Chapter 7: Learning to Ride Again

I woke up early the next morning, got dressed in my normal outfit of breeches, riding boots, and a polo shirt. I rushed out of the house, grabbing an apple for myself and for Bumble, and headed for the barn. I arrived after a short jog and found Justin leading a horse out of its stall, all tacked up, ready for their workout. I followed, keeping my distance, hoping to not scare the horse. I wanted to see how morning workouts were conducted. What did horses do? What did Justin and Rick do? The horse had a rider waiting for it at the opening to the track. Justin gave the guy a leg up and the horse was off in a moment, getting right into a canter. I made my way up to Justin, keeping an eye on the horses on the track.

“Morning.” Justin turned to me, smiling.

“Good morning. What are you doing here so early?” He sat on the railing between the stands and the outside rail of the track.

“I wanted to see morning workouts and then walk Bumble.” I leaned on the rail and watched a pair of horses zip by, fully extending themselves. They really were gorgeous animals.

“Well, good timing. Mike is taking our newest edition for a spin.” Justin pointed to the little bay he had led onto the track just moments ago. I watched as the rider talked to the horse, collecting him in, just getting him used to the track and his surroundings. The little horse listened intently, but still attempted to fight for his head. Mike was good with him. He kept him calm and collected as he moved him up the track.

“He’s pretty. Small, but pretty.” I watched the other horses on the track.

“Yeah, he’s not very big, but he has a great pedigree and I think he’ll be a really good one. He already broke his maiden and is going to be entered in an allowance next week.” Justin escorted us back to the barn, leaving Rick to be the trainer, and began his daily routine of chores. I went to the tack room and borrowed some grooming supplies for Bumble. I took him out of his stall, letting him soak up some sun while I pampered him with a nice brushing.

“We start training tonight boy. Are you excited?” Bumble was half asleep while I groomed him. I continued in silence, thinking about how excited I was to finally ride again. I missed the fields in Montana, but I was getting used to the life here more quickly than I was ready to admit. I wondered what my mom was doing, as she hadn’t returned any of the calls I had made. She was probably soaking in the new design plans she had for my room. She was likely planning on selling the farm to move into a bigger house with husband number whatever.

“Kelly, you want to help me for a moment?” Justin was holding a horse in the middle of the aisle. I quickly put Bumble away and rushed over.

“Is everything okay?” I looked over the horse.

“Yeah. Will you hold him while I wrap his legs?” Justin handed me the lead and I patted the horse’s muzzle and watched as Justin made an art of leg wrapping.

“What next?” Justin finished with the wraps and stood up.

“Next? You want more work?” He had a surprised look on his face.

“Sure. I can’t ride until later, so why not help you out a bit?” I put my hands on my hips and looked around.

“Okay, see those saddles?” He pointed to the saddles sitting on the railing outside the first couple stalls. I nodded. “Polish them. Please.” He led the horse away and I looked at Bumble, who yawned.

“I know, but we can’t get out until later.” I headed for the tack room to gather a towel and some polish. It took me at least an hour to polish each saddle, and there were four saddles with Rick’s initials on them. I wondered what it was like to ride a racehorse.

“Finished?” Justin had checked in multiple times, but this time, I was finished.

“Yeah, all four are polished.” I stood up and smiled, happy with my accomplishment.

“Good, it’s five o’clock already. Get Bumble tacked up.” My face lit up.

“Really?” I clapped my hands together.

“Yeah, but instead of that English saddle you have, put on one of the exercise saddles in the tack room. They are the thicker ones, not the paper thin racing saddles.” Justin turned to head off in the other direction. I quickly grabbed Bumble’s bridle and one of the exercise blankets with Rick’s initials on it and an exercise saddle. How was this going to be comfortable? I might as well have been bareback. I quickly got Bumble tacked up and I mounted up with the block right outside the barn and got my stirrups to the right length. Justin rounded the corner and started to laugh.

“What are you laughing at?” I was slightly offended.

“A few things. We are going to shorten your stirrups. You can’t gallop our thoroughbreds with those long stirrups. Secondly, Bumble doesn’t match the saddle. He has a bigger belly than these guys, so it makes him look silly.” Justin shortened my stirrups to a very short, uncomfortable length. It was hard to get my feet in them.

“Your knees need to point in, not out.” Justin put his hand, which was huge, compared to my small limbs, and pushed my knee into Bumble’s withers. Ouch. This was very uncomfortable. What did I get myself into? Justin clipped a lead to Bumble’s bridle and led us down shed row toward the main track.

“I thought we were going to the training track.” I looked back the other way.

“The training track is closed right now. No races today and most of the horses have worked out today. You’ll be fine.” Justin better know what he was doing, because I had no idea. We reached the track and Bumble was all ears. He craned his neck in every possible direction, taking it all in. His ears twisted and turned toward every possible sound.

“This is new for you both, so what I am going to do it have Mike ride one of the track ponies with you. He’ll give you pointers and keep you from freaking out.” Justin directed my attention to Mike, who was on a big bay.

“I don’t know about this Justin.” I was more than nervous. There were still a lot of the regular people at the track, including my father and his friend’s at Clocker’s Corner. I could feel eyes burning into me. Justin unclipped the lead and Bumble walked onto the dirt track, cautiously, before trying to break into a canter. He was tense from being cooped up for so long. Mike kicked his mounted into a trot and drew up along side Bumble and I. I was trying to find balance as I attempted to stand in the saddle, but I was not having much luck. He watched me a few times before having me pull Bumble up.

“You need to bend your knees, but those stirrups are too short for your first time out here. Do you want me to let them out a bit?” He was very stern.

“Umm, no. I want to get this. My dad and everyone are watching.” I put Bumble into a trot and I stood up again, letting my knees absorb impact. I got my balance and Mike left me as he put his mount into a canter. I assumed I was supposed to follow. I asked Bumble for a canter and he quickly responded, knocking me off balance and I fell onto the saddle with a thud. This was so hard! I grabbed Bumble’s mane and pulled myself up and balanced myself over his shoulder again. Bumble had such a smooth canter, making it easier for me to stand over him without too much trouble.

“Good job Kelly.” Mike looked back and smiled. I didn’t congratulate myself too quickly. I let Bumble continue to stretch his legs while I focused on my balance. How did the riders crouch and ride a horse fully extended like this? I tried crouching a little bit, but almost instantly lost my balance. Sigh. I picked myself back up and tried again. I got about three or four strides before losing my balance again. Again and again, I was able to crouch a bit longer. After at least three laps, Bumble was getting lathered and my legs were numb. I pulled him up near Justin and dropped my legs to his sides.

“Good start for today. You did fine. You’re learning. You won’t learn this overnight. Cool him out and I’ll see you at home.” Justin patted Bumble’s neck and headed off for the barn. I put Bumble into a walk and dropped the reins, just sitting there, letting him mosey along. I reached down and lengthened the stirrups to the right length and put my feet back in. I was the only one on the track, but I could see lingering people in the stands.

“Want to go around again Bumble?” he grunted and pranced a bit. He was so happy to be out of his stall. I put him into a canter before glancing behind me, making sure I could veer in for the rail. Bumble was playing with the bit, wanting to go faster. I kissed the air and put him into a slow gallop. I sat deep in the saddle and let his head out a bit. He lengthened his stride and flashed under the wire. I kept him going around the turn, and I got a glance Rick and some man, watching. I continued onto the backstretch and let Bumble out again. He reached out for my ground and lowered his body. He was fully extended going into the turn. I collected him a bit so he could keep his balance. He listened, flicking his ears back. I could barely see through his mane, but I let him back out and again, he was reaching for and grabbing the earth beneath him.

“Come on boy!”

He flashed back under the wire, galloping faster than we had ever galloped. I collected him up, pulling him into a walk by the backstretch before turning him in the opposite direction. I walked him back toward the tunnel. Rick was standing there, with Mr. Roberts. Were they the ones watching me from the stands? Was I in trouble?

“Kelly, that was amazing. You have an amazing horse here.” Mr. Roberts was smiling and he patted Bumble’s neck.

“Oh, thank you Mr. Roberts.” I smiled and breathed deep. What did Rick think?

“Is he yours?” Mr. Roberts probably thought Bumble was a racehorse.

“Yes sir. I brought him with me from Montana.”

“He is fast. Is he a Thoroughbred?”

“No, he’s an Irish Sport Horse. We competed in endurance races and eventing back home.”

“He’s good. Too bad he couldn’t race. We need that kind of stamina in the sport,” Mr. Roberts turned to Rick. “Good talking to you Rick. I will be seeing you around. Have a nice night, both of you!” Mr. Roberts walked off and Rick waved before turning back to me.

“You’re good. I’m putting you on horses tomorrow.” Rick turned to walk away.

“Wait a minute! I can’t gallop a racehorse!” I put Bumble into a walk to follow him.

“You can gallop your horse.” He kept walking.

“With long stirrups and no one around! I’m not ready!” I pulled Bumble up as Rick turned to face me.

“Oh Kelly. You are ready! I saw you out there. You are amazing! Your balance is perfect. Your connection with this horse is magical. You are ready. Trust me.” Rick walked away without another word. I shook my head and cooled Bumble out for the night.

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