High Country Pony

Hot dust trickled over Hannah as she watched her father’s truck head down the long, tree-lined, gravel driveway.
She shaded her eyes as he turned left onto the dirt road. The dust cloud tracked his progress toward town and over the mountains to the sea and his new job on an offshore fishing boat.
Away from her and Mum.
All around there was silence. No cars, no people, just the odd bird call.
How weird, thought Hannah, and just a little bit scary when you’ve been surrounded by noise in a city all your life.
Mum needed her inside, but she wanted to look around the huge sun-browned paddocks surrounding the little stone house where they now lived. Surely, somewhere, on this enormous farm they called a high country station, there would be horses. Or ponies. Because she was only eleven and quite small for eleven, Hannah knew she wouldn’t be able to ride a full size horse, even though she’d never ridden. But a pony would be perfect.
With a sigh, she turned toward the door. Mum was probably unpacking. That’s if she hadn’t gone back to hide in the bathroom. The long trip south from Auckland to Lake Hawea had been horrible for her anxious, shy mother. Hannah tried to help as much as she could, but Dad didn’t understand it, any of it.
Horse hooves!
She stopped. Two riders and ponies trotted down the drive from where Dad said the owners’ homestead was.
One pony, with brown and white colouring, sashayed from side to side. The chestnut was perfectly under control. The riders looked like girls about her age.
“Hi!” called the one riding the flighty skewbald when they got closer. “I’m Aimie. You must be Hannah. Mum told me about you coming to live in the cottage.”
“Yeah, I am. Hi, Aimie.” Hannah replied, stepping back between the posts of their front gate as Aimie grinned from her sidling pony. Hannah didn’t want any of those hooves near her jandalled toes.
“This is Natalie. My pony’s Trixie and Nat’s is Rhapsody.”
Hannah smiled up at the girl on the pretty chestnut. “Hi Natalie. Rhapsody is gorgeous.”
“Nat. Don’t call me Natalie.” Her face was stony. “Only my mother does. Aimie knows better.”
Hannah glanced at Aimie who rolled her eyes with another big grin. “Oh, sorry,” Hannah mumbled.
Nat looked pointedly at Aimie. “Are we going for a ride or not?” She turned Rhapsody away to trot down the drive.
“Of course.” Aimie let Trixie follow her friend, the skewbald tugging at the reins. She called back to Hannah. “Hey, I’ll call by and see you tomorrow.”
“That would be great,” Hannah called back. But they were gone.
So there are ponies here. And girls her own age. One friendly and one definitely not so friendly. Hannah pushed open the door and shouted, “Mum! Ive just seen some ponies!”

Inside, everything cool and dim. All the drapes and blinds were closed against the bright sun of the late spring morning, only some of the lights on.
We’re not living like this any more, Hannah said to herself as she pulled up the blinds in the kitchen.
“Don’t!” came her mother’s voice from the hallway.
“Mum, there’s no one here to look in. It’s not like Auckland. There’s absolutely no one anywhere near this house.” Up went the next blind.
“Stop it, Hannah. I mean it!” Mum hugged the door frame, her face pale and scared.
“We can’t live behind curtains forever, Mum. I can’t! It’s beautiful here.” She eased back the drapes in the living room. “Look at those mountains.”
Her mother held tight to the door frame, the hallway dark and gloomy – and safe to her mother’s anxious way of thinking.
“Please Mum, come and look. I promise there’s no one here, just you and me and the mountains where Daniel might be working.”
The mention of her brother worked. Her mother stepped close enough to clutch the edge of the curtains and peek out at the view.
Daniel was the whole reason they were here, so far from their previous life in the hustle and bustle of New Zealand’s biggest city, that it seemed like they were on a different planet. Her brother was like her dad – loved the outdoors, hard work and adventure. None of them liked the city, especially her mother for whom the people, noise and busyness were overwhelming. But with Dad working on fishing boats based out of Auckland, at least they got to see him during his time off.
When Daniel announced he was moving to Lake Hawea in the mountains of the South Island to work as a shepherd on a high country station, Dad decided they should all move. And now she and Mum lived on the station next to the one Daniel was working on. Dad organised things so Daniel would take Hannah to town once a week to get the groceries, she was enrolled in the local school with the bus picking her up from the end of the drive and everyone hoped – longed – for the change to be a good thing for Mum. And if there was the smallest chance that she’d be able to learn to ride and have a pony one day, Hannah was all for the move, even though she left her best friend Macy in Auckland.
“Do you think we’ll see Dan today?” Mum asked, her hands white with clutching onto the curtain so tightly, her face anxious as her eyes moved quickly over the landscape outside.
“He said yesterday that he’d come, so I’m sure he will.” Hannah decided against opening any more drapes for now. A couple are better than none and at least Mum is looking outside. Not like normal. “Do you want a cuppa?” Sometimes she felt like the parent, not the child, but Dad was counting on her and Daniel to look after Mum.

3 thoughts on “High Country Pony

  1. Marlene Wilson Bierworth says:

    My opinion only:
    Long, tree-lined gravel driveway is too much description.In the second line, it isn’t clear when Hannah lost sight of her father’s car. There is a lot of dust and dirt and gravel and dust in the first 2 sentences. I like “away from her and her Mum”. Sets up one source of conflict.
    ‘How weird, thought Hannah.’ I don’t think ‘thought Hannah’ is necessary. You’ve been giving her thoughts all along.The mention of ‘you’ve’ is jumping the reader out of the scene. Suggestion…3rd par. ‘Silence invaded her. No cars, no people, just a rat-i-tat-tat from a dumb woodpecker beating his head against a tree. Plain weird and scary if you asked her. Right now she would welcome those familiar city noises she’d known all her life.’ Or something similar…Sounds more kid-like.
    That’s if… The contraction doesn’t work as well as stretching it out…’ That is if…’
    ‘She stopped..’ Is that necessary. As far as I know she hasn’t moved yet.
    ‘The chestnut was perfectly under control’, is a bit awkward. 2 horses & 2 girls could use a better distinction.
    At first meeting do girls introduce their horses along with themselves?
    By the end, I’m questioning the relationship between Hanah and her dad. At first I thought she was angry with him for dumping them in the country and leaving. Then close to the end she explains why they moved there and her eagerness to do her dad’s bidding to look after Mum. I feel a bit tossed about. The Mum plot is interesting. Ceates lots of questions about their past.
    Lots of opportunity to grow this story for young people. This audience is a challenge indeed but you are off to a good start. Stay focused on the audience you want to reach (ex. horse lovers) and happy writing.

  2. Ray says:

    So far I’m enjoying this. There’s enough going on to peek my interest…especially with the relationship with Hannah and her mom. As with all crits, here’s the disclaimer…if any of my observations help, great…if you disagree, feel free to ignore me. 🙂 Some of this may sound nit picky, but that’s just how my brain works…lol. So, here we go.

    You set the opening scene well, but it could use some cuts…personally never thought of dust “trickling”…not wrong just different.:-) All fishing boats are offshore, so lose that. I don’t know if you are foreshadowing that she feels like her dad has deserted her, but that’s the feeling. I would nuke the, “How weird…” sentence.

    Obviously, ponies are going to have a major role in your story, so you definitely want the equine crowd with you. I live in cowboy country and the sentence, “Because she was only eleven and quite small for eleven, Hannah knew she wouldn’t be able to ride a full size horse,” is going to make them lose their @#$%$#@! Out here in the foothills we have 11 year olds riding working horses every day, barrel racing, trick riding, etc. I get the idea, but you really need to change it to something like, “there would be horses; or better yet, ponies. Horses were too big and intimidating, but a pony would be perfect.”

    I would do some fairly major edits on the portion where she is meeting the girls. It drags a bit and feels a bit like an info dump. In these first few pages, we have been introduced to 8 characters {Hannah and her family, 2 girls, and 2 ponies) plus given us 2 names options for 2 of them (Natalie or Nat and Daniel or Dan) and we aren’t sure which are important and which aren’t. None of these things are inherently wrong, just too much to absorb in a few pages. 😉 I know horse people love details about the animals, but perhaps drop these in one at a time over the course of a few chapters.

    I do get a clear image of Mom, great job there. The problem with the two paragraphs about Daniel is that whole info dump thing again. I know that it is all important information, but we need it presented differently. All in all, I like the story and can see how appealing it will be to your target audience. Nothing wrong here that another pass with a red pen won’t fix. Great job.

  3. suzanna says:

    A love a good ‘pony’ story. And I’m sure many middle graders will too.
    Here are some thoughts I had whilst reading. Please feel free to disregard.

    Does dust trickle?

    Loved the line ‘away from her and Mum’. Gives it a really sad, lonely feel.

    I’m interested to know how the relationship with the two girls on the ponies is going to play out.

    Not sure when the girls on the ponies leave they would be just ‘be gone.’ I had an image of a hot, dusty, open landscape. Not the sort of place they would be out of sight that fast. (could be wrong).

    I’m also interested to know the story behind the mother’s problems.

    There was a bit of an information dump where you explain that Dad had organised the school etc Could you find a way to incorporate the backstory into the narrative when it’s needed. Like when she has to actually go to school.

    I dislike Hannah’s Dad for dumping them in the middle of nowhere and expecting the children to look after the mother. I’m already rooting for Hannah to overcome her family problems and get a pony to ride so you’ve done a good job.

    The premise of this story is interesting. You’ve certainly introduced enough obstacles for poor Hannah to overcome. I’m sure it will do well with the target audience.

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