When Victoria meets Moonshine, an ex-racehorse saved from the slaughterhouse and abuse, she despairs at having to ride such a difficult horse. The pair compete in dressage, a sport that tests the unity of horse and rider as they engage in what can only be called dancing. They compete against horses bred solely for the sport, always struggling to overcome the bias against horses like Moony. As she grows and comes of age, Victoria teaches Moonshine to trust, and Moony teaches Victoria the importance of heart and perseverance. Together, they master many trials and compete in the Junior Nationals in this inspiring and compelling true story of how a girl and her horse changed each other’s lives forever.
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Victoria currently practices law, focusing on animal law and personal injury protection. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association Animal Law Committee, as well the Animal Law Committee’s Legislative subcommittee, and is involved in several groups supporting the humane treatment of animals, from the SPCA to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. She lives with her husband, also a horse-lover, and their young daughter, Olivia Jane, who had her first ride on Moony when she was in mommy’s belly. The family lives on a horse farm where Moonshine is one of many beloved family pets.
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The Tale of the Dancing Slaughter Horse
By Victoria Shade
Amberjack PublishingCopyright © 2016 Victoria Shade
All rights reserved.
We're in a bedroom. Mom is standing, holding me. She smiles at me. I'm happy. Then we float down to the floor. I am sitting in front of her face. Her cheek is on the hardwood floor. Her eyes are closed. A red stream crosses her face. Then another. And another. I don't know what the oozing red liquid is but I do know that her face shouldn't be on the floor. I am worried and reach for her. Her eyes slowly open and she looks right at me. She smiles. My worry quickly fades, and I am happy again.
I am two years old, and my father has just smashed a wine bottle over my mother's head while she was pregnant with my sister.
I don't remember him living with us, but I do remember his frequent intrusions when I was young. They usually went something like this: "Get out! I said get out!" my mother screams, her body pressed against the front door of our house while my father, on the other side, pushes his way in. With one sweep, he swings the door open, slamming her into the wall.
As he steps inside, he points at her, "This is my house, you bitch!"
"The girls!" she shrieks, forcing him to acknowledge that my sister and I are only a few feet away. She is more upset that her toddlers just heard profanity, than by the fact that she has just been thrown into a wall.
As he steps toward my little sister and me, standing on the far side of the living room, he reconsiders his entry. He looks at us, then back at her, and spits at her, "This is my house. You're nothing without me." Finally, he disappears through the doorway, and the terrifying encounter is over.
"Fafa," she orders me, "go play My Little Pony in your bedroom with your sister."
Fafa was my nickname, after my failed attempts when I was younger to properly pronounce the word "fata," in Romanian, which means "girl."
"OK," I obey, grabbing my sister's hand and pulling her away from the entrance of the house.
I lead her to the safety of our bedroom and help her up to my twin bed, into the mess of My Little Ponies strewn all over. I pick up the closest one, and put another one in front of her.
"Look, Baby, aren't they pretty? Look at their long, flowing tails and the stars on their butts." My sister was the baby, so, naturally, her nickname was "Baby."
I knew she had a short attention span and had probably already forgotten the episode between our parents that had just played out before us, but I needed to make sure; I needed to completely engage all of her attention.
"Your pony is so pretty. She's pink, see?" I cue her. "What will you name her?" I ask.
"Pony," she replies, staring at the toy, but not touching it. Since she would not touch it, I pick them both up and make them run alongside each other.
"OK," I say, "then mine can be called Horsey. And they're sisters. And Horsey will take care of Pony."
"I'm sleepy, can I sleep in your bed tonight?" she asks as she lies down on top of all of my toys.
"Sure," I reply, sliding off my bed and making my way toward her bed, across the room. "No," she whispers, grabbing my shirt, "you stay here, too."
It was 1985. I was five years old when my mother decided we needed to be out of our house and out of Queens, as much as possible. She said we had to go upstate, for the fresh air. It was the first time she had sent us to a small town in upstate New York to spend the summer with our grandparents and relatives we didn't know.
"Are you coming with us?" I asked my mother after her announcement.
"No, you are going with Nanni and Tati. I have to work. But I will visit as much as
possible, every night after work, if I can."
"You're going to visit us every night?" I inquired, dubious. She typically worked well into the dark hours of the night. I rarely saw her. And "upstate New York" sounded like it was far away. I wondered how she would visit us every night after the late hours she worked, and travel the distance to this faraway place she was sending us. It seemed impossible.
"Yes, dear," she said as she hurriedly stuffed my clothes and some of my favorite toys into an old, ugly, brown leather duffel bag.
"But we'll be asleep when you come. Why don't you just stay with us?" I pleaded. I never got to see my mother. She was my favorite person, the only person I wanted to be with. I definitely didn't want to stay with my caustic, cold, and abrasive grandparents. They made no secret about what a tedious chore it was to watch me and my sister while my mom worked.
"Because I have to work, Victoria," she repeated, audibly annoyed.
I knew to stop antagonizing her when she used my full name, but I still didn't understand why she would only visit us at night, when we were sleeping.
"And besides, I will stay with you up there every other weekend," she said, softening.
The next morning, we all piled into the car — me, my sister, my grandparents, and my aunt, with my mother at the wheel. I felt relief in leaving the house behind. I hated being inside that house.
As the car droned along highway after highway, I watched the gray, lifeless buildings of the city morph into the vibrant green trees of upstate New York. I rolled down the window and took in the fresh, crisp air. My lungs swelled with the flood of pure, unpolluted oxygen. The sweet smell of lush trees and flowers filled the car. All eyes were drawn to the rolling green landscape now surrounding the station wagon. Nobody spoke. It was as if we were all captivated by the serenity of our new surroundings. There were no more screaming people, no more traffic jams, no more honking horns — just green tranquility.
When we exited the highway, we continued down a maze of winding little roads without double yellow lines or even white dashes. It was as if someone had recklessly spilled cement down a clearing of trees and called it a road. There were no sidewalks, no traffic lights, not even stop signs. Just trees.
After even more driving, the car then made a left turn onto another bizarre road, one made of small rocks. It seemed like the road-making-people had gotten lazier and lazier; the roads were getting smaller and shabbier. The car followed the small road to the front of a large white house. Behind the house, I could see nothing but a hill that rolled high beyond my line of sight. In front of the house, the same hill spilled downward, ending with a border of thick brush, and a large, bright blue pool in the ground.
A stout lady with porcelain white skin and short, dark, curly hair blew open the front door of the house and hurtled herself down the front steps.
"Hi, Mariana!" she screamed at the top of her lungs as she leapt down the last few steps.
Before my mother could respond, she tore open the door to the backseat, and yanked me out. Her grasp was like a man's, rough. Her skin was sandpaper, scratching my arm. On seeing her close up, her nose and cheeks were peppered with orange and brown spots. She was older, but the patches and cherub face made her look young.
"You don't remember me, do ya?" she asked as she squatted on one knee before me.
Before I could answer, my mother made her way around the car and got her attention.
"Anita, she's not going to remember you. She hasn't seen you in two years," my mother explained.
"Pfft!" Anita scoffed, as if to say there are no excuses for not remembering her.
"And who is this?" she said, peeking into the other side of the back seat at my three-year-old sister.
"That's my sister!" I let out immediately.
* * *
After a few days of berry-picking, swimming in the pool, and climbing trees, my sister and I were bored.
"Take them horse-back riding," Anita suggested to my mother. "There's a barn just down the road that does trail rides through the woods."
"Yeah, Mom!" I was immediately intrigued, eager for something new to do.
I stood by the entrance of the barn, waiting for my horse to be brought out. As the giant emerged from the darkness of the barn, his shadow eclipsed my body. The sunlight peeked out from every outline of his body, illuminating his entire frame. He was massive, not just to me, but he exerted a commanding presence over his handler. And yet, he was completely obedient and docile. He stopped where his handler had parked him, like a car, and waited for his next order. He hung his head, disinterested in the world around him. Although I stared into his eyes, hoping for him to see me, he never did. I scanned the length of his body. Other than his massive stature, there was nothing striking about this animal — he was light brown, slightly dusty, and had no markings.
As I approached, he grew bigger and bigger. When I reached him, I stood face to face with his chest. The stirrup hung above my head. My eyes traveled up the worn leather of the western saddle as I wondered how I would climb into it.
"Big boy, ain't he?" I heard a gruff but gentle voice ask.
Before I could respond, he continued, "Yeah, he's a Thoroughbred aw'right. See them long legs, like a Daddy Long Legs spider? That means he's a Thoroughbred, and good for runnin'."
My eyes darted from the saddle to the man speaking to me. He looked like a cowboy, except that he wore a baseball hat instead of a cowboy hat. But he had the rest of the uniform — flannel shirt, worn jeans, and old chaps. Just like on TV.
"Aww, don't worry dear, he ain't gonna hurt ya. He's about a hundred years old and can't barely move no more. Plus them big ones, we call 'em the gentle giants. The bigger they are, the nicer they are.
"His name's Big Tom," the imposter cowboy continued. And then, "Alley-up!" he said with one motion, stepping behind me, lifting me by my armpits and dropping me into the saddle. He must have done this before, because he knew exactly how to throw my body so that I would land in the middle of the saddle.
I instantly disliked the saddle. First, the horn of the western saddle stood as tall as the middle of my torso. The end of the saddle lifted so high that I was sandwiched in. They might as well have taken the couch from my living room, with the indented spot that everyone sat in, and put it on this horse's back. I had no freedom, no room to move. It was like sitting in a hole.
But then I looked around and saw how high I was. Now, the man was looking up at me. In a matter of seconds, I was no longer limited by my weak, miniscule body; I had become part of a giant, powerful being. A foreign sense of satisfaction and serenity enveloped me. For the first time in my life, I was no longer looking up at people. Now, I was looking down at them. For the first time, nobody could reach me. For the first time, I felt safe.
"OK, now you listen here," the man said, stretching to reach my hands. "These are what control the horse. They're called reins. It's real easy, see, if you want to turn left, you pull the left rein, like this, and if you want to turn right, just pull the right one. If you wanna stop, pull 'em both. If you wanna go forward, squeeze with your legs. If Tom tries to stop and eat some grass or leaves on the bushes, pull one rein and kick, to get him out of there. Got it?"
I nodded. It seemed simple.
"Great, now just stay right there," he said, turning back into the darkness of the barn.
He emerged with a much smaller horse, all blond.
"Come 'ere kiddo!" the man called to my sister. She broke loose from my mother's hold and rushed to her horse.
"This here's Goldie," he said. "Now give him a little pet on his nose to make friends," the man instructed.
"Hi Goldie," my sister said softly, lightly stroking the horse's soft muzzle.
After making some last minute adjustments to the saddle, the man then hoisted my sister into the saddle, and gave her the same instructions on how to turn, stop, and go.
"Cassey, let's go!" The man hollered into the barn, cupping his hands over his mouth.
Then, a girl emerged, much younger than the old man, leading her own horse. She had on the same uniform, hair tied back in an old baseball hat, jeans, and chaps — except she wore a T-shirt, not flannel.
As soon as she was outside, she threw her reins over her horse's head, lifted her left leg into one stirrup, and pulled herself into her saddle unassisted. She looked like she knew what she was doing.
"How long, hour or half?" she asked him.
"Half," he replied, as he patted her horse on the rump and headed back into the stable.
"Hi girls, I'm Cassey, and I'll be taking you on your trail ride today. What are your names?"
"I'm Victoria," I replied.
"And I'm Mary!" my sister exclaimed, making sure her small voice reached the trail leader.
"Great. Now look, girls, this is how it's going to work," she explained. "I'll be in front, then Victoria, then Mary. Got it?"
"Got it," we replied in unison.
"If you want to stop, you pull back on the reins. If you want to turn right, pull the right rein. If you want to turn left, pull the left rein. If you want to go forward, kick lightly."
"OK," we agreed impatiently.
"But do not ever, ever, kick the horse and jiggle the reins, OK?"
"OK!" We shrieked in unison, anxious to embark on this new adventure.
"Bye, Mom!" we shouted over our shoulders as our horses followed in line behind our guide's horse.
We meandered through the trails for a while and then got bored.
My little sister rebelliously tested the last rule the guide gave us: never kick and jiggle the reins.
"Ahhh!!" she screamed suddenly as her horse flew past mine in a full gallop.
"Ayyy!!" I screamed as my horse took off after hers. I squeezed my eyes shut and clutched the horn on the saddle. We left our guide behind, tearing through narrow trails at terrifying speeds.
I opened my eyes to see a wooden bridge over a stream and then, just as soon as I saw it, we raced across it, still accelerating. I was scared, but also overcome with excitement over how fast we were galloping through the woods — trees and branches brushed past my face just as I saw them. I was in another world, having never known speed like this.
Then I heard the feverish clambering of hooves behind me and saw the guide frantically kicking her horse to gallop past mine, and then up alongside my sister's horse. I watched as she leaned her whole upper body off to the left, reaching for my sister's horse's reins from around his ears. She was suspended over my sister's horse's head for a few strides, unable to grab hold of the reins tangled loosely around the horse's head and ears. My sister's horse's natural instinct to race a horse running alongside him then kicked in, and he sped up. My horse followed in yet another gear. I saw my sister's body start leaning to the left. She was in danger of falling, which, at this speed, with my horse right on her horse's tail, was bad news.
"Bay, stay in the middle!" I shrieked as loudly as I could. I started calling my sister "Bay" because it was a lot cooler than calling her "Baby," like the rest of the family did.
"Hold on to the horn!" I screamed again.
I didn't know if she could hear me, as the thundering of three sets of hoofs on the dirt trail was deafening. But then I saw her body land in the middle of the saddle after a few more strides.
"Girls, stop screaming!" The guide screamed at us, "You'll scare the horses!"
I thought to myself, they're already scared! What more could they do?
I shouldn't have thought that. I looked up and saw that my sister's horse and the guide were quickly approaching a drop in the trail, leading to a wooden bridge, built over a sizable river.
"No!!" I was overcome with fear, tears obstructed my vision, I could no longer breathe, my heart was in my throat, and I could not feel my hands.
"We're NOT going down!" the guide yelled, more to herself than to us.
Acting with one more wave of heroism, the girl kicked her horse to speed up, cutting off my sister's horse. Then, as the beast started running into the brush alongside the trail, she leaned over, almost onto his neck, grabbed my sister's reins, and jerked them back with a violent backward thrust of her body. The animal's front legs straightened, causing him to come to a sliding stop, bouncing my sister in the saddle for a few strides. My horse slammed into hers, but didn't push him any further, as his feet were now planted firmly into the earth.
I heard our heroine breathe a heavy sigh. I then succumbed to the fear that had gripped me through the entire episode. My body was shaking, I couldn't breathe, and tears exploded from my eyes. My sister turned around, and was my mirror, her face red and wet with tears.
"Is everyone OK?" our heroine asked.
We couldn't answer, still gasping for breath, clutching the horns on our saddles.
Excerpted from The Tale of the Dancing Slaughter Horse by Victoria Shade. Copyright © 2016 Victoria Shade. Excerpted by permission of Amberjack Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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