The Sampling: Like the Wind

By J. L. Williams

J. L. Williams’ gripping historical fiction novel, Holding the Horse, was a Best First Book finalist at this year’s NZCYA Awards. For the next installment of our Summer Excerpt Series, where we’re publishing extracts from the junior and young adult fiction winners of the 2023 Storylines Notable Book Awards, we have an excerpt from Williams’ latest book, Like the Wind—the brand new sequel to Holding the Horse.

Chapter 11 – Horse Therapy

Sid hurried away, grateful for the fresh morning breeze cooling his burning face. His heart was pounding. His trousers stuck to his bleeding knee. It was still too early for his dad to arrive. Ignoring the pain, he strode off to where the horses were grazing. A bit of horse company was what he needed.

He reached the first paddock, breathing hard. The peaceful sound of horses munching grass brought back memories of home. Birds chirped, and leaves rustled in the morning breeze. Sid felt his heart rate slowing. Being around horses was calming. He breathed in their comforting smell and the fragrance of the dewy turf.

A splash of colour on the far side of the paddock caught his eye. An older man was in the paddock with one of the horses, stroking her nose and talking to her. She was a striking looking horse – dark brown with white spots and splashes on her hindquarters.

Appaloosa, thought Sid. You don’t see many of those.

The man looked up as Sid arrived. His eyes were dark and keen, and his chin jutted forward. His shirt sleeves were rolled up and a battered felt hat shaded his face.

Sid leaned on the fence rail, the wood still cool and damp from the chill of the night. “Good morning,” he said.

“Mōrena, young man. I haven’t seen you here before. You must be that Sidney Everett they’re all talking about.”

“I’m Sid,” said Sid. “Yeah, I know they’ve been talking about me. But it’s not true, what they’re saying.”

“I’d believe that,” said the man. “I’m Henry Te Waka, the trainer here. If they tell you to look for the old fella, that’s me. Or you can call me Mr T. They all call me Mr T.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Sid.

Mr T looked at the knee of Sid’s trousers, where blood had soaked through. “Want something on that?”

“No, it’s fine.”

Mr Te Waka eyed him. “Don’t let it get you down,” he said. “These things get started and they’re very hard to stop. The only thing to do is just be yourself. Once they get to know you, they’ll change their tune. Then they’ll want to know the truth.”

Sid wasn’t so sure. “What’s her name?” he asked, changing the subject.

“Paint,” said Mr Te Waka. “She’s my own horse. She’s not a racehorse, although she’s pretty speedy.” He indicated a slender palomino grazing next to Paint. “And this is Filigree. She’s been in recovery. She took a tumble, but she’s right as rain now. She just needs to get her confidence back.”

“Nice name,” said Sid. He hesitated. “I could help. If you need any help, that is.”

Mr T studied him, assessing him. “Come in here and say hello to her.”

Sid climbed over the fence, his knee smarting as he did so, and joined the trainer. “Filigree, eh?” he said. “You’re a beautiful girl.” He stroked her neck. “Soon be back on the track, eh? And going like the wind.”

“Had a lot to do with horses?” asked Mr T. “Besides racing, I mean?”

“We’ve had a horse at home all my life. Old Hugh. My brothers and I used to ride him to the river. We rode him all over the place. And I was at a racing stable in Foxton, before I came here.”

“You’ve got kind hands,” said Mr T. “I always notice people’s hands. How they touch a horse. Gentle hands.”

He held out his hands for Sid to see. They were brown, plump, and a little wrinkled with age. Sid noticed his pinkie fingers, particularly. Something had made the little finger crooked on each hand.

“Know what that’s from?” asked Mr T.

“No,” said Sid.

“It’s from holding the reins,” said Mr Te Waka. “I slip the reins around my little fingers as I hold them. That’s all the pressure you need. If it’s too much for your little fingers, it’s too much for the horse.”

“Wow,” said Sid. “I haven’t heard that before.”

“Done any actual training of a horse?” asked Mr T.

“No,” said Sid. “Not actual training. But I looked after a horse after an injury. Got him back to full strength.”

Mr T smiled. “I’d be glad to have your help. If you have the time. I wouldn’t mind a bit of assistance.”

“Thanks, Mr T. I’d like that.” It would be a relief to have somewhere to go that wasn’t around the other jockeys. Then Sid remembered why he’d had to look after Silver. He felt his face burn.

“I have to tell you something, Mr Te Waka. That horse I helped get his confidence back. I’m the one who caused his accident.”

Mr Te Waka studied Sid’s face, his expression kind. “Thank you for your honesty, young man,” he said. “That’s alright. Accidents happen. And we all make mistakes. You’re lucky you had the chance to fix things up.”

“That’s true,” said Sid. “I was lucky. Not everybody gets that chance.”

“You’re an honest boy,” said Mr T. “I like that. It’s not a common trait. Most people try to pretend they never did anything wrong.”

Sid didn’t know how to answer that.

Mr Te Waka smiled at him. It was a slow, gentle smile that made his eyes crinkle up at the corners. “You’re young; you’ve got all your life ahead of you. Things never go right all of the time. But if you do your best, you’ll mostly come out on top. And if you can admit your mistakes, you’re halfway there already.”

He reached out and stroked Filigree’s shining neck. “Especially around horses. Be honest with horses. They’re honest animals. They don’t trick you.” He studied Sid, his eyes assessing him. “You seem to have your head screwed on right. And you like horses, don’t you?”

“Of course,” said Sid.

“I mean, just for themselves,” said Mr Te Waka.

Sid thought about Hugh, his old farm horse, and how he used to ride him over the hills and down to the river to swim. And the many times he’d gone out to the paddock just to hug Hugh, and breathe in the warm, comforting smell of horse.

“Yup,” he said. “I know what you mean.”

Mr T nodded slowly. “I knew you would. Some kids these days, they’ve got no idea. Even some of these jockeys. They see it as a job, that’s all. And lots of kids have never even been near a horse. A bit of time with horses would do them the world of good.”

“You mean, learning to ride?” Sid was puzzled.

“No, I mean to just spend time with them. Kids nowadays are getting wild. Or else they’re unhappy about something. Life’s different to how it used to be before the war. Being around horses could help them.”

Mr Te Waka rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “For example, I’ve got a boy here now, staying with his relatives. His home life is… well, it isn’t the best it could be. He comes here and spends time with the horses. Brushing them, walking them around. Being near them. I haven’t suggested riding. If he wants to, of course he can, and I’ll help him. But right now, spending time around horses is doing him the world of good.” He shook his head sadly. “There are a lot of unhappy kids out there these days. And a lot of troubled men. Especially since the war.”

Sid thought of his dad. “True,” he said.


“I’ve gotta go, Mr T,” he said. “My dad’s coming to pick me up. He might be here already.”

Mr Te Waka lifted his chin in assent. “See you again, son,” he said.

Sid raced across the paddock, dodging the horses, trying to ignore the stinging of his knee. He vaulted over the wooden fence, hurried to his bunk room and changed his trousers so his mother wouldn’t say anything, then jogged down to the parking area in front of the main building.

His dad’s shiny black car was approaching along the driveway. Dad would be keen to hear about life at Ridgeways. Sid’s stomach clenched at the thought of describing life at Ridgeways.

I’ll just tell him the good bits, he decided.

And Dad would be keen to know about what races were coming up, and which races he might ride in. He wouldn’t be interested in hearing about how horses can help unhappy kids.

He shook his head, trying to shake out all that horse-therapy stuff Mr Te Waka had put in there. All that talk about needy kids and troubled ex-soldiers.

I’m not here for that. I’m here to ride. And to win. That’s all that matters.

Tyres crunched on the gravel as Dad’s car pulled up in front of him. Sid saw his father’s face grinning at him through the windscreen. He could see some other people in the car, too. Mum and the twins.

Sid rushed over and pulled open the front passenger door.

“Hello, Mum,” he said.

“Hello, Sidney,” said Mum.

“Hello, son,” said Dad. “They’ve come for a tour. A quick look around, then we’ll take you home.”

Like the Wind

By J. L. Williams

Published by Ocean Echo Books

Pre-order now