Shamrock Stable #2.5
A Shamrock Stable Novella

Deck the Stalls

by Shannon Kennedy

"Deck the Stalls" by Shannon KennedyAll Sierra McElroy wants for Christmas is a guarantee the horses at Shamrock Stable will be home for the holidays. Her mother has decided they can't keep every horse and should sell some. Now, what can Sierra do to save her friends and Christmas for everyone?






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Shamrock Stable—Friday, November 29th, 3:00 p.m.


I drove past the parking lot by the indoor arena and up to the house to unload the results of my Black Friday shopping extravaganza. Bargain hunting today meant I’d loaded up on holiday decorations for the barns and the presents Mom asked me to get for my younger half-sister. Autumn must have been watching from the living room windows. As soon as I parked the Ford Ranger, she raced toward the truck. I switched off the motor and pulled out my keys. “Hey, kid. What’s going on?”

“Not much,” Autumn said, trying to peer around me and check out the bags. “Meredith got here, and she’s teaching lessons. Mom’s showing Christmas horses. She says we have to sell four of them to have enough money for me to get a new saddle and new chaps and a new coat and...”

Since her list went on forever, I tuned her out. I hated selling horses even when Mom said it was a necessary part of the business. It was like losing family members. I decided it was easier to part with my latest stepdad who’d gone off with some barrel racing champion who thought she was all that and a bucket of carrots. We should have asked the blonde bimbo for a decent price for him and then we wouldn’t have to sell any of our loyal four-legged buddies.

“Sierra, are you even listening?” Autumn stamped her foot, planted her fists on childish hips, and glared at me with narrowed blue eyes, her father’s eyes. “I was telling you what else I need for Christmas.”

“You think you need everything,” I told the seven-year-old, “and you’re probably right. How about helping me out so I don’t give Santa a heads-up the next time you’re naughty?”

“Okay. What do you want me to do?”

“Take these bags to the office.” I pulled out the sacks with horsy-safe garlands, placemats, plastic ornaments, and small wreaths. “You’ll have to make more than one trip.”

“No worries. I got it.” She stomped off, a miniature cowgirl in a Shamrock Stable sweatshirt, blue jeans, and Ropers. Our one-year-old, gold-and-white collie, Queenie, got up with a sigh from her bed on the porch and trotted after the kid.

Laughing, I gathered up the crucial bags, the ones with Autumn’s presents, and headed for Mom’s room. Once I had the sacks safely stored on a high shelf in the closet, I could return to the truck and tote in the presents I’d bought for the two of them. I’d barely finished unloading and hiding the loot when Mom arrived.

I always felt like a giant in comparison to her. We both had red hair and green eyes, but she was petite and slender while I was five feet eight in my socks. She said I got my height from my father, a guy I barely remembered. He’d gotten lost on the journey to find himself back when I was three.

“I got pretty much everything on your list,” I told her. “Who were you showing today?”

“Houston and Sagedust.” Mom shrugged. “I don’t know that Eddie or Tina are going to actually get them for presents. Both sets of parents whined about the prices.”

“Those two horses are registered, fully trained and have won ribbons in games as well as shows,” I said. “What do those people want? Giveaway prices? We’re not desperate. We can use them next summer in day camp.”

“And what do we do for food until then?” Mom asked. “We need to eat and so do the horses. They also require shavings, shoes, vet care, and grain. We go through this every winter, Sierra. We can’t keep all of them.”

“They’re family,” I said. “Let’s fill the lesson programs and then we won’t have to sell them. I can teach more classes.”

“You’re already doing enough.” Mom put her arm around my waist. “You’re sixteen. You’ve got to remember to enjoy life and learn to let go, honey.”

“I will when you do.”

Later that afternoon, I was in the middle of hanging a gold tinsel garland down the aisle of the barn when eleven-year-old Eddie Foster arrived for his lesson. His mom followed her stocky son, toting his equestrian helmet and a bag of organic carrots for Houston. I pasted on a polite smile, although I wanted to ask when the kid would learn to work if she kept doing everything for him. “Hi there. Let me finish this and I’ll help you groom and saddle up for class, Eddie.”

“That’s so nice of you, Sierra.” Rhonda Foster, his mother beamed at me. “Here, Eddie. Give Houston a carrot.”

“And please put on your helmet.” I ignored the windy sigh from the boy and stapled the garland to the overhead beam that ran the length of the barn. “You know the rules. Whenever we’re around horses, we wear our safety gear.”

“I’m not even in his stall yet,” Eddie complained. “It’s not fair.”

I nearly said that it wasn’t fair for him to expect to buy the horse when he always wanted a servant, but I bit back the words. Instead, I finished hanging the long line of tinsel. Time for a break, even if I’d rather decorate than babysit this wanta-be cowboy. I carried the bag of decorations into the tack room. I gathered up Houston’s saddle, pads, and bridle. I paused by the door to nab a tote box of brushes. I could have used a little help, but since I wasn’t going to get any, I did the superhero routine instead and packed the gear down the barn aisle.

Besides, Rhonda was a decent tipper, if not a great one, and I could throw the bucks into the envelope we kept for the hay dealer. I had to wait for them to finish feeding Houston carrots before I hefted the saddle onto the door. I laid the pads on top and hung the bridle on the hook next to the halter.

I kept smiling. “Okay, let’s get started. You don’t want to be late for class.”

While Eddie and I groomed Houston, his mom stood outside the stall. I cleaned the hooves, all four of them. Then I curried the Norwegian Fjord’s golden hide. “Use the body brush, Eddie, and sweep away the dirt please.”

Another huge sigh and he reluctantly picked up the body brush and dabbed at the dirt on Houston. He was a good horse, but he really loved rolling in the dust during the summer and in the mud during the winter. If we sold him to this family, who would groom him and clip his mane so it was in the traditional style for his breed? Feed him? Water him? Clean his stall?

“Your mom certainly wants a lot of money for this horse,” Rhonda said. “It seems exorbitant to me.”

I’d finished currying, so I traded brushes with Eddie. “You polish him up after I get off the crud, okay?” He nodded, and I started brushing off the mud and dirt before I glanced at his mother again. “Houston is purebred and registered. His papers are in order. He can do everything from trails to games to showing. He loads easy in trailers and anyone can shoe or vet him.”

“I’ve seen cheaper horses on the Internet.”

“You’ll have to check them out.” I put down the body brush and picked up the mane and tail comb. “Have the owners ride the horses first before Eddie does. You don’t want him to get hurt.”

“Don’t you want to sell him?” Eddie asked me, watching as I attacked the knots in the thick black-and-white tail. “We want to buy him.”

“That’s why you’re talking to my mom,” I said. “I’m not in the sales business. I want to keep all our horses forever and ever.” I glanced at my watch. “Here, Eddie. You comb and I’ll saddle up for you. Meredith will be looking for you soon.”


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