Octavia was saddling Frisco for their riding lesson. He was a big, deep red, sorrel, with a full blaze running down his face and white socks on three of his legs, the left rear being the longest and no sock on his front left leg. Bethany had to fight off the envy she was feeling as she watched her friend tack up the big, beautiful Quarter Horse. Antonia had still not allowed Bethany to ride any of the horses. So, she pushed the hay wheelbarrow down the barn aisle, stopping from time to time to grab a couple of flakes and put them in the hay racks in the individual stalls. It was hard not to glare at her friend as she pushed the wheelbarrow past the saddling area.
It was as if Octavia was reading her mind because she said, “Bethany, I had to do my time mucking stalls and feeding horses before I got to ride too. It’s called paying your dues.”
“I know, but how long do I have to keep doing it? It’s been a month,” said Bethany.
Octavia laughed, “It’s only been a week.”
“Well, it feels like a month,” said a sullen Bethany.
Octavia laughed again and removed Frisco’s halter after pulling her riding helmet down over her tight, black braids. She then slipped the bridle on by placing the bit against his lips and placing her thumb in the side of his mouth at the gap between his front and back teeth to encourage him to open wide. Once the bit was in place, she slipped the bridle over his head and fastened the throat latch on the side of his cheek. Bethany watched as she led Frisco to the arena to warm up a bit before their lesson.
Tyler was riding Freedom, Antonia’s shiny red chestnut retired broodmare. He had set up a few obstacles for Octavia to practice on with Frisco and he was working on the simulated gate with Freedom now. Bethany watched as Freedom and Tyler opened and closed the makeshift gate with ease. Both rider and mount equally seasoned and moving as one.
Bethany turned and lifted the handles of the wheelbarrow, but then Tyler called out to her.
“Come here Bethany,” he called.
She set down the wheelbarrow and headed dutifully to the arena.
He hopped off Freedom and said, “Grab that helmet that’s sitting on the chair on the other side of the railing and bring it to me.”
She did as she was told, but thought to herself, Why does he need to change helmets?
She entered the arena, helmet in hand and closed the gate behind her. She walked over and handed the helmet to Tyler.
He laughed and said, “That’s for you to wear, girl.”
Bethany looked at Octavia, who was smiling down on her from Frisco’s back. She looked back at Tyler, and he was smiling too.
“Well come on girl, Octavia and Frisco don’t have all day. You’re going to practice a few WE obstacles with this old mare here,” said Tyler as he gave a loving pat to the big chestnut Arabian.
Bethany put on the helmet; her face erupted in a smile as she did so. Tyler held the mare’s reins while she mounted the mare. I can’t believe this is finally happening!
Tyler lifted the reins over Freedom’s head and handed them to Bethany. “Now, just take things slow. You know that Frisco is a rescue horse and is just now learning to trust Octavia and the rest of us. So, we’re going to do this slow and easy. Just let Freedom show you the way. She knows what to do.”
“Yes sir, Tyler. I’ll take it easy; I promise!” said Bethany still sporting an ear-splitting grin.
“Okay girls, I’ve set up three WE obstacles for you to practice on.” Began Tyler.
“What’s WE?” asked Bethany.
“It stands for Working Equitation. It’s an equine sport that originated in Portugal primarily and involves dressage, obstacles and cattle penning…”
“What’s dressage, and what’s…” interrupted Bethany.
“Bethany, we’re never going to start riding if you don’t listen and quit interrupting,” said Tyler.
“It’s okay. So, I set up three obstacles. The gate, the jug, and the switch cup. Octavia has done these before Bethany, so she’s going to practice a bit, while I show you a few things before you try them,” said Tyler.
“I know how to ride, Tyler. I used to ride my mom’s horse, Starbuck, before he got too old.”
Bethany clicked her tongue and squeezed Freedom’s sides so she would pull up alongside Octavia and Frisco. “I can’t believe, Antonia already let me ride after one week,” said Bethany.
Octavia laughed, “I thought you said it felt like a month.”
“Octavia, please don’t do that. Don’t make fun of me,” said Bethany, smile changed to scowl.
“I’m just kidding Bethany; I think it’s cute.”
“Cute? Like a little kid?!”
“Bethany, calm down. I meant you’re cute…darn…”
“Okay, I’m sorry. I just hate to be treated like a little kid. Please don’t be mad at me.”
“I’m not mad.”
“Okay Bethany, I know you have ridden before, but I’m going to show you a few things anyway,” Tyler said, interrupting the girls’ exchange. “Octavia, go practice the gate while I teach Bethany.”
“Yes sir!” said Octavia as she urged Frisco into an easy trot toward the makeshift gate.
Tyler was now standing with Bethany and Freedom. Looking up at Bethany he said, “Your mom told Antonia how you used to jump on Starbuck’s back with no halter and just ride him around in his paddock, but you need some formal training. Eventually I’m going to show you how to use your legs and hips to communicate with your horse, but now we’ll keep it simple. The four main parts of the horse are the hindquarters, ribs, withers, and poll. You apply pressure on both sides of the ribs to move forward. If you want to turn, you just apply pressure to one side. For instance, when turning right, apply pressure to the left side and lay the left rein lightly on her neck. If you have to, you can lightly pull the right rein, but that won’t be necessary with Freedom. The main thing is that you don’t want to yank her head around. Now try it. Urge her forward and then practice turning both ways at the walk.”
Octavia did as she was told and lightly squeezed Freedom’s sides to urge her into a walk and then she turned right using her left leg against the horse’s side and then after a few more steps forward, did the same thing to the left.
“Excellent Bethany! You’re a natural!” said Tyler.
Bethany’s grin spread across her whole face.
Tyler continued to teach Bethany a few simple techniques while Octavia practiced maneuvering Frisco through the gate obstacle.
“Okay Octavia, that’s great! Now let’s show Bethany how to do each obstacle. She can practice and then we’ll do a little mini course trial,” said Tyler.
Bethany watched as Octavia completed each obstacle. Octavia was so poised and polished on the massive Quarter Horse’s back. The girls attended the same middle school, but had never talked to each other before a week ago when they met at Kuhaylah Arabians. Octavia had moved to Dale City with her family from Dallas because her older brother, Lucas, had gotten a job as a deputy at the local sheriff’s office. Octavia didn’t talk much about her life before Dale City, but she gushed about Frisco. Her brother had saved him from certain death and since Octavia used to ride at a stable in Dallas, Lucas had arranged for Frisco to be boarded at Kuhaylah Arabians and nurtured by Octavia. She had told Bethany, that the only thing that kept her going after leaving all her friends in Dallas, was caring for Frisco. The girls were both outcasts at Samuel James Middle School for different reasons, so they started forming a bond with each other right away.
“Okay Bethany, so you follow behind Octavia and Frisco and after she completes each obstacle, you try it. We’ll do each one at a time and then complete all three like a course. Actually, I’m not going to have you do the gate yet. You just do the first two. Also, I want you to only walk between obstacles. Frisco is still a little anxious and you’re not used to riding Freedom yet, so we’re going to take it slow today,” said Tyler.
Bethany watched as Octavia walked up to the poles for the switch cup obstacle and stopped Frisco between them. She then gently lifted the cup from one pole to the other and urged Frisco through the poles after completing the task. Bethany mimicked her exactly on Freedom.
“Great job, both of you!” said Tyler.
Then Octavia headed over to the drum with the jug sitting atop it and after stopping Frisco next to the drum, reached down and lifted the jug over her head. Bethany again copied her movements aboard Freedom.
“Great guys! Now each of you complete all three obstacles like a course. First the switch cup, then the jug and Bethany, you just ride to the gate stop and turn around and exit the course. And remember Bethany, slow and easy. Walking only.”
Bethany sat off to the side on Freedom as Octavia executed the three obstacles with perfection. After she was done, Bethany completed the first two and then rode to the gate as instructed. She turned Freedom around and then let out a “Whoop!” and urged Freedom into a gallop. As Bethany and Freedom flew past Frisco, he was so startled he bolted to the other end of the arena, but Octavia being the excellent rider she was, managed to bring him to a stop and leaned over his neck saying soothing words to him as he stood trembling.
“Bethany! I told you, slow and easy!” shouted Tyler as she slowed Freedom to a walk.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” said Bethany and she started crying after stopping the mare.
He ignored her as he headed toward Octavia and Frisco to check on them.
“I’m sorry!” Bethany said again, still crying. “It’s just that I’ve never ridden an Arabian horse before. I got too excited.”
Tyler’s face softened. “Bethany, you have to understand that God puts these horses in our life for a reason. We have to take care of them because they can’t take care of themselves. You have to promise me that you’ll always do what I say from now on.”
“I promise! I promise! Please don’t tell Antonia!”
“Don’t do it again, or I’ll have to tell her next time. You girls go unsaddle your horses.”
“Thank you! Thank you, Tyler!” said Bethany.
He opened the gate to let them out and didn’t say anything else. Octavia and Bethany led their horses in silence back to the saddling area.
After they unsaddled and groomed the horses and had put them in their stalls, Bethany said to Octavia as she followed her down the barn aisle, “You’re mad at me, aren’t you?”
“We probably better not talk right now,” said Octavia.
“Octavia please! Please talk to me!”
Octavia turned to face Bethany at the end of the aisle and said, “Yes, yes I am angry with you. You know Frisco was abused before he came here! I thought you loved horses?!”
“I do, Octavia! I’m so sorry! I’ll never do it again, I promise! Please don’t stop being my friend!”
“Bethany, just because I’m mad at you, doesn’t mean I’ll stop being your friend. Just please stop thinking of yourself all the time. Think about other people’s feelings and especially the horses.”
“I’ll listen from now on, Octavia. I promise.”