Happy Wednesday, everybody! I feel bad about falling off the face of the Earth for the last month, but between the holidays, travel and being sick three times in the month of December, there wasn’t much I could do. I’m officially back, though, and I’m going to be sharing this story weekly on Wednesdays, so get excited!
Thanks to everyone who read and left feedback for this last part:
: I always find it fun to learn about something new, so I hope you enjoy this new horse-related education!
: Glad you’re excited to be learning, too, and that you’ve gleaned some knowledge from the Australian series MacLeod’s Daughter. I’ve never heard of it, and now I’m hoping they have it on Netflix so I can check it out!
Here we go…
Maria’s eyes fluttered early the next morning as she felt something fuzzy sniffling at her right ear, then nudging at her cheek and the sun shining into her… bedroom? She awoke with a start, rolling over to see what was touching her face.
Gazing down at her was a set of chocolate brown eyes belonging to a gray face whose forehead was bespeckled with a large white star. The filly was standing shakily on her four legs and looking expectantly down at Maria. She was clearly hungry. And, most importantly, she was alive!
The filly softly poked her velvety nose against Maria’s cheek again, tickling her, then jumped back just as quickly when Maria twitched her nose, giggling at the sensation of the foal’s soft coat touching her skin.
The filly let out a shrill whinny, and Maria climbed to her feet while holding out her hand to the foal, allowing the animal to tentatively nuzzle her palm and grinning to herself as she finally realized what had happened. The filly drank all of the solution and had made it through the night. And then, Maria had fallen asleep in the stall.
The filly had lived!
“Hey there, baby girl,” she crooned to the gray foal who was leaning into Maria’s frame with all her weight, her nose still buried in Maria’s palm.
From behind her, she heard Liz chuckling, “Have a good night's rest?”
Maria grinned as she turned to face her friend. “I got her to drink the formula,” she stated, holding up the empty bottle triumphantly as her evidence. Then sheepishly stated, “So what if I accidentally fell asleep on the job?”
Then she joined in, giggling with Liz.
“So I see,” Liz admitted, her eyes falling on the filly who was standing next to Maria, nibbling lightly on her red gingham button-down shirt. “She even stood up. God, Maria. We didn’t think that would ever happen!”
Maria grinned, petting the filly’s forelock. “She's going to be all right.”
“I hope so,” Liz nodded. “She looks
a whole lot better than she did yesterday, too. Michael went to call the vet so that he can check her just to make sure. Looks like those booster shots and your magic with the bottle did wonders for this girl.”
“Sounds good. She's still sick, but she's going to recover and become a champion like we all expect her to be,” Maria ran her hands through the filly's silky midnight mane. “You’re going to be just fine. Aren’t you, girl?”
The filly whickered ever so softly in agreement, and the two girls laughed at her reaction – she was already showing her intelligence, which was supremely important for a winning racehorse. Things were looking up for Doll’s foal.
She heard Michael call from Liz’s office down the aisle, “Vet's on his way!”
“Thank you for saving this girl's life, Maria.”
Maria grinned at her friend’s praise before stating, “It’s no big deal, really. Just another day’s work as a stable hand at Daydream Acres,” as she flipped her long hair jokingly.
Liz snorted at Maria’s comment and shook her head. “You’re hopeless. You know that, right?”
“Yup,” Maria winked and leaned against the stall door, swinging her arm lazily over it and peering down the aisle to observe what was happening in the stable that morning.
“So,” Liz began, “You wanna come and watch the workout this morning? Triple Star, that big bay colt from New York, is running for the first time today. It'll be interesting to see him run and to meet his owners. After all, you are going to be grooming him.”
“Sure, I'd love that,” Maria admitted as she stroked the filly's nose one last time, bending to drop a kiss on the foal’s forehead, then followed Liz out of the stall to the training arena. “But first – a question for you. Why the hell didn’t you wake me up when you got to the barn this morning? I have so
much to do!”
Liz just shook her head. “You just looked too cute lying there on the straw with the filly. I could not bring myself to wake you up.”
“Oh, thanks bunches,” Maria returned sarcastically, picking a piece of straw out of her golden locks with a grimace.
“Yeah, I know I’m a good friend.”
* * * * *
Triple Star's owners were already standing near the stadium seating that lined the backstretch of the outdoor training oval when Liz and Maria approached them. They were chatting with Michael, who would be assisting in the training of the giant horse. They didn’t seem to notice Michael’s unfortunate personality, however, and talked amicably with him like he was the nicest guy in the world. Oh, if only they knew
, Maria thought to herself, recounting several ways Michael had wronged her during the past few years, let alone the things said that spearheaded their current animosity.
Maria studied the young man and woman, genuinely intrigued at the two people who were entrusting the training of one of their animals to Liz and her team. The man was tall and dark haired, though he was an inch or two shorter than Michael’s 6’3” and a statuesque blonde woman stood next to him, nodding in agreement every once in a while as the the male owner and Michael talked. Maria could have sworn the woman was a supermodel, as she clearly had the style, the beauty, and the height.
When the woman saw Liz, she smiled and ran to them, wobbling only slightly in her high heeled shoes over the dirt ground, a smile spread across her flawless face. “Elizabeth Parker! It's been so long. How the heck are you?”
She wrapped her arms around Liz in a hug, and Liz returned the gesture enthusiastically.
“Great, Izzy, just pretty busy. But you know, it’s my job. I'm doing wonderfully,” she grinned, turning to face Maria while asking the tall blonde woman. “This is my friend, Maria DeLuca.”
The model shook her head and extended her hand to the smaller woman, “Nice to meet you, Maria. I'm Isabel Evans, the owner of Triple Star.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” Maria stated as she shook Isabel's hand. “We’re really looking forward to having Star here with us.”
“Wonderful,” Isabel smiled. “I hope that he likes it here as much as we do.”
All three girls laughed slightly at Isabel’s last comment before Liz spoke again.
“Maria is going to be Star's groom.”
“That's wonderful! I'm so glad that one of your friends is going to be grooming our Star. I'm sure that he'll do just wonderfully under Maria.”
There was a moment of awkward silence.
“So... Izzy?” Liz asked, suddenly sounding unsure of herself. Maria and Isabel both turned to face the brunette girl with a question in their eyes.
“Who's Mr. tall, dark, and handsome? A boyfriend you didn’t tell me about?”
Isabel guffawed at that. “My brother, silly! You don't remember Max?”
Liz looked sheepish. “I guess not... After all, it has been a while,” her voice trailing off.
“Well, we're just going to have to introduce you to him,” Isabel stated as she grabbed Liz's hand, then immediately reached for Maria's, as well, and led the two women to meet her brother.
She cleared her throat, interrupting Michael's conversation with Max.
Michael narrowed his eyes, clearly annoyed, while Isabel’s brother cordially asked, “What do you want, Izzy?” perplexed by his little sister’s behavior, raising an eyebrow at the two girls that his sister had in tow.
“Max, I want you to meet Liz Parker, Star’s new trainer... As you know, she was, like, one of my best friends in middle school before we moved to New York. And this is Maria. Maria is going to be Star's groom.”
“Nice to meet both of you,” Max smiled as he shook both young women's hands.
“So, where is Star?” Maria asked. She was curious to see the horse she had heard so much about, and since she had been otherwise sequestered the previous night, she didn’t get a chance to check out the colt before turning in.
“We sent Kyle to get him,” Michael stated.
Maria nodded slowly. Kyle Valenti wore multiple hats at Daydream. He was a groom, but he also was an exercise rider and a jockey. He rode many of the horses during training and some of them in their races whenever the time came. Maria really didn't know him that well, as Kyle had been hired a few months ago, but he seemed like a nice addition to their tight-knit staff, and they got along wonderfully.
Her musings on Kyle were interrupted by Michael’s harsh voice. “You know, since you weren’t up early enough to get him ready for this morning,” Michael smirked ever-so-slightly as he baited her.
She frowned at Michael, narrowing her eyes, but he was too involved picking up his conversation with Max to notice. So she rolled her eyes instead and turned back to talk to her friend and Isabel, who was clearly catching up and reminiscing about times passed. Since Maria didn’t know Isabel in middle school, she tuned the two ladies out and awaited Star’s arrival.
A few minutes later, a short, dusty-haired man and a giant bay colt with two significant white stockings on his front two feet walked out of the stables and headed across the green to the shoot of the training track.
“Hey y’all!” Kyle greeted them in his Texan accent with a wave, approaching the small group of people gathered around the railing with his mount in tow.
“So, what's the plan for this morning?” Kyle asked, stroking the huge horse's neck as he stood patiently, every so often whoofing his breath on Kyle’s shoulder and nickering.
“I was thinking that we could jog him for a mile to get a feel for him,” Liz pondered, looking for the owners’ approval. “After all, this is his first day here. We don’t want to rush anything. Is everyone okay with that?”
Max and Isabel nodded together, consenting to Liz’s plan.
“All right, I'm all over that,” Kyle stated, grinning at the small group of watchers as he pulled his helmet onto his head. “Maria, will you hold Star while I mount?”
Maria silently nodded and took the reins of the bay horse while Michael sprung Kyle into the tiny racing saddle that had been placed on the colt’s back.
“Ready?” Kyle asked.
No one objected. Kyle waved as he steered the colt easily onto the track and picked up his pace to a trot.
Maria wished she could be in his shoes. She wanted to be out there, chasing the wind like Kyle did numerous times every morning. She knew she wanted to ride racehorses, but she was scared, partially because of an old promise and partially because she knew the risks involved, even though she wanted with her whole heart to become a jockey. She needed to graduate first, then she would find the courage to chase her dream.
Star flew through his workout and all the spectators were impressed. This horse was going to make something of himself if the cards fell right. And Maria had a good feeling that with Liz’s guidance, Star would make a name for himself.
“I'm pleased with the way that he's turned out,” Isabel admitted to Liz after the horse breezed by them. “At one point, we weren't so sure if he was going to become anything at all. God, his initial training was a nightmare.”
“Oh, don't you worry,” Liz laughed. “He’s going to be something, all right.”
As Kyle and Star strode off the track with confidence, Maria snapped out of her daze.
“Maria,” Kyle called her. “Will you hold Star while I dismount?”
“Sure thing,” she stated automatically and grabbed the reins as the Kyle tossed them down to her, holding the horse’s head and keeping him still once more.
Kyle hopped easily back off the colt and grinned at her, “Thanks. Would you mind if you took him back to the stable and get him cooled off?”
Maria shook her head and grinned at the jockey. “No problem, Kyle. It’s my job, after all, so thank you for helping me out this morning.”
“Anytime, Doll,” he winked at her.
Maria giggled, then gave a tiny wave to the colt’s owners and Liz as she led Star away from the crowd and back to his stall.
“Thanks, Maria!” Kyle stated as she guided the racehorse into the stable.
“Nice to meet you!” Isabel and Max called at the same time.
Liz said something to her, but she couldn’t understand since they were nearly inside the stable at that point, and she was sure Michael made a crack about her being the stable girl, but she didn't care.
She led Star back to the barns, cooled him off, then proceeded to give him a bath, and finally put him back into his stall, dumping his feed into his bucket and hanging it by the door of the stall before she left, making sure that he had enough hay and water to last the morning.
From Star's stall, she went directly to the filly’s, wasting no time. She entered the stall slowly, for the filly was sleeping peacefully on the hay, and sat down next to her. She sat there and stroked the foal’s soft coat while she thought about her life.
This filly was going to become a champion. She was going to make her one.
* * * * *
Later in the day, Maria smiled as she looked out upon the property of Daydream Acres. Liz had done a great job of building on her land. From the trail Maria was on at that very moment, the farm looked picture perfect. The two barns were standing proudly in the distance while the afternoon sun was bearing down on her and her mount. White picket fences lined the pastures and the riding trails, and Maria was sure this was what heaven looked like.
“How are you liking it on the farm so far?” she asked her companion as she urged on Bay Ghost, her favorite gelding who happened to be an ex-racehorse and was always up for a trail ride.
“So far, it’s not too bad,” the young man admitted, smiling at her as he moved his horse into a trot to follow Maria and Ghost down the wooded trail, taking in the views as each pondered their own futures and what it held.
Maria wondered what was going to happen with the filly, what would happen with Star, how well both would do, and just how much work she would get to do with them while she was their trusted groom.
Her reverie was broken by Kyle’s wry comment, “The sightseeing has been exceptional.”
“It could definitely be worse,” she laughed, her eyes twinkling as she turned her head to meet Kyle’s brown eyes, liking that she had invited him to join in on one of her favorite daily activities.
“What brought you here?” he asked her.
“Liz and I have known each other for years, and when she opened the farm, I basically dropped everything to help her out,” she shrugged as she slowed Ghost down to a walk so Kyle and Warrior could ride next to them.
“Must have been nice to get a job.”
“Oh, it definitely was,” Maria admitted. “Though my mom wasn’t too happy about me dropping out of college for it.”
Kyle let out a bark of laughter. “You dropped out of college for this job?!”
“I re-enrolled after that semester,” Maria rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t like I quit and didn’t go back.”
“Good,” Kyle nodded. “Because getting an education is important.”
“So where’d you graduate from?”
“West Plano High School, class of ’02.”
“No college for you, sir?”
“Nope,” he winked at her. “I was too good for that stuff, clearly. I went straight to the the racetracks and started riding professionally. And then I followed some girl to Kentucky, thinking she was the one, and here I am now.”
“Some girl?” Maria’s delicate eyebrows rose in question.
“Some girl who decided she didn’t want to be with a jockey long-term,” he admitted.
“Ah,” Maria responded. “Tough break, bud.”
“You’re telling me,” he stated. “But hey, I got a job at a farm, am making new friends and who knows? Maybe I’ll find the one sometime in the near future?”
“Maybe,” Maria teased.
“So what are you doing tomorrow night?” he asked boldly.
“I have no plans, just checking up on the filly and the horses and then probably nursing a carton of ice cream before calling it a night.”
“What about you and me enjoy that ice cream together?”
She grinned back at him. “That sounds wonderful.”
“Okay, good,” he winked at her. “Because if you had said no, this trail ride would have gotten really awkward really quickly.”
Maria giggled at that. “Don’t I know it?”
And the two fell into a companionable silence until Ghost snorted, swishing his tail eagerly, as he plodded along the trails.
“This is the part of the ride where Ghost and I will race it out,” she admitted to Kyle as he watched her petting the retired racehorse’s neck. “I’m so thankful Liz has him here for anyone to ride. He’s great…”
“The two of you race?”
“Don’t tell anyone this,” Maria mock-whispered, “But I kind of want to become a jockey. And to do that, I’ve been told you need to get experience riding a horse.”
“Whoever told you that is a sage,” Kyle nodded wisely. “Good advice. And let me be the first and not the last to tell you that I think you will be a fabulous jockey when the time comes.”
“Yes, really,” he grinned. “You’re comfortable up there on Ghost, and I’m going to help you out. So there.”
Her eyes widened in shock. “You mean it?”
“Maria DeLuca, you don’t know me well,” he started, “but I am a man who keeps promises. When I say I’m going to do something, I follow through. So believe me when I tell you that you’re going to become a jockey.”
“All right,” a huge smile spread across her face.
“So let’s race!” Kyle exclaimed, kicking his heels into Warrior’s side and urging the horse into a gallop suddenly, leaving Maria and Ghost in their dust.
Maria shouted, “Go!” to her horse, and they took off down the path after Kyle and his mount, gaining on the two as Maia leaned her weight precariously forward over Ghost’s neck.
Maria wrapped a hand in the gelding’s mane as they galloped down the grassy trail toward the stables, striding closer and closer to Kyle and Warrior as they drew closer to the stable yard.
Maria urged Ghost to find another speed, and the gelding responded to her whispers, lengthening his strides and flying past Kyle and Warrior before they reached the end of the trail, slowing to a trot as Maria lost herself in the moment and imagine what it would be like to be a jockey.