Bethany Resmon watched the flashy red filly galloping with tail held high, flipping her head as she floated across the green pasture, and Bethany felt as if her heart would burst from her chest. She thought to herself, this must be what love at first sight feels like. Bethany memorized every inch of her 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 thoroughbreds were beautiful at Orion Racing Stables, but this filly had a smaller head than the rest, with a slightly dished face and delicate, curved ears.
“Mom, stop the truck!” Bethany shouted.
Helene stopped the truck after pulling off into the grass to the side of the gravel driveway because another truck was approaching theirs as it was leaving the ranch.
“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 because 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 because she was mesmerized by the beauty of this filly too. Bethany knew that when her mom was young, she had spent time with horses. Her mom often talked about one she loved with all her heart, a little bay with a star she had named, Starbuck after the character in Battlestar Galactica.
“You see her, Mom?” asked Bethany.
“Yes…she’s beautiful…I’ve never seen anything like her,” Helene’s voice was breaking.
Bethany saw tears in her mother’s eyes. Her mother never cried.
“Are you okay, Mom?” Bethany asked.
“I’m fine,” Helene laughed. “I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed having horses in my life.”
The other pickup pulled up alongside them. The young man driving it lowered the passenger side window as his tires grinded to a stop in the gravel and a little dust floated out behind his truck; a sleek, black, Ram, at least a 2019 model. He had to lower it for them to even see him through the tinted windows. Their windows were already down because…no A/C and late Spring in Texas.
“Hi!” said the young man. He looked to be about nineteen years old. A couple of years older than Bethany, Helene guessed.
“Hi,” responded Bethany and Helene in unison.
“I’m Tyler. I’m an assistant trainer here. Are you the new exercise rider?” he asked while looking at Bethany.
“Yes,” said Bethany.
“Are you excited?” he asked, smiling 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,” Tyler said looking toward Helene. But his attention reverted to Bethany, which wasn’t surprising because men often took notice of her curves, and thick, wavy, long copper hair. Bethany was often oblivious though since she spent most of her time up in her own head.
“I’m looking forward to riding with you Bethany,” Tyler continued, gaze still fixed on Bethany.
Helene poked Bethany and she responded, “Me too.” And smiled.
“It was nice to meet you both,” said Tyler.
“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, so 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,” said Bethany.
“Okay, you’re right. I just can’t help but worry. You’re my only child and I love you,” said Helene.
“Mom, I love you too. Just relax,” Bethany said with a smile.
When they pulled up to the house, a tall, tanned, man about Bethany’s mom’s age was standing in the driveway talking to a young, Hispanic man, but when the older man saw their truck pull up, he turned from the younger one and waved at them. Bethany waved back.
“Mom, that’s Kirk Robertson! He’s the one who owns this place!” said Bethany.
Helene slowed the truck to a stop and they both got out. Bethany ran straight to Kirk and gave him a hug. Helene was startled since Bethany rarely hugged anyone. Helene was not prepared for how handsome Kirk Robertson was. He had medium length blonde hair and exuded masculinity with tanned muscles and black eyebrows and sideburns. Helene had a hard time looking at him and knew it would be even harder for her to talk to him because he reminded her of a childhood crush, Bo Duke from the seventy’s television show, The Dukes of Hazard.
She shook it off and walked toward him, feeling very conspicuous in 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. Helene had never been secure with her looks, or lack thereof, especially since Bethany’s father just up and abandoned them.
“Hello, Bethany’s Mom,” said a cheerful and freakishly handsome, Kirk Robertson.
“Helene, and hello, nice to meet you,” Helene answered, meeting his eyes as she reached out her hand.
“Helene, what a lovely name,” said incredibly handsome man.
Kirk turned toward Bethany and the guy he had been talking to when they pulled up.
“Bethany this is Strider, our ranch manager, Pablo Castillo’s son. He’ll show you around the place. He’s about the same age as you, Bethany. He’s taking classes at community college right now,” said Kirk with a smile. “I’m going to take the lovely, Helene inside to sign some paperwork, Bethany, you two enjoy yourselves.”
The two of them watched as the adults walked toward the house. Bethany turned toward Strider and said, “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,” said Strider.
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 and said, “Hey, I know you. I thought you looked familiar. You go to Dale City High School, right?”
“Yes, but I don’t remember you…wait, you’re the gay guy the jocks used to beat up,” said Bethany.
Strider laughed, “ Wow, you really are blunt, aren’t you?”
“What do you mean? It’s true isn’t it. I haven’t seen you in a while though.”
“That’s because I graduated last year,” Strider laughed again.
“Oh,” said Bethany.
Strider put his arm on Bethany’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s take the truck to the training track. My dad is working one of Robertson’s colts. They say he’s a Derby contender.”
“Derby, like Kentucky Derby?!” asked Bethany. She had been watching the Triple Crown every year as far back as she could remember. The series of races that the top three-year-old horses in the country started training for at the age of two. The Kentucky Derby was the first of the three.
“Of course,” said Strider. When they got to the truck, 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. Strider didn’t notice that she flapped her hands a couple of times outside the truck before getting in. When Bethany was excited or angry, she flapped her hands to help shake off the extreme emotions. She managed to force herself to stay calm once in the truck. She was very aware that most people did not do such things.
Strider backed the truck out of the garage and then turned in the opposite direction from the way Helene and Bethany had driven toward the house. There was another gravel road heading in the opposite direction from the house and they took that one. They rode in silence and arrived at the training track in ten minutes, but it had seemed like much longer to Bethany.
Strider pulled up near the track and stopped the truck. They both stepped out and Bethany was frozen in place watching the magnificent, bay stallion gallop past them on the track. Strider had moved alongside her and they both watched the colt cross the finish line and then relax into an easy slow gallop with ears pricked as his rider stood up in the stirrups. It was a small track, only a half mile round. The bay slowed to a canter as the rider brought him back around. This time as rider and horse neared them, the colt was now just walking. The exercise rider saw them and waved. He walked the colt for a bit longer and then headed to where Strider and Bethany were standing.
“Hola hijo mío,” said the rider, “¿Quién es la chica?”
“Dad, English, please. This is Bethany Resmon, the new exercise rider,” said Strider, and then to Bethany, “This is my dad, Pablo Castillo.”
“Hello Mr. Castillo. I don’t mind if you speak Spanish. Well as long as you don’t start laughing and pointing at me,” said Bethany.
Mr. Castillo laughed, “Me gusta ella,” he said to Strider.
“Great,” said Strider rolling his eyes.
Bethany was awestruck by the beauty of the colt. He’s a perfect bay, a blood bay even, Bethany thought to herself. She was mesmerized by his glistening auburn coat and four perfect black legs which ended in four black hooves. His thick black mane and tail rounded out his perfection.
“He is beautiful, isn’t he?” said Mr. Castillo in a thick accent.
“Yes! Will I get to ride him?” asked Bethany.
Mr. Castillo laughed again, “Maybe one day,” he said. “You want to pet him?”
Mr. Castillo dismounted in one quick leap and then led the colt over to the rail. The colt was bright eyed and curious and reached over and nuzzled Bethany.
A small gasp of glee escaped her mouth and she reached up to rub his soft nose.
“His name is Giovanni. His sire is Bernardini, one of the greats,” said Mr. Castillo.
“I remember him! I watched him race on tv when I was little. I cried when he lost to Invasor in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic,” said Bethany.
“His jockey moved too soon. The stretch run is longer at Churchill Downs than at other racetracks. But Invasor was a great horse too,” said Mr. Castillo.
“So, if I can’t ride Giovanni, can I ride the red filly out front?” asked Bethany as she continued to pet the colt.
“What filly out front?” asked Strider.
“The one with the beautiful, dished face,” said Bethany.
Giovanni grew impatient and stomped his foot because he knew it was time for his evening feed. The colt still let Bethany rub his nose though. Animals were always drawn to her.
“Oh, she is talking about Fyrestorm,” said Mr. Castillo laughing.
“Why are you laughing?” asked Bethany.
“Nobody has ridden her yet. We can’t race her, so we haven’t started training her,” said Strider.
“What do you mean you can’t race her? I saw her running in the front pasture. She barely touches the ground, as if she has wings. Is Firestorm, one word or two?” asked Bethany.
“She’s half Arabian, Bethany. That’s why her head is more distinct than the other horses. The Jockey Club only allows full-blooded Thoroughbreds to race in the U.S. and Fyrestorm is one word and it’s spelled with a y,” said Strider.
“But I thought Orion Racing Stables only bred Thoroughbreds?” asked Bethany as she summoned all her strength to remain calm. When she had seen that red filly, it had immediately become her dream to ride her. She felt determined to do so.
Mr. Castillo laughed again, “The filly’s momma decided she wanted to jump the fence and make love to the black, Arabian stallion next door,”
“But I’ve studied the history of the Thoroughbred breed and all three foundation stallions were Arabians. The Darley Arabian, The Byerley Turk and the Godolphin Arabian. So, they have Arabian blood…” said Bethany.
“That was a long time ago, Bethany. Most horse breeds have Arabian blood if you go far enough back because Arabians are considered the oldest breed of horse. They’re in the Bible even,” said Strider.
Bethany dropped her hand from Giovanni’s nose and her eyes filled with tears. Giovanni snorted and stretched his muzzle out toward the crying girl. She reached up and petted him again and smiled through her tears.
“Don’t cry chica. See, Giovanni doesn’t even want you to cry. Maybe we can train the filly to be a stable pony. You will have to gain her trust first though. She doesn’t come near anyone,” said Mr. Castillo.
“I can do it! I can gain her trust! Thank you, Mr. Castillo!”