Pony Confidential: Excerpt and Cover Reveal

Christina Lynch

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Pony Confidential, the new novel by Christina Lynch, forthcoming from Berkley Books in November. In the following passage, we're introduced to a singular detective: a pony, mourning his rider, and determined to uncover the true behind this unnatural demise before being sold to the highest bidder.

I am a pony. But not just any pony. I am a pony who is bent on revenge. I am the Iago of ponies, a furry Fury. I am both adorable and devious, and, until I get what I want, I’m going to make every human I meet pay for your collective crimes. I am a tiny, mop-topped demon, and I am coming for you.

Picture a riding stable. If you haven’t been in one, a row of horses hang their heads over their stall doors, gently bobbing to escape the flies, pricking their ears when a human appears who might have a carrot or a peppermint in her pocket.

In the riding arena, a sandy rectangle outlined by a white wooden fence that could use a coat of paint, there’s a small dapple gray pony named Boo Boo carrying a girl named Kimmie over a row of low jumps under the watchful eye of Phee, her instructor. It’s all so sickeningly sweet, right? Boo Boo looks happy, lifting his forelegs and sailing over the crossbars in a perfect arc, his tail a lush banner in the breeze. Kimmie and Boo Boo come to a stop near Phee, who is very tall and wears tan jodhpurs and tall black boots and a ball cap. The pony gives a happy sneeze, knowing he has done his job well. Kimmie takes her skinny legs, folded at the knee like a stepladder, out of the stirrups and they hang down below the edge of the pony’s belly.

“We’ve got to lengthen those stirrups,” says the instructor. “You’ll get a cramp.”

Kimmie frowns. “The judges won’t like it. And my feet are going to hit the poles. It’s fine.”

Kimmie’s mom calls out from where she’s leaning on the fence, holding the leash of a Labrador retriever who is sniffing for crumbs. “She looks big for the pony,” says the mom, removing her sunglasses and squinting from under a straw hat. “Is she getting too big for him?”

“Mom,” says Kimmie, “he’s such a good boy.”

“I know, but you look ridiculous,” says the mom.

“I don’t want to sell him.”

“Well, we can’t afford to keep two animals. If you want to keep riding, you need to move up to a horse.”

Kimmie slumps forward like a rag doll and throws her arms around the pony’s neck. She will never agree to part with her beloved pony, the pony who has carried her safely and dutifully over hundreds of obstacles, through rivers, up and down mountains, in parades, the pony who did not protest when forced to wear antlers at Christmas, bunny ears at Easter, and large wings at Halloween. Surely all that is worth more than—

“Can I get a Thoroughbred?” Kimmie asks.

Now turn your gaze back to the stable nearby. Inside that stable there’s another pony. A heck of a pony, if I do say so myself. I was once, like Boo Boo, a good boy. Not anymore. Fifteen summers ago, I had my own little girl just like Kimmie. Her name was Penny. Penny and I did everything together. Then one day out of the blue she up and sold me. With no warning she kicked me to the curb like an old bicycle or a Slinky that no longer slinks.

After Penny cast me adrift, I floated from home to home, islands in the sea of life. I was eventually bought by Phee for children to take riding lessons on. (A lucky few kids will end up owning their own ponies, but most will ride lesson ponies until they either discover romance or get tall enough to ride horses, or both.) Phee is not a bad person—she’s quiet and sensible, like an oak tree, and she gets along with all the children and parents by never contradicting them, at least not out loud. (I have been privy to some muttering.) Despite the dislike for humans that simmers in me thanks to Penny, I dutifully carried the children Phee trains and coaches for years on end, circling the damn arena, trotting over crossbars. I’m getting older now, and I figured Phee would retire me at some point soon and let me live out my final years in peace and quiet in the pasture behind the barn. If well cared for, ponies can live to thirty or even forty years old, and after twenty years of being a fairly good boy, all things, considered, I felt I had some well-earned leisure coming my way.

Then last week, in a deeply, deeply tragic misunderstanding, my reputation and my retirement plans went permanently south after I dumped one too many “future Olympians” into the dust of the riding ring.

Excerpt continues after cover reveal. 

In my defense, Peacock Lastrigon had it coming. Peacock’s family owns a chain of burger joints, the Hungry Cannibal. At age ten, Peacock has an astounding faith in his own wonderfulness. All of us should have a day of walking around in Peacock’s skin, just to experience what total self-confidence feels like. As you might expect, he is oblivious to any evidence of his shortcomings. When he fails a test, it’s the teacher’s fault. When his friend Tip shunned him after Peacock called him stupid, Tip was too thin-skinned and couldn’t take a joke. When Peacock tripped and fell on the playground, it was the playground’s fault and his family demanded it be repaved. In short, Peacock is a monster. In stories, people like Peacock get punished. In life, they get prizes.

Peacock loves to win horse shows. This means that Phee trains me, schools me, grooms me, cleans my saddle and polishes my bridle, and drives me to the show location. There, ringside, pug-nosed Peacock is hoisted into the freshly oiled saddle. We go into the arena, walk and trot around, maybe jump a little obstacle or two, then line up for the judges. Peacock is usually awarded a blue ribbon, further proof that he’s better than everyone else. The best. I get nothing. Phee gets a crisp white envelope from Peacock’s parents and drives me home.

We were ringside at a huge showgrounds that fateful day. The wind was up, and flags were flapping in the breeze. Hundreds of horses and ponies milled around, their hair in tiny rows of braids like mine, riders in black coats and helmets. Everyone looked serious, like this all mattered a lot to them. The loudspeaker called our class. Phee whispered to me before Peacock got on. “Be good,” she said with more urgency than usual. After all, it was cool and breezy, which has the same effect on a pony as a tequila shot on a college freshman. I should have listened to her, just toughed out the three minutes before Peacock would dismount and I would get my hay and go home. But as Peacock bounced on my back, spurred my sides, and yanked my mouth, a rage began to simmer and then boil inside me. Must the Peacocks of the world always win? I thought about Penny, and how much I wanted to make her pay for discarding me like a bag of trash all those years ago, the primal wound that changed the course of my life forever. Must she, too, remain unpunished for her callousness?

As Peacock kicked me toward a brush jump, I saw my opportunity. Hundreds of people were watching. I headed for the fence, then at the last second took a sharp left. The crowd groaned. Unfortunately, Peacock had an iron-fisted grasp on the reins and he didn’t come off, but he did shift his center of gravity in the saddle. Feeling my chance, I ducked my right shoulder and gave a buck, then a twist while I was in the air. Honestly, in a gymnastics competition I would have scored a perfect ten. The crowd gasped at the unexpected rodeo. Show ponies never behaved like this, dutiful little drones that we are. I like to think I heard an undercurrent of joy, if not admiration in that gasp. And that last twisting bronco-style buck did it—Peacock came off with a thud, and a small cloud of dust rose around him. The crowd was on its feet, waiting to see if he was hurt. His face as he sat there was red, red, red and then an AHHHHH! burst out of him like a pimple erupting. He continued screaming in rage as he leapt to his feet. The crowd clapped politely. Phee rushed toward him pulling the signed release form up on her phone, as did his parents, speed-dialing their lawyers. I was caught by a judge and escorted from the ring.

I can’t describe how good it felt to leave Peacock in the dust, howling. I wished he were Penny, but close enough. However, it’s possible I was too clever for my own good, because now no one wants to ride me. Phee’s lawyer has advised her not to use me for lessons. I thought maybe this would simply move up my retirement date, but apparently Phee thinks she can still get some money for me.


That’s what I am to you humans. What all we ponies are. You make us think we’re beloved family members (I’m looking at you, Penny!) and then you put a dollar sign on our heads and send us off with anyone who coughs up the cash.

To add insult to insult, Phee has shut the stall door and I can’t see over it. All I see are four bare walls and the sawdust on the floor. It’s like a prison cell. And the empty hay rack! The hay rack is full for two painfully brief periods each day. It only takes eight minutes for me to vacuum it clean again. Pathetic. Cruel. They say it’s so I don’t get fat, but I tell you I’m wasting away inside this deceptively plump, round body. I eat, then I’m bored for the next eleven hours and fifty-two minutes. This has given me a lot of time to plan my next steps. And now I’m putting my plan into action.

Starting today, I am going to really get back at you humans.

Especially you, Penny. Peacock is bad, but you are the worst. Enough with the Gandhi-style passive resistance in which I just refuse to do what people want. I’m going guerrilla. From this day on, I am devoting my life to finding you, Penny, and confronting you for selling me all those many years ago. You couldn’t even look me in the face and tell me why you did it. That’s what I want from you. An explanation. And an apology. There is no statute of limitations on your crime. Yes, you seemed to be a sweet little girl, but who better than an adorable pony to see through that ruse? I know what you are and I am going to make you pay for it.

If a person happened to be standing outside my stall, they would hear scraping, banging, and chewing, as if a master carpenter is at work—please do not compare this sound to that made by a large rodent. Then, after an hour or so of this noise, they would see a small nose with two delicate nostrils (my princely ancestry is evident in my nose) appear at the top of the half door. Then they would see the door push open from the inside. Ta-da! Here I am! I’m drinking in the sight of the surprised horses, the clean-swept barn aisle, and sturdy Phee, who has her back turned to me a few feet away.

I am exactly as you imagine me. Small and furry. I’m the color of the sun itself, a blazing incandescent gold with crème brûlée and burnt cork accents. I do not want to hear you describe me as “beige,” “toast,” or “tan.” And I’ve got a lotta hair. I’m not ashamed to say I’m proud of my hair, a thick shaggy mane that breaks even metal combs and a tail that sends flies into the next county with a single swish.

They call me Houdini here. This is my superpower. I can escape from anywhere. I successfully chew the latch off the stall door and hold it in my teeth. I drop it to the ground with a clatter that makes Phee turn. She has one glass eye, but the expression in the real one is priceless: shock and anger. I bolt at top speed not away, but toward her, messing with her head, which outrages her more, and I run past her as she yells at me to stop. Yeah, right, sister. I run down the stable aisle, under the belly of a big dumb Friesian horse so huge he barely notices me. I knock over a ten-year-old boy named Thad who dares to try to stop me, and just for good measure, I also kick over a manure cart. Two foofy Thoroughbreds named Sandalwood and Lioness are on crossties being groomed to a high shine and are spooked by my ruckus. They rear up, the whites of their eyes showing. A black Labrador flees, tail between his legs. I pause just long enough to grab a carrot from outside the stall of an uptight and ulcer-prone Arabian gelding named Jiffy as I bolt past. I carry the stolen carrot in my teeth, like a matador with a rose, as I burst out of the barn and flee for the territory ahead. I delight to hear the cries of Phee: “Loose horse! Would someone grab that darn pony?”

I run around a corner, hell-bent on getting out of there for good and hitting the road to find Penny, but instead I find nirvana: an expanse of green grass. Why have I not been shown this before? Why am I not here all the time? My anger at the rank unfairness of the world cools briefly as I settle in for a good snack. After all, I will need strength to complete my quest. I snatch huge mouthfuls of grass as fast as I can. It’s hard to chew with that much grass in my mouth, so I spit out a wad and start over. I position myself under some trees that will be good for scratching once I have eaten just seven or eight more bites. Maybe ten. Then I will hit the road. Insects buzz around me. The sun warms my back. Life, dear reader, is good.

Phee comes out of the barn with a bucket of grain. I need to leave, now, but I am powerless to resist her. Oats are my Achilles’ heel. I follow her back into the barn. She locks me in the stall. A familiar sign is tacked to the door. pony for sale.


From PONY CONFIDENTIAL. Used with the permission of the publisher, BERKLEY. Copyright © 2024 by CHRISTINA LYNCH. All rights reserved.

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