Jackie was given the signal honour of riding out with the
second string on Sundays, wearing skull cap and back
protector, so she was glad she'd got her riding muscles and
reflexes schooled back into shape. The first morning she
was given a leg–up on a thin, tall, muscled colt, with
a skimpy mane and fine coat, she thought she would be
killed. The young horse had no manners, wouldn't stand
still and hung on the bit, skittered and threatened kicks at
any excuse. But once out of the yard he settled and she
realised that he'd just been impatient to get moving. The
string walked steadily along small roads, hooves clopping
and heads nodding, and Jackie relaxed enough to move easily
to the colt's stride. She was sitting with knees sharply
bent in the short stirrups and it felt as though she had
neither grip nor balance. After the roadwork had loosened
them up the horses trotted and cantered along the headlands
of a big field, then Jackie was instructed to breeze the
colt up the track along with another horse. The track led
away from home and uphill, so the exercise riders were less
likely to be carted away while the horses had to develop
The horses galloped neck and neck and Jackie, feeling the
powerful muscles bunching and working, the whip of wind in
her face and surge of speed, was amazed by the primal
instinct, in her as much as the horse, to win. She pulled
up when the other rider did and they jogged back to the
trainer who'd watched with binoculars from his own quieter
horse. The horses were calmer now, allowed to stretch their
necks on long reins while they blew before going home to the
yard. Jackie patted the colt, feeling his sweat, amazed
that she'd survived and stayed on. She realised that she
was looking forward to doing this every week.
Val's job entailed working the horses which had a race
imminent, and teaching them how to enter and leave starting
stalls. He also did a great deal of stable work and planned
the entries with the trainer. Jackie found the stable lads
civil, though a few female grooms were unfriendly, stopping
just short of surly, and she half–feared that they
would cause some accident to occur – an easy matter with
half a ton of barely schooled young Thoroughbred under her
The most stylish lady prizes continued to elude Jackie,
though she now went to race meetings every weekend. A
week–long meeting might hold Ladies' Day on Thursday
to draw a bigger crowd. She soon discovered that the same
women turned up in every location, some of them friendly and
treating it as a laugh, some highly competitive, and some
bitchy. Several treated getting their photos in the paper
as a consolation prize. A few women did tend to win
repeatedly, provoking their competitors, and these women
were often at pains to say that their outfits had not been
expensive. Of course, they did have quite a lot of clothing
store vouchers at their disposal. Perhaps the most
scandalous of all the gossip Jackie heard was when a woman
in a loose maternity smock was watching from the crowd and
the girl next to Jackie elbowed her pal.
"Shona there won it in Hurlsdown a few years back. I
heard she slept with the judge beforehand. Look at her now,
married and expecting. Wouldn't think it would you?"
"That awful old codger, Simons? Wouldn't fancy it myself.
He probably can't get it up anymore anyway."
"Just likes to ogle us. They can't get rid of him
apparently because his ancient house is on the access road
but is it any wonder so few enter there?"
Abbey made good on her word to update or alter some of
Jackie's clothes, simultaneously delivering some style advice.
"Flatter your best feature, which in your case is your
legs, just as mine was. Concentrate on your overall shape
and look for a simple statement. Your hemline should match
your shoes. Match the accessories – if you have a gold band
in your hat, have a gold band around your handbag or
umbrella. The in thing now is an umbrella that matches your
dress, if you carry one. Not too many items and keep
jewellery and makeup to a minimum outdoors."
"How come you never told me all this when I was growing
up?" complained Jackie.
"I did," returned Abbey. "But you wanted to wear a black
miniskirt with shocking pink tights that made your thighs
look like sausages."
"Oh, yes, I remember."
"Now if we could only get Geri to dress smartly more
often. I worry that she'll go to seed early. She looked well
at your launch party but since then I only ever see her in
check shirts and jeans."
"Doesn't seem to bother Dan Farrell," Jackie said
unwisely. She knew Geri and Dan shared the odd cup of coffee
and chat in the café. Geri said it was good to have a friend.
"Mr Farrell is a married man." Abbey's tone would have
"Divorcing," muttered Jackie, but it made no difference
to her mother. The fact that her younger daughter was
living in sin was never referred to and Jackie was thankful
for small mercies.