Okay, as usual, I’m a little late with this post since this working equitation competition took place in Ft. Worth on November 9th, but I managed to get some cool pictures and I just wanted to post them. Working Equitation (WE) is featured prominently in my work in progress, The Red Filly. Doreen Atkinson (pictured above) was elected President Elect of USAWE in November of 2022. She will rotate into the role of President at the end of 2023. USA Working Equitation is the national organization for working equitation in the USA, and Doreen is an awesome ambassador for the sport!
“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,” Bethany said 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 gray-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. 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 gazed at 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 stared 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 when something pressed into her back. She let out a little yelp and jumped and then she heard hooves pounding the hard ground. She turned, excitement coursing through her body 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. Although not showing yet, the broodmare was carrying a foal, due to be born in the spring and sired by Antonia’s black stallion, Spirit. Strider said only the best broodmares were bred to Spirit. Bethany reached out to pet the lovely mare. “Oh, Fyrelite, I wish you could explain to your daughter, that I love her and would never hurt her.” Bethany scratched the mare’s neck just under the base of her mane. It was obvious that Fyrelite loved the attention. She curled her neck around, almost falling over in her ecstasy.
As Bethany continued to scratch and rub on the mare’s neck, Fyrestorm resumed her former position on the hill. 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. Fyrestorm walked a few steps closer and snorted. She was close now; Bethany could almost feel the hot 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 sight 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.
Gina’s riding skills had improved to the point that a boarder at Kuhaylah Arabians had asked her to keep her horse Simon exercised while she was on vacation. Simon was an Anglo-Arab, sired by Spirit and out of a Thoroughbred mare. He was very tall – the tallest horse Gina had ever ridden. At first, she had felt intimidated by his size, but his gentle nature and excellent training built her confidence. Now she was enjoying her rides on the elegant bay gelding. As she and Simon approached the front gate for an evening trail ride, she saw Antonia on the four-wheeler. Gina could read the worry on Antonia’s face.
“I’m missing about eight head of cattle. They didn’t come up with the others, and I can’t find them on our land. Can you keep an eye out for them?”
“Will do!” said Gina. She was energized by the knowledge that her trail ride was serving a purpose. She directed Simon along the back fence line, scanning the fence for breaks and studying the brush for the missing cattle. She was happy to spot the herd of pasture horses resting under the trees, and called a special greeting to her favorite, Timmy. He lifted his head and flicked his ears, then returned to grazing.
Gina had worked her way to the very back corner when she spotted dark shapes in the undergrowth of the neighbor’s property. A quick count confirmed the eight missing head, ranging from a big lead cow thru some yearling heifers to a calf nearly at weaning age. They were on the other side of a tight, 5-strand barbed wire fence. Gina could not tell how they had gotten back there, but there was no way they would be able to return to the Kuhaylah Arabians property.
She asked Simon to halt and stand while she extracted her phone from her leg pouch and dialed Antonia. “I’m on my way!” said Antonia. A few minutes later, the four wheeler’s headlights in the falling dusk signaled that Antonia was coming.
Gina dismounted from Simon. Since he was in English tack, she ran the irons up the stirrup leathers and pushed them securely against the bars of the saddle. She also gave the reins a couple of twists and then buckled the throatlatch of the bridle through the middle twist. She knew that these precautions would keep Simon’s tack from getting caught up on anything while she was dismounted. She took an old lead rope from the back of the four-wheeler and hooked one end to the snaffle ring of Simon’s bridle. She knew better than to tie a horse by anything attached to their bit, so she draped the end over the four-wheeler’s cargo rack. Simon was well trained, and she felt sure he would just think he was tied.
“They most likely crossed the fence line further south where it crosses a ravine, then wandered up here”, was Antonia’s speculation. “We need to see if we can pull the fence.” She cut one wire and held the others up high while Gina eased through the gap. Walking quietly, she circled behind the small herd and started to pressure them towards the gap. Suddenly, the big lead cow bellowed and bolted towards the fence. She brushed against Antonia as she charged under the wire, knocking Antonia to the ground. The next one in line was a calf determined to follow the lead cow, but Antonia had dropped the wire and the gap was gone. The young black calf was caught, trapped halfway through the wire. Simon, startled by the big cow crashing past him, was further panicked by the cries and struggles of the trapped calf. He spun around and bolted into the rapidly falling darkness.
Gina was horrified – Simon had been entrusted to her care, but Antonia was down, and the calf was trapped. She could not chase him across hundreds of yards of fields and woods on foot. She had to believe that Simon would be able to make his way back to the front gate. She fought back the panic while helping Antonia to her feet. Together they were able to free the calf and hold the fence back up. The rest of the herd wanted nothing more than to follow the lead cow back thru the fence, so they quickly vacated the neighbor’s property, and Gina and Antonia began to repair the fence.
Timmy was resting on the outskirts of the herd when he heard the thudding of hooves in the woods. The sound stopped abruptly, and he heard branches cracking and saw a big shape. It was a strange horse. Timmy felt a strong sense of wrongness in the situation. Twilight was time for the pasture horses to find their resting spot and settle into their night stillness. The big, strange horse was out of place; agitated and wearing tack, he did not fit the rhythm of the evening. He flung his head around but didn’t seem to know where to go.
Timmy heard the distant clang of gate chains. He knew that sound! It was the entrance gate at the front of the property. Images connected in his mind, and he remembered seeing horses going in and out of that gate, wearing tack and carrying riders. As he imagined this, he was overwhelmed by a strong sense that the big, strange horse needed to go to the front gate to be in his right place.
Timmy moved next to the big horse. He kept his head low and his ears forward – he didn’t want the big horse to feel threatened. He slowly walked ahead, willing the other to join and follow him. At first there was silence. Then Timmy heard the following thump of shod hooves on hard ground.
They made their way slowly. It was a long way around and it required knowing how to go thru the woods, over creek crossings, and along dirt paths. Timmy moved with the confidence of many years of residence as he navigated across the dam and towards the front gate in the rapidly falling night. His confidence seemed to transfer to the big horse, who grew calmer as he followed Timmy.
Gina and Antonia drove to the front gate and Gina hopped off to open it. They were jubilant about their teamwork in cutting the fence, herding the cattle back thru, and doing a field repair of the gap. It would have to be mended properly in the morning, but for tonight all was well. Gina’s phone rang and she listened to the caller. “You mean Simon didn’t come up to the front gate? He’s not with you in the barn? No sign of him? I wonder if he tried to go to the back gate and got lost!”. The cold feeling of panic grabbed her guts.
Just then, Timmy and the big horse emerged from the night. Gina ran to her friend, quickly checking him for injury. Antonia joined in, and they all made a big fuss over Simon. Simon relaxed as the anxiety of his night was dispelled by the comforting presence of the humans.
Timmy stood off to the side in the shadows, not sure what to do next. Then a person separated from the group with a hand extended towards him. Timmy closed his mouth over the crisp sweetness of a carrot as a gentle voice said, “Good Boy, Timmy”.
“Well, look who it is, … ” Chet Dickson 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. 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 where she lived with her mom. Their little grade horse, Starbuck, trotted up to the fence and nickered. Setting her backpack on the porch, she went over to greet him. He nuzzled her with his reddish-brown nose, and she rubbed the big white star on his forehead.
She climbed inside the fence and shook with sobs as she hugged Starbuck. Tears continued to stream down her face as her mom pulled into the driveway. Their old truck chugged a couple of times, not ready to give up after her mom had already stepped out and shut the door. “Hey baby,” she called out. “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 too 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 gray, 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 and watched as her mom started 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 broke down in tears. She fled to her bedroom and slammed 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. 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 carpet had not been vacuumed in weeks. But her mom didn’t mention any of it.
As Bethany’s sobs slowed, Helene held her at arm’s length 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.” Her body slumped as the tears kept falling.
Her mom 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 gazed 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 rapidly flapped 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 making me feel worse!” Bethany shoved her mom out of her room and then slammed and locked the door behind her.
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.
Spirit’s head was down, his long black mane almost touching the earth as he sipped water from the scenic pond near the center of his ten-acre paddock. He was standing beneath a willow tree with his faithful bay 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 her good friend, Antonia whistled to the stallion.
Spirit’s head shot up at the sound. He was every bit as stunning as the black stallion from the movie the two women both loved so much. Spirit turned on his heel and galloped toward the fence where they stood. Ambush ran behind him. Spirit slowed to a trot and the gelding managed to catch up staying at the gallop, and then he too slowed to a trot.
Spirit trotted 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. You do such good work at your horse rescue. “Beau’s Sanctuary”. You saved my sweet, Timmy, and so many other unwanted horses.
“I miss my dear, Arabian gelding, Beau. He wasn’t as impressive as Spirit, but he was black like your stallion and he had a thin, white, blaze running the length of his face. He was beautiful. I wish you could have known him, Antonia. It broke my heart when he was stolen. Searching for him is how I ended up in the horse rescue business.”
The two women hugged. Spirit snorted, reached over the fence, and pressed his lips to Antonia’s head and then Ama’s. They broke apart laughing, and Spirit drew back his head, snorting again.
“See Ama, Spirit loves you too,” 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 German 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 Dolce and Gabbana,” 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 Dolce, Gabbana 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.” Gina hopped around the corner pulling 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 almonds.
“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. Dolce and Gabbana 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!” Antonia 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.
“Ama, you drive!” commanded Antonia as she jumped into the passenger side, shotgun in hand.
The key was already in the ignition, so Ama leaped in, 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 northwest 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 gray 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 frenzied shrieks.
Timmy, the golden pony, galloped toward the calamity and started kicking one of the coyotes and then as if on cue, Dolce and Gabbana burst onto the scene. Those coyotes didn’t have a chance. They were outgunned and it seemed they knew it, when the largest one darted away with the other two close at his heels. Dolce and Gabbana 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. Antonia ran 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.
“Antonia, how did Timmy get into the mares’ pasture?” asked Gina.
Antonia laughed. “He’s quite the little jumper when he puts his mind to it. He’s the protector of the ranch and he knows it.” Finding no trauma, 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, “Melania, your little girl is okay.”
The gray 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.
The filly bolted through the gate and straight to her dam’s side.
“She’s beautiful,” Ama exclaimed.
“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.”
“You can, and you will, Ama. Timmy is the best little pony anyone could ask for. You saw what he did today. He wouldn’t be in my life if it weren’t for you.”
Ama stood up, tears in her eyes, and faced her friend. The two women embraced as Gina looked on. “I love you, Antonia.”
“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 Kuhaylah, in honor of the very first Arabian horse! ‘Hence, the Bedouins bestowed the name Drinker of the Wind to the first Arabian horse, whose name was Kuhaylah.’”
Gina bolted upright in the bed. When she realized where she was, she laid her head back down on the comfy pillow. No sounds of her younger, twin brothers arguing over what to watch on TV. It was Sunday, and the smell of apple chicken sausage tickled her nose. A real breakfast! No scrounging around trying to find remnants of cereal after those two brats had free rein over the kitchen. I wish I could just live forever at Kuhaylah Arabians! Gina rolled off the bed onto the floor. She stretched before slipping on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and headed into the kitchen.
“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, shoved a microphone in the face of the distraught young mother.
Antonia turned off the television. “That woman has no shame,”
“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 cell. “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.” Antonia clicked off the call and slid the phone in her pocket.
Gina finished her last forkful of eggs and took her plate to the sink.
“We’ll clean up later. Pull on your boots and let’s go.” Antonia 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 slipped her feet into her steel-toed cowboy boots, her barn boots as she called them and came flying out the door behind Antonia. Even in a hurry, she 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, the younger resident stallion, Flame, and the two geldings, Ambush and Blaze, whinnied in unison as Antonia and Gina arrived.
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 whispered. 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 grain after she poured it in the corner bucket. The sun peeked 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, turned toward Gina and nuzzled her chest with his soft nose, then returned his attention to the bucket.
“He’s bonding with you,” Antonia said, as if she were reading Gina’s mind.
“What do you mean? He just turned for a second.”
“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 thoughts.
Gina loved how Antonia called the southwest pasture horses, retirees. They earned their retirement she always said. The feed buckets for the pasture horses hung on the fence just west 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.”
“Something really bad must have happened! Timmy is always with the herd! Oh Antonia…” tears streamed down Gina’s face.
“Gina, we don’t have all the facts yet. When you worry and then something happens, you suffer twice. Go get Freedom, girl.”
Gina ran to the mares’ barn to get Freedom. Stop crying! Antonia’s right. We’ll find Timmy. 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 left 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.” Gina patted Freedom’s neck and then turned her the other way toward the saddling area.
Gina met up with Antonia outside the gate that led to the southwest 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 shimmering black in the morning sun and the other flaming red.
Timmy was not at the pond. They headed toward the south gate that led to the back riding trails. 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. 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, lasted 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. Gina followed too.
Timmy slowed to a walk as they entered a small clearing, 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, 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 apple chicken 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 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.
“Hi Lucas,” said Gina.
“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 smiled. “It’s good to see you as always.”
Lucas returned her smile and then faced the boy, his expression all business again. “How you feeling, Caleb?”
“Awesome!” said Caleb, now munching on an English muffin.
“That’s 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,” Caleb rose from the table and grabbed 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 twisting 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,” Lucas, tipped his hat and stepped 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 opened the back door and stepped out. Her voice was strong as always, no hint of sadness. Gina followed her without another word.
“So how was it? Did you have fun?” asked Helene as she pulled their old pickup onto the two-lane country road that bordered the front of Kuhaylah Arabians.
“Yes, I had fun,” Bethany grinned.
“How about some details?” Helene again prodded.
“Mom, I had fun. I wish you wouldn’t interrogate me.”
Helene sighed, “My new boss, Mr. Singh, invited us for dinner tonight.”
“Mom, I just want to go home. I don’t want to go anywhere,” Bethany whined.
“Bethany please, this is important to me. I really love my new job. You’ll like him. I promise.”
“Okay. I don’t have a choice, do I?” said Bethany.
Helene laughed, “Not really. Especially considering that he’s the one that arranged for you to get the job at Kuhaylah Arabians.”
“I told you on the way to the ranch. I guess you didn’t hear me?”
Bethany smiled at her mom but didn’t respond. She turned and just stared out the window as they drove down the country road into town. Her view consisted of field after field dotted with cows, a random horse or two, and wood-frame houses. Many of the homes needed repairs and a new coat of paint. There wasn’t a lot of money in Dale City. Most people lived off the land or paycheck to paycheck, except for the lucky ones that worked at James Corp, the best employer in the small town, Bethany always heard the adults saying. But she didn’t care about any of that because her head was filled with dreams of galloping Fyrestorm across green pastures.
As they reached the city limits, Bethany peered at the brick, ranch style houses, which were popular among the rural, middle class. She dreamed of living in a house like that instead of the old trailer she lived in with her mom. Bethany’s stomach rumbled as they drove past McDonalds, Burger King, and Dairy Queen; the three fast food chains that made up “restaurant row” in Dale City. Helene slowed the rambling truck to 35 mph as she pulled into the old downtown. She eased into one of the angled parking spots in front of a shop which bore the sign, Singh’s Antiques and Curiosities.
Amir stepped out onto the walkway in front of his shop to greet Bethany and her mom as they exited the truck, the heavy metal doors screeching as they slammed them both shut. Amir Singh was Helene’s age, but unlike her, he was fit. His black hair was cropped short, but was full and a bit wavy, complementing his olive-colored skin.
“Helene, so happy you and your daughter could make it for dinner,” he greeted them with a smile.
“Hello Amir, this is Bethany,” Helene said, waving an arm toward her daughter as Bethany stepped onto the sidewalk next to her mom.
“You call your boss by his first name?” Bethany blurted out.
“We’re informal around here,” said Amir with a smile as he extended his right hand toward her.
Bethany looked at his hand for a moment, then reached out and took it. She shook it firmly as her dad had taught her before he left them. It was the only thing she ever learned from him. “Thank you for getting me the job at Kuhaylah Arabians,” she said.
“Good handshake, Bethany! I’m happy to finally make your acquaintance. You’re welcome, but you got the job yourself. You must have made a good impression on Antonia. Let’s head inside. I hope you girls like the dinner I’ve prepared,” said Amir as he turned and walked toward his shop with Bethany and her mom following behind him.
They walked through the shop, which was full of the standard antiques found in any small, Texas town. There were old wooden dressers with chips and scratches, ancient looking garden gnomes, decorative plates on little metal stands depicting women with big, old-fashioned dresses, and ceramic figurines in the shapes of cats and roosters and the like.
“Everything is so old in here!” said Bethany.
“Bethany!” Helene admonished.
“It’s ok Helene. She’s right. Everything is old,” said Amir.
“Well why would people want to buy old things?” Asked Bethany.
“That’s an excellent question, Bethany. I think sometimes old things comfort people. They remind them of a simpler time, I assume.”
“That makes sense,” said Bethany as they reached a door in the back that Amir opened and led them through.
“It smells funny in here,” said Bethany.
“That’s because you’ve never smelled Indian spices before I’d wager. I’ve made us some butter chicken and some naan,” said Amir.
“Just chicken with butter? And what’s naan?” asked Bethany.
“Come, I’ll show you,” said Amir. They followed him through the back of the apartment to the kitchen. Amir lifted the lid of a large, silver pot on the stove. “Come look,” he invited.
Bethany and Helene peered into the pot and saw chicken covered in a brownish sauce. “Oh, I like chicken and gravy,” said Bethany.
“And here is the naan,” said Amir as he lifted a thin, white cloth from a plate on the counter.
“Oh, it’s just flatbread. I love bread!” said Bethany.
Bethany was distracted by a photograph on the wall just past the stove and near the kitchen table as Amir placed the cloth back over the bread. It was a picture of Amir, although younger, smiling and standing next to a beautiful golden colored horse, with a blaze running down the length of its face. Bethany walked closer to the photo and said, “What’s wrong with that horse’s ears?”
“There’s nothing wrong with Apollo’s ears. He’s a Marwari horse, their ears are supposed to curve inward.”
“Mahr-wahr-ee? How do you spell that?” asked Bethany.
“M-a-r-w-a-r-i,” Amir answered.
“Marwari,” Bethany repeated, under her breath. “Apollo was beautiful. He was your horse?” asked Bethany.
“It’s a long story. Let’s discuss it while we eat supper,” said Amir as he began to scoop the butter chicken onto three plates. He handed one of the plates to Bethany and he carried the other two to the table. “Helene, could you get the water pitcher from the fridge and fill three glasses for us?”
Helene retrieved the Brita water pitcher and poured water into the three glasses that Amir had set on the table. Then Amir removed the warm plate of naan from the microwave and placed it on the table.
The three of them sat down at the table, which had already been set with forks and napkins. Amir reached for the plate of naan and removed one of the flatbreads before passing it onto Helene. He then ripped off a small piece of naan and used it to pick up some of the chicken and then began eating.
Bethany asked, “You’re not going to use a fork?”
“I’m eating in the traditional Indian style, but sometimes I use a fork too. I set the table with forks because I know that’s what you’re used to.”
Bethany copied his technique and used a piece of bread to eat the butter chicken. “I like eating this way,” she said.
“Well, I hope you two won’t be offended if I use a fork.” Helene smiled.
“Suit yourself, Mom,” said Bethany.
Amir smiled at Helene and then turned his attention to Bethany. “I’m very happy that my good friend Antonia gave you the job at the ranch. I used to work on a horse ranch in India.”
“You did? Is that where you met Apollo?” asked Bethany.
“Yes, he was a prized Marwari stallion in those days. I miss him very much.”
“What happened to him?”
“He left this world some time ago. That picture was from another time, many years before you were born. Tell me about your job,” finished Amir.
“Oh, I’m going to get paid to work at the stable, plus get free riding lessons! But I’m most excited about the beautiful Arabian filly my mom and I saw running in the pasture today! No one has ridden her because she came from a ranch in Wyoming where she ran wild all her life.”
“I see. Apollo was wild when I first saw him too,” said Amir.
“Really?! So, you gained his trust?! I mean, you must have since you have the picture!” exclaimed Bethany.
“Yes, and that’s the story I mentioned earlier. Apollo was found running wild in the hills on the outskirts of the ranch where I worked. It took four men to capture him, and no one could control him. He was practically dragged onto the ranch double lassoed by a rider on each side and two riders driving him from behind. When I first laid eyes on him, I was about your age and in awe, just like you with the filly. I watched from one of the paddocks where I had been re-filling water troughs as Apollo screamed and reared in the air, fighting the riders with all his might. They managed to drive him into a large round pen, with 10-foot-high wooden sides and shut the gate behind him. I could hear him still screaming and galloping around the pen, looking for a means of escape. The men left, laughing, and talking because they felt immense pride at capturing such a magnificent stallion. After they were gone, I went to the gate to look at the horse. He was glorious even lathered in sweat and with the two lariats still hanging from his powerful neck.
His golden coat gleamed in the evening sun and his cream-colored mane and tail flowed like banners. He was the most beautiful Marwari horse I had ever seen. He was standing still by that time, but his sides heaved from exhaustion. The great horse watched me with alert eyes which contained no trust for humans. I ran and filled a bucket with water, returning as quickly as I could. The great stallion watched as I gently placed the bucket down just inside the gate. I stepped back and the horse sniffed the air with flared nostrils. His thirst was great, so he stepped toward the bucket, never taking his eyes off me. He reached the bucket, snorted a warning at me and then plunged his muzzle into the cool water, gulping madly in his thirst. He drained the bucket, so I moved forward to reach in and grab it. He wheeled around and screamed again as he bolted to the farthest end of the pen. I retrieved more water and also brought hay. Thus began the lengthy process of befriending the greatest Marwari stallion that ever lived.”
“So, I can do it! I can gain Fyrestorm’s trust!”
“Yes, but it took several months. You must be patient. The filly is Arabian and like the Marwari, somewhat hot-blooded. You will have to earn her trust. In fact, the two breeds are related. Marwari horses were infused with Arabian blood early in their history. According to legend, an Arabian ship containing seven Arabian stallions wrecked off the coast of India and were taken to the Marwar region to be used as bloodstock for the Marwari breed. The Marwari and Arabian horses are the most ancient breeds in the world, and both carried warriors into battle,” said Amir.
“Warriors? That’s so cool!” said Bethany.
“Very cool, indeed. My ancestors were Rajput warriors, so I believe I was born with a love for the Marwari horse,” said Amir.
“So, what is the filly’s name, and why did they bring a wild horse from Wyoming in the first place?” asked Helene.
“Her name is Fyrestorm, with a y, and I don’t know, I’ll ask Strider next time I see him,”
“So, it was fate that she is here and that you came into her life. I believe remarkable things are on the horizon for you and Fyrestorm,” said Amir.
Gina shimmied under a low spot beneath the white pipe fence separating the front pasture of Kuhaylah Arabians from the road, and, as always, the pony trotted right up to her. She pulled the carrot from her pocket and, not wasting any time, he took the entire treat in his mouth before the rest of the herd noticed. The pony, the smallest of the bunch and not a purebred, stood out from the rest of them. He was a cutie though, a beautiful coppery, golden color, with a dishwater blonde mane and tail. A jagged, white, blaze ran the full length of his face to the tip of his nose. And on this lovely spring day, his slick coat glistened in the sun.
The pony didn’t leave after he finished the carrot. Gina was drawn to him because she was an outsider in her circles too. And, like him, she had dishwater blonde hair, although it was cuter on him in her opinion. Gina felt less than cute with her skinny body, and long, stringy, often tangled, hair. Gina spoke softly to the pony, rubbing his neck and scratching his cheek, the way she knew he liked. “I love you little boy, I wish I could stay here with you.” Tears streamed down Gina’s cheeks. She hugged his neck as the events of the previous day came crashing back into her brain.
“We have to add Gina Targoff to the list,” Chet whispered.
“Of course! She should be at the top!” responded Cassie, in a louder whisper. Chet, Cassie, and their minions all giggled.
Gina was keeping her head down, pretending to read whatever textbook she had opened in front of her. She refused to cry; she would not show them weakness. Even though Gina knew they were whispering loud enough for her to hear on purpose. Samuel James Middle School was almost a daily exercise in humiliation. She fought back the tears though…
“Yeah, Gina is definitely the ugliest girl in the school,” said Chet.
They all laughed again.
The golden pony put his head on Gina’s shoulder as if he were trying to comfort her. She hugged him tighter and let the tears flow until there were no more, but she continued to hug him, taking in his horsey scent, and allowing it and the quiet to calm her mind.
“Timmy has really taken to you,” said a voice behind Gina. One with the slightest hint of an accent, an accent from another country though, not rural Texan as Gina had grown accustomed to.
Gina straightened and jumped back a step from the pony in one quick move.
“I’m sorry. I know I’m not supposed to be here.” Gina gaped up at the woman astride a black, Arabian stallion, solid black, save a small white star on his forehead.
“Come closer girl,” said the woman.
Gina did as she was told. The woman appeared to be around her mother’s age. But unlike Gina’s mother, she was beautiful and confident. She had her long brown hair pulled back with a black velvet scrunchy. But then Gina’s gaze was drawn back to the horse. So much like the black stallion she had read about, except the one in the books was solid black. This stallion before her had the same wild look of the one in the books though; thick black mane, forelock blowing in the breeze about his face, and a thick, flowing tail. He pranced about a bit and snorted a couple of times. The woman said something to him that Gina couldn’t quite hear, and he settled down.
“What is your name?” asked the woman.
“Gina…Gina Targoff. Please don’t have me arrested. I’ll never come on your property again.”
The woman laughed. But in a lilting way, not in a, you’re darn right you’re going to jail, kinda way.
“I was actually thinking of offering you a job. I’ve watched you with Timmy. You two have formed quite a bond.”
“Timmy, a cute name, for a cute little boy!” said Gina.
The woman laughed again. “My name is Antonia Silva, and I am the owner of this ranch. So, what about the job?” Antonia asked.
“I don’t know anything about horses or ranches,” Gina answered.
“Do you know how to drag a water hose or carry buckets?”
“Umm, yes…” answered Gina.
“Okay, good. We’ll start with that.” Antonia smiled.
Gina smiled back and then jumped when something firm and soft rubbed the small of her back. She spun around and little Timmy nuzzled her chest. Gina reached out and stroked his face.
“He loves you and trusts you. You’re a natural with horses,” said Antonia.
“He’s so sweet. May I ask how he came to be here among…” began Gina.
“…among all these purebred Arabians?” Antonia finished.
“Well…yes. Is it rude to ask?” said Gina.
Antonia laughed again. It sounded like music to Gina. “No, it’s not rude. My best friend runs a small horse rescue. She saved him along with a small herd of starving horses. He was less than a year old at the time and he reminded me of a pony I once had growing up in Portugal, so I adopted him.” Antonia rubbed her black stallion’s neck and smiled. “Spend a little more time with Timmy and then head up to the big house and I’ll show you around.” Antonia wheeled her glorious steed around and galloped up the hill toward the house.
Gina watched the graceful woman in control of such a magnificent animal and couldn’t help wishing that could be her one day. She turned back to Timmy and gave him a hug. “Did you hear that boy? Now I can see more of you and no more sneaking around!” One of the gray Arabian mares had come closer, curious about this skinny, young girl in the big pasture. Timmy laid back his ears and turning on a dime chased her off as if to say, “This is my girl!”
Gina laughed for the first time since she could remember. It had been a long, emotional journey from Dallas to Dale City. Even though they were only an hour apart, they were miles apart in cultures. The small-town Dale City students at Samuel James Middle School did not respond well to newcomers. For the very first time in a long time, Gina felt like she was where she belonged.
This must be what love at first sight feels like, Bethany Resmon thought as she watched the flashy red filly galloping with tail held high. The young horse looked like a mythical creature as she floated across the green pasture, flipping her head as she ran. Bethany felt as if her heart would burst from her chest. She memorized every inch of the filly as her mom drove their 1978 Ford F150 up the long, winding gravel road that led to the house and the main barn. All the horses were beautiful at Kuhaylah Arabians, but this filly stood out from the rest, red gold in color accentuated with flaxen mane and tail. Her delicate, dished face adorned with a white star and strip, sat atop a long sloping neck and her exquisite, curved ears danced above her head as she ran.
“Mom, stop the truck!” Bethany shouted.
Another pickup moved toward them as it exited the ranch, so Helene pulled into the grass on the side of the gravel driveway before pulling their old truck to a stop.
“Mom! Look!” Bethany was still shouting.
Helene stuck her hand in Bethany’s face, flat and palm side down. The signal that Bethany was being too loud. Bethany’s eyebrows scrunched down for a second, she really hated when her mother did that. But instead of getting in an argument, Bethany placed her left hand on her mother’s chin and turned her head toward the filly.
Helene immediately dropped her hand and watched the young horse too, mouth agape. Bethany knew that when her mom was young, she had read the Black Stallion series and had dreamed of one day owning her own Arabian. In fact, Bethany had followed in her mom’s footsteps when she started reading the worn paperback copies of the books her mom had kept all her life. They were the only things Helene had kept from her childhood.
“You see her, Mom?” asked Bethany.
“Yes…she’s beautiful…,” Helene’s voice quivered.
Bethany saw tears in her mother’s eyes. Her mother never cried.
“Are you okay, Mom?” Bethany asked.
“I’m fine.” Helene laughed. “I’ve just never seen anything like her before in my life.”
A sleek, black, Ram pickup pulled up alongside them. The young man driving it lowered the passenger side window as his tires ground to a stop in the gravel, and dust floated out behind his truck. Their windows were already down because…no A/C and late spring in Texas.
“Hi!” said the young man.
“Hi,” responded Bethany and Helene in unison.
“I’m Tyler. I’m the trainer here. Are you my new student?” he asked while looking at Bethany.
“Yes,” said Bethany.
“Are you excited?” he smiled through perfect teeth.
“Yes,” Bethany said again.
“She’s just nervous,” said Helene, “I’m Helene and this is my daughter, Bethany.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you both. I’m looking forward to riding with you, Bethany.”
Helene poked her daughter and she responded, “Me too.” And smiled.
“It was nice to meet you both,” said Tyler again.
“It was nice to meet you too,” Bethany and Helene said in unison again.
Tyler raised the passenger window and pulled away. Helene steered their truck back onto the gravel drive, the air was full of the sound of the tires from two trucks grinding over gravel as dust misted about them both.
“Mom, you don’t need to make excuses for me. I didn’t say anything wrong,” said Bethany.
“It’s just that you don’t seem friendly when you just give one-word answers,” said Helene.
“Mom, you worry too much about me. My answers were just fine,”
“Mom, please just drop it. Please. You always do this. This is a good day. You just saw a beautiful red filly. Just enjoy it. Please.”
“Okay, you’re right. I just can’t help but worry. You’re my only child and I love you.”
“Mom, I love you too. Just relax,” Bethany said with a smile.
When they pulled up to the house, a tall, attractive woman with long, rich brown hair flowing down her back was standing in the driveway talking to a young man. The woman, who appeared to be around the same age as Helene turned toward them and waved as Helene pulled their truck to a stop. Bethany waved back.
“Mom, that must be Antonia Silva!”
Helene and Bethany both stepped out of the truck. Bethany ran straight to the woman and gave her a hug, while Helene was left standing by their old pickup, tugging at her baggy, full length skirt and equally baggy top. Her stuck-in-the-seventies look was complete with big gaudy earrings and necklace and un-pedicured toes in sandals.
“Hello, Bethany’s Mom. I’m Antonia Silva,” said the exotically gorgeous woman, complete with lovely accent.
“Helene, and…and, hello, nice to meet you,” Helene stuttered, as she reached out her hand. “I’m sorry my daughter ran up and hugged you like that, she’s not normally that affectionate with strangers.”
“Mom! Stop apologizing for me!”
“It’s okay, Bethany, your mother is just looking out for you, as mothers do,” said Antonia. She then turned toward Helene, took her hand in both of hers, “Helene, what a lovely name.” Antonia then turned back toward Bethany and said, “Bethany this is Strider, he’s my right-hand man. He’ll show you around the place. He graduated last year from Dale City High, so maybe he could give you a few pointers for when you start there in a couple of years. He’s taking classes at community college right now,” Antonia smiled. “I’m going to take the lovely Helene inside to sign some paperwork. Bethany, Strider, you two enjoy yourselves.”
Bethany watched as the two women walked toward the house, then turned back toward Strider and asked, “Your name is Strider, like in The Lord of the Rings?”
“Yes, my dad loves those books,” said Strider.
“So, he went with Strider instead of Aragorn?”
“He thought Aragorn would be too weird.”
Bethany laughed. “Well because Strider is so normal, right?”
“Yeah, he didn’t think it through.” Strider laughed too.
Bethany opened her mouth to respond, but Strider interrupted. “Hey, I know you. I thought you looked familiar. You go to Samuel James Middle School, right?”
“Yes, how do you know that?”
Strider laughed, “I’ve seen you when I pick up my twelve-year-old sister from school, plus you’re in the same grade as her right?”
“Oh, your sister must be Loreth Castillo. Wow, your dad really likes Lord of the Rings!”
“Yes, he does.” Strider laughed again.
Strider put his arm on Bethany’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s take the jeep to the stallion barn. I’ll show you Antonia’s prized black, Arabian stallion.”
“Like the black stallion in the books and movies?!”
“Of course,” said Strider. When they got to the jeep, Strider removed his arm from Bethany’s shoulder and gestured toward the passenger door. “Get in.”
Bethany obeyed and could hardly sit still in the passenger side, she was so excited. She hoped Strider didn’t notice that she flapped her hands a couple of times outside the vehicle before getting in. She managed to force herself to stay calm once seated inside. She was very aware that most people did not do such things, but she was so excited that she couldn’t help herself.
Strider backed the jeep out of the garage and headed out the same gravel road Helene and Bethany had driven toward the house, but instead of turning right to exit the ranch, he veered off to the left where the road split. They rode in silence and arrived at the stallion barn in five minutes, but it had seemed like much longer to Bethany.
Strider pulled up near the barn and stopped the jeep. They both stepped out and Bethany froze in place when she spotted the magnificent, black stallion peering at them over the white, pipe fence just past the barn. His nostrils flared as he whinnied shrilly at them.
Bethany was awestruck by the beauty of the stallion. He’s perfection. Solid black, just like the one from the book series, save a small white star planted in the center of his wide forehead. She was mesmerized by his glistening black coat and four perfect black legs which ended in four black hooves. His thick black mane and tail rounded out his perfection. Atop it all, was a chiseled Arabian head complete with delicate, curved ears and ending in front with the sculpted, flared nostrils. He looked just like the picture of the stallion on the cover of her mother’s copy of The Black Stallion. So many beautiful horses at Kuhaylah Arabians, but the red filly is the most beautiful of all!
“He is beautiful, isn’t he?” said Strider.
“Yes! Will I get to ride him?” asked Bethany.
Strider laughed, “Maybe one day,” he said. “You want to pet him?”
Bethany snapped out of her reverie and followed Strider to the fence. A small gasp of glee escaped her mouth and she reached up to rub the black stallion’s soft nose.
“His name is AV Olympic Spirit, but we just call him Spirit. His sire is Affirmativ, another beautiful black stallion,” said Strider.
“Spirit,” Bethany repeated as she continued to rub the stallion’s nose.
“So, if I can’t ride Spirit, can I ride the red filly out front?” asked Bethany as she continued to pet the stallion.
“What filly out front?” asked Strider.
“The one with the blonde mane and tail,” said Bethany.
Spirit grew impatient and stomped his foot. The stallion still let Bethany rub his nose though. Animals were always drawn to her.
“He knows it’s feeding time,” laughed Strider. “And I think you’re talking about Fyrestorm,” said Strider, laughing again.
“Why are you laughing?” asked Bethany.
“Nobody has ridden her yet. She arrived here with her dam, Fyrelite, from a ranch in Wyoming,” said Strider.
“Why hasn’t she been ridden? Is Firestorm, one word or two?” asked Bethany.
“She was never touched in Wyoming apparently, so she’s completely wild, and Fyrestorm is one word and it’s spelled with a y,” said Strider.
“But she can be trained right?” When she had seen the red filly, it had immediately become Bethany’s dream to ride her. She felt determined to do so.
“Well, theoretically, yes. But Antonia has just let her run free in the mare’s pasture so far. I’m not sure she’s planning on training her. Fyrestorm has excellent bloodlines, so she might just be planning to use her as a broodmare,” said Strider.
Bethany dropped her hand from Spirit’s nose and her eyes filled with tears. The stallion snorted and stretched his muzzle toward her demanding her attention. Bethany smiled through her tears as she reached out and rubbed his nose again.
“Don’t cry, Bethany. See, Spirit doesn’t even want you to cry. Maybe the filly can be trained eventually. You will have to gain her trust first, though. She doesn’t come near anyone,” said Strider.
“I can do it! I can gain her trust!” And to herself, I’m going to ride Fyrestorm, I just know it!
Just a quick post about my favorite pure Polish Arabian stallion, so everyone will now I’m alive and well! I love this horse and will post something more elaborate about him at a later date.
TA Arapaho currently resides in Dunkirk, New York at Mystic Side Arabians. For more info on this gorgeous stallion, click on the following links: