WHEN ILLUSTRIOUS Ruckus, three-time winner of the British Eventing Open Championship, retired from the world of eventing, there was an article in Horse & Hound, a spot on Horse & Country, and his rider was contacted for interviews by bloggers both amateur and professional from across the eventing world. People sent flowers.

James Kirby hated flowers.

“It’s not like I’m dead, Tils,” James said. He was sitting at his sister’s kitchen table and picking petals off a chrysanthemum, his fingertips staining pink. “Or that I’m going to eat the damn things. What’s the point?”

Tilly, James’s sister and the former rider of Illustrious Ruckus, threw the damp dishcloth she’d been using at James. She rested her fists on her hips, a glare darkening her face.

“The point is to be nice, you ungrateful nag. People like Ruckus.” She plucked the dishcloth off James’s head and scrubbed his face. “Not like you, you bloody—”

“Leave off it!” James flailed and shoved away from the table with a screech of wooden legs on tile. “Matilda!”

He was too slow to escape. Tilly caught up with him at the doorway, trapping him against the wall, using her big-sister powers and trying to stuff the manky dishcloth into his mouth. James kept spitting it out and was half a minute from resorting to hair pulling when there came a patter of little feet and a small hand tugging at his jeans. He composed his very best grown-up face and looked down at Jessica, Tilly’s daughter. She had her riding helmet on and was reaching for him, expectant.

“Uncle James, will you please come play knights? Outside.”

James spat out the dishcloth. Tilly coughed, moving back to the sink like she hadn’t been trying to smother him, and resumed washing dishes. She was a terrible sister.

James hauled Jessica up to his hip, feeling his back protest; at four, she was getting too big for him to carry around in human form. That wasn’t what she wanted, though. “Outside” meant she wanted to run.

They headed out to the training yard, the dirt spongy thanks to a recent bout of rain, and James inhaled the fresh scent of encroaching autumn. The Kirby family had kept horses in these stables for generations, and James had grown up with Northumberland soil under both boots and hooves. He hoped Jessica would keep on with the family tradition, since his own luck in the family department was distinctly unimpressive; it was a lot of pressure to place on little shoulders, and he felt like a shitheel when he found himself trying to gauge if the four-year-old Jessica would grow up to be a championship rider.

Or, continuing in the other family tradition, if she would grow up and find herself with hooves.