Read Catch Rider (9780544034303) Online

Authors: Jennifer H. Lyne

Catch Rider (9780544034303) (10 page)

I looked at Wes and he winked.

“Sid, you can go back to the barn,” Kelly said.

I went to the tack room and wiped down saddles by myself, but I couldn't stop smiling.


got second place in the Maclay class, meaning she had ten points toward the twenty-five she needed to qualify for the regional competition, which might lead to the nationals at Madison Square Garden. I waited for her to thank me when she came out of the ring with the silver plate and ribbon, but instead she snapped at me in front of everyone for letting the horse eat grass with the bit still in his mouth.

Before dark, Kelly left the show grounds with her mother while Wes and the grooms worked. I hoped Wes would offer me a ride, and I imagined what we would talk about. But when I looked up, I saw him pulling away in his truck, alone.

I looked down at my jeans. They were covered with hoof polish, which would never come out. I was sunburned. I had hay in my hair and a ring of sawdust in the cuffs of my pants. How long had I been walking around looking like this? Angel, one of the grooms, was putting shipping boots on one of the ponies. He was about as spit-shined as you could get. His towel was neatly folded and resting on his shoulder. His jeans were clean. His hands and his face didn't have a speck of dirt on them. Angel must have read my mind, because he came up and brushed the sawdust off my shins with his towel.

I rode back to the barn with the same two horses, and by the time I got there, my legs were shaking from standing up so long. I was exhausted. When Wayne saw me, he just laughed. He was putting down a deep blanket of pine shavings in a horse's stall. It was late, and I wondered why he was still there.

“Wait until you see the horse coming here tonight,” Dutch said to us.

“It better be the Baby Jesus himself, with all this fuss,” said Wayne as he fluffed the shavings. I rubbed Bag Balm onto my cracked hands.

Blinding headlights cut across the center of the barn. I heard the growl of a big rig and the hiss of its brake releasing. The truck pulled up next to the barn, and the driver cut the engine.

Dutch walked toward the rig, a jog in his step. He grabbed a lead shank with a chain from a tack trunk and motioned for Wayne to join him. The driver hopped down and told Dutch the horse had vanned well. Wayne and Dutch pulled down the back door.

I saw the horse's rump back carefully down the ramp. He was black or black bay and wore a white cotton shipping blanket. Shiny buckles connected the surcingles holding it across his chest. Wayne guided the horse down, his hand on the horse's hip, and the horse stepped onto the pea gravel. He let out his breath, picked his head up, and sniffed the air.

Wayne looked at the horse and let out a long whistle. The horse was spectacular.

“This, my friends, is Idle Dice,” Dutch said.

I walked closer. “
Idle Dice?” I asked.

Idle Dice.”

“Why is he here?”

“Martha Wakefield bought a controlling stake before he was injured.”

He was syndicated—owned by a group. Most syndicated horses are stallions. If he was syndicated as a gelding, that was because he was a top-level performance horse. A big earner.

Idle Dice turned and looked right through them. Then he looked me in the eye, and I felt a chill.

“Let him stretch his legs. He's been on that rig since Atlanta,” said Dutch.

Wayne led Idle Dice to the indoor ring, and the horse sniffed the ground loudly. Other horses called to him, and Idle Dice called back from deep in his chest.

“He sprained his back, so we're going to rehab him,” Dutch said.

Wayne removed his leg wraps and shipping blanket, unhooked him, and let him go. The horse trotted away from them, shaking his head, happy to be loose.

“He's something, ain't he?” said Wayne.

“I'd like to see him with someone on him, see how bad his back is,” said Dutch. “I'll get Kelly on him in the morning.”

“It don't look so bad to me,” said Wayne.

“That's what I was thinking,” said Dutch. “I could just get on, but I want to see him from the ground.”

“Put Sid on,” said Wayne.

Dutch laughed, but I knew Wayne was serious. I could tell by his voice.

“I'm telling you, put her on.”

I glanced at Dutch but his expression hadn't changed. Maybe he was ignoring us.

I cleared my throat, which felt like a vice. “My saddle's in the car,” I said.

“We'll wait until tomorrow and have Kelly ride him,” said Dutch. “He just got off the trailer.”

The horse walked by and snorted at us. With little effort, his strides ate up the ground underneath him. His neck was so long that he reminded me of a dinosaur. The bones in his face were fine and chiseled, but his nose was square, almost Roman, and his eyes were big and dark.

“She's been riding since she was two years old,” growled Wayne, “and by God, I'd put her on anything.”

Dutch, irritated, turned to look at Wayne. All three of us wanted to see this horse under saddle tonight. What if there was nothing wrong with him? What if the vet was wrong? It happened all the time. But there was no good reason to put just anyone on Idle Dice immediately. It was unsafe, bad training, and bad horsemanship.

Dutch looked Wayne in the eye.

“You promise she can really ride?” he asked.

Wayne thumped the fence impatiently with his hand.

“Fine—put her on. But don't tell anybody I did this.”

“Do I have to wear a helmet?” I asked.

“Just get on the horse,” Wayne said through his teeth.

We tacked him up. As Dutch gave me a leg up, the horse hopped excitedly. I hung on as Wayne tried to hold him by the reins, but the horse took off across the ring. I got control and let him canter and toss his head. The horse was so responsive that I simply closed my fingers around the reins and he turned. He dropped his head, tugged lightly on my hands, and let me know he was happy to get to work. I felt like I'd stepped out of a go-cart and into a fighter jet.

“He's got a little hitch in the back. I think it's in his right hip,” I said.

I saw Dutch nod.

“It gets better as he goes. Maybe he just needs some exercise,” I said as I circled close to them.

Wayne leaned up against the fence, chewing on a piece of straw, with a twinkle in his eye and a creeping smile.

Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice.

“Interesting decision, Dutch, putting a stable hand on his back when he's just gotten off the trailer. That horse was worth more than two million dollars before he injured himself.”

It was Martha, in her Barbour coat and tennis shoes.

“I thought . . .” stammered Dutch.

“You thought I wasn't coming tonight,” she said.

She studied me carefully.

“I will say, she is a nice rider,” she said, as if I weren't there.

“Yes, she is,” said Dutch. I wondered if he was just being agreeable, but it sure was nice to hear, either way.

“That's something you don't see so much anymore. She's giving that horse room to do what he wants. I wish Kelly would ride more like that, rather than being such a showoff.”

They all watched me without speaking. I loved it.

“I think he has a tight right hip, not a sprained back,” Martha said. “We'll start working him tomorrow and take him to the show next Saturday.”

“Next weekend?” asked Dutch.

“This horse loves to show. It'll make him happy,” Martha said.

“Kelly is already riding two horses that day.”

“Then this girl,” said Martha.

“Sid?” asked Dutch.

“They're a good match. Why not?”

I brought the horse over to the rail.

“What do you think?” Martha asked me sternly.

“I think he's pretty cool,” I said. “He's got so much power, but he's also just . . . really sweet.”

I gave the horse a hard pat on the neck.

“He likes you,” Martha said.

“You're riding him at the show next weekend,” said Dutch, his mouth barely moving.

I studied their faces and saw that it was true. I felt like I was dreaming. I had always wanted to ride a horse like this, and I had started to think it was never going to happen.

Wayne leaned back farther on the fence, holding the piece of hay in his teeth, and looked up at me.

“Better shine your boots,” he said.


I had to take a lesson with Dutch, and he scheduled it for Monday afternoon. I was kind of nervous. I put on a nice polo shirt that actually fit and tucked it into my jeans with a leather belt. I found a suede brush in the trunk of my car, hidden in the candy wrappers and old assignment sheets that had never made it into the house, and I brushed my gray chaps until they were smooth. I found Idle Dice's bridle in the tack room, rich brown Hermès leather with raised white stitching and a shiny double-reined pelham bit. I pulled my hair into a tight ponytail, tucked it into my helmet, and took my saddle and the bridle to Idle Dice's stall. When I walked around behind him to attach the girth, he stepped aside like a gentleman, then stepped back once I was done. What a professional.

I wondered where he had learned his manners, and I realized it was from his grooms. They had to be the ones who'd taken the time and effort to teach him. Ladies like Martha Wakefield would have fed him treats until he was so spoiled and rude that you couldn't get near him.

When I got home Saturday night, I was so excited that I burst through the door looking for my mother. Usually I would know better. Usually my mother would roll her eyes, or shake her head, or interrupt me, but I knew this time would be different. Melinda knew horses, and she wanted me to do well and make money, didn't she? I had finally gotten a foothold, and Melinda would think of how badly Jimmy would have wanted it. She would help make this happen mainly because she was my mother and she loved me.

“Who's paying the entry fees?” she'd asked.

“She is. Mrs. Wakefield.”

“You ain't a charity case.”

“I know that. I'm doing her a favor.”

“She thinks you're a poor kid who needs a handout.”

Melinda's eyes were dark and scary. She looked so angry that I took a step backwards. I felt my chest tighten. It was horrible, to go from feeling so good to feeling so pathetic in a couple of seconds.

“The horse world is a club for rich people, and the sooner you realize that you're not invited, the better.”

I went to my room and closed the door. The pain started to subside, just a little, when I realized that, as usual, I didn't need her help.


I walked Idle Dice out to the mounting block. His shoes clinked slowly against the asphalt, so much time between strides because he was such a long, lanky horse. A couple of the grooms stopped and looked, and one of them took the reins for me and held him by the block while I mounted up. Idle Dice was one of those horses who could not and would not stand still while the rider got on—polite as he was, he was impatient and wanted to get to work.

“I do not give lessons to riders in chaps,” a voice boomed, shattering my happy moment and sending me into a panic before I had even gotten into the ring. I turned to see Dutch walking out to us with his clipboard, cell phone, and coffee, his fat Welsh corgi trailing behind and looking right and left to steer clear of oncoming hooves.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“We wear boots and breeches because that's what we show in. This is not a warm-up or a hack. It's a
for-mal les-son.

I felt small and scared, and my arms, which were usually strong, were mushy like noodles. I wondered whether he was trying to scare me. “I don't have show boots—”

“Find some today, and some buff breeches. Not cream, or gray, or navy, or rust. Buff. Seventy-three percent cotton. You can buy them online at Dover. I need to see what you will
look like in the ring!
” he shouted.

I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. He was adjusting one of the fences, pulling out the metal pin and sliding the jumps to make them higher. I had a lump in my throat.

“I don't know where you got that hat, but you need a USEF regulation helmet.”

A USEF regulation helmet cost hundreds of dollars.

Dutch looked toward the barn, where Kelly was coming out on another horse.

“Sid—posting trot. Kelly, collect that horse. Wake him up before you get in here.” He grabbed a crop and threw it to Kelly, who caught it and gave the horse a smack behind the saddle.

I gave Idle Dice some leg, and he launched into a powerful, springy trot. I sat up and adjusted the reins as he curled his chin toward his chest and played with the bit.

“Don't let him get behind the bit,” Dutch barked. “He's a smart horse—he thinks he can do it by himself. Don't put him on cruise control.”

The whole lesson was like this. Dutch set up little cavaletti jumps for me, so small that Idle Dice cantered right over them like he was insulted. Dutch yelled at me about my weight not being in my heels, my back being round, my wrists being floppy. He made me trot at him head-on and said my right toe was sticking out too far. The list went on and on. Could we at least jump a real jump? It wasn't going to happen. He made me trot around without stirrups for so long that I got sick to my stomach from the pain.

Then, when my legs were shaking, I was soaked with sweat, and I could feel the skin on my shins rubbed raw and oozing, Dutch started setting up a course. A real course. Airy verticals and huge oxers, at least three feet three inches high. He set up the deepest jump in the deepest part of the sand, where it would be hard for us to get up and over it. These fences had bright, glaring colors, rainbows and stripes among the fake stones and brick. I didn't know too many horses who would walk by them without balking, let alone jump over them. My palms started sweating.

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