to make a sharp turn to the middle jumps, everything fall apart. Loretta turned Bartok too late, and her horse crashed into the side of the next jump, narrowly missing crushing Loretta's leg. The poles within fell out, rolling across the floor. Loretta gasped as Bartok's hoof came down on one, sending his hoof out from under him, and down they went.
Fortunately, there were no injuries. Bartok was able to stand and walk without limping, and Loretta was fine, if a little dirty. And supremely embarrassed.
"It's okay, you did pretty well for your first round," said Reed. "You looked really nervous at the start, though, I'm surprised your horse didn't pick up on it. A nervous rider could cause the horse to refuse a jump. Just relax, and trust that the horse will make the jump."
"I know that!" Loretta snapped at her. When she realised what she'd done, though, she gasped, covering her mouth with her hands. "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you, I just-"
"Hey, if I had a... what is it you guys have here? Shillings? If I had a shilling for every time I snapped at someone because I was embarrassed, I'd be a billionaire," said Reed, laughing. "Well, I'm already a very wealthy person, but you get what I mean."
"Yeah," said Loretta, accepting Reed's hand to help her up. "Hey, do you know if there's a rock for me to crawl under and hide now?"
"Sorry, I'm not familiar enough with the place," said Reed, smiling. "But overall, you did good. Just need to remember to relax. Maybe you should do showjumping a little more often, it's fun. And I hear that there are better showjumping facilities here than there are dressage."
"Yeah, it sucks," said Loretta, pouting. "How can I be a proper dressage rider when there are no decent dressage facilities for miles around? And the road to Beauvista is blocked, which is, like, so lame. All the best dressage riders trained there."
"Wasn't there a dressage class at Jorvik Stables?" asked Reed. "I heard that that was where Anne von Blyssen trained before she became famous." Loretta had to resist the urge to let out an uncool growl, instead settling on rolling her eyes.
"It shut down a while ago," said Loretta. "Apparently, Herman has more important things to do. What could be more important that educating riders in the basics of dressage?"
"No idea," said Reed. "But in the meantime, if you ever want some more showjumping tips, I'll be around for a while."
"Thanks," said Loretta. "Maybe I can show you my dressage sometime, too, that's one thing I can't make a fool of myself in."
"Sounds like a plan," said Reed. "I might not be able to give you pointers on that, but it's good to keep your confidence up."
"Then I'll be back to see you soon," said Loretta as she gathered up Bartok and checked him over one more time for injuries. Reed smiled.
"Can't wait," said Reed.
As Loretta rode off, she didn't feel quite so bad anymore. She still wanted to crawl under a rock and hide for a while, but at least she had someone famous to teach her how to get better at showjumping. Maybe that would be enough to impress Justin. And then he'd fall in love with her, and they could live happily ever after. Just like she'd always dreamed.