Horse Play (Horse Play #1)(3)

By: A. D. Ryan

Ever since I could remember, I loved coming out here on the weekends and riding. Grandpa had given me my first horse; a thirteen-year-old gelding named Oscar that he’d bought at an auction. When I got a bit older, I would learn that Oscar was to be sent to slaughter because he was older and wasn’t a purebred. No one saw any value in him. But I did. Oscar was great, but as I grew over the years and became a more experienced rider, I found that he just didn’t challenge me as much as he once did. I told Grandpa that I wanted him to be used as a beginner lesson horse in his final years, because I couldn’t bear to see him leave the ranch he’d grown to know as home.

In addition to rescuing unwanted animals, my grandfather also recognized good bloodlines in his horses when he saw them, so he chose to breed them. So, seven years ago, when I turned eighteen, my grandfather let me have first pick of the foals being born that year. It didn’t take me as long as I thought it would to find her, either. When I saw her running around after her mother in the paddock, her black coat warmed by the sun, I knew I had to have her. She had a thin blaze that started as a point in the middle of her forehead and got progressively wider as it trailed down at an angle, ending in a huge burst of white over the entire right side of her muzzle. It looked like a comet shooting through the night sky against the color of her coat. I’d always been fascinated with astrology, so when Grandpa asked me what I wanted to name her, I knew immediately that Halley’s Comet was most fitting.

He worked with me as often as I was able to make it out, without disrupting my college course load, until she was trained. I finished my four years of college, majoring in Business so I could one-day help run the ranch. It had been my dream for as long as I could remember.

While there was always a time and place in my life for a good old western saddle, I’d always been a fan of English riding. With that in mind, that was primarily how I started training my new horse. Within her first two years, Halley was green-broke and fairly trustworthy, but she still needed a lot of ground work before I could even think of jumping her.

By the time Halley and I had taken our first jump together, my grandfather had fallen ill, and he passed away one month later. In the two years since his death, I had been working with Tom, who had been the ranch’s head trainer for the last twenty years, and had once upon a time, competed on a professional level. He even helped me line up a sponsor a couple years ago, and I’d toured some of the pro competitions up until Halley got hurt.

My grandfather’s absence wasn’t forgotten, though. I was surrounded with his legacy. Hell, I lived in his three-bedroom house on the grounds while my father lived in the smaller guest cottage next door. Dad said he had no use for the main house and that I should have it. He said Grandpa would have wanted it that way. I had always been close with my grandparents, but working with him and Halley several times a week definitely brought us even closer. His death wasn’t just devastating to my father, but to me as well.

I walked with a hop in my step a few paces behind my dad with Halley at my side, her limp completely gone. As I went to lead her into the barn, I noticed my father lift an arm and wave to a man standing next to the Harley I had seen earlier. I had to wonder how Dad knew him and why he was here. Even from far away, I couldn’t help but admire the stranger. The way the sunlight made his brown hair glimmer in the sun, the strong angles to his jaw, not to mention his tall, muscular build …

Get a grip, Madison! He’s probably just stopping for directions. Not to mention, you’ve sworn off men, remember? Dane only just moved out a few weeks ago …

“You mean since I kicked him out,” I corrected myself out loud as I continued on my way into the barn to tether Halley. When I entered the locker room to grab my brushes and tack, I found Tom coming out of the viewing gallery on the other side.

“Hey, Madison. Did you find your dad?” he asked as he approached me to help me hoist my saddle out of the top locker.

I stepped back, tucking my blond hair behind my ear, and allowed him to carry it for me. “Oh, yeah. Everything is good. He said I could ride Halley today.”