“Oww,” Zak moaned as he slowly opened his eyes.
He sat up slowly, his whole body ached. He tried moving his arms and legs to make sure nothing was broken or sprained. Everything seemed to move ok, they just all hurt.
He looked up and down the trail and saw no sign of Zephyr. She had probably bolted back to the barn. He didn’t know how long he had been out for.
“Well,” he said to himself as he slowly stood up. “Looks like I’m walking.”
He slowly started walking up the trail to the ranch. He knew he was still a couple of miles from the ranch. He tried his phone, but as usual the reception in this area was non-existent. CJ had mentioned getting walkie-talkies for them, but hadn’t as of yet.
Zak took it slow as he followed the trail. His head hurt and his body ached. He wanted to be mad at Zephyr, but he knew that the first thing he had to do was get right back on. This was the first time he had actually been thrown. Dusty was always surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. His feeling was no matter how good a rider you were, you ended up coming off at some point and given the number of different horses they rode, it was lucky it hadn’t happened sooner or more often.
Dylan and Tanner led their small group off the trail and towards the barn.
Mattie and Spin were waiting for them. Dylan had the group follow Mattie and Spin over to the crossties and rode towards where Dusty was standing.
“Hey, Dusty,” Dylan called. “Is Zak in the barn already?”
Dusty looked at Dylan and shook his head. “I thought he was with you.” He looked at Dylan a second time. “Wait a second, what are you doing on Angel?”
Dylan trotted Angel over to Dusty and hopped off.
“Zephyr started acting up with Tanner, so he and I switched horses; then she started with me, so Zak decided to switch with me and bring her back. He should have been here by now.” Dylan shook his head. “I told him I didn’t think she was good to go by herself. I should have insisted we stay together.”
Dusty put his hand on Dylan’s shoulder. “Dylan, I’m sure you made your feelings known, but I know the way Zak feels about some of these horses--the same way I would feel if it was Phoenix or you would feel if it was Dodger. We trust them, but they are still animals with their own thoughts and actions and sometimes we can’t control them.” Dusty looked towards the trail. “But, right now, I’m more concerned for Zak. Do you know where you left him?”
Dylan nodded. “Yes, where the trail splits off at that willow tree.”
Dusty shook his head. “Shit, that’s about a mile or so in, he should have been here a while ago.” He looked over at where Spin and Tanner were taking the tack off the horses while Mattie finished talking to the group of riders.
“Tanner!!” Dusty yelled, Tanner looked over at Dusty. “Is Apollo still tacked up?”
Tanner nodded his head.
“Can you bring him over here, please?”
Tanner went to get Apollo and led him over to Dusty.
Dusty took Apollo’s reins. “Thanks; Dylan and I are going to go look for Zak and Zephyr. Tell Mattie when he finishes with the guests to take one of the horses and go down the right trail, we’ll take the left. If Zephyr dumped Zak she could be anywhere. I need you and Spin to stay here and finish with the horses, but at least one of you stays out here so that you’ll see if Zak or Zephyr comes back.”
Tanner nodded and ran back to Mattie and Spin.
Dusty looked at Dylan. “You ready?”
Dylan nodded and both boys hopped onto their mounts.
Dusty tried to get comfortable. “I swear after I make sure Zak is one piece I’m gonna kill him for making me use an English saddle.”
Dylan smirked. “It makes you a better rider, you know.”
Dusty rolled his eyes. “Just show me where you left him and we’ll backtrack from there.”
The two took off at a moderate pace to try to cover as much ground as possible.
Tanner ran up to Mattie who had just finished with the trail group.
“Mattie, Dusty needs you to take one of the horses and go down the right trail to see if you can find Zak or Zephyr,” Tanner said so fast that he was winded when he finished.
Tanner explained to Mattie about how Zephyr had acted on the trail and how Zak was bringing her back, but had not made it back.
“Shit!” Mattie exclaimed. “That one is always causing trouble. Zak cuts her a lot of slack cuz she’s the one he learned English on, but she’s a bitch on the trails. Why didn’t he have you use one of the other horses?”
Tanner just shook his head.
Mattie grinned at him. “Sorry. Not your fault.” He looked over to where Spin had finished unsaddling the horses. “Well, looks like Spin’s got all the tack of the trail horses--can you help him with the grooming and stuff?” Tanner nodded. “Thanks. I’m gonna grab Ash and see if I can find them.”
Mattie ran to the barn to get Ash while Tanner went to help Spin and explain to him everything that had happened.
Mattie grabbed Ash’s bridle and went to his stall. ‘’C’mon, big guy. We gotta find Zak,” he said to the gray stallion as he led him from the stall. He pulled the bridle over Ash’s head and led him out to the barnyard. He jumped up on Ash’s back and waved to Spin and Tanner who waved back.
Mattie spun Ash towards the trail and kicked him into a run. He took off down the trail.
Mattie rode down the trail for a while before he slowed Ash to a trot. He thought he saw movement off to one side.
He pulled Ash to a stop and looked through the trees on his right. There was something moving in there.
He hopped down from Ash and wrapped the reins around a small tree--he didn’t need to get left afoot out here.
He quietly walked through the brush. He finally saw Zephyr quietly grazing.
Mattie walked quietly towards the small mare, not wanting to frighten her.
“Hey, Zeph,” he said in an almost sing-song voice. “What are you doing out here by yourself? What did you do to Zak?” He was pissed, but knew he had to keep his voice positive or she would bolt.
As he got closer to Zephyr, the little mare turned to look at him. He saw in her eyes that she was going to bolt and at the last second he lunged forward and grabbed her bridle.
Zephyr tried to rear up on Mattie, but he held onto the bridle and reins with all his strength.
“Nope,” he laughed at the horse. “Not gonna happen, you bitch,” he said as he pulled on the reins and brought the horse under control. “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”
He kept a tight hold on the bridle and reins and led the mare out of the woods and back to the trail.
As he got closer to Ash, he realized what the problem was.
He looked at his gray stallion as he pranced and snorted the closer he got with Zephyr.
Mattie turned to look at the mare who was also dancing around. “Oh, Fuck!! You’re in heat!! That’s what your fucking problem is!!” He looked between the two horses, trying to figure out what he was going to do. He looked at Zephyr and grinned. “I should just let him fuck your ass silly, then maybe you’d calm down, but there’s a time and place for everything. And the last thing we need right now is babies.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. Luckily he had a different provider than Zak and he tended to get a better signal on the trails. He had tried to get Zak to change, but since his mom got a discount through the bank it wasn’t happening. He was trying to get CJ to get a group plan for all of them or get the damn walkie-talkies.
He hit the speed dial and Spin picked up on the first ring.
“Hey, Matt, did you find them?”
“Hey, Red, I found Zephyr, but I have a problem.”
“The bitch is in heat and there is no way I can get her and Ash back at the same time.”
Spin laughed, “All this is cuz she’s horny.”
“Hey don’t laugh, you’ve done worse when you’ve been ‘deprived’,” Mattie retorted. “Have Dusty or Zak or Dylan come back?”
“Nope. Haven’t heard from them.”
“Ok, look, I need to you to grab one of the horses, either a mare or a gelding--whatever you do don’t send Dusty and Phoenix or Onyx--then have Tanner ride double with you and come and get me. One of you can ride Ash back and I’ll take Zeph.”
“Are you sure Ash will be ok with that?”
“He better be if he knows what’s good for him.”
Spin laughed to himself--everyone saw Mattie as a soft-spoken, peaceful soul, but he did have a typical Latin temper when he was provoked and he knew that at this point he was pissed.
“Ok, we just finished with putting up the horses. I called the couple that was supposed to come for a trail ride this afternoon and rescheduled them--didn’t know when anyone was going to be back. I’ll grab Revanche and Tanner and I will be there as quick as we can.”
“Great. Love you, Red.”
“Love you too. See ya in a few.”
They both disconnected and Mattie walked Zephyr a little farther down the trail and wrapped her reins around another tree.
He walked back to Ash and stroked the stallion’s neck and shoulder and spoke to him softly. “It’s ok, big guy. You don’t want any of that. You need to save it till we can find some of Grandfather’s stock. Then you can have your way with all of them. Ok?” The stallion nuzzled at Mattie’s hand. “Now, I know you are not a big fan of my little red-headed honey, but you’re going to have to take him back to the ranch and be nice to him, cuz I have my hands full with that pain in the ass over there,” he said as he nodded towards Zephyr. “I’m sure Spin could handle her, but I think she and I need to have a conversation about how to behave.”
While Mattie was waiting for Spin and Tanner to show up, Dusty and Dylan were scouring the trail trying to find Zak.
“Zak!!” Dusty yelled as they walked down the trail. “Zak!!” He looked at Dylan. “Dylan, how close are we to where you left him?”
Dylan pointed down the trail. “Can’t be more than another half mile or so.”
Dusty looked farther down the trail and then behind him. “Damn! Where is he? He couldn’t have wandered too far off the trail if Zephyr did throw him.”
They rode a little farther down the trail. They had ridden at a slow pace so they could carefully look deeper into the woods in case Zak had been injured or wandered off the trail.
Dylan saw what looked like someone sitting against a tree. “Dusty, look!” he pointed. “Over by that pine tree.”
Dusty shielded his eyes and peered in the direction Dylan was pointing. “I think that’s him, c’mon!!” he called as he kicked Apollo into a run.
Dusty stopped Apollo a few feet from where Zak sat leaned up against the tree; he hopped down and ran to Zak. Dylan stopped Angel next to Apollo and leaned over and took Apollo’s reins to keep him from wandering off.
Dusty knelt next to Zak. “Hey, Babe, you ok?” he said as he ran his hands up and down Zak’s arms checking for broken bones.
“Hey. Yeah, I’m ok,” Zak replied. “I just ache. I was trying to walk back, but everything hurts so I thought I’d rest a second.”
“What happened?” Dusty asked.
“Zephyr was doing fine and then all of the sudden she started acting up. I had her under control, or so I thought, and then she reared up and bolted. She took me by surprise and I lost one of the reins and then after she ran for a while she stopped suddenly...the next thing I remember is waking up on the ground. I tried to call you but I never get a signal out here.”
“Are you sure you’re ok?” Dusty was concerned; he thought Zak seemed a little out of it.
“Oh, yeah, I’m good. Like I said, I just ache some,” Zak answered. To show Dusty he was alright he pushed himself up and walked over to where Dylan was waiting with the horses. “Hey, Dyl, how did Angel do for you?”
Dylan leaned over and stroked the mare’s neck. “She was great; we took it easy, but she didn’t give me any trouble.”
Zak put his hands on Angel’s cheeks and looked in her eyes. “I knew you’d be a good girl for Dyl. I think Zeph and I need to have a talk about manners.”
Dusty walked up behind Zak and wrapped his arms around his boyfriend. “What got into her?”
“I have no idea. I mean, she can be moody, but she was really out of control.”
Just then Dusty’s cell phone rang.
“Oh, sure,” Zak sighed. “You can get a signal out here.”
Dusty saw it was Mattie and turned to talk to him for a few minutes. Zak and Dylan heard him laugh and then he hung up and turned back.
“Well, Mattie found Zephyr and now he’s waiting for Spin and Tanner to meet him.”
“Why?” asked Zak.
“Well, it seems that Zephyr is in heat, big time, and since Mattie rode Ash, he can’t very well bring them back together. So, he’s having Spin ride one of the geldings out there with Tanner and then one of them can ride the gelding back and one can ride Ash back.”
“What about Zephyr?”
“That’s what made me laugh; Mattie is pissed and he’s going on and on about teaching her some manners. So I think there is gonna be a rumble.”
“He better not be mean to her,” Zak protested.
“Babe, you know, Mattie. He couldn’t hurt one of the horses if he wanted to, But, he’s pissed cuz she hurt you and cuz she’s causing so much trouble and you know Mattie doesn’t get mad easily, but...”
“But when he does watch out...” Zak finished.
“C’mon, let’s get you back,” Dusty said as he led Zak over to the horses. “Hey, Dyl, you wanna take Apollo, I’ll take Zak back on Angel.”
“Sure.” Dylan slid off Angel and handed the reins to Zak.
Dusty gave Zak a leg up into the saddle. Zak looked at the two horses and started laughing.
Dusty looked at him like he had gone mad. “What is so funny?”
“You must have been in a hurry?”
“Well, yeah,” Dusty said rolling his eyes. “But, what’s so funny about that?”
“You rode with an English saddle?!”
Dusty groaned. “Only out of necessity, so don’t get any ideas,” he said as he put his foot in the stirrup and tried to pull himself up.
Angel sidestepped as Dusty tried to mount, causing him to miss and end up standing on the ground.
“Zak, hold her still.”
“I don’t think this is gonna work,” Zak said.
“Well, Angel’s not like Apollo; you know how she is with Danny and me. Pretty much the only reason she lets Dylan and CJ ride her is when Danny or I are around. You’ve never ridden her and I don’t know if Danny’s ever ridden her double before.”
“So, what do you want to do?”
Dylan had climbed up on Apollo. He looked down at Dusty. “Dusty, why don’t you ride with me?” he said. “Apollo won’t mind the extra rider and he’s more easygoing than Angel.”
“Ok, but let’s stay close, I want to keep an eye on Zak,” Dusty said as he swung up behind Dylan. “And let’s take it slow going back.”
Mattie saw Spin and Tanner riding up on Revanche.
“Hey, Matt,” Spin called. “How ya doing?”
Mattie rolled his eyes. “Just fucking great. You know how hard it is to keep you at bay when you’re super horny?” Spin laughed and nodded. “Well, you’re only about a buck twenty-five...these two are about 1200-1700 pounds each...so it’s been a picnic.”
Spin laughed at Mattie’s sarcasm.
“Hey, Tanner,” Mattie said more gently. He knew that Tanner was feeling bad because he was the one who had started with Zephyr. Mattie wanted to make sure he had a good memory from this weekend. “You wanna ride Ash back for me?”
Tanner slipped from Revanche and looked at Mattie who was holding out Ash’s reins to him and then he looked at the big gray Andalusian. Ash wasn’t any taller than Keystone, Tanner’s horse, but he was much broader and more muscular. Tanner walked up to Ash and tentatively stroked the stallion’s thick curved neck and ran his fingers through his lush gray mane.
Tanner looked at Mattie wide-eyed. “Are you sure?”
Mattie grinned. “Yup. He should be fine once he gets away from her Highness here. He’ll be a good boy for you and you’ve never experienced anything like riding one of these guys.”
Tanner nodded shyly and went over to Ash’s side. Mattie offered him a leg up and Tanner landed lightly on the stallion’s back.
Mattie walked to Ash’s head and gently stroked his cheek while he whispered to his horse. “Buddy, take care of him. No funny stuff. Ok?” Ash shook his head up and down as if to answer Mattie and Mattie laughed.
“You’ll be good,” Mattie said to Tanner. He looked at Spin. “Take it easy. I’ll give you guys a few minutes head start to keep Ash and Zephyr separated.” He started to walk back to Zephyr and then turned back. “I forgot; Dusty called, they found Zak and are on their way back to the ranch.”
“Great,” Spin said as he and Tanner started down the trail.
When Spin and Tanner had disappeared from sight, Mattie walked over to Zephyr. He unwrapped the reins from the small tree he had tethered her to.
“Ok, Little Lady, we are going head back to the ranch now and you are going to behave,” he said to her in an even voice. Mattie threw the reins over Zephyr’s head and put his foot in the stirrup. As he tried to pull himself up the mare gave a rear.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Mattie said determinedly as he kept his balance and threw himself into the saddle.
Zephyr immediately tried to throw her head back, but Mattie kept a tight hold on the reins. She tried to rear and Mattie held her down. Next was a buck, which Mattie was expecting. She was not a big horse and Mattie had about twenty pounds on Zak, so he wasn’t as easy to dislodge.
Mattie rode out Zephyr’s rodeo. “I’m staying put, you little bitch,” he said as she kept up her bucking, “so you just better deal with it.” Eventually, the mare tired of the bucking and Mattie got her head around and took off for the ranch.
Spin and Tanner emerged from the trail and rode towards the barn. They saw Dylan and Dusty taking care of Angel and Apollo.
Hearing the approaching hoof beats, Dylan looked up and was flabbergasted to see Tanner riding Ash.
“Holy shit!!” Dylan laughed. “Tanner, you got to ride Ash, you lucky bastard.” Dylan was indeed jealous. He had ridden Onyx once under Zak’s supervision, but he had been more apprehensive about trying Ash, so he had never asked Mattie about riding the Andalusian.
Tanner grinned down at Dylan. “I know, cool, huh?” he said. “Hey, watch this.”
Tanner squeezed his calves and Ash stepped into a smooth trot and Tanner trotted him around in circles in the yard. After a few laps, Tanner encouraged the horse to move into a very smooth canter.
Dylan watched in amazement as his friend rode the big gray around the yard.
Tanner cantered Ash right up to where Dylan stood and stopped the horse on a dime and slipped from his back.
“That’s awesome, Tan. I’ll have to see if Mattie will let me try him sometime.”
“Any time, Dyl,” Mattie called as he came galloping into the yard from the trail.
He brought Zephyr to a stop and hopped from the saddle.
Dusty walked over to Mattie. “She give you more trouble?”
Mattie grinned and nodded. “The little bitch has been trying to throw me all the way home. The more I stuck to the saddle the harder she tried. I think we have come to an understanding. She needs to know who is boss.”
“That’s a fact,” Dusty agreed. “I guess we should only use her for the English lessons in the arena. She tried to throw Zak last summer and did it this time. He seems ok, but she could hurt someone. She’s fine in the ring, but she’s just not a trail horse.”
“That’s probably the best thing to do,” Mattie agreed. “I know both Danny and Spin like to use her for lessons.”
Mattie’s phone started to vibrate. He handed Zephyr’s reins to Dusty and pulled the phone from his pocket. “It’s CJ,” he said.
Dusty handed Zephyr’s reins to Spin and Spin led her to the crossties to get her tack off.
Mattie answered his phone. “Hey, CJ, how’s the B&B?”
“Pretty good, little brother. How’s everything going at home?”
“We had a little excitement, but nothing we couldn’t handle.”
“Well, Zak and Dylan took a trail ride out with Dylan’s friend, Tanner. They took Zephyr for Tanner to ride and she started acting up. So Dylan switched horses with him and she tried to throw Dylan, so Zak went to take her back and had Dylan finish the ride with Angel.”
“Wait, Zak left Dylan with Angel on the trail?” CJ looked at Danny who raised his eyebrows. CJ switched his phone to speaker.
“Mattie, this is Danny.”
“What’s this about Dylan and Angel?”
“Dylan’s already ridden Angel a couple of times, so Zak figured it made more sense for him to leave her with Dylan so he could bring Zephyr back here. Dylan made it fine--Angel was great for him; not like she is for you and Zak, but she was good.”
“Ok, so what happened with Zeph?”
“Well, Zak was trying to get her back and she reared and bolted and threw him.”
“WHAT?!?!” both CJ and Danny exclaimed.
“She threw him. When Dylan and Tanner got back, they thought that Zak had made it back. He hadn’t so Dylan and Dusty took Angel and Apollo back to where Dylan had left Zak and I went down the other trail to look. I found Zephyr, but I had Ash with me and it turns out she’s in heat and hornier than a Catholic schoolgirl,” Mattie laughed. “So I had to wait for Spin and Tanner to come and bring another horse so one of them could bring Ash back.”
“So, Spin rode Ash back for you?” CJ asked.
“No, Tanner rode Ash. He did pretty good, too.” Mattie grinned at Tanner and nodded. “Now, Dylan wants to give him a try.”
“Uh, Mattie,” interjected Danny. “Before you go too far astray, what happened to my brother?”
“Oh, Dusty and Dylan found him in the woods. He seemed ok--at least that’s what Dusty said. I haven’t seen him; I just got back here myself. Zephyr was trying to throw my ass all the way back.”
“She didn’t know you spent our last summer at Grandfather’s helping to break horses, did she?” laughed CJ.
Mattie laughed, “Nope.”
Danny voice came on again, “So Zak’s alright?”
“Yes, as far as I know.” He looked at Dusty. “They want to know how Zak is.”
“He was achy, but seemed ok. He just went into the office to lie down on the couch.”
“Dusty says, he was just a little sore, and is lying down in the office resting.” He looked up and saw Zak coming out of the barn. “Oops, nope, not anymore. Here he comes.”
Zak walked towards Dusty and Dylan.
“Hey, Dushty,” Zak slurred. “I don’t feel shhhooo goot.”
Dusty turned to Zak just in time to see him fall to the ground and begin to convulse.
“ZAK!!” Dusty shouted as he rushed to Zak. “Mattie, call 911!!”