By: Girl Bard
email@example.comDisclaimer: There is a little description of an injury here…no blood or guts though.
Author's Note: This segment was written a few weeks before the Florida Derby of 2003, held last weekend on March 15th. I am very saddened to say a lovely horse named Midway Cat broke his leg during the race and had to be put down. I can't really describe how that makes me feel, to say it's unfortunate is putting it mildly. I have a daily war that rages inside of me, as much as I love the sport of horse racing, I can't stand to see innocent animals hurt or killed. With that note, if you would like to skip this part, I completely understand.
Another snippet of good/bad news, the talented filly Composure, (who was a very likely Kentucky Derby candidate and my pick as the best 3-year-old of this year) was found to have a fracture of the seismiod bone. It was caught early with x-rays and she has been immediately retired and will be bred later this year. Good news is she'll be okay and live out the rest of her life, the bad news is that racing lost a very talented little filly.
"Easy boy." I tell the tall chestnut colt as he struggles to back out of the confining starting gate. "It's okay, we'll be out soon."
As promised, the gate springs open and Chance bolts out, his head up in the air. The fast-running sprinters head for the front and I keep the Swanson's prized colt bunched back in the pack. He seems to already have a grasp about what this is about, despite this being his first race. Fernando told me he didn't like the gate, but he kept his head and didn't freak out, pretty commendable for a baby.
It's a short race for Chance, only six furlongs, and after we round the first turn I start moving him up through the pack, easily finding holes in the field of ten.
We're in third place now, with just a few hundred yards left. Chance is running easily, and as I ask for his sprint he lengthens his stride and digs in. We easily pass the horse running second and draw even with the hard-running frontrunner. The black colt suddenly jumps and veers to the left, bumping Chance's shoulder and sending him into the rail.
"Shit!" I scream in fear as I try to keep Chance straight. The chestnut hits the rail with a loud thud, bouncing back off and stumbling in order to prevent from falling down. Chance gamely recovers and tries to keep running, but I immediately feel the irregularity in his stride; the left front I think.
"Whoa, easy!" I tell him as I stand in my stirrups and try to pull him up. I look behind me, fearing the entire pack is bearing down and ready to crush us, but luckily everyone saw the incident and was able to steer clear.
Chance doesn't want to stop running and as I wrap the reins around my hands in the effort to stop him I feel my back muscles protesting. Frightened and upset by seeing the other horses race by us, Chance rears and I throw myself forward on his neck. I know if I fall he'll take off and hurt himself worse.
"It's okay." I tell him, trying to pull him down. Once he comes back to the ground I jump off, seeing the attending rider gallop over on his horse. Chance is standing on all four legs, and I can't see anything wrong, but I definitely felt something strange after he hit the rail.
"He okay?" The rider asks, taking the frantic chestnut's bridle.
"No, get an ambulance." I tell them, not wanting to take any chances with the talented colt. The rider uses his radio to call the horse ambulance, and it seems like it only takes seconds before it pulls onto the track.
I see Dena running to meet us as I try to keep Chance calm. I know the tall horse is in pain, the whites of his eyes visible and dark splotches of sweat not from the race appearing over his entire body.
Breathless, Dena appears the same time as the ambulance. "What's the matter?" She asks, running her hands down Chance's body.
"I don't know, we got bumped and he hit the rail, his stride feels off." I babble, terribly afraid something horrible is wrong.
"What leg?" Dena asks, her tone harsh.
"Left front." I tell her, as Hector appears, followed by Charlene. I watch the entire interaction, completely numb like I'm not even standing here. I can't believe this is happening.
"Hola, me amo." He tells the big colt who instantly calms when he hears his groom's voice. "What is it?" He asks Dena, who is gently feeling Chance's leg.
"Not good. We need to get him loaded." She tells the attending rider. The track paramedics produce an air cast, which Dena precisely applies.
"Come." Hector asks of the colt, leading him up the ramp. Chance takes a hesitant step onto the ramp before letting out a shrill whinny. The paramedics go to push him onto the trailer.
"No." Dena commands. "Let him do it." She nods in Hector's direction and the big groom continues to gently coax the colt up the ramp. "Keeping him calm is the most important thing, and pushing him around isn't going to help." She mutters.
With the colt loaded, Dena jumps in the back of the ambulance with Hector.
"Wait, I'm coming with you!" I call, bolting up the ramp before they can close it.
"Charlene, take care of everything." Dena orders and the blonde nods, tears evident in her eyes.
The ambulance carefully races away and the three of us try to calm Chance and stay out of the way of the big colt's body as he moves around in the trailer.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." I jabber over and over.
"Stop." Dena states firmly, her hand on Chance's damp shoulder. "He's so hot, he didn't even get to cool off." She mentions worriedly.
"It's okay, today is nice day." Hector responds as he feeds the colt small treats from his pocket. The groom is right, if it were a blistering hot or humid day, Chance would have been made forced to walk until his muscles were cool and relaxed, causing more damage to his injured leg.
Dena uses her cell phone to call the Swanson's. They were in the stands with her to cheer on their expensive colt's first race. "Hi Sal, it's Dena. We're on our way to the vet tech's with him and I'll let you know more from there, okay?"
She nods her head a few times before disgustedly hanging up the phone. "This is why I don't train for people. Do you know what that asshole had to say?" Her anger is evident in her tone and I avert my eyes, unsure as to what she's going to say and not really wanting to know. "He said to remember the value of this horse and to make every attempt to maintain his investment." Dena's lip curls in disgust. "I'll make every attempt because he's a living breathing animal regardless of how much they paid for him."
"I know." I tell her, placing my hand on her arm. She looks at it and then to me and I realize how stupid that was. Then her blue eyes soften and she covers my hand with hers, giving it a brief squeeze.
The ambulance pulls up at the vet building and Hector takes great care to walk Chance down. The colt dislikes the brace on his leg, but has calmed down enough to tolerate it. After explaining what happened to the vet on call, he quickly checks the leg before brings out the portable x-ray machine.
"I'll be right back." The vet states after his quick exam. "It doesn't look too bad, okay? We'll fix him up." He hurries off to look at the results of the x-ray and the three of us look at each other nervously.
"How are you holding up?" Dena asks me suddenly, her expression one of concern.
"I'm fine. I'm sorry this happened." I tell her, unable to stop the tears falling from my face.
"Hey, it's not your fault." She answers, pulling me into her arms for a warm hug. "You did the right thing by pulling him up right away. In fact, you probably saved his life; if he does have a break or an injury he could have made it worse by running on it. Think about that, okay? It wasn't your doing. No one blames you." Dena assures me, her voice soothing.
"I blame me." I sniff, feeling stupid. I just can't believe this is happening, today was such a good day, I rode the Swanson's other chestnut and though we didn't place, he was comfortable and calm for his first race. I had a great ride with the nice bay mare Dena picked up with Elmer. She ran a surprising second, and I hoped to make Chance's introduction into racing a good one. Then this happened.
"I know." Dena says, her arms snug against my back. I hear the vet re-enter the room and Dena immediately releases me.
"Okay, it's not bad, but it's not good either." He starts, placing the x-ray onto the screen. "Here is the fracture, you can see it's just a small crack." The vet points to a semi-visible line in Chance's fetlock. "It's small, and non-life threatening. It could have been worse if he continued to run on it, that was a good catch young lady." The vet says to me, but it doesn't make me feel any better. "He'll need stall rest for a few months, at least."
"The bad news?" Dena asks.
"I wouldn't plan on racing him again until next year." The vet answers, and Dena's face is one of relief.
"It makes no matter to me if he races again, I just want him to be okay." She tells him honestly.
The vet looks at her strangely, as if he expected her to protest and complain about having the horse be laid up for almost a year. "I want him here for a few days so I can monitor his condition. Do you have somewhere he can be on stall rest?"
"My farm." She says, nodding to Hector, whose dark eyes are relieved. "He'll get the best care from Hector." She tells the vet who smiles at the groom.
"Okay, let's take him to his stall." The vet shows Dena where Chance will stay for observation and Hector efficiently makes sure the stall is clean and safe for the horse. "I'm going to keep this on him for a few days and see how he does." The vet indicates the cast. "I'll be back in an hour or so to check on him."
"Thank you." Dena says as the vet walks away, leaving us in private. I glance to Dena, still expecting to find hatred or anger in her eyes toward me, but instead I see empathy. "Let's get him settled, okay?" She asks, placing a hand on my shoulder. "It's been a long day for everyone."
After we got back to the farm, obviously everyone wanted to know what happened. I spent just a few moments talking with everyone before making my escape to the quiet of my room.
I showered and changed, a part of me wanting to burn my silks and never ride again. Is it really worth it? A colt could have been killed today, hell, we could have caused a mass collision and hurt the other horses in the race. What if Chance wasn't able to keep himself upright and fell instead? We both would have been trampled and many of the other horses would have been injured or killed. And for what? So people can make and lose money placing bets on which animal is the fastest? It's sickening. I don't know if I can do this anymore.
Shaking my head, I pull on a pair of shorts and a tank top. My stomach is gurgling, but I feel too sick to eat. Dena gave me the rest of the day off and I can't decide if I should get in my car and just drive, or hole myself up in my room.
I flop down on my bed, angrily rubbing the tears from my eyes. I should be relieved that Chance is okay and will be fine in a few months, but I'm upset that Dena has to tell the Swanson's their $1.2 million dollar investment won't return any money for them this year. I'm upset that the beautiful and spirited chestnut colt will have to spend the spring and summer standing in his stall. I'm upset that Fernando lost his most talented morning exercise horse. I feel like I've let everyone down.
Maybe if I had reacted quicker, seen the black out of the corner of my eye swerving I could have avoided trouble. What if I decided to go through a different hole or kept Chance closer to the pace? I might have been able to prevent the entire thing.
Sighing, I run my hands through my wet hair. I think I know what I have to do, I have to quit and leave racing for good.
I need to talk to someone, but I don't want to be placated or told it wasn't my fault. I just need to vent.
I manage to avoid almost everyone as I let myself into Elmer's pasture. I see the tall bay down at the far end, and I jog down to where he is grazing. He's gained some weight since he's been here and no longer has that lean racing look. He was severely underfed when he arrived and I'm glad he's bulked up, he looks healthier and happy now.
He lets out a shrill cry when he sees me and comes trotting over. I think he's lonely in the big pasture by himself, usually he gets turned out with the yearlings we just brought home, but they are in the far pasture this evening.
"Hey bud." I greet him softly. He pushes his long nose into my chest, bumping me kindly as I scratch behind his massive ears. He's a cute horse, but his ears are just a little too long, almost giving him a dopey look. I think he's adorable.
It doesn't take the bay long to search out the crab apples I have hidden in my pocket. "All right, hang on." I chuckle as I offer them to him. He crunches them happily and immediately looks for more.
I shrug at him. "Sorry." He snorts as I pat him, running my hands down his neck and legs, searching for any strange heat or swelling. "You wanna go for a ride, bud?" I ask him, knowing Dena has a huge amount of property that I haven't explored.
Elmer buts my chest again, causing me to smile. I turn and head back up to the barn, not surprised when he docilely follows me like a puppy. It's hard to ever imagine this laid back creature as a racehorse, he seems to only enjoy spending time with people and has no real urge to run.
I quickly put his bridle on, deciding to go bareback because I'm just in shorts. Elmer stands quietly as I climb on the fence to get on his tall back and I give him the rein, directing him to the open meadow.
He walks contentedly in his usual manner, ears swiveling around, eyes darting back and forth as he observes everything. It's quiet here this time of day; everyone is inside having dinner before bringing the horses in from outside to groom, feed, and put to bed for the night. It's just Elmer and I, and as I relax into his rolling walk I start talking to him, telling him everything that happened today and how I'm questioning my future in racing because of it.
He's a good listener, like most horses.
We reach the meadow and he picks up his gait, so I allow him to go into a trot. His movement is low and smooth and I can feel his desire to go faster. "Go ahead, bud." I tell him and he moves into a canter, then a gallop. I sit foreword on his withers, enjoying his speed. He stretches his neck out and increases his stride, and I find it easy to balance on him. He's smooth and collected and to me feels as fast as any racehorse. Except Foxy, that is.
We circle the meadow and he seems to want to continue, so I encourage him. Why didn't he have any of this desire on the track? He would have been a decent runner, but he didn't want to try. But now, here, free in this field he runs like he loves it.
When I hear his breathing get heavy I reluctantly slow him down back into a walk. He complies, tossing his head and snorting like he's just won the Derby.
"You goof." I tell him, patting his neck. "That was fun." I mention, the thought of our gallop reminding me why I love riding in the first place. Elmer seemed to have so much fun just now. He's only three and has his entire life ahead of him to do something else. "I wonder if you can jump?" I tell him, thinking of how he might enjoy cross-country. "Then we get to run through the woods and fields by ourselves and jump over cool things."
I put the thought away, reminding myself to see if Dena has any low poles I could start schooling him over. Hell, maybe I'll make a 3-day eventer out of the bay. He certainly has the personality to do anything. I shake my head, knowing that if I quit, I'll never see Elmer or Dena again, let alone make an eventer out of the tall horse. I've got to decide what I'm going to do.
It's time to head back, evening chores need to be done soon and if I'm going to avoid everyone like I want too, I need to get Elmer taken care of for the night. "But let's take the long way back, okay?" I tell the bay, not wanting our time to be over quite yet.
We head toward the smaller barn that houses the horses not in training; the yearlings, and soon, Chance. The yearlings are out in the two big pastures behind the barn, the colts in one and the fillies in the other. Many trainers won't turn horses out together after they are weaned to avoid them hurting each other. Dena, on the other hand, believes because horses are herd animals they should spend as much time being together as possible. I have to agree with her. The older colts and stallions don't go out together because there's a good chance they will fight, so they are teamed up with Elmer and Dena's gelding as pasture friends. I easily spot Victorious' light gray coat in the twilight and he whinnies shrilly at Elmer as we approach.
Elmer returns his greeting, and the other babies call back. I chuckle at their young voices, so much higher than Elmer's.
First Impact, the expensive Swanson colt races up to the field. He's an impressive-looking horse, and maybe next year he'll have the two-year-old season for the Swanson's that Chance couldn't have this year. Dena's filly looks good, as she races up to the gate with the Swanson filly.
I stop Elmer from sniffing his friends, content to watch the babies play outside. Suddenly, Victorious turns his regal head and whinnies shrilly. I look to see the tall trainer riding up on her stocky dark horse, Fudge.
The babies bolt in the adjoining pastures, kicking their heels up and running together on either side of the fence down to the far end of the pasture. Surprisingly, Dena's filly pulls ahead easily and leads the rest. I watch in fascination as they race each other, all of them running for the sheer pleasure of it. "Hey." Dena greets me as she rides up.
I smile, answering softly. "Hi."
"Aren't they fun to watch?" She asks, her intense gaze washing over the racing babies. They turn quickly in the pasture and come running back, now Victorious taking the lead from the winded filly.
"Yeah." I answer.
We watch, in silence, the babies run until they are exhausted. Even then, Victorious and First Impact playfully rear and paw at each other before turning their attention back to the pasture's ample grass.
I hop down from Elmer's tall back, wanting to walk and stretch my legs. I was in the saddle for a long time today, exercising Foxy and riding in three races, and my muscles are begging to be stretched.
"I'm going to head back, want to join me?" I ask the trainer.
"Sure." She responds, surprising me as she hops off her horse. We begin the trek back to the barn, Elmer and Fudge following behind. "Do you feel any better?" She begins and I nod.
"Actually, I do. When we got back to the farm, I sat in my room and seriously considered quitting. I was thinking about all the horrible things I hate about racing, especially how the majority of people involved see horses as an investment rather than a living creature. I didn't think I wanted to be involved in that kind of business, you know?" I ask and she nods in understanding.
"I feel the same way. That's why I've tried to create a place here radically different from the one I saw growing up. My father used to put down horses who were slightly injured if they weren't 'good enough' in his eyes." Dena says quietly.
I squeeze her hand quickly before releasing it. "I'm sorry you had to see that." I tell her. "That must have been horrible."
She doesn't respond, so I continue. "I can't explain how I feel working here, with you. I feel it allows me to compete in something I love without having all the bad parts." I tell her honestly. "Except today."
"Oh." She responds, her voice wavering. "So, you're leaving?"
I shake my head. "No. I was going to, I fully planned on giving you my resignation. Until I saw those yearlings, running their hearts out because it's what they are bred and love to do. It made me realize that racing isn't evil; it's certain people behind it causing it to become corrupt. I can't describe the feeling of seeing those babies running and racing each other because they want to compete. It would be cruel to prevent them from doing that." I glance at Dena, finding her deep in thought. "Does that make any sense?"
"Completely." She answers.
"So I'm not leaving." I add, and she smiles. She stops walking and turns to me, allowing Fudge to graze on the sweet meadow grass. I do the same with Elmer who crops the grass eagerly.
"I'm glad you are staying." Dena tells me. "It would have been really lonely here without you." I grin. "Yeah right, you have a million other people who could take my place."
Her smile fades. "No, I don't."
My eyes widen as I try to think of a response. "Oh." I say, unable to think of anything else except how beautiful she looks right now. Her skin is practically glowing and the darkening twilight makes her hair look like the night sky, offset by the striking sky blue of her eyes.
"I like having you around." She tells me softly, reaching her hand out to clasp mine. The simple motion sets my heart racing and my stomach begins fluttering around like a confused butterfly.
"I like being around." I answer, fully aware of how uncool I am at this very moment. I struggle to maintain some of my intelligence and not blow what I think is about to happen. "I feel very at home here with you, and I want you to know how amazing I think you are."
She arches one perfectly sculpted eyebrow and I have to stop myself from tracing it with my fingers. "I mean, from the first time I saw you I felt a spark, like I knew you or something. And now, as I get to know you better, I find myself wanting to be around you a lot, you know?" I manage to tell her, my voice trembling uncontrollably.
"What are you saying?" She asks, her voice a warm drink of liquid to my parched soul. I shrug helplessly, squeezing her hand still clasped in mine. "I think I know." Dena states, releasing my hand and bringing hers up to stroke my hair.
She pulls me to her and I gladly follow. Our lips mere inches apart, she smiles the sweetest smile.
I travel the remaining distance and press my mouth against hers, finding it as sweet as in my dreams. We share the most exquisite kiss, soft and hard, each of us giving and taking. I could speak of fireworks and flowery descriptions, but it still wouldn't do it justice.
I want to kiss her for eternity, our hands tangled in each other's hair as our mouths dance. I know now what I've been suspecting all along, not only do I have a crush on my boss, but I've fallen for her. Hard.
I'm in love.
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