Read Cutting Horse Online

Authors: Bonnie Bryant

Cutting Horse (8 page)

BOOK: Cutting Horse
10.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Skye barely reacted when they told him. “I figured we’d run into him soon,” he said. “With the shoot scheduled for tomorrow, he’s got nothing to do today but hang around and wait.”

The girls nodded, trying to think of some comforting or encouraging words.

Often, when the chips were down, Stevie would give a rousing pep talk that would cheer everyone up. She had done it many times before. Usually she believed what she said. But sometimes, when The Saddle Club was in desperate straits, she would give the pep talk anyway—whether or not she believed in it. This was one of those times. Summoning all her creative powers, she started to speak.

“All right. Enough of this bad attitude! We can’t throw
in the towel yet! It’s three o’clock Tuesday. The tape rolls at three o’clock Wednesday. We all know what that means: We have twenty-four hours to figure something out. Twenty-four big, long hours. Right now we’re going to give Skye his lesson on Stewball. We’ll make it brief and then he’ll switch to Sir Prize. Who knows, Skye, you might be right about Prize. He could surprise us all. But we can’t quit now. You’ll ride hard today, and we’ll brainstorm hard tonight.”

After a few more encouraging words, Stevie finished her speech. She surveyed the faces. Her friends didn’t look completely convinced, but they did look a tiny bit more hopeful—especially Skye, who had thought all along that he could get Prize up to par for the scene. Enthusiasm, like pessimism, could be catching.

Carole volunteered to go saddle Prize. Stevie and Lisa gave Skye a leg up on Stewball and set to work. Their plan was to work on Skye’s cutting skills some more. This time they had chosen a corral with several cows and older calves in it. Warming up outside the fence, Skye looked nervous and distracted. Like any horse, Stewball could tell, and he took advantage of Skye. He pretended to spook at leaves on the ground; he chucked his head up and down, playing with the bit; he broke from a jog to a lope and back to a jog.

His antics were just what Skye needed to make him concentrate. In a matter of minutes, Stevie and Lisa could tell that he had forgotten the next day’s shoot, the movie, and his career and was thinking only about the horse underneath him.

“All right, let’s get to it,” Stevie ordered. “Why don’t you try cutting that calf down there.” She pointed to a large one in the middle of the group.

Skye entered the corral and shut the gate behind him. Then he let Stewball do the work. The calf was a feisty one. First he ducked farther into the herd; then he tried to take off down the corral. But Stewball moved more quickly than the calf did and got Skye into a perfect position. Skye and the calf faced off. The calf made a move to dart to one side, but Skye and Stewball turned to block him. The calf ducked the other way and was blocked again. The seconds ticked away as Skye and Stewball kept the calf from running to the rest of the herd. With a final, desperate effort, the calf got away and sprinted down the long side of the ring.

Watching from the sidelines, Lisa and Stevie burst into applause. They knew the victory was only a fleeting one, but it was a victory nonetheless. Right then, even small successes mattered a lot. They had to keep thinking positively.

“Nice job,” said a low voice behind them.

To Lisa’s delight, it was John. He’d been passing the corral and decided to watch for a minute or two. “John, I’m so glad you stopped by. Skye wants to thank you for taking care of the dog this morning,” she said.

John smiled. “You mean the ‘stupid cur’?” he joked. “Tell him it was nothing.”

“No, really—” Lisa began to protest but stopped when she saw that John truly didn’t want to be praised for what he had done. Instead she asked, “Can you stay and help us with the rest of the lesson?”

“Yeah, we’d love your input,” Stevie said.

“No, I’d like to, but I really can’t. With all this movie business, I haven’t taken Tex out in days.” John lowered his voice to a stage whisper. “I’m going to sneak in a quick ride.”

“Great!” Lisa fairly shouted. It made her very happy that John had decided to take some time for himself. She also realized that John probably wasn’t ready to jump right into their group: Whatever help he gave Skye would be on his own terms. “Tell Tex I say hi,” Lisa added.

“I will,” John promised, heading on his way. “And tell Skye to lower his stirrups a couple of holes. They’re too high.”

Stevie and Lisa turned to check.

“He’s right,” Lisa said.

“Yup. He’s got them set more for Engish riding. I’ll go tell him,” said Stevie.

“Thanks, John,” Lisa murmured toward his retreating back.

A
FTER A HALF HOUR
, Carole appeared with Sir Prize, and Skye switched horses. Stevie was sure that Stewball understood what was going on. As Skye mounted Prize, Stewball laid his ears back as if to sneer at him. “It’s not my fault!” Skye complained. “Stevie, tell him not to look at me that way!”

“Sorry, Skye, but this horse holds a grudge for a long time,” Stevie replied.

“Look, I’ll make it up to you, okay, Stewball?” Skye said.

Stewball snorted loudly. Skye laughed. “He does belong in movies. He’s the best actor I’ve seen in a while,” he said. “That snort said more than most monologues.”

The whole group headed toward another corral—an empty one. Even though time was crucial, they weren’t about to start Prize with the cattle. First Skye had to show him who was boss.

Stevie and Lisa assumed that Carole would be eager to
impart what she’d learned from riding Prize the day before, but Carole said she needed to calm down first. Once again, she had been a victim of the animal trainer’s hyperactive imagination. This time the woman had called Frank Devine to check Carole’s references so that she could make sure Carole wasn’t going to try to steal the horse.

“Steal him!” Carole said, relating the story to the others. “You couldn’t pay me to take him away!”

Skye said he was happy to warm up on his own. The girls watched him putting the big, sluggish horse through his paces. “The only time that horse perks up is when he’s around cattle,” Carole commented. “And the only reason he perks up then is that he wants to run away.”

Carole let Stevie and Lisa help Skye for a few minutes while she tried to get herself into a suitable mood for teaching a lesson. Then she joined them in the corral. She waved Skye over for a quick briefing. “First of all, you’re in charge, Skye, and Prize does what you want. No ifs, ands, or buts—no ignoring your aids or pretending he doesn’t understand. This isn’t a horse you have to baby. This is a horse that needs a firm hand. He’s used to getting his way. Despite the fact that he’s a movie star, I get the feeling he’s never had to perform in his life. He probably
just gets trotted around from place to place with little kids on his back. He’s used to taking advantage of his rider. We’re not going to let him. Got it?”

“Got it,” Skye said, looking impressed.

When Carole went into her riding-instructor mode, she was a formidable presence. At Pony Club, where the more experienced riders taught the less experienced, she was a favorite with the younger kids. She always knew her stuff, and she explained it in a way they could understand. She wasn’t like some instructors who got so caught up in little details that they couldn’t see the big picture. Carole always saw the big picture and strived toward the ultimate goal: a horse and rider working together in harmony. Sometimes that took coaxing and quieting; sometimes it took firm discipline. But it always took patience, sensitivity, and a clear head.

And some days, Carole knew, an instructor had to be satisfied with progress in very small increments. Unfortunately, even though they all needed Sir Prize to transform himself instantly into the perfect cutting horse, today was one of those days. They had to start at the beginning, teaching Prize to neck-rein so that Skye could turn him on command. In spite of Stevie’s pep talk, Skye’s efforts, and her own enthusiasm, Carole found herself getting more and more doubtful.

Skye wasn’t riding very well, either. Now that he’d had a chance to try a real cutting horse like Stewball, he was obviously frustrated by Prize’s problems. “He’s not listening to me, Carole, no matter what I do!” he complained after a particularly trying reining exercise. “He’ll never be ready for tomorrow!”

“Take him out to the rail and start again,” Carole said quietly. “This time I’ll walk you through all the aids.”

Stevie and Lisa had been hanging back, watching. Figuring she needed all the input she could get, Carole turned to beckon them to join her. She was surprised to see a third person leaning on the rail a few yards away from them. The blond, curly hair; the tall, slim build … “Of all the nerve!” Carole cried. Skye’s stuntman had come to watch Skye ride. Too late, Carole realized that she shouldn’t have said anything: Skye turned in the saddle and recognized his double at once.

“Don’t pay any attention to him,” Carole said, knowing that it would be next to impossible for Skye to follow her advice.

Skye squared his shoulders determinedly. “I won’t, darn it. He can’t get rid of me yet. I’ve still got today left to ride.”

Out at the rail, Stevie and Lisa saw Skye notice the stuntman. They, of course, had seen him immediately but
had kept quiet, hoping the double would go away. “I’m going to get rid of him,” Stevie declared suddenly. “That’s the least we can do for Skye.” She walked over and greeted the man, making sure she didn’t sound at all welcoming.

“Hello. How are you today?” the man asked politely.

“I’d be a whole lot better if you’d leave,” Stevie said frankly, surprising even herself with how rude she could be.

“Would you now? Well, I’m sorry, I can’t do that. Director’s orders. I’m supposed to watch Skye like a hawk so’s I can look like him as much as possible tomorrow,” said the man.

“Look, I really think that if you left now, we’d all be—” Stevie stopped, thinking madly. Something had just occurred to her. Something very important. There was absolutely no reason on earth why the stuntman should leave. In fact, it would be good for him to
stay
—and see how awful Prize was. Even though the guy might be a more experienced rider than Skye, he couldn’t be so much of a miracle worker that he wouldn’t have trouble with Prize, too. Even Carole hadn’t been able to get very far with the horse, and chances were, the stuntman wasn’t as good as Carole. Maybe he wouldn’t be able to do any better than Skye. Then the director would have to see how unfair he
was being. “Forget what I said: Make yourself at home. Watch all you want,” Stevie said sweetly.

“Thank you, I will,” the man replied.

Now that Stevie had had her important realization, she decided she might even be able to scare the double off if she hammed it up about how terrible Prize was. “You know this horse is barely trained?” she said.

“Yup, so I’ve heard through the grapevine.”

“And he’s scared of cattle.”

“I heard that, too.”

“I mean really scared. He tries to run when he sees them.”

“Uh-huh.” The man reached down and picked a blade of grass to chew on. He looked utterly unperturbed.

Stevie was so confused that she gave up beating around the bush. “Aren’t you even the tiniest bit worried about being able to make him look like a championship cutting horse?”

The man shook his head. “Nah,” he said calmly. “If Skye Ransom can have a double, I think it’s safe to assume that Skye Ransom’s horse can, too.”

Stevie clapped her hand to her mouth in astonishment. Then she cried, “I’ve got it!”

“I
S EVERYBODY HERE
? Whoever’s not here, speak up now!” Stevie joked.

“We’re all here, Stevie,” Carole said shortly. It had been a long, frustrating day, and she wasn’t in the mood for Stevie’s attempts at humor. All evening Stevie had been giddy with excitement. Nobody could figure out why, and Stevie had refused to explain until The Saddle Club meeting she had planned for that night in the bunkhouse. Now they were all assembled in a circle on the floor, and Carole wished Stevie would hurry up and
get to the point. After the disappointing lesson with Skye, she was tired—very, very tired. Kate and Lisa looked exhausted, too.

“Knock, knock. Can I come in?”

Stevie stood up and swung open the door to see who on earth would be visiting them at such a strange hour. “Christine!” she cried. Shrieking with delight, she embraced their old friend, Christine Lonetree, and ushered her inside.

“Hi, everybody,” Christine said. “A little bird told me that I might find you here.”

“Christine, we haven’t seen you around. Where have you been?” Lisa asked.

Christine Lonetree was an American Indian girl who lived near the Devines and was a friend of The Saddle Club. Usually she took early-morning rides on her horse, Arrow, but the girls hadn’t seen her yet this trip. They’d been so busy that they’d forgotten to ask for her. Like Kate, Christine was an out-of-town Saddle Club member. She had taught the girls a lot about American Indian culture.

“To be honest,” Christine said, “I’ve been avoiding the place. John told me that it had been invaded. I didn’t want to spook Arrow, especially since the reason we take
the dawn rides is that it’s usually peaceful and we can both relax. But,” she added, “I had to come see you guys. Kate called me and told me about the meeting tonight.”

BOOK: Cutting Horse
10.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

At Empire's Edge by William C. Dietz
Vivian In Red by Kristina Riggle
Look at Me by Anita Brookner
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata
Husk by J. Kent Messum
The Full Circle Six by Edward T. Anthony
We Only Know So Much by Elizabeth Crane
Temptation by Liv Morris
Lea's Menage Diary by Kris Cook
The Medusa Encounter by Paul Preuss