The Red Filly-Chapter 6

            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.            

The Red Filly-Chapter 4

            “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.

The Red Filly-Chapter 3





“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!”

“Bethany please.”

“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.

The Red Filly-Chapter 1

            This must be what love at first sight feels like, Bethany Resmon thought to herself as she watched the flashy red filly galloping with tail held high. The young red 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 filly 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,” said Tyler.

            “I’m looking forward to riding with you, Bethany,” Tyler said directly to the young girl.  

            Helene poked Bethany 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 pulled their old 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,”

            “But Bethany…”

            “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,” said Bethany.

            “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, meeting her eyes 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,” said Antonia with a smile.  “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 is 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 beckoned 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?”

            “Yes!”

            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 flaxen 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!”