Riding Lessons
by Andrew Todd


Chapter 3

Zak looked right into Dusty’s eyes as the older boy was kissing him. Dusty’s eyes bugged out and he jumped back.

“I’m sorry.” This was the first time Zak had seen Dusty unsure of himself all day. “I’m really sorry. I must have read the signals wrong, or maybe I was just hoping and seeing what I wanted to see. If you don’t want to work with me this summer, I can have Mr. Jones team you up with one of the hands so you can still work.”

Zak picked himself and walked towards Dusty. He reached out and caressed his cheek. He gently pulled the bigger boy towards him and when he was close enough, kissed him.

“I don’t know what signals you are talking about, but I’ve wanted to do that since I first saw you this morning.”

Dusty blushed. “Me, too. You’re the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen.”

“That’s what I’ve been thinking about you all morning.”

They both laughed.

“What signals?” Zak asked.

“Well, you kept staring at me and I couldn’t tell if you were interested or just nervous.”

“Try both.”

“And then when we were riding, you either had a very sharp pen in your front pocket or your little friend was trying to get out and meet me.”

It was Zak’s turn to blush; of course with his complexion he got much redder than Dusty. “Oh, my God. You felt that? I’m so embarrassed.”

“Don’t be. That was the signal that gave me the courage to kiss you.”

“So you’re…?”

“As the proverbial three-dollar bill.”

“Oh, wow! In just a few hours this has gone from being the worst summer of my life to probably the best. So, where do we go from here?”

Dusty contemplated the question for a few seconds. “Zak, I really like you. You’re beautiful, funny and I really want to get to know you better. I don’t know what came over me just now, I have never just kissed someone like that; but when I saw you and thought you were asleep, it was like some invisible tether was reaching out from you and pulling me. I couldn’t help myself. I don’t want to lead you on. I want to be friends first and see where this goes.”

Zak smiled up at Dusty. “That sounds good. You’re the first boy I’ve ever had these feelings for. I’ve had a hard time just dealing with being gay, but I’d like to see where this could go.”

“Great, but let’s take it slow. I’ve been burned before. You don’t strike me as a love ‘em and leave ‘em type, but I don’t want either of us getting hurt. I’d rather have a friend for life than a quick roll in the hay.”

“Dusty, I’ve never been in a relationship. I’ve never even thought about it. I’ll be honest; I fantasize about some of the guys I see in school and of course, celebrities. But, I’ve just never contemplated a relationship. I like the idea of getting to be good friends and then seeing how it goes.”

“Awesome. But right now I think we need to be heading back so you can have your first lesson.”

“I think I just had my first lesson,” Zak giggled.

Dusty shook his head, laughing. “Riding lesson, you goof.”

“Well, speaking of goofs, where is that horse of yours?”

Dusty looked around and laughed. “Well, he was here a minute ago. I found him getting ready to go for a swim and stopped him before he got to the point of no return.”

Dusty turned towards the lake and made a shrill ear-piercing whistle. “Phoenix!! Get over here!!”

They both heard the horse whinny and the stomping of hooves as he ran up to the boys. Dusty shook his head as he looked at his horse and the water dripping off his legs and lower belly. “You dope, I told you to stay out of the lake,” he scolded the animal.

Zak walked over to Phoenix and reached up to feel his back. “Well, it looks like he didn’t get too deep; his back’s still relatively dry.”

“That’s good. Cuz riding him wet would be uncomfortable and I don’t feel like walking all the way back.”

Dusty reached down and grabbed the hackamore and slid it over Phoenix’s nose and ears. He grabbed his saddle bags and placed them over the horse’s back. “Zak, can you grab my jacket?”

“Sure.” Zak went over and got Dusty’s denim jacket and his hoodie. He handed Dusty his jacket and tied his hoodie around his slim waist.

Dusty leapt onto Phoenix’s back. “Hey, want to try something neat?”


“Go stand in that clearing over there,” Dusty pointed to an opening in the trail about 100 yards away.

“What exactly are you going to do?”

“Don’t you trust me?” Dusty laughed.

“I trust you, but I want to know what you are going to do.”

Dusty rolled his eyes. “I want you to go stand in that clearing. And raise your arms, just like you did at the barn. Instead of me just pulling you up, I’m going to get Phoenix into a canter and as we ride by I want you reach up and grab my arm and I’ll swing you up.”

“Are you NUTS!?! I didn’t sign up for trick riding.”

“Oh, come on, that’s an easy trick. Phoenix and I are going to do all the work; all you have to do is stand there with your arm up and when you feel me grab your arm, you grab mine and just give a little hop.”

Zak was still skeptical. “Ok, I’ll try. But if you kill me, then you can explain it to my mom.”

Dusty laughed, “Would you stop whining and get over there?”

Zak laughed as he ran over to the clearing. When he reached an area where Phoenix could keep running past the point and down the trail, he stopped and turned to face Dusty. He raised his left hand up over his head.

“Ready?” Dusty yelled over to him. Zak nodded and waved his hand. “Whatever you do, don’t move until I grab your arm.”

“Easier said than done,” Zak said to himself.

“What?” Dusty yelled.

“I’m all set!” Zak yelled back.

Zak took a deep breath and watched as Dusty leaned down and stroked Phoenix’s neck; he was talking quietly to the horse. Then Dusty sat up straight, and squeezed his calves into Phoenix sides. “Come on!!” he hollered.

The horse and rider barreled towards Zak. Zak breathed deeply and willed himself to keep his eyes open. He focused on his beautiful new friend laughing as he rode towards him. As they approached him, Zak stood stock-still and waited. Phoenix was barreling down on him and he wanted more than anything to duck out of the way, but he was trusting Dusty to not let him get hurt. As Phoenix was running past him he felt Dusty’s hand close around his elbow. He grabbed Dusty’s arm with both hands and swung.

He was shocked to find himself sitting on the horse right behind Dusty as they ran down the trail. Both boys laughed and let out whoops of celebration.

Zak wrapped his arms around Dusty and enjoyed the ride and closeness he felt to this boy he had just met.

Finally, after a few minutes of cantering down the trail, Dusty slowed the horse to a walk.

Dusty turned and looked over his shoulder. “So, how was that?”

“That was the most frightening, exhilarating and crazy thing I have ever done,” Zak answered. “I can’t believe I did that.”

“You did great. I told you you’d be fine.”

They continued on for a few minutes at a walk.

“Hey,” Dusty started. “Slide back just a little bit.”

Zak was having too much fun to question Dusty. He removed his arms from around his waist and slid himself back until he was sitting on Phoenix’s rump. He shook his head as he watched Dusty lift himself up on his hands and swing his legs up over Phoenix head. Next thing Zak knew Dusty was sitting backwards on the horse facing him and grinning.

“Are you sure that’s safe?” Zak asked.

“Oh, sure. There isn’t much I haven’t done on this horse. He knows the way back, and he won’t increase his pace unless I tell him to.” He reached and took Zak’s hand. “Now come over here.”

Zak slid forward a few inches until their knees were touching. Dusty reached up and caressed his cheek. He slowly leaned down and kissed Zak.

Zak pulled away. “Dusty, I really want to do that, but what if someone sees us?”

“Mr. Jones and the other hands know about me and they don’t care. And there is no one out here this morning. Remember, I give the lessons and since I am training you, there are no weekend lessons till school is out.”

“Well, then, if you are sure.” Zak closed his eyes and raised his face up to kiss Dusty. The way they were sitting made it impossible to embrace as they both would have liked to. They simply leaned towards each other and kissed while each placed a hand around the back of the other’s neck.

The rhythm of the horse’s walk and making out with the boy of his dreams was making Zak hard as a rock. He was afraid that he would blow in his pants if they didn’t stop. He leaned back. “I think we need to stop or I’m going to make a mess.”

Dusty looked down at Zak’s crotch and then at his own. “Yeah, me too. Ok, we said we were going to take this slow and whatever we decide to do, we can’t let it interfere with work, so let’s get back to the barn. Slide back again.”

Zak did as he was told, expecting Dusty to flip back around. Instead, Dusty brought his left leg over so that he was sitting with both legs over Phoenix’s left side. Then without saying a word, he slid off the horse.

Zak panicked. “What are you doing?”

Dusty looked at him and grinned. Phoenix kept walking at the same pace and Dusty was matching him step for step. “I want you to slide up where I was and then I’ll get up behind you.”

“Why would I do that?”

“So that you can see what it’s like from the front. Look, have I steered you wrong yet today?”

“No, I guess not.” Zak wasn’t sure of this, but he trusted Dusty and he trusted his horse, so he slid all the way into the spot where Dusty had been. In a few seconds he felt Dusty sitting right behind him. Dusty moved all the way forward so that his crotch was up against Zak’s butt and his thighs were tucked in behind Zak’s. He reached his arms around Zak’s side and grabbed the reins that had been just sitting on Phoenix’s neck. He leaned forward and placed his chin on Zak’s shoulder.

He whispered into Zak’s ear, “Wanna go fast again?” Zak couldn’t talk, he could only groan at Dusty’s closeness and nod his head. “Brace yourself, then; I’ll hold onto you.”

Suddenly, Phoenix started to canter down the trail again. Dusty held tight to Zak with one arm and held the reins in his other hand. He kept his chin on Zak’s shoulder and their cheeks touched. Zak was so exhilarated by the experience.

‘If I die now, I die happy,’ he thought to himself.

Then Zak started laughing and yelled at the top of his lungs.

“What’s so funny?” Dusty asked.

“Nothing, it’s just that if you had told me when I woke up this morning that I would be riding a horse, kissing a boy and having the time of my life, I would have had you checked in for psychiatric evaluation.”

Dusty slowed Phoenix to a walk and dropped the reins around the horse’s neck. He reached his hands up and squeezed Zak’s shoulders. “You need to open yourself to new experiences; you never know what might happen if you are willing to take a chance. I know I haven’t known you long, but you are a great fun guy. I don’t think you give yourself enough credit.”

“I know, but since I realized I was…” Zak paused.

“Gay. You have to say it; there is nothing to be afraid of or embarrassed by.”

Tears started to well up in Zak’s eyes and he choked a little. “I-I know I shouldn’t be, but it’s been so hard trying to deal with these feelings and not having anyone to talk to about them.”

“You aren’t out to any of your friends?”

“Dusty, you’re the first real friend I’ve made in a long time.”

“Why? You are a great guy–a little shy, but nice and sweet and fun.”

“That’s what you see, but all I see is a little gay kid who is a bundle of neuroses.”

“Like I said, you need to give yourself more credit. I think you are amazing. This summer is going to be about getting you some self-confidence and making you realize what an awesome person you are.”

“That might be your hardest job this summer.”

“Zak, listen to me. Don’t think like that. You are awesome. Look at the way you’ve had with the horses and with Ember today. Animals are amazing judges of character and they know who to trust. You need to believe in yourself. So I want you to promise me that you will try your hardest this summer and I don’t want to hear you talk down about yourself at all. I’m going to make you see what I see in you. If we can accomplish that then this summer will be a success.”

Dusty wrapped both his arms around Zak and hugged him hard. Zak just sat there and wept. Dusty made him feel so good and he hadn’t felt like he deserved that happiness. He grabbed the cuff of his hoodie and wiped his eyes. “And to think I was trying to do everything in my power to get out of this job.”

Dusty cradled Zak in his arms and put his chin back on Zak’s shoulder. “Everything happens for a reason, Zak. But, I am so happy that you are here. We are going to have fun here at the ranch and exploring whatever this is going to be between us. If nothing else, I will be your friend and I will protect you and make sure you have fun. Ok?”

Zak sniffled and leaned back into Dusty. “Ok,” he whispered.

Dusty kissed his cheek and looked up to see they were almost back at the barn.

As they rode up they saw Mr. Jones coming out of the farthest barn. He waved to them and Dusty steered Phoenix over in his direction.

“So how are you boys doing so far?” Mr. Jones asked.

“So far, so good,” answered Dusty. “I showed Zak some of the trails and we went out to the lake. I put Phoenix through his paces so that Zak could get a feel for the different gaits. After I take care of Phoenix, I’m going to get Zak started on his riding lessons.”

“Zak, do you think you’re ready for that?”

“Yes, sir, I believe I am,” Zak nodded. “Riding with Dusty has been more fun than I imagined and I can’t wait to try it on my own.”

“Good, I’m glad everything is working out between you two. I think I made the right decision is hiring you, Zak. You two look like you are going to work great together.”

“Yes, sir, we are,” said Dusty. “It’s going to be a fun and successful summer.”

“Good, well you guys carry on. I need to go out to the feed store in Langston, so I’ll be gone most of the afternoon. Dusty, Jimmy had to leave for the day; can you guys handle the evening feedings?”

“Sure thing, Mr. Jones. We found out that I pass Zak’s house on the way to and from the ranch, so I’ll be his ride going forward, so his mom doesn’t have to drive him back and forth.”

“That’s great. Well, I probably won’t be back before you leave, so I’ll see you boys tomorrow.”

The boys watched Mr. Jones walk towards his truck and drive off.

“Come on,” said Dusty. “I’ll show you how to cool a horse down.”

“Cool him down?”

“Yup; come on, slide down.”

Both boys slid off the horse.

“When you ride a horse hard like we did or if it’s especially hot and humid out you need to cool them down,” Dusty explained. “He took good care of us, now we have to return the favor and take good care of him. The people who get on my nerves the most are the ones who treat their horses like they are motorcycles and not living creatures. Just take his reins and walk him around slowly for a few minutes; this will get his heart rate back down.”

Dusty pulled the reins over Phoenix’s head and handed them to Zak. Zak looked up at the big animal and began to walk forward speaking softly to him. Phoenix walked right beside Zak, keeping his head right by Zak’s shoulder. As they walked around, Zak gently leaned into the horse; he raised his arm under Phoenix’s neck and scratched and petted under his mane.

“That’s good,” Dusty said. “Just keep walking around and I’ll be right back.” He ran into the barn and emerged a few minutes later. “Ok, bring him over here. Here, give him these.” He handed Zak some pieces of carrot he had brought out of the barn.

“No, hold on.” Dusty grabbed Zak’s wrist. “Lay your hand flat and offer them to him that way. He won’t mean to, but it you hold something tight in your hand he may mistake a finger for a goody.”

Zak giggled as the horse took the carrots from his hand. After he had eaten them he turned back and licked at Zak’s hand.

“Cut it out, you mooch,” Dusty said. “That’s it for now.”

Dusty took the halter he had brought out with him and showed it to Zak. “This is a halter; it goes on his head and we attach this lead line or rope to it so that we can lead him around. The halters we use are all nylon so they won’t get damaged if they get wet, while you really don’t want soaking wet leather.” He quickly showed Zak how to remove the bridle and replace it with the halter. “Now lead him over here.”

Zak followed him to a small stall with a cement floor; he noticed a drain in the cement floor and a hose clipped to a wall with a spray attachment.

“Now,” Dusty started, “after walking him and cooling down that way, we also want to hose him down; this will bring his body temperature down and it will rinse off any excessive dirt and sweat from him. We’re not actually washing him; we only do that about every week or so, depending on the horses and what we are doing. But, we always hose them down after a hard workout, especially during the summer. This is one of the things you will be doing after lessons and I’ll be helping you after trail rides. “Sometimes, the kids taking the lessons will want to do this stuff themselves, cuz they think its fun, especially when they end up as wet as the horses; but some won’t want to do it and some may need help. Always make sure you are around when the little ones are doing this, just in case.”

Dusty went on to explain to Zak how to properly hose down the horses starting with their feet and working your way up. Zak flushed a little when Zak instructed him to aim the spray at Phoenix’s ass. “I know it’s strange, but they get really hot between there and you need to just wave the spray under his tail for a few seconds. You don’t want to spray directly at his asshole and be really careful if you are doing the mares. If you hit them just right in their twat they will jump a mile and maybe kick. When I was first learning this, I thought I had killed one of the mares. I aimed the spray and hit her square in the pussy and she must have been in heat, cuz her knees just buckled.”

Zak laughed at the image. He finished hosing down Phoenix and Dusty showed him how to use a rubber scraper to squeegee most of the water off the horse. “You’re not going to get him totally dry, but you don’t want him dripping all over his stall, either.

When he had finished, Dusty had him lead Phoenix back to the barn and showed him what stall to put him in. He led the horse into the stall and removed the halter. He reached up to give the big horse a hug around his neck. “Thanks, buddy,” he said as he walked out of the stall.

Dusty watched Zak in the stall and thought he may have found himself the boy he had been looking for. He had been in a couple ‘relationships’, but those boys were only after one thing and after they got it they didn’t have much interest in sticking around. He sensed that Zak was different. Zak genuinely liked, maybe even loved, the animals that Dusty spent most of his time with. He was a caring person and Dusty was determined to bring him out of his shell. Dusty would be thrilled if this turned into a serious relationship–he was ready for that; but most important to him was taking care of Zak and helping him feel good about himself.

He felt so bad when Zak had told him he had no real friends. He knew from talking to Mr. Jones that Zak spent most of his time working at the town library teaching and tutoring younger kids. That was something else they had in common; Dusty loved giving lessons to the younger kids so much, and they were his favorites. They were here to have fun and they loved the horses. The older kids who came either thought they were going to be rodeo champs or they were girls looking to bag themselves a cowboy. Many of these girls (and some of their moms) would occasionally put the moves on Dusty. He simply told them that he was involved and left it at that. They didn’t need to know the truth; it wasn’t any of their business.

Dusty looked up when Zak came out of the stall. “Ready to try it yourself?”

Zak grinned, his blue eyes sparkling. “I am so ready.”

“Well, alright, that’s what I want to hear. Let’s go.”

Dusty led him back to the first barn and down one of the hallways. In the stall they stopped at was a small horse; she was light tan with a white mane and tail and had a white stripe down her face. Dusty reached over and started to scratch her cheek. “Zak, this is Blaze. She’s a quarter horse. She’s a great first horse; she’s gentle, and she’s been there and done that. She used to be barrel racer, but now she enjoys giving lessons to the kids and an occasional trail ride.”

Zak stepped forward and started to scratch Blaze’s neck. “Hi, girl.” Looking at Dusty he asked. “What’s a barrel race?”

“It’s a rodeo event. Basically there are three barrels set up in a triangle pattern; each rider has to turn around each barrel and then race back to the start. When the rodeo comes to town I’ll take you to watch it; it’s fun to watch and very fun to do.”

“You’ve done it?”

“Oh, yeah. I’m not great at it. Girls and smaller boys tend to do better because they are smaller and lighter and the horses can go faster. Also, when they go around the barrels, the horses will almost look like they are going to tip over, like when a motorcycle takes a corner too fast.”

“So, she’s fast?” A little nervousness was creeping into Zak’s voice.

“She used to be really fast. But as she’s gotten older she’s lost a step, but she’s very careful of her riders so she will take great care of you.”

Dusty showed him where her halter and lead were kept and let Zak go into the stall to retrieve Blaze. Dusty had Zak lead the horse to another small stall area outside near the side of the barn. He showed him how to attach the crossties to either side of her halter. “Most horses will stand quietly when they are in the crossties; occasionally, though, you get one that someone will need to hold because they just won’t stand still in the crossties. Your pal Onyx is like that. He’s ripped more than one set of crossties out of the wall. Some horses are trained to ‘ground tie’. You just drop the lead on the ground and they will just stand there the whole time. It’s helpful if you are camping or out on a trail and need to fix your saddle or dismount for any reason.”

Next, Dusty showed Zak how to go about grooming the horse to get her ready. He explained each utensil and how it was used and what its purpose was. He showed Zak the correct motions and movements to make the process enjoyable for the horse. A couple times when Zak wasn’t brushing her in quite the right way, Dusty would step up behind him and take his wrist and move it in the right way. He would usually hold onto Zak’s arm long after Zak had gotten it right, but he was enjoying being close to object of his affections.

After Blaze was groomed, Dusty brought Zak to the tack room and showed him a chart on the wall which showed which saddles were used for which horses. He showed him that each saddle was kept on a marked rack and needed to be returned there. He also showed him a wall where the bridles for all the horses were hung. Some horses had two bridles, one western and one English. Grabbing the saddle and handing Zak the bridle they walked back out to Blaze and Dusty showed Zak how to properly saddle the horse and how to put on the bridle. One of the reasons he had chosen Blaze for Zak’s first ride was that she was very good about taking the bit. Dusty told Zak that not all horses were that easy and some could put up a real fight over the bit.

When Blaze was all saddled, Dusty had Zak take her by the reins and follow him.

They walked into a large building. “This is the indoor arena,” Dusty told Zak. “As you can see there is lots of room in here. We use this one when it’s cooler. There is an air conditioner in here, but it still gets way too hot during the summer.”

Dusty looked at Zak and could tell from the look on his face that he was experiencing a mixture of excitement and nerves. “Are you ready?” he asked quietly.

“I think I am,” replied Zak.

“Ok, first thing I want to do it check the cinch. Some horses will puff out their chests to keep you from getting it as tight as it should be and then the saddle will come off.” Dusty showed Zak how to slightly loosen the cinch and then pull it as tight as Blaze would allow. “Ok, step over here. Always mount from the left side. I want you to take the reins in your left hand and with that same hand reach up and grab the saddle horn. Put your left foot in the stirrup, your right hand on the back of the saddle and just hoist yourself up and over.”

Zak rolled his eyes and muttered “Just…he says.”

Dusty laughed. “Come on, you can do it.”

With a look of determination, Zak did as Dusty had instructed and found himself sitting on the horse by himself.

“See, I told you you could do it,” Dusty grinned at him. “Now, let me check your stirrup lengths. Take your foot out and move your leg along her shoulder.” Dusty went to one side and then the other adjusting the stirrups correctly for Zak.

He then spent the next hour giving Zak his first real horseback riding lesson. He had him walk and trot for about an hour, showed him how to turn and change directions and how to get the horse to stop and back up. A couple times, Dusty would have Zak dismount and he would hop on Blaze so that Zak could see the correct way to do something. He made sure that Zak paid attention to his posture and the way he held the reins and the cues he gave Blaze. At one point, when he was riding her, Dusty kicked the horse into a run and did a few turns around the ring.

“Hey!” yelled Zak. “I want to try that.”

Dusty stopped Blaze right next to Zak and dismounted. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, it’s time to fly.”

“Ok,” Dusty replied, not too sure. “Get back on her. Now, take her around in a big circle. Start at a walk; when you feel comfortable with the walk, kick her into a trot; if you’re ok with the trot then kick her again into a canter. If you at any time feel like you’re not in control or you want to stop, just pull back on the reins and ask her to ‘Whoa’.”

Zak kissed at the horse and gave her a little kick to get her going. After several laps around the arena, he again kissed at her and kicked her into a trot. The trot was not his favorite things cuz his nuts were getting squished. After two laps at the trot, he thought he was ready. He gathered up his reins and pushed his heels down in the stirrups and kissed at Blaze and gave her another kick. The little horse jumped right into a canter. Zak loved it; it was like sitting in a moving rocking chair. He kept the horse going at the canter for about 5 more laps and then pulled back gently on the reins to slow her down. When he got back to where an astonished Dusty was waiting he stopped her completely.

Zak was grinning so big at Dusty he thought his cheeks would split.

“Wow!! That was awesome.”

“It sure was. You’ve taken to this faster than anyone I’ve ever taught. It’s like you were born for it. A few more lessons and you’ll be in great shape for this summer.

Dusty looked at his watch. “Ok, it’s almost 3:30. Let’s get her put up and take care of the feeding and then we can get out of here.”

“I thought we were here till 6.”

“Well, it will be close to that when we get out of here, but we really don’t have a start and stop time. As long as chores are done and there is nothing on the schedule. Once summer is here, there will be some evening lessons and trail rides, so we’ll basically set our schedule to meet the customers’ needs.”

“Sounds good to me,” Zak replied. “But, I almost don’t want to get down; I’m enjoying this too much.”

“That’s great, but you’ve spent more time on horseback today then you ever have and you’re probably going to be a little sore for the next few days until your muscles get used to it.”

Zak rolled his eyes thinking he felt great. To prove his point he grabbed the saddle horn and popped his feet from the stirrups. He threw his right leg over Blaze’s rump and slid down. Dusty had a good idea from experience how this was going to end so he moved in next to Blaze and caught Zak as he started to fall back.

“Legs feel like jelly?” Dusty asked, laughing.

“Man, do they ever.”

“Give it a minute, the feeling will come back. They’ll be like that the first few times you ride. And as you go on longer rides it will happen as well.”

Zak leaned back into Dusty, letting the older boy hold him up.

“Are you getting your sea legs, Zak?”

“Umm, I think it will take a few more minutes. Why don’t we just stay like this?” Zak almost purred as he leaned more against Dusty.

Dusty laughed and stepped back letting Zak fall back and land on his rear. “No, we have work to do. So get up and come on.”

Zak jumped up and rubbed his butt. “Man, you could give a guy some warning, you know.”

“Let’s go. If we can get them all squared away in the next hour or so, I have a surprise for you.”

Hearing that, Zak grabbed Blaze’s reins and led her out of the arena.

“Zak?” Dusty called after him. “Are you ok taking care of Blaze?”

“I should be. I’m just going to do everything we did with Phoenix, right?”

“Yup. If you can handle that, I’ll start the evening feedings, and then we can get out of here.”

“Ok. If I forget anything or need any help, I’ll holler for you.”

Dusty took off for the barns, while Zak led Blaze to the cross ties. He spoke to her softly while removing the saddle and bridle. He slipped her halter on and led her to the shower stall. He started the water and rinsed her off exactly as Dusty had shown him. When he was finished rinsing her, he used the scraper to take care of the excess water.

Dusty passed the shower stall unseen by Zak on his way between barns. Zak was just whistling to himself and talking to Blaze in a low voice. Dusty figured if Zak could get this far out of his shell in just one day, a whole summer would work wonders for him. He thought it might be more than just a summer. He was seeing the same look in Zak’s eye that Mr. Jones told him he saw in Dusty’s. Dusty had come to the ranch full of anger and pissed at the world, but he had immediately fallen in love with the ranch and the animals. Mr. Jones had become a surrogate father to him and had helped in ways he never thought anyone would. He knew that Mr. Nelson, Mr. Jones’ friend who had recommended Zak for the job, was hoping that the ranch would work the same magic on Zak. From what Dusty saw it already was.

Dusty was in the last barn when he heard Zak calling for him. “I’m in the main barn, Zak.”

Zak came in. “I got Blaze all taken care of. I saw you already left her dinner for her, so she’s happy. What can I do to help?”

“Well. I’m just about done. Why don’t we head to Onyx’s stall and I’ll show you what to do for him in the evenings.”

Zak lit up when Dusty mentioned the big black horse. “Great, let’s go.”

Zak walked briskly to Onyx’s stall, barely able to contain his excitement. Dusty followed behind, laughing to himself was he watched Zak act like the kid in the candy shop.

Onyx whinnied when he saw Zak coming. Dusty just shook his head; he just couldn’t believe that this horse, who gave everyone so much grief, acted like a lap dog around Zak. He wanted Zak to have fun this summer and not be scared or nervous around the horses, but Dusty did not trust Onyx and didn’t want Zak to become complacent and get hurt.

Zak went right up to Onyx and started stroking his neck and cheek and talking to the animal in a low voice. “How are you, buddy? Did you miss me?” Onyx just shook his head up and down like he was nodding.

“Come on, Zak. Let me show you what to do for him.”

Zak followed Dusty into the feed room and Dusty showed him which feeds to prepare for Onyx and how much he should get in the morning and in the evening. He also showed him that there was a list on the wall if he forgot what to feed him when.

Zak excitedly got the feed ready and brought it over to Onyx’s stall. Dusty stayed close keeping a cautious eye on the black horse, while Zak opened the stall door and walked in and dumped the contents of the bucket into the feed tray. He went back to the feed room and got two flakes of hay and placed those in the stall as well. Onyx started to eat heartily. Zak just stood there stroking the horse while Dusty just stood outside the stall still dumbfounded.


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