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.