“Thanks, Vashti. See you tomorrow,” he said as she gathered up the discarded towels. “Hey, where did you say you were from again?” he asked before she left.
Vashti was a puzzle who Drace and Joe had been trying to solve for the last week. Drace’s previous assistant, another college youngster, Kevin Blackwell, had called in sick and no one had heard from him since.
Vashti had shown up at the personnel department later the same day looking for a temporary job. Her exotic voice and striking looks, plus an obvious intelligence, impressed the Human Resources Manager. He introduced her to Drace. He liked her as well, and she was hired on the spot.
Drace and Joe made up a game of ‘Who is Vashti?’ They didn’t even know her last name. Drace’s opinion was she was in a witness relocation program. Joe thought she’d killed a boyfriend and was on the run. It was something different every day. Whatever the reason, she remained close-mouthed. Therefore, it did not surprise Drace when she avoided answering his question.
She paused at the door, gave him a wide, dimpled smile, and said, “I do not believe I did. Have a good night.” With that, she exited the props room.
“That’s going to remain a mystery,” Drace muttered. He stood, gave a back popping stretch, made a mental note to check on Kevin, and then headed for the men’s locker room and the showers.
After his shower, Drace, now in worn jeans, a college team t-shirt and beat up sneakers, checked on the Friesian stallion, Pride.
The tall black stallion’s ancient breed originated from Friesland in Northern Holland. They had been used as warhorses in the middle ages. Pride’s mane and tail were long and wavy, his mane coming halfway to his knees. Drace kept it loosely braided during their days off from the show. The hair around Pride’s fetlocks, or ankles, was long and called feathers, almost completely hiding his large hoofs. Pride, an intelligent horse with expressive eyes and small ears,
always seemed to be listening to Drace when he spoke. Pride was listening now as Drace approached the stallion’s stall, talking softly to the horse, just as he would a human friend. In the quiet of the stable Drace removed a few small tangles from Pride’s long mane, while contemplating their schedule and long-awaited hiatus.
Drace went to a royal blue, late model, crew-cab Chevy Silverado pickup, in the performers’ lot, and pulled out onto the Las Vegas strip. There was a lot of late night traffic. He enjoyed the lights and sounds, but sometimes missed the quiet of his former home in Virginia.
He had grown up among several horse farms, his parents’ included. They had raised and shown Swedish Warm Bloods and Oldenburgs, breeds of horses commonly used in Three Day Eventing. Drace had been a top competitor in those events, making an Olympic alternate at age nineteen; his father had been one of his instructors.
As he drove, the window down and the radio tuned to a rock station, the volume low, he reminisced of those days. The Three Day Eventing, or combined training, is a grueling test of endurance, speed, strength and courage for both horse and rider. Over a three-day period, the horse and rider team perform three tests. One is Dressage, a highly schooled test of all the horse’s gaits in complex maneuvers, the rider’s commands barely visible. The second is Eventing or Cross Country, derived from cavalry training. The challenging outdoor courses are highly technical. They have large obstacles to jump and various distances in between to gallop, certainly not for the meek. Drace had fallen hard several times competing in Eventing, including one fall that had resulted in a broken arm and collarbone, and a concussion. The third test is stadium jumping where horse and rider jump high or wide jumps within a designated time. Knocking a rail down or going over the time count against the score.
His reminiscence was abruptly cut short by memories of his parents’ deaths.