Many of you know that I’ve been working on a fiction project for the last few years.
This last week, friends and family made it possible for me to sneak away to a secluded beach in Mexico to work on my project. The timing couldn’t have been worse – I had so many things going on at Square Peg and the last thing I wanted to do was to leave my students and horses not to mention my sweetie on a self serving trip – but I did.
Our group was treated like royalty by the staff at Villa Violeta with amazing hospitality, first class meals and handmade margaritas….. Each morning, I’d get up early, grab a cup of coffee and hide in a spot overlooking the Sea of Cortez. I was visited by lizards and birds and even a squirrel on the sunny deck where I worked. The frigate birds soared overhead and the fishermen waved from their boats as they passed by. It was as idyllic a place as I can ever imagine. I was so far removed from my regular life.
But I was there to work. I issued my challenge to our supporters to help me get this project wrapped up and I’m proud to say that I’m ahead of schedule.
I promised a preview of the work and I’m here to deliver.
Below is a short chapter from Gallop Girl All Rights Reserved by the author, Joell Dunlap May 2012.
Enrique closed the lid on the medicated mud, wiped his hands on the towel hanging from his back pocket and used the wall to steady himself as he stood up in the stall. Mercy Street’s legs were slathered in cooling mud and wrapped in clean cotton pillows. He’d have to come back in and paint the bandages with a sauce of habanero and cayenne pepper to keep her from chewing them off overnight. He patted the petite mare and she danced sideways, snorting and blowing. She wasn’t the friendly type. He laughed quietly and scratched her withers. She submitted to his touch and even leaned into him so that he could dig into her perpetually itchy shoulders. Both satisfied, he ducked outside the stall door and made his way to the equipment room to fetch the pepper paste. His eye was drawn to the empty stall where the dead filly Chayah Khofesh should have been. The stall was clean and bedded, the straw fluffed and the hay net full. Enrique pictured her powerful frame and curious face as it was this morning before her workout. She’d had some promise and she was easy to be around. She had a habit of peeking around her hay net, curious to see what was happening in the stall next to her. He’d liked her for that curiosity and he missed her now.
In an industry where sentimentality is a luxury, Enrique was a wealthy man who spent lavishly. He knew the quirks of each horse and he indulged them whenever possible. Each animal was a treasure of personality. Some made him laugh, some made him wonder. All of them made him a man satisfied with his work. He knew that horses would come and go, some naturally, some tragically and he cherished the time he had with each one. When it came to people however, Enrique was thrifty with his emotions. He was an island of a man who preferred his own quiet company.
He fished a peppermint out of his pocket, fed one to the barn goat and one for Vaya Con Dios who quietly lifted the candy from Enrique’s callused palm and crunched it between giant molars. “Che old man.” He rubbed the silky nose and headed back to work.
Things would change at the barn and things would stay the same. He had a good crew, with a couple of exceptions. Most of the guys showed up on time and did their jobs well. A couple of the hot walkers were on notice for laziness. Only one groom worried him, his head groom had travelled home to Mexico for a holiday and had sent his cousin to cover his job in his absence. Enrique had an instant dislike the the cousin. Something about his way with the horses unsettled Enrique. The man had skills and wasn’t afraid to work, but he had a shiftiness in him that made both Enrique and the horse wary. He’d keep an eye on him and ask around for some good guys needing work.
He’d worried about the Boss talking to Roxy Ayers about galloping. Enrique remembered a time when all of them were much younger and romance was on the menu for Jude and Roxy. But now he was a big shot trainer and Roxy had aged in a hard edged sort of way. The notion of them being together now was laughable. Both were acting professionally and Enrique hoped that things would work smoothly. The barn was poised for a good year with some decent running stock and some up and coming hopefuls and if, just if they could keep The Big Horse, Leo III from destroying himself or some unfortunate human, great things could happen. Enrique had his doubts that Leo III would do well without Ann. He had worked around female riders for most of his career and he knew that some of them were good, most of them were out to prove something and none of them had the talent that Ann possessed.
Normally,Enrique felt that women interrupted the flow of a barn. Most women created chaos somewhere or drama. They needed too much attention, or demanded respect they weren’t willing to earn. Most women you wanted too much to protect. Enrique had to admit that he did have protective feelings about Ann but he never let on. He knew it would just confuse Ann and they had their jobs to do. Enrique thought about visiting Ann in the hospital, but he had no idea what he would say and he didn’t like the idea of seeing her laying in any bed. He liked thinking of her as strong and capable and laughing in her special way. Yes, he did feel protective of her. If only he would have waited until later to get the filly to the track – she wouldn’t have been at the wrong place at the wrong time. If only he would have put that little cholo rider on her back, then Ann wouldn’t be laying broken in a hospital right now. None of it mattered of course and nothing would change the way things were.
Enrique passed by Leo III’s stall and noticed that he’d emptied his water bucket completely. Whether he’d drunk it all or whether he’d kicked it out of the bucket was anyone’s guess. But no racehorse, especially one as talented as Leo III ever went without fresh water and so he slipped inside the stall, fended off the vicious teeth of the chestnut monster and ducked out quickly with the empty water bucket in hand. He washed the bucket clean of any straw or dirt and filled it being careful not to let the hose end droop into the water. Doctor Connor had been adamant that not only did the horses never share a water bucket again, but that immersing the hose into a water bucket was a sure source of disease spread. He’d primed all of the grooms on the practice and he’d had to keep a close eye on one of the lazier grooms lest the barn be beset with another raging respiratory infection. He fished another peppermint from his pocket and let Leo III see it. His sharp ears heard the cellophane noise and perked forward. Enrique was not fooled, he tossed the peppermint expertly into the horse’s grain bucket to distract the animal while he re-affixed the filled water bucket to the wall. Leo III dove for the peppermint and savagely rooted around in his grain bucket to find it. He attacked the grain with and open mouth and crunched hard, feed dripping from his lips. Enrique chuckled appreciatively. Aggression in a racing colt the size and breeding of Leo III was not the horse’s fault. It was the product of hundreds of years of racing breeding and a wholly unnatural environment. In the wild, Leo III’s rogue behavior would be so over the top that the herd would banish him to perpetual bachelorhood. Instead, if he continued to race as well as he had, he would retire to the breeding shed of a beautiful farm where his every whim was attended to and mares would come in from the world over. But if they couldn’t get his feet to harden up, Leo III would be just another failed and unrideable ex racehorse with a lovely pedigree and nowhere to go. Enrique looked at the pale saucer shaped feet and sighed. Supplements, special glue on shoes, training only on the dirt track and racing only on choice grass courses or wet and cold muddy tracks, acupuncture – it seemed they had tried everything and now he would have to manage this beast without Ann.