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From the queen of the British bestseller lists comes the classic hit every Englishwoman remembers with a sigh -- Riders, the steamy, scandalous tale of sexual and equestrian competition within the heroic world of international show jumping.
Welcome to a world of cutthroat competition populated by fearless athletes, wealthy sponsors, and beautiful starlets and set against the glorious Cotswold countryside and the playgrounds of the world. Within this arena we meet the brooding gypsy Jake Lovell, under whose magic hands the most difficult horse or woman becomes biddable, who is driven by his hatred of Rupert Campbell-Black, the handsome and supremely confident star of the show ring. They steal each other's horses and love each other's women as they push themselves and their mounts to impossible extremes, until their feud erupts, with devastating consequences, at the Los Angeles Olympics.
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Because he had to get up unusually early on Saturday, Jake Lovell kept waking up throughout the night, racked by terrifying dreams about being late. In the first dream he couldn't find his breeches when the collecting ring steward called his number; in the second he couldn't catch any of the riding school ponies to take them to the show; in the third Africa slipped her head collar and escaped; and in the fourth, the most terrifying of all, he was back in the children's home screaming and clawing at locked iron gates, while Rupert Campbell-Black rode Africa off down the High Street, until turning with that hateful, sneering smile, he'd shouted: "You'll never get out of that place now, Gyppo; it's where you belong."
Jake woke sobbing, heart bursting, drenched in sweat, paralyzed with fear. It was half a minute before he could reach out and switch on the bedside lamp. He lit a cigarette with a trembling hand. Gradually the familiar objects in the room reasserted themselves: the Lionel Edwards prints on the walls, the tattered piles of Horse and Hound, the books on show jumping hopelessly overcrowding the bookshelves, the wash basin, the faded photographs of his mother and father. Hanging in the wardrobe was the check riding coat Mrs. Wilton had rather grudgingly given him for his twenty-first birthday. Beneath it stood the scratched but gleaming pair of brown-topped boots he'd picked up secondhand last week.
In the stall below he could hear a horse snorting and a crash as another horse kicked over its water bucket.
Far too slowly his panic subsided. Prep school and Rupert Campbell-Black were things of the past. It was 1970 and he had been out of the children's home for four years now. He mostly forgot them during the day; it was only in dreams they came back to torment him. He shivered; the sheets were still damp with sweat. Four-thirty, said his alarm clock; there were already fingers of light under the thin yellow curtains. He didn't have to get up for half an hour, but he was too scared to go back to sleep. He could hear the rain pattering on the roof outside and dripping from the gutter, muting the chatter of the sparrows.
He tried to concentrate on the day ahead, which didn't make him feel much more cheerful. One of the worst things about working in a riding school was having to take pupils to horse shows. Few of them could control the bored, broken-down ponies. Many were spoilt; others, terrified, were only riding at all because their frightful mothers were using horses to grapple their way up the social scale, giving them an excuse to put a hard hat in the back window of the Jaguar and slap gymkhana stickers on the windscreen.
What made Jake sick with nerves, however, was that, unknown to his boss, Mrs. Wilton, he intended to take Africa to the show and enter her for the open jumping. Mrs. Wilton didn't allow Jake to compete in shows. He might get too big for his boots. His job was to act as constant nursemaid to the pupils, not to jump valuable horses behind her back.
Usually, Mrs. Wilton turned up at shows in the afternoon and strutted about chatting up the mothers. But today, because she was driving down to Brighton to chat up some rich uncle who had no children, she wouldn't be putting in an appearance. If Jake didn't try out Africa today, he wouldn't have another chance for weeks.
Africa was a livery horse, looked after at the riding school, but owned by an actor named Bobby Cotterel, who'd bought her in a fit of enthusiasm after starring in Dick Turpin. A few weeks later he had bought a Ferrari and, apart from still paying her livery fees, had forgotten about Africa, which had given Jake the...
RidersBy: Jilly Cooper