Mr. Ford loved having a cowboy for a son. Sometimes Alex thought his riding was the only thing his dad had left to live for. Alex realized almost as soon as he got Turnip that he would not be taking dressage lessons. The horse came with a Western saddle and bridle as well as some erratic notions about steering. Apparently the alcoholic cowboy who'd trained him had done a lot of drinking and riding.
After the first few spills, one of which left Alex unable to remember his own name for most of an afternoon, his father hired a local girl to give Alex Western riding lessons. Meredith, a young woman who trained quarter horses and paints, was almost supernaturally even-tempered and unflappable. She wore a uniform of braids and jeans and boots and looked seventeen, even though she was almost thirty.
Meredith taught Alex to ride and helped him retrain Turnip. "Getting his steering working," she called it. Turnip was not a handsome horse, but he was a remarkably willing and honest one. Meredith liked to say he had more try in him than any horse she'd ever known. In that way he was a good match for his owner, who'd changed from an imaginative child into a serious, hardworking, perpetually stressed young man who was only able to relax when he rode.
Other than their shared love of hard work, Alex and his horse were an odd match. Turnip was short, big eared, and roman nosed. He paddled when he trotted and his tail was as sparse as his mane was abundant. Alex, on the other hand, was tallish and well-proportioned. Most people who noticed him also noted that he was graceful, though perhaps not everyone knew to call it that. He was thrilled when people asked if he was from out of town and he treasured the memory of the time a visitor to Meredith's barn asked, "Who's the rich kid?" because of the careful way he carried himself.
The unlikeliness of their pairing must have appealed to Meredith's sense of humor, because soon after she started teaching Alex, she began bringing him and Turnip to horse shows. That was five years ago. At first Alex and his horse received pitying glances, as though there was something a bit pathetic about the slightly shabby old paint groomed within an inch of his life and his poised young rider. When Alex overheard one woman joke that Turnip's blanket probably had cost more than the horse, Alex bit back a tart retort about her atrocious haircut. The smart green blanket had cost more than the poker hand that won his horse.
Meredith had Alex enter performance-based competitions only, like trail and Western riding and horsemanship, because she knew Turnip couldn't try his way out of ugliness and odd conformation. Under her tutelage, the odd couple, as Alex and his horse came to be known, became the pair to beat on Vancouver Island.
After nearly five years of winning, Alex suspected that if he asked Turnip to fly, the horse would probably give it his best shot. Alex loved competing and took great pride in his horse's accomplishments, but he still thought longingly about dressage. He was held back by the worry that asking Turnip to do dressage would be a bit like asking the old horse to fly. He also felt it would have been disloyal to leave Meredith to begin dressage training. Meredith was a first-rate horsewoman and the closest thing Alex had to a real friend.
Then there was the small matter of his father.
Alex's parents' marriage had begun to unravel soon after he got the horse. His mom announced she wanted a separation, and that she wanted his dad to move into a condominium in town. Instead, Mr. Ford purchased a recreational vehicle off his own sales lot and parked it in the driveway. He told anyone who asked that he wanted to stay close so he could keep an eye on the kids and on his wife's "gentlemen visitors." He must not have kept close enough watch, however, because a couple of years after he moved into his RV, his wife informed the family that her affair with a local insurance adjuster was serious and they were moving to Florida together. The adjuster, who had long sideburns and favored skinny ties and pointy shoes, was at least ten years younger than Alex's mother. She said he reminded her of Rod Stewart.
Now, four years after he'd moved out of the house, Mr. Ford's trailer was still parked alongside the house, and he was still living in it, even though his wife was long gone. He seemed to think that if he stayed very still and didn't change anything, she'd come back.
Alex didn't want to do anything to upset his father, who was in a precarious mental state, and switching from Western to dressage would definitely upset him. Mr. Ford never missed a horse show. He loved parading around in his expensive lizard-skin cowboy boots and tight blue jeans. He was always first into the beer garden at the shows and last out. Somehow, Alex couldn't see his dad getting the same kind of thrill out of hanging around dressage competitions.
Oh, but I would, thought Alex as he stood near the dressage rings at the Fall Fling Horse Show. At any mixed-discipline show Alex always found himself standing at the edge of the dressage rings. He loved looking at the horses in their neat braids. He admired the riders, almost all of whom were female, in their tidy breeches and velvet hats. But most of all he was fascinated by the dressage tests. There was something about the precision of it that appealed to him.
Today he stood against the wall of a judge's booth, tucked into the shade of the roof, his face hidden under the brim of his cowboy hat. When he turned to see who was up next . . .Another Kind of Cowboy. Copyright Â© by Susan Juby . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby
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