Excerpt from Daring Heart

     It was Saturday morning, colder than it had been but still sunny and bright. Bryanne and Andy had traipsed over to Dan's farm, Bryanne rising to the challenge issued by both Andy and Dan that she learn to ride a horse.
     Picturing herself perched atop Beany, the little pony she had rescued upon her arrival, she was horrified to discover Dan had saddled one of his own horses, a mare named Monique, to begin Bryanne's riding career.
     He had given her a none-too-gentle boost up onto the saddle, with Andy sitting on the ground nearby, peals of laughter showing clearly his impression of her future on horseback.
     The mare had immediately tossed her proud head, probably mortally insulted, Bryanne thought, at the idea of having such an incompetent creature perched on her back. She pawed at the ground, sending Bryanne into a panic.
     "Get me down from here!" she shouted indignantly, feeling like she was atop a skyscraper instead of a fifteen-hand horse. Her first intention of being a "good sport" had rapidly disappeared when she'd had to approach the giant creature. The anxiety of being up in the saddle took away all pretense of braveness. She was petrified.
     A gentle, well-trained trail horse, Monique looked back at her quizzically. Who was this strange rider who was making such a fuss?
     Dan recognized her fear as real and came to her side.
     "It's okay, Bryanne. No need to panic. Monique is quite used to carrying people. She moves at a nice, slow pace and is really a great mount. You don't have to be afraid."
     "Easy for you to say, Dan," she said through clenched teeth. "You're used to riding. This is another world for me."
     He understood. "You're right. And I'd probably be nervous jumping on city buses, not knowing their routes, their procedures. Here, let me help."
     With a single hop he had joined her in the saddle, sitting directly behind her. He wrapped an arm tightly around her middle and with his other hand helped her to hold the reins.
     Monique didn't seem to mind the added weight from the extra passenger at all. Bryanne, on the other hand, was more than aware of his closeness. She could feel the heat from his body next to hers. She could feel his arm around her midriff, his fingers over hers on the reins. The fear of the horse was at least temporarily replaced with a vibrant sensitivity to his touch.
     "Are you okay?" he asked softly in her ear. She nodded in answer, suddenly not trusting her voice. She was more than okay.
     He moved his heels, and Monique began to walk slowly. The gentle rhythm of her steps was easy to get accustomed to.
     "A horse is a dependable friend," he began gently. "Monique will do exactly what you want her to do, as long as she understands you and feels you're working with her and not against her. Good girl, Monique," he praised the animal.
     The horse snorted softly and shook her mane.
     "Good girl," Bryanne echoed, thrilled to see the horse respond to her too.
     They rode together around the pasture a few times, Dan showing Bryanne the basics of riding. "Keep your heels down, toes in stirrups, knees in. Sit up straight in the saddle. Never wrap the reins around your fingers. Hold them loosely. Guide the horse gently but steadily to turn from side to side."
     She took it all in, ever mindful of his nearness, but also enjoying the horse. Finally they stopped by the barn gate, where Andy had been waiting. They helped her down and gave her a lesson on horse care, removing saddle and blankets and bit, vigorous brushing and grooming, hoof care, and, finally, they released Monique to graze in the pasture.
     "That was wonderful!" she exclaimed, bubbling with excitement. "I actually rode a horse! When can I ride again?"
     Dan laughed. "Soon. But let your body get used to it. I'll be spending a bit more time around the stable for the next few weeks. I'm renting out a few stalls to a guy who's in the process of moving to a farm in the area. One of my patients gave him my name. He'll use my stalls while his barn is completed, and I'll be around until he gets settled, to make sure he has what he needs. So you'll have your next lesson whenever your body is ready for it."
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