An excerpt from The Fortune Seller by Rachel Kapelke-Dale. Copyright © 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group. 

The Yale stables were, as a therapist would later explain to me, my happy place. The place where everything I loved— animals, biology, the outdoors, my friends—came together. Where the work you put in had a direct impact on the results you got. To a point, of course; I was never going to be a world-class show jumper. But the more I worked, the better I became. It was beautiful and golden and, in the fall, the trees surrounding the valley colored so vividly, it looked like they were on fire. 

A year in another barn hadn’t erased my love for our stables. If anything, the similarities, the same things that every barn has—the stalls, the feed, the horses—only sharpened my nostalgia. 

We approached the barn door. Hanging bridles, snorts and whinnies, the wholesome golden smell of hay. I was home. 

I stood for a second at the entrance and breathed it all in. And then started to make my way down the center, running back and forth to greet all of the horses I’d known, all of the horses I’d loved. All of the horses I’d missed. 

They were the main reason I’d come that day. Honey, Lady, Bambi, nickering and nuzzling my shoulder, stomping in anticipation, demanding that I come see them. And Cress, following behind me with a low giggle at each silly animal. 

It wasn’t technically my lesson—I was in Intermediate, a level below Cress, and I’d have my own lesson group––but beyond my need to be in the one place that felt like home at Yale, I had to see Annelise. She’d taken a taxi out on her own at the crack of dawn. The promise of seeing her ride was 

too appealing: she couldn’t possibly live up to the rumors of her greatness. If she was that good, I wanted to see it. And if she wasn’t, I wanted to see it, too. 

And then there was Thumper. Cress had had Bambi with her since first year, and now she had a second horse, a Dutch warmblood. Nobody but Cress would be allowed to ride Thumper, just like no one else was allowed to ride Bambi. 

Not even you, she’d written me over the summer. You need more than bravery to ride that guy. At the very end of the dusty row, peeking over his gate with large, curious eyes, there he was. 

Even in the dark, Thumper glittered. Curious, perked ears; a white streak down his nose. And an awareness to his gaze that you couldn’t train in—they had to be born with it. 

“Cress, he’s gorgeous.” I reached out a hand to stroke him, but— “Careful!” she shrieked, just as his teeth snapped down, sharp, on my hand. For a second, I couldn’t figure out what had happened; horses just like me, they always have, and it had been ages since I’d been bitten. It felt like getting my up with cats, dogs, rabbits, an unfortunate hamster, and a gerbil with a nasty temperament. 

“Come on, let’s get you a Band-Aid,” she said, steering me to Shannon’s office at the end of the row. I held my hand up in front of her. “Or, like, one of those wraparound bandages,” she said, looking at the size of the bite. “Fuck.” 

The first-aid kit was ancient but had an Ace bandage, and Cress obligingly dabbed me with rubbing alcohol, despite my hiss, and wrapped it up for me. 

“I don’t think I want to fuck with this today,” I said weakly. “Maybe I’ll just watch.” 

She looked at my gauzy hand, opened her mouth. Paused as the blood seeped through to the outer layer. 

“Good idea,” she said, finally. “And hey, you’ll get to see Annelise ride.” 

“You guys were saying she’s only in Novice?” 

“Yeah, she sweeps it. You’ll see.” 

“But why’s she in Novice if she’s so good?” Novice was the dividing line between the non-jumping classes (Walk-Trot and Walk-Trot-Canter) and the jumping ones (Novice, Intermediate, Open). When you won or placed in your class, you got a certain number of points; after hitting a point threshold, you pointed up to the next level. 

Cress giggled. “Because she didn’t compete before. We already had Walk-Trot stacked, so we put her in Walk-Trot-Canter. But she pointed up too quickly, the bitch. She’ll be Intermediate any day now.” 

“Is she good enough for that? Like, is she as good as me and Andra?” “She’s better,” Cress said, and made an exaggerated wince. “Sorry. 

But that’s why she takes Open classes. She’s one of the best riders on the team, full stop.” 

“Why didn’t she compete at Stanford, then?” 

“Something about the captain and the coach. They had it in for her, I guess? She says she did two weeks first year but couldn’t take the vibes. So she just trained private after that.” 

“Is she okay on a team, then? Not too competitive?” 

Cress smirked. “You just have to see, okay? But, I mean, yeah, she still has stuff to learn. Like, she asked to ride Thumper the second she saw him.” 

Nobody rode Cress’s horses. “Oh shit,” I said. 

“Right? And then, when I said no”—Cress leaned in toward me, lowering her voice—“she offered to pay me to let her ride him.” She widened her eyes. 

I snorted, despite the disloyalty of it all. Then the laughter came, rolling out of me. The one thing Cress had no use for at all was extra money. 

Cress, though, wasn’t laughing. 

“I mean, I guess it’s funny,” she said. “But it’s also just…weird. There are some things you can’t buy, you know? Who doesn’t know that?” 

Besides that: An untested rider on a temperamental horse? It wasn’t a combination that would lead you anywhere good. And only Cress herself would be to blame. 

“I can’t wait to see what Thumper can do,” I said as Cress yanked a beautiful, rich brown saddle from the wall—brand-new, barely broken in—and a fluffy saddle pad. 

“Will you grab his bridle?” she asked. 

“If you think I’m getting anywhere near his mouth again…” I called as I headed to the corner where it hung, shiny and new among the worn school bridles. At the stall, I handed it to her and stepped back. “So, why’d you bring him?” 

For most of us seniors, this was the last time in our lives we’d ride seriously. For most of us, it was the last time we’d ride, period. And we competed on whatever horses the host school provided; that was what we were judged on, after all. How well we adapted. Bringing your own horse to train on seemed, at best, pointless. At worst, a total waste of money, with the fees it cost to stable them. 

But Cressida had always been different. 

“Dad says I have to get better, fast, if I’m going to make it on the circuit,” she said as she slid the bridle on, then reached for the saddle pad. “He thinks I can only do it with the right horses, though. He said it’s like learning another language. And the only time to do it is when you’re young.” 

“That makes a lot of sense.” 

She paused, cradling the beautiful new saddle in her arms. “Rosie,” she said. “Do you really think I can make it?” 

I swallowed. “Again,” I said. “Another question for Annelise.” 

“I’ve asked her. What do you think?” 

“Nobody can tell you that,” I said firmly. “You decide for yourself. You decide every day through the way that you work and the time you put in. You have everything you need to do it if it’s what you really want. But you’re not going to get there if your only desire is to outdo your father. Fear’s not going to get you there. Only love.” 

I stopped short, amazed that I’d had the balls to bring up Grayson, her favorite person in the world, in even remotely negative terms. I braced myself for her reply, but she just nodded slowly as she plopped the saddle on Thumper’s back. He flinched. 

“See, there,” she said. “There’s the old Rosie.” I cocked my head, questioningly. 

“You never tell me what I want to hear,” she clarified. “Not ever. And so I always want to hear it.” 

“Oh,” I stammered. “Well, good.” 

I watched her finish tacking Thumper with a weird ache in my throat. Imagining her days on the circuit, I couldn’t help thinking that in the best-case scenario, my life next year would consist of fourteen-hour days behind a desk. No matter how glamorous the setting, how plush the benefits. How good the title. 

And hers would be—what? Speeding the Range Rover to misty early-morning practices, pushing her body to its limits, working in sync with this beautiful, vicious creature before us—I clenched my fist, letting the sting of the bite pull me back into my body. 

It was ridiculous. You couldn’t miss something while you were still living it. 

Thumper pranced down to the paddock with his new tack; I stayed carefully on the other side of Cress. It was still summery in the valley where the stables were. The paddock was on perfectly flat land, but the hills rose up around it, thick and green and so leafy you felt like you could run a comb through them. The afternoon sun was slanting down sideways, gilding us all, getting in my eyes as we turned into the ring, where a single figure rode a punishingly difficult course. It wasn’t high— the highest fences were about three feet—but it had a few rollback turns, in which the horse landed from a jump and had to immediately take its thousand-plus pounds and heave them in the opposite direction. 

It was fiendish; Shannon had never set anything nearly as difficult for Cress, even. Also, Annelise was on Jazz, a real bitch of a mare. Jazz hated everybody and everything. She was fast as you like—or rather, fast as she liked, because she had two speeds, stop and go, and changed them to suit her whims. Beyond that, Jazz was small, only just over fourteen hands, and even from across the ring I could see that Annelise made her look even smaller. She was solid, Annelise: tall, with muscle to her. Like an Amazon. 

I looked around for Shannon, ready to share my excitement with someone who wasn’t Cress. Cress had sung Annelise’s praises, sure, but I’d had no idea. This was a winning rider. This was a champion. 

I didn’t know what Cress was. Had I given her false hope? 

But Shannon was nowhere to be found. Running a stable isn’t easy, and she was always darting from one place to another, hard to pin down as a mosquito. 

Still, though. Who would give a young rider a course like that to do and then just walk away? Annelise was more than capable of riding it. Of dominating it, even. But better riders than her have fallen on easier courses. There’s just an inherent danger to the sport, and I couldn’t believe she was allowed out there alone. 

But she was only alone for another second. Annelise started the course again just as Cress and Thumper entered and began walking around the outside of the ring. 

College riders don’t ride for speed. We rode for equitation: the apparent effortlessness with which we effectively communicated with our horses. In other words, how much we could make it look like we weren’t doing anything at all. 

And Annelise, on Jazz? They looked like one being. They looked like a fucking centaur. 

Jazz was fast, but I’d never seen her as fast as she was going that golden afternoon, cantering so quickly that I had to listen for the hoof beats for a moment, make sure it wasn’t a gallop. And the way she pinged over the jumps, it was like she was a different animal altogether—a rabbit, or a kangaroo, something with springs in her legs and a desire to please. 

Up, down. Pivot, around. Two strides and over, and a turn I’d have had a hard time making on my own two feet. 

She was like nothing I’d ever seen. I think she just loved to move. She was so wonderful that I didn’t even notice Thumper’s magnificence until Cress trotted by at the end, pulling her new animal sharply out of the way of the temperamental mare. Then his shine caught my eye— And all I could think was, Annelise should be riding him. 

An excerpt from The Fortune Seller by Rachel Kapelke-Dale. Copyright © 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.