I promised to have some short stories ready for the release of Book 3, so here is the first installment. I actually wrote this back when I was working on Book 1. It’s a little rough, but, as I’m still working on the other stories I wanted to do, I decided to share it.
Here is the story behind Vince getting Xander.
Vince had hardly seen his dad all winter, so he was eager to go with him to the track the morning after Wes finally got home from training in Florida. Vince enjoyed seeing all the horses his dad trained, since some later ended up at their stable for retraining when they didn’t race well. The horses never complained about getting carrots from him, either.
He had no idea this one day would change his life completely.
“What the hell?” he heard his dad demand from down the row of stalls.
Vince gave the horse he was looking at one last carrot before going to find out what had his dad so worked up. Mark, the trainer that Wes technically worked as an assistant for, made it there before Vince and immediately started swearing. When Vince joined them, he couldn’t hold back his own string of curses.
“It wasn’t here last night,” Mark muttered, already pulling out his cell phone and dialing frantically.
They were all staring into a stall that was completely empty of bedding, water, and food – and would have been totally empty if not for the horribly thin bay horse standing in the far corner. Vince could see almost every bone in the horse’s body, and its skin was covered in wounds. The horse’s hooves needed to be trimmed and there seemed to be muck all over its body, like it had spent months in its own waste and had only now been moved to this empty stall. Vince was amazed that the horse was still standing.
It was obvious that someone had abandoned this abused, washed-up racer, but must have had a change of heart and moved it to a place where it would be found.
Vince wasn’t sure they had found it in time to save it.
By the time the local humane society got out there to take him, Wes had tossed in a small amount of hay that the horse refused to eat unless they were out of sight. The only one of the three ASPCA officers who could get anywhere near the terrified animal was a woman who was hardly five feet tall. All the men only upset the horse – somehow, though, Vince seemed to worry it slightly less than the others.
Maybe Vince was imagining it.
“I want him,” Vince stated as the ASPCA trailer drove away.
“You can’t be serious,” Mark said, looking at Vince like he had four heads.
Wes gave him a very similar look. “You don’t want that horse.”
“Why not?” Vince questioned. “You said I could have my first project horse at eighteen. I’m almost nineteen and I still don’t have one. I want that one. If I can turn him around there won’t be much I can’t handle.”
Wes sighed. “Vince, you should start small, with one that’s not abused.”
“I don’t want to start small. I’ve worked with your horses, and I want a challenge.”
“We’ll talk about this later,” Wes told him with a sigh. “We have other horses to train right now.”
The next afternoon Vince parked in the visitor lot at the local animal shelter where the horse had been taken. He made his way through the barnyard area where two cows grazed calmly in a small green pasture and visitors walked among an enclosure filled with goats and pigs, petting them and feeding them treats the shelter supplied. He watched as a little girl fed a pig from her hand and laughed. Another little girl – they appeared to be twins, based on their identical summer dresses – stood back, clutching her dad’s pant leg. Vince didn’t blame her; the pig was easily big enough for both girls to ride. He paused before reaching the barn to rub the face of a curious old pinto pony that ambled up to the fence when it saw him approach the corral.
He didn’t feel strange entering the barn, despite the sign that said the barn was closed to the public without appointment; his dad had built an affiliation with the shelter when it had taken in a group of neglected thoroughbreds a few years ago. Wes had heard about the rescue and reached out to the shelter to take on a few of the horses and they had ended up with three of the horses. They were the ones who weren’t close to death, but they had still been in horrible condition. Since then they had taken on a few other horses when the shelter had thoroughbreds that were more in need of training than extra care.
“Hello?” Vince called when he entered the barn.
“Can I help you?” a girl in a dirty T-shirt and jeans asked, stepping out of a stall she had been cleaning, judging by the pitchfork in her hand.
“Hi,” Vince began, walking farther into the shadowy barn. “You guys brought a thoroughbred in yesterday and I was just wondering if I could see how he’s doing.”
“Were you one of the guys who found him?” she asked, brushing brown hair out of her eyes.
He nodded. “My dad is Wes Anderson.” He knew the name was enough to definitely get him access.
She smiled. “Come on, then, I’ll let you see him.”
Vince followed her down the aisle and only vaguely noticed how different this barn was than his one at home; only ten stalls instead of twenty-four, less lighting, more of a draft, and not quite as clean. Wes knew his facilities were a major asset when they had people looking to buy horses, and put most of his money into keeping them in more than just serviceable condition. Most of the money came from his years of successful racehorse training, when he’d put most of his purse cuts into investments and savings accounts. Most of the shelter’s money, however, came from donations.
“He’s doing well, considering the condition we found him in,” the girl explained as they walked. “He’s terrified of men, though, so I don’t know if he’ll be happy to see you.” She stopped at a stall and motioned inside. “He obviously has a lot of weight to gain, but he looks much better since we cleaned him up. The next step is getting his feet trimmed up, and once he’s got some weight on him we’ll have him gelded.”
Vince only vaguely heard her as he looked at the thin bay horse that had backed himself into the corner of the stall when he saw them. But when Vince stepped up to the door the horse pricked his ears in his direction. He made no attempt to approach, but he didn’t act any more upset by Vince than by the girl who claimed he was terrified of men. The horse moved his head very slightly and seemed to sniff the air in Vince’s direction.
“Wow,” the girl commented. “The other guys who get this close make him practically climb up the wall.”
“Maybe he likes me,” Vince murmured.
He lifted one hand and slowly held it out over the door, but that was too much for the frightened animal, who tried to back farther into the corner despite already being against the wall. Vince immediately pulled his hand back and took one step backward.
“Sorry buddy,” he said gently.
The horse relaxed and his ears pointed back at Vince again.
“Maybe he knows you helped him, in a way,” the girl said thoughtfully. “You seem to have a better chance with him than most of us.” After a moment she added, “We looked him up from his tattoo. He’s registered as Sir Galaxy and he was born in 2004. We’ve started calling him Xander. Someone came up with it yesterday and it stuck.”
Vince nodded. He had suspected that the horse wasn’t very old. “Three’s young enough that he can turn around with some patience.”
“Maybe you should take him to your place.”
“I plan on it. As soon as I convince my dad to let me.”
Vince started going to the shelter regularly and Xander actually seemed to respond to him over the next several weeks. After a month, Vince finally got him to approach the stall door for a carrot. After that, as long as Vince didn’t move too suddenly or try to enter the stall, the horse would stand there and let Vince rub his nose. After another week he let Vince pet the rest of his face, but still didn’t want him inside the stall. It wasn’t until the end of the second month that he was able to enter with one of the female volunteers.
Vince didn’t bother trying to talk his dad into letting him get Xander, he just kept going to the shelter. A few times his mom asked how the horse was doing at dinner, and Vince watched his dad’s reaction. He always looked only vaguely interested, and Vince knew it was an act. He waited for Wes to tell him he could have Xander without him asking, because he knew it would happen.
It wasn’t until Vince’s nineteenth birthday that the day finally came. Even then, he didn’t know until the trailer pulled up outside the barn. It was by far the best day of Vince’s life.
Until the day, months later, when Xander willingly accepted the bridle Vince put on him, and, with the barn manager Anna holding him, Vince climbed on him bareback. They rode in the arena for an hour, and Vince was so happy that several times he just had to stop and lean forward to hug the big gelding around the neck.
From there, everything Vince asked him to do in the arena, Xander did willingly. The trot poles were easy, the low jumps hardly required any effort. Vince’s trainer was amazed to see that Vince had trained the horse himself when she came out to offer advice.
“You’re sure he hasn’t had any training before you got him?” she asked after Vince had shown him off to her.
“Not that I know of,” Vince replied. “He just jumps everything I point him at. I guess he has talent and he trusts me.”
“You think?” she laughed. “Vincent Anderson, if you don’t get that horse to the international level in the next ten years I will personally hunt you down and beat you.”
That was the closest thing to a compliment he’d ever gotten from her. “I’ll try,” he promised her.