Jim heard the taunts but ignored them. He asked for a light blanket and made it into a pad. To his relief, his saddle fit her just fine. He noted that she had a snaffle bit on her bridle, so he let it be. He gave her one last pat and mounted up.
She danced a little as he settled his weight on her, but settled down almost immediately. Jim waved away the groom holding her bridle. She looked skeptical but nodded and stepped aside.
"That's it, my lady. Yes. Now let's see what you can do." He made himself relax and just feel her beneath him. Then he applied the slightest pressure he could to her sides, and she began to walk. He changed it and she stopped. "They were riding you all wrong, weren't they?" He looked at Scott, who was staring at him in astonishment. "Is there a ring I can use?"
Scott nodded and pointed to a structure behind the barn. "Stay there as long as you want."
Jim nodded and managed to steer her to the ring while barely touching the bridle. She was one of the most response mounts he'd ever had. He then proceeded to lose himself in the ring just discovering all of Dancer's tricks and moves. He was, of course, aware of the crowd he'd collected, but chose to ignore it. Just for that time, all there were was the two of them...just like he often felt when he was working with Blair.
He spent the rest of the morning putting Dancer through her paces. By the time the sun was high in the sky, he felt as if he'd known this horse forever. More...as she flowed through the corners at his slightest directions, he felt as though they were one being moving around the ring. He didn't want to stop but she was getting tired and he wanted time to groom her and take a shower before lunch.
Dancer stood perfectly still as he dismounted. He gave her a pat on the neck. "Beautiful, pretty lady. Let's get you taken care of."
As he walked out of the ring, he spied Blair riding that old chestnut gelding around the ring. He was clumsy, barely maintaining his seat, but he was also clearly working with the horse. He didn't want to distract him, so Jim just kept leading Dancer back to the stable. A groom showed him where her stall was, and how to find the brushes and other supplies he needed. It had been a long time since he'd taken care of a horse properly, but he found it all came back to him - and Dancer loved it.
When she was groomed and her tack put away, and she'd had some water, he gave her nose a final pat, said reluctantly said goodbye.
He headed back to the room for his shower. By the time he'd finished and had found clean clothes, Blair had gotten back.
His hair was half out of the tie and tangled, his clothes were filthy and torn in places, he moved like an old man, but there was a smile of triumph on his dirty face. "I did it!"
"I actually got that horse creature to do what I wanted him to! Look, I need a hot shower desperately - they made me clean him first - and then, oh, Jim, I had a morning!"
As he spoke, he shed his clothes, leaving them in a fragrant pile near the bathroom door. His body was scratched and Jim could see that he'd be getting some decent sized black and blue marks, too. On the one hand, he was upset that Blair had been hurt. On the other, it was the price one paid to learn to ride, and he was just slightly banged.
As Blair disappeared into the bathroom, Jim had time for one more thought...how very beautiful his partner was no matter how battered and bruised.
He picked up his own cloth