Rick returned in June. Penny Pincher had run in all three of the Triple Crown races, finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Preakness, and second in the Belmont. Rick was happy with how well Penny Pincher had done and planned to give him some time off before pointing him toward a big race later in the summer. Justin and I had officially begun to date, which Rick was not informed of, yet. I had gotten much better at riding and was excited to display my accomplishment to Rick, no matter how angry I still was for leaving me alone for the past two months. School was only a month away and I had yet to meet anyone who would be going to the high school. I also hadn’t purchased any supplies or a bag.
The day after Rick got back, he was up early with Justin and I to head for the track. I was planning on riding in my old jeans and a long sleeve shirt this morning. My boots hid under the denim as I prepared for my work on the chestnut colt I had come to love. He had won his second race while Rick was gone, making his record two for two. Justin said he was surprised how fast the colt had gotten to the races, as normally horses his age don’t start racing until later in the summer. I got my leg up from Justin and he led us to the track for Rick to watch.
“Okay, Rick was talking about entering him in about two weeks, so give him a good workout. Warm him up and then work him from the five-eighths pole to the wire and then gallop him out another quarter mile.” I nodded and slipped my feet into the stirrups. I looked up to see Mr. Roberts light up when he saw I was riding the colt. Rick looked a little surprised and I just diverted my attention back to the track. Mike was not working with me today and I was on my own.
Justin unclipped the lead and I put the colt in a trot. He felt tense underneath me, gnawing on the metal bit in his mouth. I put him into a canter and directed him to the middle of the track as we began to round the first turn. I couldn’t mess this up, especially with Mr. Roberts watching. Rick had not seen me ride and was in for a surprise. I had gotten better and my stirrups were as short as they could be. Rick didn’t even know that Justin and I had been working with Bumble to turn him into a lead pony for the horses in the barn. It was better for Bumble to have a job and not to be cooped up in the stable.
The five-eighths pole was coming up quick. The colt had a big stride on him. I glanced back to make sure I could angle in. Here went nothing. I turned the colt in and let his head out a notch, letting him open up. I crouched low with my face buried in his neck. It felt like he was floating. I could barely hear his hooves hit the ground. He asked for more rein as we came to the turn, but I declined, not wanting him to get ahead of himself and blow the turn. He began to fight for his head as the turn began to end. I reluctantly granted him the early rein and he gave me a new gear, almost knocking me into the saddle. I let him out a bit more, which allowed him give me more. He was an amazing animal. I smooched in his ear as we neared the wire. I saw the wire out of the corner of my eye. I had finally worked a horse by myself, with no company. I stood up a bit and let the colt gallop out around the turn before pulling him all the way up. I made my way back to Justin, who was talking to Rick and Mr. Roberts. I halted in front of the trio, who all had smiled on their face.
“Kelly, when did you start working horses?” Mr. Roberts was obviously happy at what he had just seen.
“Right after Rick left for Kentucky.” Penny Pincher was Mr. Roberts’ horse as well.
“Well I am very impressed. I remember you saying you had never even seen a racehorse before you moved here. You are a fast learner.” He remembered well. I had not spoke much when I first met Mr. Roberts, but I must have told him about my eventing.
“Well thank you sir.” I smiled and looked to Justin, who nodded in agreement.
“Kelly, get this guy cooled out and meet me in my office.” Rick walked away, leaving Mr. Roberts and Justin. I looked at Justin, who had no idea what was going on.
“Whatever he says Kelly, you did great! I will be seeing you around!” Mr. Roberts walked off and I took the colt to the barn area to cool him out. Why couldn’t Rick just have said good job and left it at that? I hoped he would let me continue to ride. I finished with the colt and then made my way to Rick’s office. What could he possibly be mad at me for? I opened the door to see Justin and Rick sitting at the office desk. Had Justin told him?
“Kelly, come sit down.” Rick offered me the chair next to Justin. I obliged his order and sat in the old leather chair.
“Kelly, what I saw today was amazing. You have a real talent.” Rick sat back in his chair. I nodded, waiting for him to say something else.
“I want you to ride for me as often as you can.” What was he getting at?
“Justin mentioned that you have taken a liking to that chestnut colt and Mr. Roberts is very happy with the way you worked with him.” I nodded. I really did like the big colt. He was a magnificent animal and I loved his personality.
“Well, Mr. Roberts is requesting that you are the only one to ride him. Period.” I looked at Justin, who was smiling.
“Really? Me?” I could only ride him in the mornings. Rick knew I wasn’t qualified to ride in races.
“Yes. He doesn’t want the horse to run unless he’s paired with you.”
“Rick, I can’t ride him in races. I am not qualified. I’ve been riding less than two months and I have school coming up.”
“That is just it. You are not qualified. Mr. Roberts wants you to become qualified.” Rick looked at some papers on his desk. Mr. Roberts couldn’t just make me become a jockey!
“I don’t want to become a jockey. Exercising horses is dangerous enough, but riding in a race is ten times as dangerous!” I didn’t want this.
“Kelly, Mr. Roberts is willing to offer you a share of the horse if you do this.” Justin interrupted. He wanted me to do this.
“So? I want to ride him, not own him!” I stood up, ready to storm out.
“Kelly, please, think about it?” Justin grabbed my arm.
“No!” I yanked away and ran out of the office. I didn’t stop running until I reached the house. I grabbed the van keys and drove toward town. I didn’t know where I was going, but I didn’t care either. I didn’t want to ride in races. I wanted to be home in Montana, not having to worry about anything but horse shows. I didn’t want to get attached to any of Rick’s horses. I for sure did not want to find a guy like Justin and have a boyfriend in California. I was seventeen, about to be eighteen, and I did not plan to ever have this happen to me.
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