Dean really didn’t expect himself to have a real connection with horses when he took up a job in Denton, Texas, a pretty town about half an hour away from Dallas. It was full of ranches and farms, and Dean easily found a job as a barn hand at a local western show barn. They were close to a large show location where both English discipline and Western discipline shows took place. Dean liked the horses a lot. He made pretty good money, which was enough to pay his rent and give some money to Sam to help him with school.
The trainer on site, Ellen, also owned a bar and restaurant nearby called the Roadhouse. Her daughter, Jo, was the star rider at the barn. She messed with Dean a lot, but they got along great. It took weeks, but one day she finally got Dean on a horse. He was timid at first, but within half an hour he felt pretty good.
Six months later and Dean was competing with Jo in barrel racing. He was in a beginner’s level class, but he rode like a champ. It came naturally to him. The only struggle was affording the shows. The clothes alone were insanely expensive. Then there were show fees, trainer fees, trailering, stalls, hay, and a dozen other things. Dean leased a horse named Leo. He was a chestnut quarter horse with socks on all four feet and a star on his face. He had a cute white nose too. He was pretty laid back until he saw the barrels, which is when he went from half-asleep to running top speed. He knew his job well and Dean had a great connection with him.
As for the financial issues, Dean realized that if he wanted to keep showing, he needed to work more. That’s when he started working shows, and not the western shows, the hunter/jumper shows. On weekends when he wasn’t showing, the show ring was full of the English riders in their fancy coats and skinny tan pants. Dean always thought they looked so pretentious, but they paid a lot for someone to come clean stalls, feed their horses, and help the riders. A barn called Heaven’s Gait hired him to come to their shows and take care of the horses. Dean knew his way around the horses, and the riders would tip him, so he made a lot doing it.
His first weekend there, it was nice. He got there early in the morning and filled water buckets. He dropped grain and scooped out the stalls. The only instructions he had were not to go into the stall of one of the horses. He spotted her towards the end. She was a dark bay and draft-cross mare named Meg. She was already pacing and huffing in her stall. Dean fed her through the window and didn’t go in as instructed. He didn’t want to get killed today. Usually, the ones to own the crazy mares were equally crazy girls with a secret death wish. Dean watched and waited for the rider to get on that horse.
A few hours after Dean got there, riders arrived and started getting ready. It was all girls and one guy, and everyone was young, all under 20, but no one under 13. Dean helped them tack up and sent their horses to the ring. They all took them to the schooling ring and Dean saw a trainer hopping on them first. He couldn’t really see the trainer from here, so he just went back to work.
Towards the end of the day, when the hunter riders were finished, Dean realized that Meg was no longer in her stall and one of the saddles were gone. He asked one of the riders, Anna, where she went.
“Oh, she’s about to go in the jumper ring. You going to watch?”
Dean blinked. Of course, she was a jumper. The hunter division was all about precision and looking proper over the jumps. The jumpers division was about speed. The fastest person with the fewest errors won. “Sure, I’ll come to watch once I’ve got her stall cleaned.”
“It’s already clean.”
Dean looked at the stall, and sure enough, the stall was picked clean, leaving only fresh shavings and hay. “Oh. Did her owner clean it?”
Anna nodded. “Yeah.”
Dean followed the other riders out to the jumper’s ring and sat down in the bleachers. He watched several horses go with wide eyes. Some of these horses were insane, and the jumps were huge. At the 1.2 meter jumpers, Dean spotted Meg. She came into the ring with her head tossing, but her rider had a gentle hand that brought her back to a calm state. Dean knew he was watching a man ride, judging by the blue tie he had on and his body shape. Dean definitely wasn’t looking at his ass in those skin-tight pants, and he wondered if he was the trainer he saw earlier. The rider took Meg around the course with amazing speed and precision. Even though they were fast, there was never a moment where they looked out of control. When the results were announced, number 345, Megara and Castiel Novak were announced as first place. The riders from Heaven’s Gait all cheered and Dean clapped along. If he didn’t have to leave now to go do night check back at Ellen’s, he would be meeting this guy right now.
The next day was Sunday and Dean was on the lookout for the trainer. When he arrived in the morning, he started cleaning out the stalls and feeding. He looked for Meg’s feed bucket and couldn’t find it. Maybe he left it by her stall? He walked back to the stalls and saw another barn hand in sweatpants and a baggy sweater walking straight for her stall with the bucket. He wasn’t going to say anything until the guy started opening the door. “Wait!” Dean ran over. When the barn hand turned to him, he came face to face with the cutest puzzled look he had ever seen. Bright blue eyes narrowed and a head of dark hair tilted. Dean glanced down and that’s when he saw the toes of some very expensive looking tall boots. He just tried to stop the trainer. “Oh, shit-sorry, I didn’t know who you were.”
The man blinked before his face softened. “It’s alright. When you were hired, Michael told you not to go into her stall?”
Dean nodded. “Yeah.”
The trainer rolled his eyes and went into the stall. Nothing happened. Meg stood still and watched him drop her feed. “Is that why you didn’t pick her stall yesterday?”
Dean nodded. “I was going to once she wasn’t in there, but it was already done when I got back from hosing off the others.”
The trainer looked at Dean. “I see. How much experience do you have with horses?”
“Um, I guess about six months.”
“Do you mind grabbing my tack? My saddle is the custom CWD with the blue cover.”
Dean had a weird vibe from this guy. “Aren’t you in the jumper ring?”
“Only on Saturdays. I show in the hunter ring on Sundays.”
Dean blinked. No way that horse showed well in the hunter ring. He probably pumped the horse full of some kind of sedative, which wasn’t uncommon in the horse world. Sometimes it was necessary for safety, but other times it could be considered cheating. It depended on what you used.
He walked to the tack stall and put the saddle over his arm. He looked at the bridles and realized he didn’t know which one to grab. They all looked the same, except for one with a twisted snaffle bit. The metal was twisted to give it more edges, and it was considered more severe than a smooth bit. Dean grabbed that bridle along with the girth and pads that went with the saddle. He walked back to the stall and saw the trainer grooming Meg and smiling as she poked her nose at his sweatshirt. “Got your tack.”
The trainer looked back at Dean. “Thank you...oh, that’s the wrong bridle. Sorry, I didn’t specify. Hers is on the left end. I’m not even sure whose that is. It doesn’t look like any of ours.”
Dean set the saddle and the rest of the tack on the rack. “Oh, okay.” He walked back to the tack stall and hung the bridle he grabbed up. He looked on the left end and saw a larger bridle. He should have known that the big horse needed the largest bridle, but his first thought was that she probably needed a harsher bit, given how gentle the trainer’s hands looked yesterday. He grabbed the bridle and looked at the bit. It was a freaking happy mouth. Happy mouth bits were rubber and some were flavored. The bit was extremely gentle and for horses with more sensitive mouths. Dean brought the bridle to the trainer and hung it on the hook outside of the stall.
“I’m sorry, I don’t believe I’ve asked you your name.”
“Oh, it’s Dean. You?”
“Castiel. My brother, Michael, owns the barn and property, but I’m the head trainer.”
Dean nodded and watched as Castiel tacked up Meg. He jumped when Castiel started tightening the girth around her middle and she swung her head back to bite him. Castiel dodged her with what looked like practiced ease and fastened the girth. He spoke in a low, calming voice to calm Meg down. The rumbling tone even made Dean relax.
Dean saw the other riders coming and went to help them with their horses. He groomed, grabbed tack, and applied hoof oil to all of the horses. He followed them out to the ring, and that’s when a pair of reins were stuck in his hand. He looked up and saw Meg standing there and Castiel leaving her with him to help his students. Dean furrowed his brows when he was left alone with the horse without a word from Castiel. He still couldn’t decide if this guy was just a little weird or a pretentious asshole. He was leaning towards the latter.
The first student to go into the ring was a seventeen-year-old boy named Balthazar. He went over the course while Castiel watched him from the side of the ring. Dean watched the round and gave an impressed nod when he was done. He really didn’t know much about the hunter ring and what was being judged, but it looked nice. When he looked at Castiel, he saw him shaking his head. He walked over to Balthazar and spoke to him with a concerned look on his face. Dean frowned. What did he do wrong? What was so bad about it? When Balthazar went back in for the flat class, which is where everyone who just did that course went in at once and were judged for their riding without going over jumps. Dean watched Balthazar and the other riders. Everyone pretty much looked the same. The only mistake he caught was Balthazar picking up the incorrect canter lead, but he fixed it within a few seconds. Placements were announced and Balthazar was fourth over fences, second on the flat. As Castiel walked towards Dean, following Balthazar out of the ring, Dean caught something that solidified his opinion on Castiel.
“...you’re lucky you got that second. I saw that incorrect lead and I would have put you at fifth...”
What a prick. Dean briefly wasn’t paying attention to Meg, and that’s when she stepped on his foot. He was in boots, but it still hurt. He gasped and tried to get his foot away, but Meg wasn’t moving. He was about to try and push her to one side, but the reins were taken from his hand and Meg got off of his foot. Dean let out a sigh of relief and met Castiel’s eyes.
“Watch your feet.” Castiel took his sweatpants and sweater off, revealing his cleanly pressed black coat, blue tie, and smooth tan pants. He had custom designer Tucci tall boots that were freshly cleaned and looked extremely well taken care of. He put his helmet on and took Meg over to the mounting block before getting on and walking her over to the ring.
Dean huffed softly and brushed off the top of his boot. He stood back as he watched them go into the ring. It was pretty clear that Meg was a jumper, but she listened to Castiel and did her job, it was a nice round. The flat class looked good too. Dean couldn’t find it within himself to be happy when Castiel got second in both. It was a big class with fourteen people, so second was nothing to be upset over, and Castiel seemed happy with it, which is exactly why Dean pouted and waited to be handed a horse again. He gave a fake smile when Castiel handed Meg off to him. He could have sworn he saw Castiel’s mouth move to say something, but Dean wasn’t paying attention, so he didn’t hear him. Castiel was probably telling him to watch his feet again.
Dean held Meg and walked around the arenas when she got antsy until Castiel returned to take Meg back to be groomed and bathed. Dean stayed around for the rest of the day and finished his job. When it was done, he found a letter next to his car keys with his name on it, written in neat, flowing cursive. He picked up the letter and his keys and left to head back to Ellen’s for night check.
“I know you’re mad about something.”
Dean looked up at the sound of Jo’s voice. He was in a stall and picking it out. “No, I’m not.”
“Yeah, you are. That stall has been clean for five minutes and you’re still going.”
Dean looked down at the shavings beneath his feet. Jo was right. He sighed. “The trainer at Heaven’s Gait is a pretentious dick. His horse stepped on my damn foot, he was an asshole to one of his riders, and he wins everything.” he poked at the shavings with his pitchfork and huffed. “I’m getting worked up over nothing.”
“Sounds like it. Do you hate him for what he said or because he owns a fancy barn with fancy horses?”
Dean thought for a moment. “Both.”
“Do they pay well?”
“Yeah, really good. One weekend covers an entire show bill.”
“Damn. If I were you, I’d put up with his crap just for that.” Jo hummed. “Is he at least cute?”
Dean rolled his eyes. “I dunno. Little shorter than me, messy dark hair, blue eyes, athletic build-”
Jo cut Dean off with a laugh. “If you two aren’t having hate sex by the end of the month, I will be severely disappointed.”
Dean sputtered. He was out, but it was still embarrassing to hear that nonetheless.
“Castiel, right? He’s pretty well known. You’re right about him winning everything. I’ve never met him, but people talk. He has a ten-person long waiting list to get into his lesson program.”
“Bullshit, not with the way he talked to his riders today.”
“What did he say?”
Dean huffed. “I was holding his horse and he was watching one of his riders. His round looked good. Only thing I saw wrong with the flat was an incorrect lead, but the guy fixed it almost immediately. The jumps were pretty rushed, so he got fourth, but that was probably fair. Then he got second on the flat and I thought it was good until I heard Castiel telling him he didn’t deserve the second place.”
Jo raised a brow. “Well, did he?”
“Did he what?”
“Deserve second place. You said he picked up the wrong lead.”
Dean shrugged. “I dunno. I don’t think the judge saw.”
“Well if the judge saw, he probably wouldn’t have placed him second. Some trainers have a heavier hand. Don’t you hear my mom calling me an idiot all the time?”
“Well, yeah, but she’s your mom. That’s a free pass. The rider probably sat on the long-ass waiting list and now he’s just getting chewed out by this fancy pants trainer that thinks he’s better than everyone and-” He sighed. “I’ll shut up.”
Jo chuckled. “Well, hopefully, he becomes a different kind of pain in the ass for you.”
Dean rolled his eyes and went around to finish cleaning stalls.
By the time Dean got back to his apartment, he was exhausted and ready to crash. He showered and laid down in bed. He spotted the letter he picked up from the show sitting on his bedside table and picked it up. He had been thinking all evening, and he was considering finding another barn at the English shows. Castiel just got so under his skin, he didn’t know if it was worth it. Dean opened the letter and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. In swirling cursive, it read:
Thank you for your assistance today. Our next show is on April 4th. If this doesn’t conflict with your schedule, please contact me at the number below.
With warm regards and thanks,
Inside the folded piece of paper were two hundred dollar bills, crisp and neatly folded. Dean’s eyes were wide as he stared at the money. Okay, his thoughts about finding someone else were gone. This was fine. He could end up a little pissy on the weekends for this much extra spending money.
This was fine. Everything was fine, and he totally didn’t dream of blue eyes and a pert ass in tight, tan pants.