Read Catch Rider (9780544034303) Online

Authors: Jennifer H. Lyne

Catch Rider (9780544034303) (7 page)

He gestured toward a dark dapple gray. “That there's an Oldenburg gelding,” he continued. “Get too close and he will bite the living hell outta you.”

The big horse extended his neck and snapped at me, and I pushed his cheek away. “That horse must be seventeen and a half hands,” I said.

“He jumps big, too,” Wayne said.

“We each get three?”

“Naw . . . they don't like us walking back more than two horses at a time.”

“Why not? That's stupid.”

“Honey, that German horse must be worth a coupla hundred thousand dollars all by himself.”

“God Almighty,” I said.

I looked at the German horse. He had a lazy, bored look and a big green stain on his flank.

“So you'd better do a good job getting that shit stain off his belly.”

We walked back leading one horse each and made the trip two more times, turning the big horses loose in their nice, clean stalls, where they rooted around in the white pine shavings. I tied up the massive gray horse in the wash stall. As I hosed him down, he showed his big teeth and pink gums. I laughed at him as he tried to bite the water like a dog.

“Careful—don't get water in his ears. He'll turn into Satan himself.”

I turned to see a boy, maybe about eighteen, with his hands in his pockets. He wore a baseball cap and an old Wilson's Feed and Seed T-shirt. He was a little skinny, with hazel eyes and light brown hair. I was embarrassed at the way I looked, sawdust all over my pants, and I tried to brush my hair out of my face.

“Is he yours?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I spotted him as a baby, and they bought him really cheap. The seller thought he was permanently lame, but it was just a pulled muscle. He's fine now.”

“He's got some big feet,” I said.

“You don't have to tell me!” He laughed. “Nearly broke my foot last week, big dumb bastard. Watch this.”

He scratched the horse under his belly, and the horse stuck his neck out and lifted his lip, enjoying it.

“I'm Wes,” the boy said.


“You from around here?” he asked.

“Near Covington.”

“That's a ways away,” he said. “I don't know how anyone lives there with the smell of the paper mill.”

“You get used to it,” I lied. “Where you from?”

“I grew up in Nelson County.”

“Where?” I asked.

“Massies Mill.”

I remembered a fat Shetland pony I'd seen with Wayne over in Massies Mill. The owner had told Wayne the horse was ten, but when we got there, we could tell across the paddock that the pony was about thirty years old.

“Why are you laughing?” he asked.

“I thought only pigs and chickens lived in Massies Mill,” I said.

He looked a little hurt and I felt stupid. I had just been trying to be funny.

“We had pigs,” he said. “Also horses, cows, guineas, and everything in between.”

“Your daddy is a pig farmer? Really?”

“And a blacksmith and a carpenter. Whatever pays.”

“My uncle's like that,” I said.

He sure acted different from the boys his age at school.

“Where do you go to school?” I asked him.

“Nelson County High School, in Lovingston. I'm a junior.”

I was just about to tell him proudly that Wayne was my uncle when the tall girl in the green shirt from before walked around the corner. She came up behind Wes and put her arms around him. He turned, looking startled, and she kissed him. Right on the mouth.

“Hi, Kelly,” he said.

I felt a knot in my stomach that made me embarrassed all over again. Kelly ignored me as I finished washing the gelding. “How was school?” he asked her.

“Whatever. Another exciting day at St. Elizabeth's.”

She tilted her head, gathered her hair on one side, and twirled her little earring between her thumb and forefinger.

“Can you get her horse tacked up, Wes?” barked a short-haired woman of about fifty, overtanned, with the same fish mouth as Kelly's. “I want her to be warmed up before the lesson starts.”

“Yes, Dee Dee,” he answered.

“I didn't know you were coming, Mom,” muttered the girl.

I noticed that Dee Dee was wearing a diamond bracelet. In the barn.

“I'm watching your lesson, Kelly,” Dee Dee said.

Kelly looked like all the air had been sucked out of her. She hunched her shoulders and exchanged a look with Wes.

I put the gray horse into his stall, and Kelly followed me. “Make sure you put extra shavings in here around the edges,” she told me. “This horse gets stuck against the wall while he's sleeping and can't get up. It's really dangerous—”

“Cast,” I said.


“He gets cast in his stall. That's the word.”

“I know,” said Kelly defensively. She looked me up and down and walked away, slinging a lead rope over her shoulder.

“Who is that?” Dee Dee asked her, gesturing toward me.

“I don't know.”

I watched some of Kelly's lesson through the bars on the windows. She was jumping an elegant chestnut back and forth over a vertical in the middle of the ring, and Dutch's voice boomed throughout the ring and the barn.

“Move him up,” he said after one jump.

She circled around and came back the other way.

“Make him bend,” Dutch said. “Go wide and jump in easy . . .”

“Move him up” meant make him go faster or make his strides longer so that he covered more ground. “Make him bend” meant that the horse should use his whole body in the turns. When a horse bent through the turn, he had his rear end up under him and was using all his strength. If he was balanced right, he'd jump better. Some people called this “setting him up.” I'd never heard anyone say “jump in easy,” but I guessed that it meant get in a little closer.

I watched Kelly move the horse up, jump in too easy, and pull a rail off the vertical.

“Not spur, leg. Just leg,” Dutch said. “And I wouldn't be afraid to ask him for his leads.”

The lead was which front leg came first at a canter. If you picture a horse running around a turn, of course he'd want the inside leg coming first. Having the outside leg come first is called a “counter-canter,” otherwise known as “the wrong lead.” They made you counter-canter in an equitation class. Not too many of the horses we broke at Wayne's would hold a counter-canter. They weren't well schooled enough.

Dutch set up a course of eight fences, and Kelly rode the course. I had to work, so I couldn't watch all of it, but I saw a couple of other girls watching Kelly's lesson like she was some kind of celebrity. At one point, Kelly's horse slammed on the brakes and refused a fence, and she had to circle around and keep trying.

When the lesson was over, Kelly walked the horse back toward the barn. Dee Dee was following, scolding her. “You're relying on the number of strides and not your eye.”

“Why did you keep talking about moving up and making it five strides, then?” Kelly asked. “You say that, and then you say to use my eye!”

“Did you get anything out of that lesson?” Dee Dee asked.

“I would have if you hadn't been there!” Kelly said. She sounded like she was about to cry.

I ducked down to make sure they couldn't see me.

All this time, Wes was exercising a horse in a warm-up ring. He never muscled the horse with his strength, like many men do. He trotted a gelding over low jumps, patting him on the neck. The horse looked very green, barely broke.

Kelly and one of her friends came up behind me and saw me watching Wes. I didn't know the other girl's name—they all looked exactly alike with their buff breeches, field boots, alligator shirts, and ponytails. Kelly seemed upset, and I felt sorry for her. I thought about saying something, decided not to, but then a flicker of goodwill passed over me.

“I saw some of your lesson,” I said. “You did a nice job.”

“Don't watch my lesson,” she said with her lip back, showing a row of perfect white teeth. The look on her face was so angry that I just stood there and stared. “You're supposed to be cleaning stalls,” she said.

She looked at her friend and they laughed at me, like it was a joke.

“I ride, too, you know,” I said.

They laughed even harder.

“She rides, too!” Kelly said. “What do you ride?”


They kept laughing. Kelly put her hand on the side of the barn to hold herself up. “She rides hunters.” Kelly put her other hand on her chest as if she was having a heart attack.

Her friend wheezed and held her side, as if she'd never heard anything as funny as what I'd said.

I imagined stuffing their pretty faces into the dirty stall next to me, manure stuck in their lip-gloss.

I knew they couldn't do half the things I'd done.


ride home, I wanted to kick myself for trying to be nice to Kelly. Why the hell did I think I needed to prove myself to her? Who gave a shit what she thought? I was too angry and humiliated to tell Wayne what had happened. He would just make it worse. He'd warned me, and I was already ignoring his advice. Something inside me had lit on fire when those girls had laughed at me, and it wasn't a good thing. Wayne would tell me to go in there, clean stalls, and keep my mouth shut.

I asked Wayne what those girls were doing at Oak Hill. He told me they were trying to qualify for the Maclay Finals by winning points in Maclay classes, held at big horse shows. I had read about the Maclay competition many times and stared at pictures of the winning horses and riders in
Practical Horseman
for years. I had imagined Maclay riders as nice girls who had worked hard to get there and the horses as their best friends, but it wasn't turning out that way. It looked like these bitchy girls were buying the best horses and the best trainers, and not even enjoying any of it.

Wayne said Oak Hill was a full-service barn. That meant that these girls didn't groom, wash, or clean their horses. They didn't tack up or untack. When they went to a show, their horses met them there.

I'd had no idea. I'd thought show riders were just cleaner than the rest of us. I'd thought they got up to braid at four o'clock in the morning. I thought they had some magical way of cleaning tack that only took them two seconds. I never imagined that they had an army of grooms doing everything for them.

I wondered how people got this rich. Did they work harder? Were they smarter? I knew some poor people who worked hard as hell. I also knew some poor people who didn't. Some were sharp and some were dumb as dirt. But now I wanted to know where all this money came from and what you had to do to get it. We learned in history class about England and France and how if you were born a shoemaker or a factory worker there, then, by God, that was what you were, no matter how much money you made. Not only that, but your kids would stay in that class and so would their kids. But this was America, and it wasn't supposed to work that way.

Wayne took me to my car and I drove home. As I walked across the porch, I could hear Donald talking on the phone, and I stopped to listen. He was talking to Melinda about moving, about all of us living somewhere else. He was telling her that his cousin in Bakersfield, California, worked in an oil refinery and could get him a job.

My heart jumped into my throat. I wondered if I should let them know I'd heard. I just wanted to scream. There was a trash bag on the porch that was about to split open. My father never would have left garbage on the porch like that. He would have taken it out to the trash can and then scrubbed the can in the kitchen clean. I pictured us out in Bakersfield, California, with the trash blowing across the porch.

The sugar maple branch scraped against the porch roof. There wouldn't be sugar maples there, either. What if he made us go before the leaves turned and came down?

I loved it best when the leaves came off that sugar maple tree, all except a little cluster on the east side. That tree had been the only thing blocking us from the Hardee's parking lot until Jimmy planted a cluster of white pines. Now you could hear people in the parking lot at night, but you didn't have to look at them.

I stood on the porch and looked in through the window. Donald pulled out a cigarette from his front pocket, put it between his lips.

I walked in the door. He knew I'd heard.

“My cousin said he can get me a job for seventy-five thousand with my management experience. Full benefits. Your mother knows and she wants to go too.”

I pictured Melinda trying to grow tomato plants in the dry sand of California behind a sad little house that looked out on an oil refinery. She would die. I would die.

He was holding a silver lighter.

“That's my father's.”

“Your mother told me I could use it.”

“Well, you can't.”

“Honey, your daddy is gone,” Donald said. “I don't mean to be hard or nothing, but get over it.”

“My father would kill you with his bare hands for saying that in this house. You are a no-good, lying son of a bitch, and one of these days Melinda's going to figure it out.”

Damned if he didn't smack me right across the face.

I fell backwards onto the floor. I couldn't get up—I couldn't even breathe. No one had ever hit me before. I looked at his dirty socks and waited to see if he would come closer.

“I'm fourteen years old.”

It just came out. I was so scared, I thought he might kill me.

He got so close to my face that I could see his yellow teeth, his red gums receding and showing their bare roots.

“See what you made me do with that mouth of yours? Somebody's going to really hurt you one day for talking like that. And it might be me.”

I crawled away from him and stood up, rubbing my face to make the pain stop. The way he was looking at me was weird, like he wasn't finished.

Other books

To Catch a Treat by Linda O. Johnston
Boys and Girls Together by William Saroyan
Marked Masters by Ritter Ames
Hit and Run by Sandra Balzo
Murder Shoots the Bull by Anne George
Balancer by Patrick Wong Copyright 2016 - 2024