Love of Horses Pt. 01byEgmontGrigor2011©
Kate John's 18th birthday came with great expectations and went, leaving her more than disappointed. She was bitter her mother had not revealed which one of her mom's three brothers was her father. Furthermore the guy who had delivered that unfortunate shot of potent sperm for her unmarried mother did not have the courage to confess to his shameful act of all those years ago.
She silently cursed them. She begged her mom to tell her but Kathleen presented the perfect defense: "God darling, I've had so many men in my time you can't expect me to remember who they all were and when they seduced me."
"Come on, it was one of my uncles."
"How dare you. It certainly was not."
Her mom delivered a stinging slap across Kate's mouth, cutting the lip.
"You've made my mouth bleed," Kate said, hard pressed not to cry.
"You deserve that you foul-mouthed girl. You're mostly are so lovely to me and now you accuse me of lying to you."
"I'll ask you once more. Tell me."
"No, go bite your butt. I told you I couldn't remember."
Kate's slap caught her mom on the nose and as Kathleen bent forward in pain Kate jerked her knee up and caught her mom under the chin. She went out like a light and fell to the carpet, Kate sticking out a foot to break the fall.
Kate went into the kitchen.
Sammy their old cook, sitting at the table reading the newspaper with a magnifying glass, saw the blood and climbed to his feet.
"Kate you're hurt. Who did it? I'll kill him."
"Mom did it."
His mouth fell open, showing a few gaps. "Your mom... but she's your mom?"
Sammy said but why and was told to mind his business.
"Come to over here and I'll clean you up."
"Give mom attention. I think I've knocked her out."
"Omigod," Sammy said, going as fast as his arthritic knees, worn during his early years of breaking in horses, would allow. He found Kathleen on her hands and knees, attempting to get up.
He helped her to her feet.
"Did you fall?"
"No that little bitch...um yes I tripped over the mat, hit my head on the table and fell."
"But the mat's out over the fence drying after being washed?"
"Sammy that's my story. If you give any other version to anyone then you'll be packing your bags and leaving. Get it?"
"Yes Miss Kathleen. My mouth is sealed Miss Kathleen."
"In the kitchen awaiting attention. She told me to attend to you first."
"Did she say what happened?"
"No," Sammy lied. "Perhaps she banged into a door?"
Kathleen grinned at him and said she'd sit while he attended to Kate.
Entering the kitchen Sammy found Kate had washed her face and neck and had ice in a plastic bag on her lips.
Mumbling through swelling and half-frozen lips Kate asked, "How's mom?"
Kate held the icepack away from her mouth for a while. "Thank god for that but I should have known she'd be okay, she's such a tough bitch."
Rubbing a knee the cook said, "That comes from her being the youngest but the smartest and bossing her brothers and me as their father requested in his will."
"Yeah I guess so."
Sammy said recklessly, "It appears to me you'll be even tougher than your mom."
"You're paid to cook Sammy, not to vocalize opinion. Grab cool coffee and a couple of painkillers and take them out to mom. She was hit hard."
"She says she fell."
"You cheeky shit. I know how to spell."
"Perhaps you need your hearing checked."
Kate watched him walking out unsteadily with the coffee and painkillers. He consumed twelve painkillers a day. She grinned at him and he grinned back, those missing teeth another legacy of all those years of breaking in horses that he continued doing until he was fifty-two and that was thirty-one years ago. He was old but he sure had learned to cook and was a survivor.
She went out to the coral beside the barn and roped her horse Cool Lady from amid the milling horses. She saddled the horse and rode out at a lope, the feel of the flexing body of the horse and the steady gait calming Kate, as she knew it would.
Kate leaned forward and kissed through the flying mane to the horse's neck.
"I love you Cool Lady. You mean everything to me."
* * *
A selection panel at Patrick University was nearing the end of a tiring day when an application for an assistant to the sole equestrian coach came on screen. The applicant's bid was supported by Claude High School from where she'd graduated six months earlier.
"Why are we looking at this?" barked the committee convener. "This applicant is eighteen whereas our preferred minimum age for all personnel, although not stated, is twenty-four?"
The director of sport, whose responsibility included equestrian, remained silent.
Mrs Ross, with seventeen years' experience of sifting through job applications and possessing the skill to handle a testy chairman near the end of a tiring day, said in a firm voice, "Sir I suggest you watch the DVD. It speaks for itself."
Miles Miller glanced at his watch and said, "Okay run it for us Milly."
The five-person panel including the convener looked at the big screen. A stocky 18-year old in cowboy boots, jeans a checkered shirt and wearing a weathered Stetson waved at the video camera and said, "Hi I'm Kate John. I live on a ranch at the base of Craig Mountain and wish to study things such as horse health and care, stabling, diet, equipment and of course I'd like to remain associated with equestrian. I finished fifth bottom in my graduating class at high school and that makes going to college and taking on a full study program a bad idea. But I believe I'm a good candidate to become the assistant to your equestrian coach."
"As I've stated I'm eighteen. I've ridden since I was four and have been finishing off half broken-in horses since I was thirteen. I was born and reared on a 27,800-acre cattle and horse ranch and we run up to 30 horses of all ages, so you can guess I've served big time among horses. Give me a minute and I'll demonstrate some of my skills that I feel will be valued by your equestrian coach."
"Stop the machine Milly," said the convener Miles Hammer. "Let's look at the next application and then when that's running you call Coach Hall and get him here pronto. This Kate John appears to be one tough cookie and I have a big feeling about her potential."
Coach Hall entered the room and heard the chairman reject the application just considered for his assistant.
"Hi Ralph," said Miles. I want you to see this and to advise us."
"Is that within procedural rules?"
"I have no idea Ralph but we know sweet all about equestrian. Some of us can't spell it," Miles joked.
The DVD introduction was run to the break when Kate had paused.
Ralph Hall said, "Miles the kid is confident and has a tough attitude. Most of our riders here are soft-centered females."
"Are your permitted to express yourself in that manner on this politically correct campus Ralph?"
"Er I have no idea but I'm aware I'm in the company of er mature academics."
"That you are Ralph. Here we go."
The scene started with Kate entering a corral with milling horses. She waited patiently until they settled and then roped a sorrel mare.
"Why didn't she rope the big white stallion to really impress us?" asked one of the two females on the panel.
The 35-year old Ralph, with a tanned and weathered face below short-cropped blond hair, sat forward and his steely blue eyes focused. "She knows she's filming for a job. She'll know what she's doing."
The quarter horse was pulled forward and came without resisting.
"Kate knows this mare. She'd know her abilities and horse and rider will have confidence in each other."
"You are hallucinating Ralph. I know you want her here because she has sizeable breasts," said the other woman.
"Tut-tut," said the liberal convener.
All Ralph said was to keep watching.
Kate removed the lariat and the horse stood calmly waiting for the bridle. After saddling, Kate mounted the mare with ease and flicking the mare's neck with the ends of the reins charged at the horses grouped some 40 feet away. They scattered and mare and Kate sailed over the top rail with ease.
"Jesus," Ralph said.
The next scene showed Kate cantering and then galloping on the mare and turning it just with the pressure of her thighs and then she rode at a slower gait over the top of a small gulch, the horse sliding down the stony embankment, its hindquarters tucked down, and it splashed into the deep flowing water and only at that point did Kate lean forward to placed her arms around the neck of the horse to stay with it as water pressure threatened to burst her backwards off the saddle.
"Jesus," Ralph said.
Kate slipped off the horse to lighten it and, keeping hold of its mane, horse and rider walked out the other side.
The camera operator obviously had also crossed because the next shot was a close up.
"Well there you are folk. If you want me to help hone your equestrian team so it emerges from the hole it's in, kept there by such tough competition, then you'll know I'm the recruit you need. My skills are in Western riding competition and jumping. Oh by the way, I tend to like horses better than I like most people but I like people who really like horses."
Ralph stood. "Miles I want her. Our university needs her. Please get her in for a final selection interview. We need to know if she can handle students older than herself, especially the ones with enlarged egos."
* * *
Two weeks later Kate returned home from the final interview process at the university that her mom knew nothing about. All she knew was Kate had taken off mid-afternoon the previous day in her aged yellow TJ Jeep Wrangler.
They were friends again after their recent physical confrontation.
"Were have you been?"
"I went south to be interviewed for a job and got it."
"But you have a job here?"
"Bullshit. I'm no good working for you."
Kathleen sighed. "Well you are probably right about that. Have you got a job in a café or a fast food outlet?"
"I've been appointed assistant to the equestrian coach at Patrick University. I'm not required to be a graduate to hold that position."
"What, are they mad? You are too young for that sort of position."
"I notice you didn't say I wasn't qualified for the position."
"Dammit girl for years I won riding contests within a hundred miles around here but for horsemanship in all respects you have become my superior."
"Careful mommy, that's a really big compliment."
"Stop it, you know I hate you calling me mommy. Call me mom... call me Kathleen if you wish now you're a young woman."
"No mom is fine."
"What are they paying you, ten grand?"
"The job was offered at twenty-four grand but I negotiated to take it for twenty in return to being able to enroll in some of the equine study classes that interest me. It appears they were very interested to recruit me because my request to sit in some classes was referred to the academic board chairman and immediately approved. I live in free but will work long hours but with breaks. The university sits on 192-acres and has a huge covered equestrian center to allow a year-round operation. We'll do up to ten horse shows a year."
"Gee that was a smart move baby. The university would not have admitted you with your lousy academic record although I have to admit it probably was better than mine."
"They have their own barns and other facilities and horses which is pretty unusual plus a multi-purpose farm. Most of the 48 colleges and universities in our competition with equestrian teams do a deal with a nearby horse and rider training facility and some or them are not so nearby. Some old guy, who went to Patrick and gained a degree, built up a huge ranch supply business. He also established a horse ranch as a hobby and then bequeathed a million bucks for Patrick to establish an Equestrian Endowment Fund. During the past ten years the income from that, plus other fundraising and donations, have provided the facilities for the equestrian center to become self-sufficient. The huge indoor training area measures 300 ft by 140 ft and a second outdoor ring has just been completed."
"How many horses do your riders have?"
"Twenty of eight breeds allocated to us. Patrick is an agriculture-based university and so they have a horse-breeding program as part of livestock improvement research and studies."
Kathleen smiled encouragingly. "I have to admit the job sounds exactly right for you. What's the coach like?"
Kate replied, "He's in his mid-thirties, married with a master's in animal science and was an state eventing champion. He never reached national selection to compete internationally but as an independent did ride in open events in England, Ireland and Germany and won medals, cups and ribbons."
"Well if he's that young don't bend over in front of him in a dress, that's all I'll say."
"He's married mom."
"You heard what I said."
* * *
Kate began her job a couple of days before students began arriving to start the new academic year.
"You've chosen not to wear a dress," Coach Hall said.
"Oh good morning to you too."
"I don't wear dresses when I'm with horses."
"That's good. My wife will prefer seeing you in jeans."
"I'm not here to dress to please your wife."
"No you're not," he sighed. "She was angry that the selection panel choose a female because you and I will work closely together. I'm telling you this because you need to know. Get it?"
"Good. Call me Ralph at all times. She's invited you to dinner tonight. It will be okay to wear a dress to dinner but you decide."
"Take me to see the horses."
"What about the briefing?"
"That will take at least a day won't it?"
"I suggest you spread it over say three days to avoid overloading me with dull detail. I'm here because of horses and therefore it's reasonable I see the horses first."
"Right I agree. Just go careful about attempting to boss me around."
Kate grinned and said she'd tell his wife if he hit her unless it was okay to thump him back.
Ralph appeared horrified.
Kate bored in, "You intend setting ground rules so why shouldn't I?"
"Er yes, we work at a university where interaction, self-discipline and free speech are encouraged. You are encouraged to discuss ground rules but I set them."
"Okay boss. Let's see if you have half-descent horses. I bet you have even docile walkers for new members of our selected team. So do we also try-out past members who are returning?"
"Yes to avoid charges of alleged discrimination."
"And do I get to have a say in section?"
"I really don't..."
"Think carefully Ralph."
"Um of course you do."
As they left the office Ralph complained, "Jesus Kate, I feel it's me who's getting the try-out."
The horses were in two corrals.
"They are Western horses," Kate said, pointing to the eight in the smaller pen.
Ralph nodded and smiled. "Right here's a test for you. It's something the senior riders who could be contemptuous of you in your position because of your young age, may well ask you. Please identify the breed and sex of all twenty horses."
"There are only nineteen horses here."
"Are you sure?"
"Christ Ralph I've been working herded horses since I was ten."
She rattled off the breeds correctly and made only one mistake with the milling English horses in the larger pen, identifying a mare as a gelding.
"That's impressive. Let's go to the barn and see what's up with the missing horse. This has not been reported to me."
The head groom Jimmy Cross had a rug on the mare.
"Bindy has a temp. I'm about to get one of our vets over. It could be a virus."
"Jimmy this is Kate my new assistant."
"Hi Jimmy," said Kate, who felt Bindy's nose and then walked around her.
She said, "Don't bother calling the vet. She's suffering a chill. Probably someone rode her hard and not cooled her off before putting her out."
"Are you sure?" Jimmy challenged.
Kate said softly, "Okay Jimmy, you call a vet and be prepared to be abused for a senseless call-out."
Jimmy looked at Ralph who said, "If Kate says it's a chill it's a chill. Come on Kate."
"Okay it's a chill and we're on to it early," Jimmy said sullenly. "I'll keep the blanket on her and feed her some hot mash. By the way Ralph I saw your wife ride Bindy out just before dark last night."
"Right I'll talk to her."
* * *
Three days after the autumn semester started, Ralph began checking through the thirty-eight applications for a try-out.
"Have all your previously members re-applied?"
"Yes all bar one. Claire Kennedy has a broken arm so has ruled herself out."
"Was she any good?"
"Better than average and improving."
"Then re-admit her without trial. When did the break occur?"
"Five weeks ago," Ralph said, his temperature appearing to be on the rise.
"It's six weeks for a heal under proper care, plus another two weeks extra to give the mend time to harden. So that eight weeks is less the five already gone. Why should Claire, an acknowledged improving horsewoman, be denied an academic year's riding because she'll be out of riding for three weeks?"
"Well I don't know. The tradition is try-out or miss out."
"Let her in Ralph if that's what she wants, subject to a medical certificate in three weeks that she is fully fit to ride."
"Okay and what you've said makes sense. I've seen you out riding at nights with Anne."
"Yes your wife and I are becoming very friendly. Jesus I was cold-shouldered when she saw me that night when I arrived for dinner with my boobs pulled up high and my thick thighs showing under a short skirt. When I offered to ride with her she said yes, but initially I think she thought I was sent in as a spy to see if she always abused her horse."
"Did she mention turning out Bindy sweating?"
"Yes she said she had a stomach upset, agitated by riding, and had to rush off. Um she asked me not to say anything."
"Right got that."
Kate looked through the pile of acceptances for show competition and then through the pile of rejects that would presumably be added to non-competition riders.
He sighed. "Do you agree with my assessment? The cut-off for try-out was the top fifteen."
"I'd like to make that sixteen with this one I've placed on top of the reject pile."
"Why he's had no competitive experience."
Kate said, "True but he hasn't said he's not had competitive experience."
"And you think he has?"
"Yes for sure. Christ he comes off a horse ranch and like me probably began riding at the age of four. Also you only have five males in your try-out pile Ralph and I'm willing to bet this guy Rick Flavell will be in your top ten."
"That's based on hogwash. What's the bet?"
"If I lose I offer a rollicking night in bed and you are not required to wager anything."
"Jesus Kate are you loco?" Ralph said, looking up anxiously at the open door of the office.
He added Rick's application to the pile of try-out acceptances and whispered, "There is no bet. What would my wife say if she found out?"
"I never considered that happening because I'd win that bet," Kate said confidently.
* * *
A meeting of the Patrick University Equestrian Club was held at 5:00 on Wednesday afternoon. Eighty-two students interested in joining the club to ride horses recreationally or to ride competitively turned up including a female with an arm in plaster who kissed Coach Hall and thanked him for his benevolence.
Ralph said she should not thank him and pointing to Kate said, "Thank my new assistant, she pleaded your case."
"But she doesn't know me?"
"No but apparently she can look at a rider's record and have a good idea where that rider stands. She then argued you should be in."