Craig woke early. 6 a.m. Very unlike him for a Saturday. He knew his parents were up, but he pulled the covers over his head and rolled on to his side. Today was his birthday, his sixteenth birthday, and he knew they would be all over him, probably had a party planned. He didn't want a party. He wanted it to be Monday. It wasn't fair, dammit. He'd have to wait two whole days before he could get his license.
He could drive! His father was a good teacher and some weekends they went to his uncle's farm where there was lots of open space to keep him out of trouble. Driving in the city was a challenge, so they always used public transportation. Besides, parking was a hassle, and forget about affording a garage, let alone insurance. That didn't mean he couldn't dream.
He knew what he wanted. Not one of the new, fancy rides. No. He wanted a classic. Not too old. An '84 or an '85. Something cheap to maintain, cheap to insure. Something reliable. He had a bit of a responsible streak in him. Probably got that from his mother. But still, something a bit flashy. Exotic. Something Asian. Korean? Time was all they did was turn out cheap knock-offs of American goods, but not anymore. Even the Germans were having trouble keeping up.
A knock came to the door. "Craig? Honey? Are you up?"
Any other Saturday he'd have ignored her, but it was his birthday and he had to admit he felt a bit of excitement. You know, presents and all. "Yeah. I'll be down in a minute."
Teen minutes are different than adult minutes and it took him a half hour to brush his teeth and dress.
The day went pretty much as he expected. They sang happy birthday, he opened gifts. Later he hung out with his friends. Later still there was the party. His parents and kid sister disappeared, Ellen spiked the punch (of course), but nobody got wasted. Well, except Pete and Jimmy, but they came in wasted. Katie had a pretty good buzz, too, and came on to him. She was in the hall when he came out of the bathroom, pushed him back against the wall, rubbed her tits against him, slid her thigh between his legs, kissed him. Which would have been all well and good if Ellen hadn't been there. They weren't officially a couple. Well, yeah. Yeah, they were.
Sunday morning his father surprised him with a rental and they spent most of the morning riding around town, practicing his parallel parking, backing into spaces and such.
The call came late that day. "Happy birthday, nephew!"
"Thanks, Uncle Al."
"You got anything lined up for work this summer? Reason I ask is Cutler could use some help up at his place. I won't lie to you. It's tough work, dirty work, mucking stalls and whatnot, twelve hours a day, six days a week, but he'll give you a fair wage and he pays cash."
Three weeks later, with a freshly printed driver's license in his pocket, Craig stepped off the train. Cutler met him at the station. They exchanged hellos. "You got your license? Reason I ask is insurance, liability and all. No sense doing this if you don't."
He handed over the card.
"Hm. Brandy new. How did you do?"
"Okay. Aced the written test. Lost a few points for parallel parking."
Cutler chuckled. "Ain't no parallel parking in these parts."
They climbed into the buggy, Cutler snapped the reins, and they were off at a trot.
The ponies looked like a matched pair, blonde mains, blonde tails, impeccably groomed. Craig noticed that the reins were embossed in gold: JJ Cutler. Even the buggy was beautiful. All black lacquer with gold trim.
The ponies trotted in synch, clip-clopped their way down the street, then off onto a dirt road. A mile down the road they came to a sign.
Boarding, Grooming, Lessons
Cutler guided the pair around the house back to the barn. "Your uncle says you know something about pony care."
"Yeah. I mean nothing fancy. He has a couple, mostly for work, but I used to take care of them. I remember how eager I was, begged him to let me do it myself - and he let me. It got old real fast."
Cutler chuckled. "Yeah. Well things are a bit different here. Most of them belong to other people. They board them with me. I have a few I keep for lessons, though. Still, you can't just hose 'em down and give 'em a bucket of feed."
"I gotta go inside for a minute. Take 'em into the barn, first stall. Take off their bridles and harnesses. Their bits are hanging in the stall. There's a sink next to the stall. Bucket, soap, cloths. Wipe 'em down. Oh, and move the buggy under the eave. There are some towels there. Wipe it down. And if I'm not back you can start on the leather. Everything you need is in that front corner."
Craig released the ponies from the cart. They were by anyone's estimation beautiful, a matched pair, twins, literally. He led them into the stall, unbuckled their harnesses, bridles. He was unsure as to whether he should remove their hooves. His uncle's ponies wore boots pretty much 24/7. And the tails posed another problem. He had no trouble mucking stalls, but a butt plug? He decided to pass on that, too, for now.
The ponies stood, docile. They opened their mouths to accept the bits. He hitched one pony to a ring in the stall, led the other over to the sink. He ran some warm water into a bucket, squeezed some liquid soap onto a cloth, and wiped her down. She was a head taller than he. The hooves probably accounted for that. Her blonde hair hung well down her back. Her skin was impossibly smooth and blemish free. Her tits were the stuff of dreams. Perfect. Almost too perfect. He would have liked to watch them as she trotted. Still, he had a good view of her ass as they made the trip home. It was one of those full, heart-shaped asses. Not a mature pony's ass, but not a girl's either. This was prime stock.
He always had trouble with ages, but he put her at about 25, which would make her an '88. She was certainly in the right age range for his dream ride, but way too flashy and, most likely, high maintenance. Beauty aside, there were taxes, insurance, upkeep. He always laughed at those people who won expensive rides on TV shows. No way could they afford the upkeep.
He grabbed the hose, adjusted the temperature. The pony pulled her hair out of the way and he hosed her off, dried her. He repeated the process with the other pony.
He took a towel from the stack and wiped down the buggy, then he wheeled it under the eave as he'd been instructed. It gave him a new appreciation for the ponies. The sucker was heavy, yet they pulled it effortlessly. Or at least it seemed that way.
He was rubbing some oil into the leather when Cutler came into the barn.
"How'd is goin'?"
"Pretty good, I think."
"Ya gotta remove the tails and hooves."
"Come on, boy. Ain't nothing to it. You pull, she pushes, and it just pops out. Got some disinfectant in the cabinet. Use it."
Craig stepped behind one of the ponies and grabbed her tail, pulled. Contrary to what Cutler had said, he had to put a bit of effort into it. But presently the plug came free. He removed the other's. He stepped over to the sink and washed the plugs.
"Lather 'em up again, then use some of that antibacterial spray. Anything that comes in contact with their private parts needs to be cleaned. That includes the bits, too. And you have to keep things separate. Each pony has her own gear."
Craig cleaned and stowed the gear. He removed their hooves and fit the shoes on their feet. They were high heel, heavy leather shoes.
"Keep 'em on their feet most of the day. Take 'em off at night."
Craig finished cleaning, neatened up the sink area.
"Good, boy. Real good. Now you gotta check the others. Most of 'em are pretty regular, but every once in a while one'll make a mess."
They walked down the line of stalls. There were twenty, ten to a side. It was absolutely quiet. That was the one thing that kind of creeped him out being around ponygirls - they never spoke. Never.
Craig stopped. Cutler took two steps beyond, turned.
"Like that one, do you?"
Craig's cheeks flushed. Yes. Yes he liked it. "What year?"
"'84, I think. Asian, obviously. Kind of a mongrel near as I can tell. Least wise she's got no papers."
The sign in the stall had the name "Ming" on it and, just below, it said 'For Sale'.
"How ... how much?"
Cutler chuckled. "Well, boy, she might be a bit out of your league. She ain't prime or nothin', but, while not rare, she is a bit uncommon. Her owner left her about two years ago. Supposed to be back in six months. Stopped paying fees after about eight.
"Like I said, she ain't prime, but she's a goodun. Someone trained her well. She's got a bit of fire in her, though. She can be feisty at times and if you get her to runnin', well, you'd better hang on, tell you what. That's why the price is as high as it is. Ain't a pony in here that can catch her."
"Here," he said, handing Craig two sets of reins. He grabbed two himself and Craig followed him out into the paddock. There were some ponys there and Cutler selected four. He handed the reins to Craig.
"Hook 'em up to the carousel for about an hour. Control's on the wall. Should be set for 3. You clean the stalls, put down fresh hay, oil the leather, all the leather, every day. Clean the carts. After lunch you take 'em for a trot. You see that gap in the trees? Trail goes through the woods, about 3 miles, comes out over yonder. Wash, rinse, repeat."
He chuckled at his little joke. "They're all pretty good runners. Takes maybe a half hour. Do ten each day. One half of 'em one day, the others the next. Got it?"
"You're gonna want to cycle the carts, too. Take one from the front of the line, clean it, return it to the back of the line.
"Now listen, you're a bright kid, so I'm not going to micromanage you. I've got things to do. The ponies are your responsibility. If you have questions, just ask. You screw up once, okay, I'm cool with that. But don't screw up twice. Hear?"
Cutler left the barn. Craig went to the first empty stall, raked out the hay, washed down the floor, and lay down a fresh batch of straw. The ponies had buckets in their stalls. These, Craig assumed, were their toilets. Didn't take a genius to figure that out as there was a roll of toilet paper on a hook.
He had just gotten to Ming's stall when he realized time was up. He went outside and brought the four ponies in. He grabbed four more sets of reins, including Ming's, and led the ponies out into the paddock. He double checked the setting and started the carousel.
The four ponies walked in a circle. Craig leaned against the wall watching Ming. Every once in a while one of the ponies would shoot him a glance. All except Ming. This bothered Craig on some level.
Back in the barn, Craig wiped down the four ponies and went back to cleaning stalls. After an hour he brought the four ponies in, hitched four more to the carousel. He wiped down the ponies, Ming last.
Now she looked at him. Really looked at him. It made him blush. Washing the others was boring. He'd done it before. But Ming? She made him nervous and he worked quickly. He swapped out four more ponies, then four more. He stood in the middle of the barn, looking for something to do. He had walked the ponies, wiped them down, cleaned the stalls.
Craig stepped over to the intercom, jabbed the button.
"Be right there."
"So, Craig, how is it going?"
"Fine, Mrs. Cutler. Fine. But I've kind of run out of things to do."
Cutler chuckled. "Oh don't worry, boy. There's lots to do. Everything back there needs paintin'. The barn, the stalls, the paddock, the carousel. Then there's the new drainage ditch. Got maintenance on the buggy, the carts. Got plenty to keep you busy. After lunch I'll give you the list."
Craig nodded. "Sure."
After lunch they showed him his room. It was attached to, but separate from the house. It had it's own door. There was a bed and chair, a TV and a small fridge.
Back in the house Cutler went over the list. "Don't need to run my girls." That's what he called the ponies in the first stall: his girls.
"And I don't want you wearing one of those music things. You need to tune into the ponies. In your room, sure. But not when you're with the ponies."
"Sure, Mr. Cutler. No problem."
Cutler walked him back to the barn. He retrieved a cart while Cutler rigged one of his girls.
"Okay. Now take it slow and easy. Got that?"
He hooked a finger into the pony's harness. The pony looked at him, nodded.
After a few laps around the barn Cutler released the pony from the cart.
"Start with Suzie, there. She's the tamest. In fact, for your first day, work this side of the barn, back to front. Eight ponies. They're all pretty good except for Grace. Don't use the whip. Not until I show you how. Just be firm with them. They'll obey."
He stepped in front of a pony, held a finger up to her face.
The pony stared at him, then lowered her eyes, and nodded.
This came as a bit of a shock to Craig. The ponies didn't speak, but they could be spoken to. Could he speak to Ming? But what would that accomplish?
He led Suzie from her stall, hitched her to the cart, and headed into the woods. She was a touch on the plump side with long dark hair and bangs. As she ran things jiggled, everything jiggled, but Suzie pulled the cart quickly and steadily. Smoothly. The path was mostly flat, but there were a few bumps. Craig tried to embed the locations in his brain, but figured he'd get a feel for them soon enough.
It was great running the pony. He felt a bit of a rush having this beautiful animal under his control. He loved watching her ass jiggle with each step. Loved the way she strode, reaching with her toes like a dancer. Her pony tail bobbing back and forth in time, brushing first one shoulder then the other.
Back in the barn he wiped her down with a damp cloth, then a dry towel. She nuzzled him as would a dog. And he found himself stroking her hair. "Good girl."
He took two other ponies for their runs, then it was Grace's turn. She behaved well until they got into the woods. There she refused to run. Craig shook the reins. "Come on Grace. Come on girl."
Grace simply walked along, slowly, almost sassily. Craig grew frustrated. He grabbed the whip, snapped it by the pony's head. "Move, damnit!"
He had to keep on her to keep her up to speed. In fact he ran her a bit harder than the others. When they got back to the barn she was covered in a damp sheen. He wiped her down. She avoided his eyes except for once when she gave him an evil look.
"Did I hear a whip?"
"Uh. Yes, sir. But I didn't hit her. She wouldn't run, so I just snapped it."
"You know how to use a whip? A city boy?"
"Yes, sir. Uncle Al taught me."
Craig pulled a whip from a container, snapped it a few times, struck out at a bag of feed.
"Hm. Not bad. Okay, here's the deal. Most of these ponies are spoiled pets and while I don't like it, they need a bit of discipline now and then. Have to be careful, though. Most of their owners object to whip marks - unless they put 'em there."
He put his arm around Craig's shoulders and guided him out of the barn. "Don't hit 'em. Leastwise not yet. Not 'til you get to know 'em. If one of them gives you grief you tell me. Hear?"
"Good. Besides, I guarantee you they think I've given you permission to whip 'em. It'll make them think twice before acting up." He gave Craig a wink.
After supper Cutler handed him a set of coveralls. "May as well get some painting in before dark."
The two of them worked on the paddock until dusk.
"Uh. About Ming. How much?"
Cutler set his brush aside, pulled a rag from his pocket, wiped his hands.
"Eight? Eight thousand?"
Cutler barked out a laugh. "No, boy. Eight dollars. A bargain! Of course it's eight thousand. You got her price plus over a year of boarding, feed, and whatnot."
They took a lap through the barn. Most of the ponies were lying down. A couple were standing. Cutler gestured toward a box on the wall.
"Music and lights will go off in about an hour. Get yourself a shower then come into the house, or not, if you want."
In the living room, Mrs. Cutler was curled up on the couch with a book. Cutler sat in the lounger drawing on a pipe.
"Parents let you drink?"
"They never said I couldn't."
Cutler laughed. "That's not an answer, boy. Go fetch a couple of beers and grab me a shot of rye. Bottle's under the sink, glasses above."
Craig found the whisky, poured a shot into a glass, cracked two beers. Back in the living room Cutler tossed back the shot, held up his beer can, touched it against Craig's.
"You did good, boy. Real good. You got any questions? Any issues?"
"No, sir. It's not a whole lot different than being at my uncle's, except there's more of them and I have to be a lot more ... er-"
"Mm. Well you did a good job. I'm givin' you a raise. I figured the rate thinkin' I'd have to train you, but you're doin' all right."
"Thank you, sir."
The next day went as the first. He exercised the ponies, cleaned their stalls, oiled the leather, painted when he ran out of things to do.
After he released her from the carousel, he tried to catch Ming's eye, but she studiously avoided him. The other ponies were a bit more friendly. A few were aloof, but most watched him, made eye contact. Suzie nuzzled him again when he went into her stall.
Later that afternoon he hitched Ming to the cart. The run bothered him, reinforced the feelings he had. There was something different about her. Not just the fact she was Asian. It was the way she moved, the way she ran, the way she held her head. Most of the ponies were very much animals, moved with an animal's grace. A couple ran daintily, like one of those little frou frou dogs. Ming ran differently, awkwardly. But she ran and ran well. She had a rhythm, a unique rhythm. She needed to be handled in a special way. He tried to guide her, but she resisted. In the end, she guided him. He learned her needs, her ways. He took her around for another lap. She seemed to relax and she let him guide her this time.
The week flew by. A couple of times an owner would show up and take their pony for a run. But, for the most part, it was more of the same. Saturday came and, with it, lessons. Craig spent most of his time hitching and unhitching ponies and carts. More owners showed up. Sunday was a repeat. Monday dawned bright and warm.
"Take the day off. Monday and Tuesday are usually the quiet days. Feed them then let them out into the paddock."
"Take one into town if you want. Just use the pretty harness and the nice cart. It pays to advertise and all that. Just remember, while you're out there you're the face of Cutler Farm. Don't embarrass me."
"No, sir. Thank you, sir. Uh, sir, can I take any of them?"
"Well, not one of my girls, but yeah."
"How did I not see that coming? Here. I've got a map. Oh, and have Mrs. C make you a lunch. You can share it with her. Ming, I mean, not Mrs. C."
"Thank you, sir."
Ming looked confused and concerned when Craig led the other ponies into the paddock. More confused still when he buckled the shiny, black, embossed harness on her, along with the bridle bit, and blinders. She started to head for the woods, but Craig steered her around the house and down the drive, out onto the road.
He let her have her head. She moved along at a slow trot, her awkward gait now pleasantly familiar. He decided it wasn't awkward, really, just different than the other girls'. She was a bit slimmer, a bit firmer than the other ponies. They were coddled pets. Ming was a stray. There was something almost feral about her. Not that Cutler, or he, didn't pay her attention. She got much the same food as the others, she just didn't eat it all. Whereas some of the others got seconds.
She trotted along, body erect, head held high. Now that he'd figured her out, she let him drive. He took her into and through town, through the covered bridge, and back along the river, working their way upstream.
After about an hour he eased her to a walk. He slid off the cart, took the reins, and led her along the path. He walked slightly ahead of her, but mostly beside her. He gazed at the river, letting his eyes fall on her often. Wearing the blinders she couldn't see him.
Six days a week, twelve hours a day, at my rate, times eleven weeks. Shit! I could buy her!
Well, almost. Could he get Cutler to come down on the price? And then what? He couldn't keep her in the city. And he couldn't afford to board her. Buying her would take all his money. Besides, that money was supposed to be for college.
* * *
He had finished his walk in a funk. They stopped at a nice place by the river, although he didn't really see it, and he fed her bits of apple and most of his sandwich. He had no appetite. Now he was back at Cutler's, in the den, on their phone.
"I'm not going to buy you a pony. Besides, Craig, we can't keep a pony in the city."
"But, Dad, I'll buy her. Can't you help me out a bit? I mean I've got good grades and all."
"Son, that's money's for college. Even with that you'll need a loan."
"Well then I won't go to college. I'll go to voc-tech."
"Craig, now you're talking stupid. You've always wanted to be a doctor. You have the brains for it, the aptitude, the grades."
"We'll talk about this when you get home. Besides, she hasn't sold in two years. In two more years you'll be 18 and then you can buy her yourself if that's what you want."
"I ... I can keep some of the money, right? I mean, that was the deal?"
"Of course. As long as most of it goes in the bank, sure. I know where you're going with this and I have to say I don't approve. She's an '84. When the time comes you'll be able to find something newer and cheaper."
"Listen, just cool your jets, okay? Think of it this way, you get to drive her for the rest of the summer."
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess."
And it turned out to be a good summer. He took Ming into town every Monday. They made the walk by the river, shared his lunch. He liked leading her with the reins. Liked walking in front of her knowing she was following. Liked the occasions when he'd meet someone on the path and he could see the look in their eyes, the look of envy. Oh yeah.
"I want to buy Ming."
"Still on that?"
"Yes, sir. Could you, uh, come down on the price a bit?"
Cutler pursed his lips.
"No, no I'm sorry. I've been paying you more than we agreed to as it is. And if my math is correct you'll have the money, give or take."
"Yes, sir, but that money is for college, well, most of it. Could I ... could I pay for her boarding?"
"All of it?"
"Well, no, sir, not the back fees. But going forward? I mean you already have those fees in the price. So could I pay to have her boarded if you promise not to sell her? Give me a year. I'll come up with the money. I don't know how, but I will."
* * *
Craig shook the reins, Ming took off at a trot. He shook the reins again. Ming burst into a run.
"Yeeee!" Ellen squealed, grabbed for her hat.
Craig looked over at her and grinned. Cutler was right. Ming definitely had a feisty streak. Trotting, even walking, she looked ungainly. But running? She was like a well-oiled machine, a blur of motion. In fact, controlling her was something of an issue. Witness the three tickets he'd gotten. But you know how it is. You pull up to a light. You look over at him, he looks back at you. Oh yeah.
It had been a hell of a year. A year of work and compromise and, yes, a few arguments along the way. But he'd gotten an after-school job, much to his parent's dismay. He managed to keep his grades up and so they let him be. As for the money ...
"Listen, the deal was I'd work summers for college money. This is extra. It's mine."
"Sure, Sweetie, it's yours."
This surprised him. His mother was the practical one and here she was supporting him in what his father considered a frivolous undertaking.
"Just don't overdo it, okay? Don't burn the candle at both ends."
Well, he did burn the candle at both ends and a bit in the middle, but he made it to his senior year and Ming was his. Technically that's not right. She was in his father's name. He signed the papers, and he gave Craig the responsibility lecture, the whole bit. And Craig had to agree to cut back his work hours. He could work only enough to pay Ming's boarding fee, but no more.
And it worked out. Craig's grades came up, came up enough for him to get a free ride. Not at one of the top tier schools, but biology is biology and he could switch to a better school for pre-med.
He and Ellen made weekly trips to Cutler's. It took some doing, but he talked his parents into letting him bring Ming down into the city a few times. It was ridiculously expensive, but it was worth it. Tooling around town in his dream ride? Oh yeah.
Copyright© 2013 by Jo. All rights reserved.