It’s Charity Sunday again. What is Charity Sunday? Well, a year or so ago, the bloody amazing Lisabet Sarai came up with the idea. Writers nominate a charity and post an excerpt from one of their works. Then, for one day only, everytime someone comments on a participating post, the author will donate $1 to their chosen charity.
I think this is win-win. All you need to do is comment on this post. You can say hi. You can write me an essay. You can tell me something random about yourself (I particularly love those comments), it really doesn’t matter. Then, for every comment made on Sunday, 25 August 2019, I’ll donate $1 to my local branch of Riding for the Disabled. You get to do good and feel good. I get to support a charity that means something to me. That’s it. Of course, I’d love it if you signed up for my newsletter while you’re here (the link is at the bottom of the page), and I’d particularly love it if you read the excerpt below which is from my latest novel, A Heart This Big, simply because it is directly related to Riding for the Disabled. But you don’t have to do either of those things if you don’t want to.
As I’m in Australia, our Sunday is before most of the world’s, so I’ll leave it open until 11.59pm Pacific time in the US. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to donate; I’ll do that. Neither will I sign you up for anything, spam you or do anything except be very happy that your comment means $1 more to support Riding for the Disabled. I do have a cap on how much I can afford to give, but in the previous Charity Sunday’s I’ve participated in, I didn’t get near my limit. I’d love to reach it this time.
When you’re done reading and commenting here, I’d love it if you checked out the other writers participating in this blog hop. Follow the link at the end of this post to find them.
Why have I chosen Riding for the Disabled?
Back when I was a horse-mad horse-mad kid, I’d spend every spare minute at my local riding stable. I’d work for free rides, and when I reached the grand old age of thirteen, I started teaching other kids to ride. There wasn’t a formal Riding for the Disabled program at those stables, not back then, but there was an informal one that ran along the lines we know today. Every week, I’d teach a kid called Claire. She was ten when we started, fourteen when the stables closed down. Claire had Down syndrome, and her mother would bring her for a thirty minute ride twice a week. The joy and happiness on Claire’s face when she arrived has never left me. She’d run up to her favourite pony, Flossie, and throw her arms around Flossie’s neck and you couldn’t start the lesson until she’d fed Flossie carrots and cuddled her for at least five minutes. Thirty minutes was never enough for Claire, but we all learnt the hard way that to go for longer was simply too much. Too much excitment, too hard to keep her balance.
It wasn’t all joyful. There were quite a few tantrums, quite a few sulks, and a hell of a lot of very inappropriate questions. But that was okay. It didn’t matter. What did matter was that Claire’s mum would say that it was the absolute best time of Claire’s week.
My latest novel, A Heart This Big, is about Australian country girl Nina Pellegrini, who runs a program for city kids to experience a taste of rural life at Banksia Farm. But when a child is hurt and a lawsuit threatens, Nina is determined to find the best legal assistance to help her save the farm. That lawyer is high-flyer Leigh Willoughby, whose city world is far from the farm’s chaotic mix of kids and animals. She certainly doesn’t have time for small cases that don’t pay or farm visits that wreck her cool—and her clothes.
Below is a scene where Leigh is volunteering for the first time with a group of kids all of whom have Down Syndrome and who are riding the farm’s ponies. I hope you enjoy it.
Please don’t forget to leave a comment, and please do visit the other posts in this Charity Sunday blog hop. The link is at the end.
Here’s the excerpt from A Heart This Big.
“Me now! Me now!” The voice boomed around the paddock. Its owner hopped from foot to foot, her round face alight with pleasure under the riding helmet.
“It’s your turn next, Edwina.” Ahmed brought Jellybean around to the excited child and smiled down at her. “But first, we have to make sure Darren gets down safely.”
As the pony halted, Leigh turned to face the pony’s side, the way Ahmed had shown her. She put a steadying hand on Darren’s calf, giving him the security of her presence.
“Can you remember the proper way to dismount, Darren?” Ahmed asked.
Darren nodded and steadily went through the motions until he slithered to the ground. “Thank you, Jelly.” He flung his arms as far as they could go around the pony’s chest and hugged tightly.
Jellybean stood stoically, seemingly unbothered by the small child underneath her neck or the excited girl, feet drumming a tattoo as she waited her turn.
Darren’s mother approached with some carrot sticks, which she gave to her son. Darren offered one to the pony.
“Just a moment, Darren.” Ahmed’s voice was calm as he took the child’s hand and drew it away from Jelly’s questing nose. “Remember what we said? Hold your hand flat with the carrot on top so that Jelly doesn’t accidentally bite your fingers.”
Darren nodded and did as he was told.
Leigh stood to one side and watched as Jelly lifted the treat gently. Nina had been right when she’d said both ponies were quiet and kind. Over the course of the afternoon, she’d seen them hugged in all sorts of ways and their manes pulled and twisted by nervous fingers, all without so much as a laid-back ear.
Leigh’s singlet clung damply to her skin, and she was sure her face was scarlet. Running around next to a trotting pony was surprisingly hard work, especially on uneven ground. She also had to keep a careful watch on the rider. So much for treadmill fitness. That was nothing on this. For a moment, she thought longingly of the air-conditioned gym that was her usual fitness venue and of her personal trainer and his regimented routine, which was designed to work all of her muscles in a controlled way.
There was nothing controlled about her work at the farm, and she was acutely aware that she must look a red, panting, and sweaty mess. Thank goodness, when this was over and she’d taken Phoebe’s statement, her next stop would be her own shower followed by a large gin and tonic. An extremely large gin and tonic.
Ahmed turned to Edwina. “Now it’s your turn.” To Leigh, he added in an undertone, “I hope you’re not easily shocked. Edwina’s thirteen, with all that brings.”
Leigh didn’t have a chance to reply, as Edwina threw her arms around Leigh’s waist. “I want her to help me on.”
Leigh’s gaze sought Ahmed. “I don’t know what to do.” Edwina’s arms around her waist were heavy. The child was solidly built and had to weigh seventy kilos. Leigh was sure she didn’t have the strength to give her a leg up as she’d seen Ahmed do with Darren.
He gave her a sympathetic grin. “Don’t worry. We use a mounting block.” To Edwina, he said, “You know the drill, Edwina. Let’s go over to the block, and you can show Leigh how you can get on all by yourself.”
Edwina clutched Leigh’s hand. “C’mon, let’s run so we get there quicker.”
Leigh obligingly broke into a jog, but Ahmed’s voice stopped her. “No, ’Dwina, you know you don’t run in the paddock. You’d run straight past Mr Petey, and that’s not safe.”
Leigh’s face burnt. The rebuke had been mild, but it felt aimed at her as much as Edwina. She bit her lip. She should have known that. It was common sense, something she’d always prided herself on having.
“She was going to let me.” Edwina’s lower lip stuck out like a dinner plate, and she tugged on Leigh’s hand.
“Her name is Leigh,” Ahmed said. “And she’s a very nice person who is helping you have your ride today. But you have to be extra nice, as this is her first time. We want her to come back, right?”
Edwina peeped up, her brown eyes sorrowful. “Sorry, Leigh. You will come back, won’t you?”
“I’ll try.” Leigh smiled at her.
The answering smile on Edwina’s face made Leigh’s sunburnt shoulders and aching calves worthwhile.
“If you come back, you can marry Ahmed. Then you can have sex, and you’ll have a baby.”
Did she really say that? Leigh’s jaw dropped, and she shot a glance at Ahmed to see his reaction.
“Remember what we said last time, ’Dwina?” His voice had a calmness Leigh would struggle to match.
“Yeah.” The dinner plate pout was back. “Sorry, Leigh. I’m not supposed to talk about sex because there are little kids here. Do you wear clothes in bed? My mummy doesn’t.”
Leigh started. Where was the instruction manual for things like this? She had no idea if all kids talked this way or just Edwina. “Help!” she mouthed to Ahmed.
His lips twitched in a brief smile. “Why don’t you lead Jelly over to the mounting block?” he said to Edwina. “Do you remember how to do that?”
Edwina nodded. Bristling with importance, she took Jelly’s lead rope and marched off, the pony walking by her side.
At a nod from Ahmed, Leigh moved next to her, and Ahmed fell in on the other side.
“Look at me!” Edwina screamed to the other kids. “I’m leading Jelly! And Ahmed and Leigh are gonna have a baby and call it Edwina!”
Leigh bit back a laugh. In her professional life, she was able to stare down obstreperous lawyers, diffuse difficult situations, and pacify angry clients, but now she was rendered speechless by a thirteen-year-old.
The afternoon was not what she’d expected. The noise and exuberance of the Dare to Be Different group was never-ending. Laughter and shrieks of joy seemed to be the norm, and there were more hugs than tantrums, although there had been a couple of those too. But Edwina’s hand in hers had a trusting simplicity about it. It was life distilled to the basics, although whether Nina would agree with that, she didn’t know. On the surface, there was nothing simple about the ordered chaos in the paddock.
But despite the outward spontaneity, the volunteers were alert and careful of their charges. Firm but kind. Leigh looked across at Ahmed. He was portly and appeared to be in his sixties, but he moved with a spryness that belied his age. The smile he’d given Edwina had been gentle and full of love. Love. There was no other word for it. Leigh would put money on the fact that Ahmed got as much pleasure from the afternoon as Edwina did.
Their path took them close to the other half of the group, waiting for their turn on Mr Petey. Leigh’s gaze was drawn to one figure. Nina wore what Leigh was coming to think as her farm clothes: a singlet, baggy shorts, and gumboots. Her dark hair hung loose underneath a wide-brimmed hat. She walked alongside Mr Petey, one hand on the leg of the small girl perched on top.
“You’re doing great, Halifa,” Nina said. “No one would think this was your first time.”
“Don’t let him go faster.” Halifa clutched the front of the saddle with both hands.
“I won’t.” Nina’s voice radiated reassurance. “Mr Petey will walk like this forever until you tell him to stop. Let’s stop now, shall we? Then you can give him a pat.”
Andi, the volunteer at Mr Petey’s head, brought him to a halt.
Nina encouraged Halifa to lift one hand from the saddle to pat the pony’s neck. The child’s shy smile as she touched Mr Petey brought an answering one from Nina.
Leigh had been staring. With a start, she forced her gaze away from Nina and her group and back to Edwina by her side.
The Dare to Be Different group left around four. Eventually. After some tears and a spectacular tantrum from Edwina, who didn’t want to leave, they were driven away in their minibus, faces pressed to the glass, hands waving wildly.
Leigh flopped heavily onto a chair in the corner of the barn. The other volunteers were still brushing down the ponies and mixing feeds. She should join them, learn another of the never-ending tasks around the farm, but her thighs refused to move, and her shoulders were stiff. She touched her nose. Hopefully, her sunblock had been enough. It would be unprofessional to have a sunburnt nose in the office tomorrow.
This excerpt was from A Heart This Big.
Please take a moment now to visit the other participating authors in this Charity Sunday and help them support their chosen charity.