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The mare’s hooves thudded against the ground, with nostrils flared and tail held high. She threw her head high into the air, and the rest of her body followed. The leap into the air ended at the gate of the wooden round pin. Sand smacked against the fence post as she spun the other direction and bolted into the canter. The horse came to a stop only when she saw them. The long legs locked, and her entire body became stiff as a board. A girl and a man quickly walked over to the pin. Wide eyes took them in. Much slower, she carefully made a way over the sand and to them. Allison froze until she reached them, only when the mare had reached her did she move an arm onto the gate, and the horse was gone, already at the other end on the pin prancing like a parade pony and looking for a way out.
The sides of her flank moved in and out with heavy breaths underneath her dark bay coat. She would be the darkest colored horse Allison ever owned, her coloring was almost black, but not quite, it was still dark bay. The brightest thing on her was the large star in the middle of her forehead, which made a large contrast to her dark brown eyes. She had larger sloping hindquarters, with the long skinny thoroughbred neck.
Right now she danced from one back foot to the other, but Allison knew when she stood calmly her whole body would seem to slope downhill from hindquarters to poll. With the right training that could be fixed though. What really worried her were the bone chips in her knee. She had gotten a clean bill of health from the MSU Pavilion, but with an injury like that anything could happen. The strides of her trot were long and even but with every turn she took her shoulder dropped in, which would be a challenge in her training. Within the canter she launched her self upwards but fell heavily onto her forehand. From the video she had watched Allison knew this horse had a sensitive mouth, and any backwards pull against it while she was being ridden could ruin it. This horse had a lot going against it, but she knew why she had come to C.A.N.T.E.R., she knew this wouldn’t stop her.
“This is a joke right?.” Katie snorted, peeking over the other girl’s shoulder to look at the computer screen. Allison’s only reply was a confused look, “C.A.N.T.E.R., racehorses? You have GOT to be kidding me.”
“They’re EX-racehorses.” Allison stated turning away from Katie, the older girl had always bothered her more than the other girls who kept their horses at Clear Water Riding Stables.
“Ex-racehorses or not they’re still way too much for you, you can barley keep up with your chores as it is,” She laughed walking away as Sam walked over.
“Ah, what a world it would be if you being the owner’s daughter would stop her from running her mouth.” He sighed.
“As Dad always says ‘when you keep seven horses here and three other girls paying board you can say whatever you want’” She stated in the mocking voice of her dad.
“What does a normal person do with seven horses?” He asked with a disgusted look.
“Katie Durham? A normal person? I think that belongs in the other world again.” Allison picked up her laptop and put it back onto the desk and picked up the pitchfork next to it.
“Sad but true... Here,” he said, taking the pitchfork from her, “I’ll start on the stalls, you can start feeding.”
“You’re the best,” she said.
“I figured it was a bad stall day.” He said with a smile. Sam and Allison were the two head stable hands at Clear Water, which meant it was up to them to get all the horses feed and the stalls cleaned. They had what they called “good” and “bad” stall days, on a good day you clean all twenty stalls from the first barn and not realize how much work it is, but on a bad day... Sometimes they talked while they cleaned, but today Allison wasn’t saying much.
“You really thinking about it?” Sam asked as she poured grain into the feed bin of the stall he was cleaning.
“Maybe.” She answered not lifting her head.
“Ex-racehorses can be a lot to handle, they’re not really like Hot Shot.” Allison smiled at hearing the name of her beloved old pony. He’s twenty nine now, and after a long career Allison had decided to retire him. He was bomb proof and as sturdy as a rock, the kind of horse anyone could be safe on.
“I know, that’s kind of why I want to get a horse from Canter.” She paused for a moment. “I can do anything on Hot Shot, but these horses need someone to try and do something different for them, why can’t I be that someone?”
“Never said you couldn’t.”
After all the chores were done and the horses brought, in Allison sat in her room in front of her computer. The title at the top of the website read “C.A.N.T.E.R. The Communicative Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses.” She clicked onto
the approval forms, and began to answer the questions.
Most of the questions were basic. They included: Name, address, email, age, phone number, and place of employment. Others were more complicated, like “are you looking to adopt or foster a horse?”, and if you understood that these are Ex-racehorses who may be more energetic than what you’re looking for. They also included if you were able to support the horse, and what kind of training were you planning on doing. How and where your horse would be stabled was included as well. What your experience with horses was, and in short every possible thing you could ask someone. Allison submitted the forms before her dad could come into her room.
“What is this about racehorses that I’ve been hearing around the barn?” He asked with a stern look of disapproval.
“Ex-Racehorses.” She mumbled.
“I told you you could pick your own horse, but I didn’t dream you would try to bring a racehorse to Clear Water. I built Clear Water by bringing in good trainers and quality horses, I couldn’t have done it if I had brought in every stray I came across.” He said waiting for her to deny it, tell him it was all just a big rumor. When nothing came he tried again, “We aren’t set up for racehorses, how to expect to keep it?”
“She’s an Ex-Racehorse.” She stuttered looking away.
“She?” He fumed, “You’ve already bought one?”
“Well yes and no, I just filled out the approval form, which you need to get to be able to adopt, but yes I already picked a horse out.”
“You’re bringing and Ex-racehorse to Clear Water?” His face was slowly turning a deep shade of purple.
“No? You just said you were!”
“She’s never raced.”
“Never raced? I thought she was an EX-RACEHORSE?”
“Look,” she said turning the computer screen to him to show him the horse’s profile. “This is Sarah’s Pass. It says here that she never raced due to bone chips in here knee, that’s when Canter took her, but MSU gave her surgery so she’s sound to ride. They’ve already started her under saddle, and she’s only four so she’ll still adjust easily to the new kind of home, see?” She said.
“Racehorses are expensive, why don’t you just get a nice riding horse?” He said watching her face.
“That’s the great thing, because she’s through C.A.N.T.E.R. her adoption fee is only two dollars!” She exclaimed really smiling now as she spoke. With one last look at her face her father sighed in defeat.
“Okay, do what you want.” He left the room while pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. The moment he left the room Allison jumped onto her bed and threw the pillow over her face.
“Wow, you need to teach me how to do that.” Allison’s younger brother Johnny said referring to how she had just won with their father, as he pulled the pillow off her face and thoroughly scared Allison to the point of a breathless scream. He smiled.
“Proud of yourself?” She asked while tussling his hair.
“Pretty much.” He sat down onto the bed beside her and picked up the remote control to her TV.
“What’s up?” She asked him. Johnny only came into her room when their dad was around. Which was growing less and less often as his training program grew larger and larger.
“It’s coming on tonight.” He replied.
“Two and a Half Men of course, and dad’s using the TV down stairs.” Johnny loved Two and a Half Men, he didn’t get half the jokes but Allison let him watch it because his face lit up the whole time it was on.
“Ah, the new season,” She paused here, waiting to see if he would say anything, “without Charlie.”
“Without Charlie.” The show was starting now, and they both turned their attention to it. It started with Charlie’s funeral, but it didn’t become real until the theme song showed. Charlie wasn’t there. Johnny turned to her with a look of despair that made her heart tighten. His favorite character was gone, and Johnny would never watch Two and a Half Men again.
“It’s here!” Allison called to Sam from the tack room.
“What?” He called back from his horse’s stall.
“The approval form from C.A.N.T.E.R.!” She looked out of the tack room and down to Sam’s stall. “Sammi get your butt over here!”
“Tell me you didn’t just say that.” He said dead serious now. “You know what I said about that name.”
“The get over here, and it’s your mom’s fault you know.” She said smiling at the memory of Sam’s mom calling him Sammi from her car during one of their lessons.
“And I’ll curse her for it forever, but you keep using it.” he did approach the computer, though, to see the email from C.A.N.T.E.R. “You’re approved!”
“And it gets better,” she said scrolling down to show him the profile of a horse. “Sarah’s Pass! I got her, she’s mine.”
“You need help picking her up.” He assumed.
“You’ve read my mind.”
“Not very hard to do, you’re an open book.” He stood up and walked back over to Thunder’s stall. Thunder was a tall and stocky quarter horse with a light buck skin coat, and an mellow temperament. “When do you need to pick her up?”
“Next Wednesday, but only if you’re really up to it.” She mocked.
“I’m more than up to it, do you think Johnny will want to come?” Sam was aware of Johnny’s recent Two and a Half Men episode.
“Maybe, he hasn’t done much these days.” She answered with sudden gloom.
“He’ll get over it, it’s just a TV show.” He promised.
“Nothing is ever just a TV show to Johnny, he loved it and now it’s gone.” She sighed. She did wish that it would be just a TV show to him, but as Dad always says, just because you wish for something that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. She thought.
“Maybe he’ll come around, but until then you’ve got thirty horses that need to be fed and brought in.” He reminded her.
“Ugh, right, I’m on it.” Bringing in the horses always took longer than anyone thought it would, mainly because there was always one horse in the pasture that thought it was fun to bolt. Leading the horses away from the gate when someone came up to get them. Grabbing a lead rope she headed out. She started in the far field, and worked her way closer to the barns. There were five horses per pasture, and one extra empty field that was kept for new arrivals until they were able to take a place with the other horses. Harmony, Jackie, Sundance, Lola, and Scout were all kept in the far field, and sure enough, when he saw her open the gate Sundance galloped to the far end with all the other horses in tow. With another heavy sigh she began to walk over to them.
When the last horse, LandClassic one of Katie’s seven Hanoverians, was brought into the barn, Allison went up to talk Johnny into going with them next Wednesday.
“Could today have come soon enough?” Allison asked Sam and Johnny from the tack room of the trailer.
“Maybe not for you.” Was the reply from Johnny, Sam simply shook his head. They were at the C.A.N.T.E.R. ranch picking up Sarah’s Pass, but for the moment they stood waiting for Alan, who was suppose to take Allison to Sarah’s pin and so far he was no where in sight. After another ten minutes he came up to them.
“You Allison?” Alan, a tall burly man with a clip board asked.
“Yep, I’m here for Sarah’s Pass.” She answered with excitement.
“Right this way.” He lead her past the round pins of many other horses to a large pin that held Sarah’s Pass. She cantered back and forth, searching for an exit, and only came to a halt when Alan and Allison reached her pin. The slight movement from Allison sent her back to the other side of the pin. Allison panicked for a moment, seeing the horse bolt away from her, but when Sarah turned her long arched neck and head toward her, it vanished.
“You want me to get her for you?” Alan asked after a moment of watching Sarah prance.
“No,” she said taking the lead rope from him, “I got it.”
This would be her first test, to see how she would do with this horse. When she entered the pin Sarah wouldn’t let her come near her. Well it’s now or never. Allison thought. She threw her arms out and pitched the loose end of the lead rope toward Sarah’s hindquarters. Sarah jumped into the canter along the rail. The Join Up began. Show the horse that you’re in charge, that she can trust you. The thought wasn’t Allison’s but a memory of her old trainer teaching her how to gain the horses trust and respect through Join Up. Sarah cantered along the ring, after a moment she flicked her inside ear toward Allison, waiting for her next cue. Allison drove her harder, and waited until Sarah began lowering her head to drive her on again. When Allison saw Sarah making chewing motions with her mouth she stopped driving, and turned away form Sarah all together. She stood with her back to the horse and waited. After a moments hesitation Sarah walked calmly into the center of the ring and pushed her nose against Allison’s back.
“Good girl.” Allison praised, but not for long after stroking the horses forehead she turned sharply away and began to walk. Wherever she went, Sarah followed. The Join Up was successful. Turning to the horse Allison clipped the lead onto her and led her out of the pasture and past an amused looking Alan.
“Nice job.” Sam called as they walked slowly into the trailer. Attaching Sarah to the wall she walked out and with the help of Johnny closed the doors.
“Thanks, one training thing done, and a million to go.” She replied cheerfully.
Two weeks later
“Come on guys it’s time to go!” Johnny called from the trailer where he had just tied in Hot Shot. “We need to get GOING!”
“If he rushes me one more time...” Sam threatened.
“Lighten up it’s his first real trail ride.” Allison said. “He’s just excited.”
“You practically had to black mail him to agree to come,” Sam reminded her, “why would he be excited?”
“He wanted to come the whole time, he just felt like he couldn’t because he didn’t have a horse.” Allison said with a superior tone.
“Well it was nice of you to let him use Hot Shot.” Sam admitted, “But if he says one more thing I’m gonna lose it.”
“He may have been a nightmare all morning but when we get on the trails you can just tune him out.” She told him.
“So he’s not going to shut up even when we’re riding?” Sam asked beaten down.
“COME ON GUYS!” Johnny yelled.
“That would be a safe bet.” She said apologetically, while Sam gritted his teeth.
Johnny did however quiet down once they were on the roads to the Brighten Rec. Center, not enough however to stop himself from telling Sam that he was an incredibly slow driver. Once they were out on the trails, he stopped talking all together.
The leaves fell down in a golden rain storm around them. Sam and Thunder took the lead followed by Johnny on Hot Shot, with Allison and Sarah, who blew a big breath out of her nostrils every time a leave fell close to her head, bringing up the rear.
“Ready to go?” Sam asked them.
“Are you kidding? I was born ready!” Johnny teased. The cantered started off smooth and slow but quickly got faster as they flew up and down the hills. Sarah’s ears pricked forward, and her strides lengthened, she was loving it. By the time they slowed to a walk, their horses necks were covered in sweat, but Sarah still pranced wanting to go.
“It seems to warm too be October.” Allison said examining Sarah’s neck.
“You’re telling me.” Sam called from the front where Thunders neck was twice as sweaty as Sarah’s.
“Maybe we should walk for a little bit.” Allison suggested.
“We’re gonna have to.” Johnny said pointing to a big group of horses on the trail in front of them.
“We’ll stay to the right and you can pass us!” The woman from the front of the group called.
“Thanks, are you from the Brighton Trail riding barn?” Sam asked.
“Yep, we’ve got a group of first timers here.”
“Have a nice ride!” Allison called back once they were clear of them.
Back at their trailer two hours later Sam helped Allison look over Sarah.
“She looks good, not bad for her first time out.” He said giving Sarah a pat on the neck.
“Yeah but I’ll definitely give her a day off tomorrow.” Allison agreed. “She’s bound to be sore.”
“You got that right.” Johnny said coming over to look at her as well. “I’m sore now and I didn’t even have to run like she did.” Sam and Allison’s only response was a laugh.
“How’s she coming along?” Sam asked as he entered the barn, both his horse and Sarah were kept in the smaller ten stall barn along with Hot Shot and several other guests who didn’t care if their horse was in the barn connected to their indoor arena. After the trail ride Allison gave Sarah a long liniment bath followed by a two day break. Today she was going to be ridden again.
“I don’t know. She just doesn’t seem like herself.” Allison said with concern.
“She’s still getting over the trail ride.” Sam said with certainty.
“Maybe you’re right.” Allison still wasn’t completely convinced. She saddled up anyway and took her into the arena. She picked up working with Sarah where she had left off before the trail ride, practicing lateral movement and walk to canter transitions.
Sarah moved sluggishly through their dressage pattern and showed little interest in doing anything in the arena. Allison pushed her lower leg onto her side to ask for the canter and the mare did nothing. Asking again she applied the whip this time, and Sarah gave a heavy sigh before lumbering into the canter.
“She’s never going to want you to ride her.” Katie called from the side of the arena. Go away, go away, go away! Allison thought.
“She’s just tired from the trail ride!”
“Or just tired of your arena work. Look at her she’s miserable, and why wouldn’t she be? You’re so caught up trying to be a horse savior that you can’t even see what you’re doing to her. Clearly all she wants to do is run, she a RACEHORSE, and she always will be.” Katie smirked, walking away with Landclassic. Running her hand down Sarah’s neck Allison looked at her dull eyes.
“Where are we going today?” Johnny asked. He’d started helping Allison with Sarah’s training, and in return he got to ride Sarah from time to time.
“We’re taking Sarah to Mr. Adams’ old race track, he says it’s still in great condition.” Allison told him.
“Katie would love that, did you hear Landclassic threw her off the other day? Sam says he’s too much horse for her. Wait, why are we going to a race track?” Johnny asked. Searching his sister’s face.
“I thought it would be fun.” Allison lied. Clearly all she wants to do is run. Allison heard these words in her mind for the past four weeks now. She couldn’t seem to shake them. When she rode in the arena she would ask Sarah to canter and hear it. She would put her into the make shift field for the sick horses and hear it. Until finally one day she wondered if it was true. Today she would find out.
“Okay, how are we getting there?” Was his only question.
“Well we can either take the trails or walk her down the dirt roads.” Allison liked leaving the choice up to him. She would compare his answers and reasoning with her own.
“Let’s take the roads, it will give me more room to walk and Sarah hasn’t got much road practice yet.” My thoughts exactly. Allison loved it when he thought the same way she did, it kept them both from trying to argue their points, which they could both do for hours. Walking down the road Allison let Johnny lead Sarah, while she and Sam drove in the truck behind.
“Trying something?” Sam asked her quietly. He could tell this wasn’t just for fun. She shot him a look, she was nervous enough right now, she didn’t want someone else knowing that this ride could make or break her. They reached the track and Allison mounted up. She slowly stepped out onto the track with Sarah, watching her horse the whole time. Moving into the starting gate they stopped.
“BING! BING! BING!” Johnny yelled pretending to be the bell. Allison pushed Sarah into the canter. They flew down the track effortlessly. Allison was watching Sarah’s ears. When they did nothing, Allison pushed her a little harder into the gallop. She could see her brother on the side of the track cheering along with Sam, but what really mattered was Sarah. Her ears stayed still, tipped back toward her, without moving forward to welcome the track they covered. She didn’t try to tear down the field with all her heart, she simply ran. As Allison brought her down to the walk and out of the track Sarah didn’t look back.
“That was AWESOME!” Johnny shouted running up to Sarah. “You guys were flying! I want to get a horse that can go that fast!” Sam rolled his eyes at this and then looked at Allison and Sarah. He doesn’t seem to care too much about TV now, his eyes seemed to say.
“Not missing anything are we?” Sam asked.
“Oh were missing something alright, do you guys mind taking the truck back without me?” She asked.
“Of course not, where are you going?” Johnny asked.
“She’s missing something, but it’s not this track!” Allison called back as she
turned Sarah and took off in the direction of the trails. When Sarah’s hooves touched the path her ears shot forward. They cantered down the trail with Sarah picking the paths. Allison could feel Sarah’s heartbeat through the saddle, and see her joy as she raced down past trees and rocks. Katie’s wrong about you. She thought as she urged her on.