I’m a little late with this post, since this working equitation competition took place in Ft. Worth on November 11th, but I managed to get such awesome pictures and I just wanted to post them. I’ll later be doing a post that’s more detailed about working equitation (WE), because it is featured prominently in my work in progress, The Red Filly. Doreen Atkinson (pictured above), is an S judge and the current At-Large Director of USA Working Equitation the national organization for working equitation in the USA, and an awesome ambassador for the sport!
So I came across this article from Bloodhorse today while perusing Facebook about the first woman to train a Travers Stakes winner, and in the 1930s no less!
The article features the horse because he was appropriately named for an article posted on Thanksgiving. This horse was even struck by lightning, but went on to win the Travers after fully recovering from that injury.
Mary Hirsch was his trainer and she opened the door for women trainers to start being taken seriously in the male dominated horse racing industry.
I haven’t posted in a while, but thought this was an interesting read. For the full article click here:
Fyrestorm was watching Bethany as she rubbed her mother, Fyrelite’s neck. Bethany had been to the pasture several times now over the past month and Fyrestorm now stayed much closer as she watched and had come close enough to touch Bethany the past few times, but still didn’t allow Bethany to touch her. Bethany had formed quite a bond with Fyrelite now and the mare would trot up to her in the big pasture as soon as she saw the girl. Today, Fyrestorm had trotted up too, and that melted Bethany’s heart.
“Oh, Fyrelite, please explain to your daughter that I won’t hurt her,” Bethany pleaded to the chestnut mare, who had her eyes closed, but ears turned toward Bethany’s voice as she reveled in the attention. Bethany heard Fyrestorm take a step closer to her. She slowly turned her body a little sideways, so she could get a better look at the filly. Fyrestorm was just out of reach and watching her, as she often did. And then a miracle happened. Fyrestorm walked the few steps into reach of Bethany’s hand and stood quietly, watching.
Bethany reached out her hand and extended her fingertips as slowly as she possibly could. The red filly stood still, ears pricked, eyes bright. She was watching and listening to every move and sound Bethany made. She touched Fyrestorm’s muzzle with her fingertips and it was as if, her body was filled with a surge of something like electricity. Bethany had never experienced such pure joy and excitement. Fyrestorm let her stroke her muzzle and even the length of her face from the star, down the stripe and to the tip of her nose. Bethany took a step closer so she could stroke her neck, but it was as if the filly was having a game with her now.
Fyrestorm turned tail and ran up to the top of the small hill, turned around in an instant and looked at Bethany from the safe distance of her current vantage point. The filly’s head was held high, sun setting her red coat on fire and her flaxen mane and tail blew out behind her like banners in the breeze. She snorted through flared nostrils and tossed her head as if laughing. Her eyes and pricked ears were focused on Bethany, and she neighed to the girl. Bethany laughed as she thought to herself, ‘She’s my filly now.”
Bethany ran into the barn to find Tyler saddling Freedom for her lesson and Octavia was hard at work brushing a very dirty Frisco in the neighboring grooming stall.
“You’re late, Bethany,” reprimanded Tyler.
“Tyler, Tyler, you won’t believe what happened!” answered Bethany.
“I believe you’re late for your lesson and I had to saddle your horse.”
“I’m sorry Tyler, but she let me touch her!” exclaimed Bethany.
“Who let you touch her? And stop jumping and yelling, you’re gonna spook the horses.”
“I’m sorry,” she said again. “Fyrestorm! She let me touch her!”
“Well, that only took you a couple of months. Maybe you’ll be riding her in a couple of years,” said the trainer.
Bethany hung her head and looked as if she might cry. Tyler’s face softened. “I’m sorry Bethany. That’s great! No one else has ever been able to touch her without throwing a rope over her neck first.”
Bethany brightened up, “Thank you Tyler! Do you think Antonia will let me ride her one day?”
“Anything is possible, girl,” he answered with a smile. “Now get your horse and let’s work on teaching you how to ride like a lady, instead of a hillbilly.”
Bethany donned one of the black helmets hanging on a rack near the saddling area and unhooked one side of Freedom’s halter from one of the crossties which were attached with a metal fastener. She let it drop, like she had been taught and the metal fastener made a loud clacking noise as it banged against the pole on the side of the grooming/saddling stall. Tyler had told her that the horses had to be used to loud noises when she had gently and quietly done it at her first lesson.
Then she placed the lead rope that was fastened to the front of the halter over Freedom’s neck and then unfastened the halter on Freedom’s head and hung it from the saddle horn. Freedom was well trained, so she stood quietly even though she was no longer tied.
Tyler handed her the bridle he had been holding and said, “Remember what I taught you. Use one hand to put a little pressure at the top of her head between her ears and she’ll drop her head down so you can insert the bit into her mouth.”
Bethany did as she was instructed and the mare being so well trained, dropped her head immediately at just the touch of Bethany’s hand on the top of her head. Bethany held the bridle over the top of the mare’s face and gently inserted the bit in her mouth. She didn’t open her mouth at first.
“Remember, Bethany, to place your thumb into her mouth in the gap between her front and back teeth and she’ll open up and accept the bit,” said Tyler.
Bethany did as she was told, and the mare acquiesced. Bethany slipped the head stall of the bridle over her head and then fastened the strap on the side of her cheek. She then took the reins and led Freedom out of the stall and followed Tyler through the side path toward the arena. He opened the gate and refastened it behind them after they were in the arena.
“Today we’re going to practice side-passing so that you perform the working equitation gate obstacle.”
Bethany walked Freedom over to the mounting block and lined up the left stirrup with the top step, because the mare was too tall for Bethany to mount from the ground. Once the mare was lined up, she lifted the reins over her head and then walked up the three steps to the top holding the reins in her left hand. She took off the slack of the off-side rein so the mare would know to stay put once Bethany was in the saddle as she had been taught. Although this mare wasn’t likely to take off, Tyler had just told Bethany it was good practice because you never knew what a horse might do. He had explained to her that horses have a mind of their own and a good rider never forgets that.
After mounting, Bethany waited a few seconds before pressing her calves into Freedom’s sides so that the mare left the mounting block at a slow walk.
“Okay, ride her around the arena a few times each direction to warm her up, Bethany. Remember calves, not thighs. When turning, pull one rein lightly in the direction you want her to go and press the other rein against her neck on the opposite side. Also, press her opposite side with your calf. Eventually, the goal is to turn her just with your legs, but for now use the reins too,” said Tyler.
Bethany walked the big, chestnut mare around the arena twice in one direction and then twice the other. She focused on using her legs because she wanted to learn as fast as she could so she could be as accomplished as Octavia, and so Antonia and Tyler would let her train Fyrestorm.
“Now trot her two times each way, Bethany and then bring her to the middle and we’ll start working on side-passing,” called out Tyler.
Bethany did as she was told, urging Freedom into a slow trot two times around each way and then slowing her back to a walk by decreasing the movement in her hips as Tyler had taught her. She then used just her legs to direct the mare to the middle of the arena.
“That was great Bethany! You’re really getting the hang of using your legs.” said Tyler.
Bethany grinned, “Thank you!”
“Okay, now remember what I told you about the four main parts of the horse?” asked Tyler.
“Yes, the four main parts of the horse are the hindquarters, ribs, withers and poll,” said Bethany dutifully.
“Yes, excellent! So, you’re going to be applying pressure with your calves to Freedom’s ribs to make her side-pass. We’re going to do this with very exaggerated movements. To side-pass to the right, you’ll lift your right stirrup as far out as you can, and then press your left calf into her ribs. Also lift your right rein up and out slightly. It’s like you’re opening a door, for her to step through. Does that make sense?”
“Yes, it does,” answered Bethany.
“Okay, now try it,” said Tyler.
Bethany lifted her right leg and pressed with her left, but when she lifted the right rein, Freedom backed up a few steps instead of stepping sideways. “Oh no, what did I do?” said Bethany.
“You’re fine, Bethany. Freedom is very sensitive, and you pulled back on the reins a bit, so she wasn’t sure what you were asking of her. Try again and be careful not to pull back at all this time.”
Bethany was still for a few seconds while she tried to remember all that Tyler had told her. Then she lifted her right leg and ever so lightly lifted the right rein a tiny bit up and off to the right of Freedom’s neck and then she applied pressure with her left calf to Freedom’s ribs. For a long second, nothing happened and then Freedom took two steps to the right, crossing her front legs perfectly as she did so. Bethany let her legs fall back to Freedom’s sides and then reached down and hugged the mare’s neck, “Good girl!” she exclaimed.
Tyler called out, “That was great Bethany! Now the other side.”
But just as she was about to perform the maneuver in the other direction, they heard a commotion in the barn.
“Oh my god! What happened?” Octavia called out down the barn aisle.
Bethany slipped off Freedom and she and Tyler hurried toward the barn aisle to see what Octavia was shouting about. Bethany was still holding Freedom’s reins as the mare stood behind them and looked on.
Strider was limping into the barn, blood all over his face and shirt. Octavia ran to help him and then put her arm around his waist to support him as they walked to the middle of the barn. Strider groaned as Octavia helped him sit down in one of the chairs near the saddling stalls.
“What happened? asked Octavia again.
Strider was leaning over, hands on his thighs and breathing heavily. After he caught his breath he answered, “I was jumped at school.”
“Who did it?” asked Octavia.
Strider turned and looked at Tyler, “It was the Robertson brothers, and your brother, Chet, was with them,” he answered.
“I’m sorry. You know I don’t think like him, Strider. And he’s only my half-brother.”
“I’m not blaming you, Tyler. I know you’re nothing like him,” said Strider.
“His father is mean. He’s a homophobe and a racist. I don’t know why my mother married him. My father was nothing like that. I’m so sorry, Strider.”
“They beat you because you’re different?” asked Octavia, handing a towel that she had grabbed from the bathroom to him, her face contorting from sadness to anger.
“Yes,” Strider answered as he held the towel to his nose to stop the bleeding.
“How did they know?” asked Bethany. “I mean it’s not like you look gay or anything. You just look like a regular guy.”
“What does look gay mean, Bethany?” asked Octavia.
“Octavia don’t get mad at Bethany,” said Strider. And to Bethany he said, “I’m sure Chet told them.”
“Why would Chet do that? You don’t even go to school with us, you’re in college,” said Bethany.
“Chet is an unhappy, cruel boy. I’ll talk to mom about this. C’mon Strider, let’s get you cleaned up,” said Tyler as he placed his arm around Strider and helped him out of the barn and toward the main house.
This post is just for fun because I received these beautiful books from Much Ado About Horses today! I haven’t read them yet of course, but wanted to post a few pictures because I love them so much! Much Ado About Horses is a website that sells hard to find and out of print Arabian horse books. They mailed these to me within a couple of days of ordering them and in excellent condition so I highly recommend them! Check out, muchadoabouthorses.com.
So as I said in an earlier post, I acquired this book along with the sequel, Thunderhead, from my granny, Frances Grimes, many years ago. I loved them as child and decided to read them again during the Covid lockdown last year. They rekindled my love of horse stories, so I became more serious about writing my own. I’m currently plugging away at The Red Filly, one chapter at a time. I actually created a rough outline/beat sheet, so I do know where I’m going with it at least. I joined an awesome writing group during all this Covid mess and they are helping me with edits along the way. This pandemic has been rough on all of us, but I’ve managed to achieve a few positives after I figured out how to restructure my life. I often wonder, if I am forever changed by the last year and a half…but I digress…on to the review!
This is a story of true love between a boy and horse. It’s the kind of bond a young horse loving, apartment dwelling girl like I was growing up, dreamed of. The main character, Ken McLaughlin, unlike me and probably a great many of the kids who have read this book over the years, is growing up on a ranch in Wyoming in the late 1930s surrounded by horses. But, he longs for one of them to be his very own. He’s a day dreamer and because of this causes many mishaps around the ranch and can’t focus on his school work, so his father doesn’t want to reward him with a yearling to raise as his own like his older brother has done.
Mom comes to the rescue though, as she often does in this book and the sequel, Thunderhead. She insists that Ken needs a yearling to raise to help him focus. After a horrific incident during the gelding of the yearling colts, Ken decides he doesn’t want the gruesome procedure carried out on his yearling. He decides he wants a filly to avoid the barbaric practice. But in his father’s eyes he picks the worst filly on the ranch. She’s been running wild with her dam her entire short life and won’t allow anyone near her.
I don’t want to give away the whole story, but you get the idea. Ken is determined, his dad is not happy with him as usual, his mom loves him unconditionally and supports his decision, while a wild filly awaits…
My copy of the book has had a rough life, but it’s managed to survive countless moves over the years.
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.”
When Antonia and her friend, Ama, had first spotted the black Arabian stallion, Spirit in his ten-acre paddock, his head was down as he sipped water from the scenic pond near its center. He was standing beneath a willow tree with his faithful gelding, Ambush, by his side. It was like a scene from a movie…so beautiful, so serene. Ama felt the moisture in her eyes and cleared her throat, just as Antonia whistled to the stallion.
Spirit’s head shot up at the sound of Antonia’s whistle. He was every bit as stunning as the black stallion from the movie the young women both loved so much. Spirit turned on his heel and galloped toward the two women standing at the fence. Ambush ran behind him. Spirit slowed to a trot and the bay gelding managed to catch up staying at the gallop, and then he too slowed to a trot.
As they both watched Spirit trot toward them with tail held high, Ama cleared her throat again and said, “He’s magnificent, Antonia.”
“Thank you, Ama,” said Antonia.
“I won’t lie, Antonia. I’m a little jealous,” laughed Ama.
“Ama, I love you and I would never want you to feel jealous. I want you to share in my joy. I was so happy when my best friend called from New York and told me she was coming to Dallas to start her own law firm,” said Antonia.
“Best friend? Oh, you mean me,” laughed Ama.
The two women hugged, both laughing. Spirit snorted, reached over the fence and pressed his lips to Antonia’s head and then Ama’s. They broke apart laughing once more and Spirit drew back his head, snorting again.
“See Ama, Spirit approves,” said Antonia.
Now Ambush wanted to be part of the celebration too, so he softly nickered and shoved his head toward the women. Spirit stepped aside, ever respectful of the older gelding. Antonia placed both hands on Ambush’s cheeks and kissed him on the nose, “Oh sweet, Ambush, we would never forget you,” she said.
“C’mon Ama, let’s go to the house, I want you to meet my protégé, Gina Targoff. And then I have a surprise for you,” said Antonia. She then whistled three short bursts in the direction of the stallion barn and two Anatolian Shepherds appeared from deep inside it. They must have been napping because they stretched their legs for a couple of steps and then came running with tails wagging.
“Meet Ralph and Lauren,” said Antonia.
“Ama laughed, “Of course that’s what you named them. Still missing your days in Paris, at Louis Vuitton?” asked Ama.
“Those were good days, Ama, but this place is my destiny,” answered Antonia in a serious tone, but still smiling.
The two women looked at each other for a moment and then Antonia, turned and headed toward the house with Ralph, Lauren and Ama falling into step beside her.
“Gina,” Antonia called out as she opened the back door leading to the kitchen and she with her entourage in tow stepped in.
“I’m here,” said Gina, stepping around the corner hopping as she pulled on her other boot.
Gina stopped in mid boot pull when Ama stepped from behind Antonia. Gina had always thought Antonia was beautiful, but Ama was breathtaking and at least ten years younger than Antonia. Her black hair tumbled down past her shoulders in loose waves. Her skin was the color of porcelain and her eyes were emeralds. Her tiny t-shirt which bore the name of Antonia’s fashion label, bigshotcowgirl, exposed the slightest midriff. She wore jeans that accented her hips and a very fit, gluteus maximus. A pair of red leather boots engulfed the lower part of her jeans to finish out the ensemble.
“Hello, Gina. I’m Ama Yasutsuna,” said Ama.
Gina managed to regain control of her jaw and said, “Hello, nice to meet you.”
Suddenly, they heard a shrill whinny. Ralph and Lauren ran to the back door, whining and scratching at it. Antonia opened it and the dogs blasted out the door toward the sound. The whinnying continued…more frantic. It was coming from the paddock nearest the front pasture, northwest of the house.
“That’s one of the broodmares!” said Antonia as she bolted toward the gunrack in the hall and grabbed her shotgun. “Let’s go Gina!” she said as she headed out the side door to the garage.
“I’m coming too!” said Ama, running out the door behind them and jumping into the back of Antonia’s jeep.
“Ama, you drive!” commanded Antonia as she jumped into the passenger side, shotgun in hand.
The key was already in the ignition, so Ama started the jeep and shot out the back of the open garage.
The tires squealed a little as she put the jeep in drive and peeled out of the driveway. They sped over the cattle guard and then Ama wheeled the jeep a sharp right toward the commotion in the front pasture.
They all gasped. “My god!” said Ama.
At the top of the hill, they saw a baby black horse surrounded by three coyotes and her frantic mother, a chestnut, Arabian mare, running along the other side of the paddock fence, screaming. The baby was crying too, but could barely be heard over the mother’s frantic cries. As they sped toward the calamity, they saw Timmy, the golden pony, gallop up and start kicking one of the coyotes and then as if on cue, Ralph and Lauren burst onto the scene. Those coyotes didn’t have a chance. They were outgunned and they knew it. So as if they were connected telepathically, all three of them sped off at once. Ralph and Lauren took off after them, but Timmy was standing with the baby as they arrived at the scene. Antonia jumped from the jeep, shotgun at the ready before Ama brought it to a complete stop. She strode toward Timmy who stood protecting the trembling filly. Mom was still running the fence line whinnying frantically.
Gina and Ama were now by Antonia’s side. Gina put her arms around Timmy’s neck, and he nuzzled her while Antonia ran her fingers over the baby, checking for injuries. Finding no injuries, Antonia stroked the baby’s neck and said, “You’re okay, little Sapphire. That was a close call.” Then Antonia called out to the mare, “Rose, your little girl is okay.”
The chestnut mare, continued to trot along the fence, upset that her filly was not by her side.
Gina and Ama were now consoling the filly too, as Timmy sauntered off into the pasture, grazing again as if this had all been a normal day in the life of a plucky, little pony.
Antonia stood up and said, “Okay guys, help me herd this little girl back into the paddock and reunite her with mom. There’s a small gate just a little down the fence row, we’ll get her back in through there. Antonia began to coax the filly toward the gate, while Gina and Ama brought up the rear, tapping the filly’s rump from time to time. The process wasn’t too difficult because the filly was drawn to her mother’s cries.
As they watched the filly trot toward her mother’s side after encouraging her through the gate, Ama said, “She’s beautiful, Antonia.”
“I’m happy you think so, Ama. She’s yours. She’s the surprise I was talking about,” said Antonia.
The filly trotted back toward the fence as if to thank them. Ama bent down to touch her face and as she was tracing the star on Sapphire’s forehead with her finger she said, “Antonia, this is too much. I can’t accept this gift.”
“She’s not a gift,” laughed Antonia. “You have to work for her. You have to help Gina and me at the ranch, when you’re not too busy with your law firm, of course,” Antonia winked as she said it.
Ama stood up, tears in her eyes, and faced Antonia. The two women embraced as Gina looked on. “I love you, Antonia,” said Ama.
“I know,” said Antonia.
“Gina, come join this love fest,” said Ama, reaching out to her with one arm.
Gina joined their embrace. She shed tears too because she had never felt such love before in her life.
“We three are a team,” said Antonia. “Team Olympic Spirit, in honor of the legacy of our beloved black stallion!”
Gina loved the weekends because her mother often allowed her to stay at Kuhaylah Arabians from Friday night through Sunday afternoon. So instead of waking up on this Saturday morning to the sounds of her mom and current boyfriend arguing, she awakened to the smell of chicken apple sausage cooking. At her own home, she would have been lucky to find a decent brand of cereal and milk that was in date. After her usual morning ritual of face washing and such, Gina wandered into the kitchen just as Antonia was scrambling the eggs.
“Good morning, Antonia,” said Gina as she retrieved a couple of plates from the cabinet and carried them to the table.
“Good morning,” said Antonia.
The morning news was playing in the background on the small television on the kitchen counter as Gina finished setting the table and Antonia finished cooking. Gina helped Antonia make the plates with eggs and sausage and Antonia set another plate on the table with toasted English muffins that were already dripping with butter. Antonia turned to shut off the TV because she preferred talking during meals, when a breaking news story announced a missing boy.
The local news reporter, Nancy Hill, appeared on the screen. All blonde hair and blue eyes…a walking cliché.
“A boy has gone missing,” she announced maintaining her serious reporter face as she continued. “I’m here at Connie’s Creatures, a local petting zoo, where the search is underway for a five-year-old boy that disappeared from his church group who were here to visit the sweet farm animals as part of the Mother’s Day Out program that the church runs for single mothers. The boy’s mother has just arrived,” said Nancy with a gleam in her eye.
Seconds later, Nancy Hill, was shoving a microphone in the face of the distraught young mother.
“That woman has no shame,” said Antonia as she turned off the television.
“You know her?” asked Gina.
“She used to cover horse shows and the like. She always loved it when someone was injured. The more serious, the better.” Antonia continued, “That animal farm is near here. We need to help with the search after we feed the horses.”
Antonia walked over to a side counter and picked up her iPhone. “Go ahead and eat. I’m going to call Lucas.”
“Lucas Remington, the sheriff’s deputy you’re friends with?” asked Gina.
Antonia nodded as she said, “Hello Lucas. Yes, I heard. We’re going to help with the search after we feed the horses. Gina’s with me. Okay, I’ll call you as soon as we’re done. Let me know if you need horses to continue the search,” said Antonia and then she clicked off the call and slid the phone in her pocket.
Gina finished eating and started to clean up, but then Antonia said, “We’ll clean up later. Pull on your boots and let’s go.” She grabbed a chicken sausage with one hand and ate it as she opened the back door with the other and strode toward the main barn which housed the mares. Gina came flying out the door behind her just after slipping her feet into her steel-toed cowboy boots, her barn boots as she called them. Even in a hurry, Antonia looked graceful in Gina’s eyes as she scrambled to keep up.
Several scoops of feed later, the mare’s barn was done, and they headed to the smaller stallion barn. Spirit and the younger resident stallion, Flame whinnied in unison as Antonia and Gina arrived at the barn. Antonia walked straight to Spirit and held the beautiful face the black stallion offered over the stall door in her hands, placing her forehead to his. He became a kitten in her hands. It always looked to Gina as if they were communing telepathically. She couldn’t help feeling jealous every time they did it. Flame nickered softly to her.
“I know. You want your feed,” Gina said quietly. She walked to the feed bin, lifted the lid with one hand and grabbed a scoopful with the other. She closed the lid after retrieving the scoop and then crossed the narrow barn aisle and entered Flame’s stall. He immediately attacked the feed after she poured it in the corner feed bucket. The sun was peeking through the small windows up high in the stalls and Flame’s bright red coat glistened with spots of gold and copper. Gina couldn’t help wishing he was hers and she could one day share the same bond with him that Antonia shared with Spirit. Flame lifted his head from the feed, turned toward Gina and nuzzled her, but quickly returned to the feed bucket.
“He’s bonding with you,” said Antonia, as if she were reading Gina’s mind.
“What do you mean? He just turned for a second,” said Gina.
“When a horse stops eating feed, one of their favorite things, to greet someone, that means they care about that person,” said Antonia.
Gina took one more look at Flame before stepping out of the stall and allowed herself to imagine for a moment that he was truly hers.
“Ok, let’s go feed the retirees. They’re already gathered up front,” said Antonia, breaking Gina from her reverie.
Gina loved how Antonia called the front pasture horses retirees. They earned their retirement she always said. The feed buckets for the pasture horses hung on the fence just east of the stallion barn, so they didn’t have far to walk. Antonia had poured feed into a wheelbarrow that she rolled over now as they walked toward the fence. They both grabbed a scoop of feed and emptied them into a couple of buckets before wasting no time to scoop up some more feed. This was a process that had to be done quickly to minimize the breakout of fights. A few minutes later, all the horses were happily munching away in their individual buckets, but then Gina noticed one of the buckets had no one attending to it.
“Oh my gosh, Antonia! Where is Timmy?!” Gina exclaimed.
“I just noticed that too,” said Antonia. “I’ll saddle up Spirit, you get Freedom from the other barn and we’ll ride out to find him,” said Antonia.
Gina ran to the mares’ barn to get Freedom. The seasoned mare had finished her feed and was happy to see Gina to take her out to the mares’ pasture as per the usual routine. Gina slipped her halter on her in the stall and as she exited the stall, she turned right in the barn aisle to head to the pasture.
“Sorry girl. We have to find Timmy first. You’ll get to hang out with the other mares later,” said Gina as she patted Freedom’s neck and then turned her the other way toward the saddling area.
Just a short time later, Gina met up with Antonia outside the gate that led to the front pasture. Antonia on her black stallion, Spirit and Gina on the dependable chestnut mare. Freedom was the first offspring of Spirit. And like all his children, she was beautiful; fiery chestnut coat, flowing tail, blaze, and all.
“Ok, let’s check the pond out front first,” said Antonia and they cantered out together toward the pond. What a sight they would have been to anyone watching. Two petite women riding magnificent Arabian horses, running with tails held high. One glistening black in the morning sun and the other flaming red.
Timmy was not at the pond, so they headed toward the gate that led to the back pasture. It was open this time of year, so they cantered through single file, Antonia leading the way on Spirit. Kuhaylah Arabians was over two hundred acres in size, so the search was cut out for them. They rode side by side on the main trail, walking now and watching and listening.
They both stopped in their tracks. They heard the faint whinny at the same time. Gina’s heart leapt into her throat, “Timmy’s alive!” she said out loud because she had feared the worst. She loved that little golden pony so much.
Antonia held up her hand, palm facing toward Gina. She was listening intently. Nothing. So, she called out, “Timmy!” There was another whinny in response to her query and this time stronger. It came from in front of them, off to the right, deep amongst the trees. Antonia urged Spirit straight into a gallop from a dead stop. Gina urged Freedom to follow. The red mare wasn’t as fast as Spirit, but she willingly followed at a good clip.
They slowed to a trot as they left the trail to enter the thicket. Halfway into the trees, Timmy came trotting up to them. He seemed perfectly fine, so Antonia said, “Timmy, you gave us a huge scare. Come here!” Timmy looked at Antonia and just as it was with Spirit, it appeared that they were communicating telepathically. They continued to stare at each other for what seemed to Gina like several minutes, but in reality, was only seconds. Timmy shook his head, blonde mane tossing about his neck, then turned on his heels and trotted deeper into the trees. Antonia followed without saying a word, so Gina followed too.
Timmy slowed to a walk as they entered a small clearing, so Antonia and Gina slowed their mounts too. Timmy had stopped in front of a lone tree in the clearing. Antonia and Gina had both been temporarily blinded by the morning sun. Timmy stepped sideways, head down near the base of the tree and when Gina and Antonia urged their horses a few steps forward into the shade of the great oak tree, they saw what Timmy was looking at.
The little boy stirred and placed his little hands on each side of Timmy’s soft muzzle and kissed his nose. “Hello horsey,” he said.
“We found the boy,” said Antonia talking on her cell to Lucas. “He’s fine, just a few scratches and tired after his adventure,” she continued.
The little boy whose name was Caleb, he had informed them on the ride back to the house, was now munching happily on some leftover chicken apple sausage at the kitchen table.
“Ok, we’ll see you in a bit,” said Antonia before setting down the cell phone.
Antonia walked over and sat down at the table with Gina and Caleb. “How are you feeling Caleb?” she asked.
“Great!” he answered with a mouthful of sausage. “I love Timmy! He saved me! And I love Freedom too! I never got to ride a horse before! Can I ride Freedom by myself sometime? I mean, it was fun riding with Gina, but I wanna try on my own!” Somehow the boy was smiling, talking, and eating all at the same time. Gina and Antonia looked at each other and smiled.
There was a knock at the back door. Antonia rose from the table and walked the few steps to the door, opening it and in stepped Lucas Remington, tall, dark, and formidable in his deputy’s uniform. He removed his hat as he entered, revealing the tight, jet-black, curls clipped closely to his head. He was clean cut and smelled of leather and musk. Gina always had a hard time talking to him because of his great beauty.
“Hi Lucas,” Gina managed.
“Hello, Gina,” he said before turning his attention toward Antonia. His face softened when he gazed at Antonia, and Gina wished that someone would look at her like that someday.
“Hello Lucas,” Antonia said smiling. “It’s good to see you as always.”
Lucas smiled at her and then turned toward the boy, his face all business again. “How you feeling, Caleb?” he asked.
“Awesome!” said Caleb, now munching on an English muffin.
“That’ good to hear,” said Lucas now smiling at the boy. Lucas reached out his hand and said, “Let’s go see your mom now, she’s been worried sick,”
“Okay,” said Caleb getting up from the table and grabbing another English muffin on his way out.
“I’ll call you later Antonia and let you know how things went,” said Lucas as he turned to leave, holding Caleb’s hand.
Caleb stopped and turning toward Antonia asked, “Can I come back and ride Freedom one day?”
“I would like that Caleb,” said Antonia. “Lucas, give my number to his mother, will you?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am,” said Lucas, tipping his hat and smiling warmly at her, before turning and stepping out the door with Caleb in hand.
After they drove off in the squad car, Gina asked, “Why don’t you go out with him, Antonia? He’s obviously in love with you.”
Antonia had her back to Gina as she continued to look out the kitchen window even though the car was no longer in sight, but then she turned toward Gina and for a split second the sun caught in her eyes and Gina noticed a slight shimmer, as if Antonia were holding back tears. But that wasn’t possible Gina thought, because Antonia was always strong, never emotional.
“Gina, we need to turn out the mares,” Antonia said as she turned and opened the back door, stepping out as she said it. Her voice was strong as always, no hint of sadness or longing. Gina followed her out the back door without another word.
“When do I get to ride, Strider? I’ve been mucking stalls for a whole week now,”
Strider laughed, “Oh yeah, a whole week. You crack me up, Bethany. You have to earn the chance to ride. A week is not a long time.”
“It seems like a long time to me,” said Bethany as she dumped the pile of manure from the stable fork into the wheelbarrow.
Strider dumped a load from the stall he was cleaning and then turned to Bethany. “Bethany, riding a horse is a privilege. Especially, Antonia’s beautiful Arabians. You’re looking at this all wrong. Not many people get the chance at all. Your time will come.”
“Well, I hope I’m not a grey-haired old lady, before it does.”
Strider laughed again. “You go see your girl. There’s only one stall left. I’ll clean it.”
“Really?! Thank you, Strider!” Bethany dropped her fork and ran down the barn aisle.
“Bethany, you forgot something,” Strider called out.
Bethany didn’t hear Strider as she ran toward the far north pasture. She slowed to a walk about halfway there. Even as excited as she was, she couldn’t run that far at top speed. The trek was worth it though. The fiery, red filly lifted her head and locked eyes with Bethany from a safe distance at the top of a hill. Bethany had made the long journey on foot to the north pasture several times now to try to make friends with Fyrestorm. She had brought a halter with her on the first trip, thinking she would catch her, because Antonia said they had haltered her before to give her shots and a vet checkup, but other than that the two-year-old filly had not received any training.
The first walk to the pasture had not gone well. As soon as Fyrestorm saw the halter, she turned on her heel and took off out of sight over the far hill in what seemed an instant. Bethany didn’t bring the halter the next time, and the filly still ran, but just far enough away to keep an eye on the strange, auburn-haired girl. Bethany considered that a success, so she continued her halter-less visits, hoping the filly would begin to trust her.
On this occasion, Fyrestorm only ran a few steps, but still out of reach, and watched Bethany. Her heart felt as if it would burst from her chest as she watched the filly standing on a small hill; head held high, neck bowed, nostrils flared as her red mane flowed and her arched tail plumed out behind her. The beauty of the filly was breathtaking. Bethany wanted her for her own with all her heart, but she knew her mother couldn’t afford to buy her. Bethany was saving all her money from her new job, hoping it would be enough to one day make Fyrestorm her very own.
“Fyrestorm, please let me near you. I just want to pet you. No riding yet. That will come later,” called out Bethany.
As if in answer, Fyrestorm neighed, a shrill, wild sound, like music to Bethany’s ears and then she was out of sight in a flash.
Bethany watched in dismay at the spot where the red filly had been standing just a moment before. The fall grass on the hill was a peaked mix of green and gray, but all Bethany could see was the gray, because her heart ached for the filly. She had never felt such love and yearning for anything before in her life. Not that existed in reality anyway. Bethany spent most of her time up in her own head with make believe horses, some of them even had wings and she fantasized about riding a winged horse across the skies. She dreamed of freedom from the persecution and ridicule she suffered in real life. There was no sadness in her fantasies, just bravery, glory, and love.
Bethany was startled out of her reverie, by something pressing into her back. She let out a little yelp and jumped and then she heard hooves pounding the hard ground. She turned heart about to burst, because surely Fyrestorm had snuck up behind her. The horse that had darted just a few feet from her was a beautiful chestnut, but not Fyrestorm; it was her dam, Fyrelite. A beautiful red mare, but with just a star instead of a star and stripe, like her daughter.
Bethany was disappointed, but when the mare tentatively walked back up to her and nuzzled her, it warmed the girl’s heart. The broodmare was carrying a foal, due to be born in the spring, sired by Antonia’s black stallion, Spirit. Strider said only the best broodmares were bred to Spirit. Bethany began to pet the lovely mare. “Oh, Fyrelite, I wish you could explain to your daughter, that I love her and would never hurt her,” said Bethany while scratching the mare’s neck just under the base of her mane. Fyrelite loved the attention and curled her neck around, almost falling over she was in such ecstasy.
As Bethany, continued to scratch and rub on her neck, she saw Fyrestorm standing on the hill again out of the corner of her eye. The filly was watching their spectacle. Bethany smiled and realized she had been going about approaching the filly all wrong. She remembered reading somewhere online that horses are very curious and if you ignore them, they become even more intrigued. Her hands were getting tired and starting to cramp up a bit, but she was determined to get the chance to at least touch Fyrestorm.
It was working, her patience was paying off. The filly had ventured closer. ‘Maybe if she realized her mom likes me, she’ll start to trust me,’ Bethany thought. Fyrestorm walked a few steps closer and snorted. She was close now; Bethany could almost feel the breath of her snort. Her hands and arms were aching now, but if she could just draw the filly in a little closer.
And then it happened, she felt the filly’s muzzle in the center of her back. She stayed very still and held her breath a bit. She trembled with excitement, smiling from ear to ear. Just as she was about to risk turning to pet her beloved filly, Tyler came galloping up to the broodmares riding Flame, the younger resident stallion at Kuhaylah Arabians. The beautiful, sorrel, Arabian stallion arched his long neck and whinnied in delight at the site of the mares, but Tyler was an excellent equestrian, and he kept the great stallion under his control. Fyrestorm wheeled about and galloped off into the distance. Bethany had lost her chance.
“Well, look who it is, … ,” said Chet Dickson as he passed the table where Bethany sat alone in the Samuel James Middle School cafeteria. He finished the sentence with slurs said at a whisper so no one else but Bethany could hear.
“Shut up Chet!” shouted Bethany. “I hate you!”
Every eye in the cafeteria turned toward her as Chet walked on snickering under his breath.
Tears flowed down Bethany’s face. Everyone else had already gone back to talking to their friends though. Nobody cares about the weirdo, thought Bethany. She picked up the floppy slice of pizza from her tray and slowly began to chew, tears still flowing. Nobody cares…
Bethany stepped off the bus in front of the little peach colored, single-wide trailer she lived in with her mom. Their little grade horse, Starbuck, trotted up to the fence to the left of their home and nickered, when he saw her. She set her backpack on the porch and then went over to greet him. He nuzzled her with his reddish-brown nose, and she rubbed the big star on his forehead.
Bethany, now inside the fence, shaking with sobs as she hugged Starbuck, heard her mom pull up in the driveway behind her. Their old truck chugged a couple of times, not ready to give up after her mom had already stepped out and shut the door. She called out to Bethany, “Hey baby, I’ve got groceries, could you come help me put them up?”
Bethany didn’t move, she continued to hug Starbuck as she heard her mom open the passenger door of the truck and retrieve the groceries. Bethany heard her mom sigh loudly as she carried the bags in through the front door of the little house, allowing the screen door to slam loudly behind her. Bethany sighed herself, and headed into the house behind her mother. Bethany paused as she passed the kitchen. Her mom had placed the bags on the little, round, wooden kitchen table and had begun putting them up. Their grey, tabby cat, Trixie had jumped on the table to ‘help’ and was purring so loudly, Bethany could hear her from outside the kitchen. Helene stopped what she was doing, rubbed the aging cat’s head and said, “I love you Trixie, but I have things to do right now.”
Bethany stood there and watched as her mom start to boil the water for hot dogs, and open a can of chili for the chili dogs she was making for dinner. It was one of Bethany’s favorite meals, but she had no appetite. Helene grabbed a drinking glass from the cabinet and then filled it with burgundy colored wine from the box she kept on the counter in the kitchen and said to herself, “Well, like Granny used to say, It’s five o’ clock somewhere.”
She placed hot dogs in the boiling water and then stood there watching them with glass of wine in hand, when she suddenly turned toward Bethany. “I thought I heard breathing. Are you okay?”
Bethany opened her mouth to speak, but then began sobbing uncontrollably again. She couldn’t bear talking to anyone, so she fled to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her. She was face down on her bed; body wracked with sobs when she heard her mom knocking on her door.
“Bethany, what’s wrong? Please let me in.”
“Go away, Mom!”
“Bethany, please open the door. I love you. I just want to help you. Do you need a hug?”
Silence. Bethany opened the door. Helene stepped into the room and held her arms open. Bethany sunk into her mother’s body and began sobbing even louder. Helene just held her daughter and didn’t say anything.
Bethany hadn’t wanted her mom in her room because she knew her mom would not be happy with the mess. There were books, comic books and clothes piled on top of the dresser; some of which had fallen off and others about to give up their precarious positions as well. Her nightstand was in the same state, bed unmade, empty Dr. Pepper bottles littered the floor. Her floor had not been vacuumed in weeks. But her mom, didn’t mention any of it.
Bethany’s sobs were slowing so Helene took a chance and asked, “What happened? Why are you so upset?”
“Chet Dickson…” Bethany began and started sobbing again.
Bethany felt her mom tense up.
“What happened?” Helene prodded.
“He called me retarded,” said Bethany, now just crying lightly.
Helene clenched her fists and then relaxed them. “I’m so sorry Bethany. But Chet is a loser, that’s why he’s so mean. He…”
“Mom, please. I don’t want to talk. I’m a weirdo and I know it.”
“How can you say that, Bethany?! You’re just different! Why don’t you believe me?” Helene pleaded.
“Mom, you have to say that. You’re my mom,” Bethany whimpered through her tears.
“Well, if you’re such a weirdo, why would Antonia let you take care of her horses?”
Bethany stepped back and looked up at her mom. “Maybe you’re right,” she said between sniffles.
“Of course I’m right. And you really need to learn to embrace your differences, or you’ll spend your whole life wallowing in self-pity and end up a bitter old lady.”
“I don’t want to be different! I am a weirdo!” Bethany shouted while rapidly flapping her hands.
“You’re not a weirdo. And different is not a bad thing. Do most people really achieve anything special? Think about it. It’s the weirdos and people who dare to be different who go on to greatness. They don’t accept the status quo.”
“Mom! Just leave me alone! You’re just making me feel worse!” Bethany shouted as she shoved her mom through her bedroom door and then slammed it shut, locking it as she did so.
Bethany could hear her mom sigh as she stood outside her door. As Bethany flung herself back on her bed to continue sobbing, she listened as her mother’s footsteps faded down the hallway.