Stunning Victory

Stunning Victory

The tale of a horse, his master and their circle of friends


Before beginning most stories, one doesn’t normally find an introduction to the characters; however, this isn’t most stories, so you’ll find a glimpse at some of the characters below (or at least how at least one of the authors think the characters might look). And it was kind of fun to include some colour grin.

Geoffrey Brighton Geoffrey Brighton, The Young Lad
Peter Castor Peter Castor, The Beaver
Cefes Weber Cefes Weber, The Canada Goose
Bradley Fir Bradley Fir, The Wood Duck
Victory (Tor) Victory (Tor), The Horse
Pretentious Dear Pretentious Dear, One of the “Snobby Deer”

Chapter 1

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away (but not so near, either), there lived young lad named Geoffrey Brighton, a precocious 10-year-old, full of curiousity and keenly adventurous. Geoffrey stood 135 centimetres tall, and weighed 30 kilograms. His full head of sandy hair was often tousled by the wind and his active lifestyle. His boyish eyes were a rich mixture of hazelnut browns and forest greens and his energy unbounded. When he smiled, he looked somewhat cherubic: bulging cheeks, innocent in appearance and oblivious to all the complexities of adult life. He lived on a sprawling vineyard with his parents Helen Brighton and Christophe Marcant.

Helen was of British ancestry, and grew up the daughter of Edward Brighton, a famous English barrister. Although encouraged by her father to follow in his footsteps, Helen came to reject the pretense that often accompanies the legal profession. She wanted to live a more modest and meaningful life wherein she would help improve the lives of the less fortunate, without profiting from their misfortune. Being one of the star performers in middle school, she was offered an academic scholarship to Oxford, where she studied English Literature and Political Science. She delighted in the feeling of books, the smell of centuries-old literature and the pictures she painted in her mind as she devoured the works of Shakespeare and Chaucer, among many others. At the end of her schooling, she decided to spend a year working in less-developed nations, helping educate children and rebuild the crumbling infrastructure: the result of years of civil unrest and corruption that followed the bungled transfer of power from various European colonies to the natives of sub-Saharan Africa.

Christophe was French to the core: passionate, vocal and sensuous. He delighted in culture and food, especially the grape. He was raised by a strong-willed mother and a fiery father on a vineyard in the Burgundy region of France. While he studied Economics at HEC, his passion remained viticulture. Upon graduation, he returned to his family farm to perfect the craft under the expert tutelage of his father. He hoped to start a vineyard of his own someday, but wanted to travel abroad with an NGO and transfer some of his agricultural expertise to others before settling down and starting a business of his own. He ended up in the Ivory Coast on a cocoa plantation owned by a co-operative of local farmers. The farmers were having trouble competing with multinational corporations like Nestle, and didn’t understand modern farming techniques. In fact, they often used agricultural methodologies that had fallen out of favour decades ago elsewhere. Christophe was determined to help them succeed.

One evening while in the Ivory Coast, Christophe wandered into the town centre with some of the local villagers he’d come to know as mates. The same group met occasionally at a local pub to share a meal and many laughs. As Christophe leaned over to pick a napkin that had fallen from his lap, something caught his eye. He turned his head to see a woman dressed in khaki shorts, a white linen shirt and a pair of sandals. She wore no make-up and while most of her mahogany-coloured hair was tucked behind her ears, or tied in a knot several centimeters above her neck, several tendrils spilled over her ears and hung breezily before her bright green eyes. He couldn’t immediately decide exactly why, but he thought she was absolutely gorgeous and couldn’t help but gaze at her (oblivious to the fact that many of the other men in the restaurant has also taken notice and were doing the same). While traditionally somewhat shy, Christophe felt compelled to get out of his chair and greet this woman, who looked somewhat out of place, and slightly distracted.

He strolled up to her, extended his hand and said, “Hello. My name is Christophe.” The woman met his hand, shook firmly, repeated his greeting and introduced herself as Helen. She explained hurriedly that she was looking for a phone because the jeep she’d borrowed to run some errands has been ravaged by thieves, who’d made off with the distributor cap and the battery. She needed to find a way to get the spare parts (probably from a garage that purchased the stolen parts from the thieves; the poor were clever if not always honest) and get the jeep back to its owner before morning. Christophe agreed to help her, and motioned for her to follow him. While walking to the local garage, the two began chatting about their reasons for being in the Ivory Coast and their own interests outside aid work. They hit it off almost immediately, and, in what seemed like seconds, they’d covered the 4km between the restaurant and the garage. Unsurprisingly, the local garage had all of the spare parts that Helen required. She paid the owner while Christophe picked up the bag containing the spare parts. As they strolled back toward the restaurant, the two discovered that they were both nearing the end of their respective years in the Ivory Coast, and would be leaving within a week of one another. They made plans to meet later in the week for a glass of wine and more great conversation as they replaced the parts in the jeep. When Christophe ensured all the wires were properly connected, Helen hopped into the jeep and turned the key. The engine roared to life. She thanked Christophe and sped off into the blackness of night waving a furtive goodbye as a plume of dust rose behind her.

Christophe spent the next few days working feverishly to finish up the last of the training materials he’d developed for the farmers, but he found himself distracted by thoughts of Helen. He wondered if she’d seem as fascinating and beautiful on their next visit. She did. They met Thursday evening, split a bottle of “interesting” wine and laughed until their stomachs hurt. They would have stayed up talking all night, but Helen had to finish packing; she was heading home to England the next morning. Before leaving the restaurant, she hugged Christophe, gave him a peck on the cheek and surreptitiously slipped a small note into his pocket. It wasn’t until later that Christophe found the note which read:

Ring me in London
020 76348700

His heart jumped as he read her script. Its curves as sexy as those of Helen’s smile, her hips or the paths their conversations followed. He didn’t leave for another week, but was already eagerly anticipating sitting in a cozy British pub with his new friend. Christophe spent his final week making sure all of the loose ends were tied up and that he’d provided contact information to his African friends, hoping they’d continue to call on him for support even after he’d left. He knew they were determined folk who simply lacked the training and expertise of the large firms that seemed to be exploiting the land for profits that were directed into the pockets of fat cats on Wall Street. He hoped they would succeed.

Upon reaching London, Christophe called Helen and she came to fetch him from Heathrow airport. The two giggled like teens the entire drive up the motorway to Helen’s family home. The estate was magnificent. Its many gardens stretched out from the house like tentacles on a giant masonry squid, casting their grip on the pond that decorated the front lawn. Christophe was so glad to be with Helen, but was exhausted from travel. While Helen showed him to his room, he confessed to her that he was drained and wished to have a nap. She had promised her mother that she’d help seal invitations for the family’s annual garden party, a gala event, sure to be attended by numerous dignitaries. She pointed out the washroom, handed Christophe a thick bath towel and promised to return when she’d finished stuffing envelopes with her mother. Christophe nodded to her and then quickly fell into a sound sleep. Helen woke him several hours later and mentioned that it was near dinner time and if he had any intention of eating, that he should get up and put on some clothes.

Christophe dressed and wandered downstairs, where he was introduced to Helen’s parents. They seemed like British aristocrats and it suddenly made sense to him why Helen came off so graceful and self-confident. The four shared a wonderful dinner together and as Helen and her father cleared the table, Christophe shared a few laughs with Mrs. Brighton. Once the table was cleared, Christophe and Helen grabbed a bottle of wine, lifted some glasses from their cabinet and went to sit in the yard to talk. They spent the next five days in close company, reading together, eating together and exploring the many sites that Christophe hadn’t ever seen and that Helen hadn’t seen since she’d experienced them on field trips in middle school. It was wonderful.

Christophe promised his parents he’d be home to help with the fall harvest, so, after a week with Helen, he begrudgingly packed his things. As Helen drove him to the train station, Christophe wondered aloud whether she’d like to visit him at his family home. She, of course, thought this to be a brilliant idea, pulled an immediate (and completely illegal) U-turn, and drove home to pack some things. She rushed up the stairs, filled her bag with what she thought would be enough clothing for a week – it was hard to judge after spending a year in Africa with so little – and ran back to the car, where Christophe was waiting, patiently. Now they were ready for France. They made their way to the station, parked Helen’s old car in a lot nearby and boarded an express train to France. They’d have three hours until they reached Paris and another four hour trip after that to Christophe’s home. Since the two were both tired from the dancing and revelry the night before, they collapsed heavily into their seats, waking only moments before reaching the Paris terminal. The sun shone brightly overhead as they leapt from the train into the arms of Paris. Christophe realized how much he missed his country, and inhaled deeply, taking in the smell of Paris. He spun on his heels to see Helen, sun glinting off her marvelous eyes, smiling. He leaned toward her, and brushed his lips across hers, kissing her gently before the speakers announced the impending departure of their train. They ran and skipped down the platform to train 214, and arrived just as the steward was about to lift the booster step from the platform. The train slipped slowly from the station, and began to accelerate to its cruising speed of 218km/h. As they watched the countryside scream by the window, they spoke excitedly of their plans for the future.

The two spent the next week helping the Marcant family clean the vines of their ripe fruit. It was hard work and involved many long days, but it seemed easy in comparison to what the two had endured during the previous 12 months in Africa. All the modern machinery made things easy and so much faster than handpicking cocoa, or walking 12km through hot sand to reach a dilapidated schoolhouse. That it was not 43oC every day also helped immensely. Both Helen and Christophe found the unfamiliar African heat to be a huge drain on their energy, but they wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

What followed was a spectacular romance between two people who connected and engaged on so many levels. Christophe and Helen fell madly in love with one another, and began an intense and passionate relationship that would carry them through the death of Christophe’s father, the illness of Helen’s mother, and all of the wonderful victories the two would share and celebrate together: the publication of Helen’s first book, the opening of their own vineyard, and the birth of their first and only child, Geoffrey.

Chapter 2

Helen and Christophe eventually purchased a vineyard of their own. It was a spectacular piece of real estate that had once been used as a peach orchard. The owner was ready to retire from farming, and most of the trees had reach maturity anyway, so it made an ideal site for a new vineyard. The centerpiece of the property, at least as far as Helen was concerned, was the 16th century stone house, complete with huge leaded-glass windows in the rear. Given the complexity of manufacturing glass in the 1500s, large panes in a common home were a rarity. Helen felt the space at the back of the house, often flooded with light because of its southern exposure, would make an ideal place for her to pursue her writing and newfound hobby of painting. After two years of replacing most of the old peach trees with new vines, the farm was ready to begin producing fruit of its own. Christophe felt comfortable with the vines, having imported much of the rootstock from his father’s vineyard, and hoped their first year would produce a rich bounty.

On mid-afternoon walks that Christophe often took as a from of relaxation, he passed many other farms nearby. Some still grew fruits, some raised soy beans and others had cattle. One farm, however, raised neither cattle nor food of any kind: it was a horse farm, and its pride was a horse named Victory. His friends simply called him Tor, and he was awesome: in stature, in colour, and in grace. He stood nearly 7 feet tall at the shoulders dwarfing most of his contemporaries. When he ran, he exploded, his muscles contracting and relaxing as though synchronized by the finest Swiss timepiece, yet it seemed like Tor was hardly working at all. The depth of his jet-black hair was rivaled only by the darkness of a frigid winter night. In contrast, his hooves were the most brilliant white, sparkling like fresh snow under the light of a full moon. His only other distinguishing colour was a small patch of chestnut-brown hair under his chin. It was almost like he’d made the conscious decision to grow a beard. And Tor was graceful. He trotted and galloped and pranced like a Roman Emperor, always seemingly immaculate, even when he was covered in mud.

Tor was bread to run; he hailed from a long line of winning thoroughbreds, and before disaster struck, he was well on his way to becoming one of the greatest stallions of all time. Raised on the emerald pastures of Kentucky, he left the United States as a foal for training elsewhere. Although he no longer called the US home, he traveled there extensively for prestigious races. While not on the road, Tor boarded at a small stable where Raif, a jolly and slightly overweight Hungarian man, trained him for the absentee owners. Although the Raif was a skilled trainer, he didn’t much care for the responsibility of keeping a horse. To solicit assistance, he placed a Help Wanted advertisement in the local paper. Unable to pay well, calls by applicants didn’t exactly come flooding in. Near the end of the advertisement’s week-long run, Raif had begun to resign himself to the fact that he was going to have to care for Tor himself. As he lamented the endless work before him, his thoughts were interrupted by the telephone. Raif answered, expecting it to be his mates wondering if he’d fancy heading to a local pub to watch a football match. England’s Manchester United was defending their title against Scotland’s Arsenal, so it was sure to be a rowdy and boisterous night. Raif looked forward to these nights. The call, however, was not from his friends (that call would come later), but from one Geoffrey Brighton, someone who apparently lived down the road.

Geoffrey had always wanted a horse, but his parents were reluctant to let him keep one, knowing the tremendous responsibility associated with owning such a large animal. They’d offered to buy Geoffrey a puppy, fish, cats, and birds. Geoffrey would have no part of it; he wanted a horse. In his mind, there was no substitute for a stallion of his own. One evening, as his Christophe was clearing the dishes from the table, Helen flipped through the newspaper, commenting on the events of the world. As she neared the last page of the paper, something jumped out: Raif’s advertisement. She folded the paper and walked over to discuss this with Christophe. There was a quick and nearly silent meeting of the minds before Helen called Geoffrey back to the kitchen from the den, where he was deeply engrossed in a thick novel, a gift he’d recently received from an aunt.

Together, the family sat down at the table and discussed permitting Geoffrey the chance to help Raif care for a horse. Helen and Christophe thought that it would be a good chance for Geoffrey to become familiar with horses and the tremendous responsibility of keeping and caring for such a large animal. The meager wages that Geoffrey earned would be put into a savings account to help teach him the importance of finance. This seemed like a fantastic and timely opportunity for their son, and the three laughed with excitement as Christophe went to fetch the phone. He placed the telephone on the table in front of Geoffrey, who quickly picked it up and dialed the number listed in the newspaper. A gruff voice answered, and, with the confidence of someone twice his age, Geoffrey spoke to Raif and arranged to come by the following afternoon.

Geoffrey was so excited that he couldn’t sleep that night. He tossed and turned as he pondered the prospect of having a horse of his own. Even if he didn’t own this horse, he could imagine himself playing with it and caring for it and sharing terrific adventures. He spent the next morning reading his novel and looking impatiently at the clock. 1pm couldn’t come soon enough. As the hands proceeded in their slow march around the dial, Geoffrey returned to his book. At 12:45, Christophe came in to meet his son in preparation for the meeting. They jumped into the farm truck and drove down the road to the Keeneland Stables, where they found Raif was waiting in the driveway.

Geoffrey and his father hopped out of the truck and Raif looked at the pair suspiciously, wondering what they were doing there. Geoffrey walked up to Raif stretched out his young hand and said, “Hello, my name is Geoffrey. I spoke to you last night.”

Surprised by his young age, Raif shook his hand, as he muttered, “You’re awfully young. Are you sure you can help me?”

It was then that Christophe spoke up. He assured Raif that his son was a hard worker, extremely dependable and that he had a certain fondness for horses. Since Raif didn’t have other options, he nodded and motioned for them to follow him back to the stables. As Geoffrey looked around at all the horse trailers, saddles and miscellaneous other paraphernalia, Christophe asked Raif how long he’d been in the business. The two got into recounting stories about their own childhood adventures and become some engrossed in each other’s tales of boyhood mischief that they lost track of time and of Geoffrey. When they took a break from their laughter, the noticed Geoffrey standing next to (and nearly underneath) Tor, patting him firmly on the flank and talking to the horse as though it were a life-long friend. When Raif saw this bond, he knew there was something special between Tor and Geoffrey.

Chapter 3

Geoffrey spent much of his spare time at the stables. Even when he wasn’t working, he liked to hang around and listen to Raif’s stories about growing up in Budapest. Geoffrey especially like the passion with which Raif described horses. Besides being a brilliant story-teller, Raif often tended to gesticulate wildly when involved in a tale, especially if it involved horses. Geoffrey found himself an active participantin the story-telling: he was forced to weave and bob as though in a boxing match, lest he meet with one of Raif’s flailing arms. To listen, Geoffrey found it riveting. To watch, it would have seemed Vaudevillian.

Raif was an only child and had never married, which was probably just as well because he was essentially married to the animals he trained. Earlier in his career, he owned race horses, managed large teams of jockeys, and drove transports shipping previous horse cargo across the country. All of those things, however, pulled Raif away from the animals for whom he cared so deeply. He finally bowed out of the limelight, purchased a farm and devoted himself to training the world’s finest race horses. He loved horses, and felt a special connection to them. In that regard, he saw much of himself in Geoffrey.

Over the next few weeks, Raif and Geoffrey became much like father and son. They spent a great deal of time talking, and Geoffrey soaked up Raif’s stories and instruction like a dry sponge. While he normally found his work relaxing, after spending time with Geoffrey, Raif sometimes felt he’d just been part of the Spanish Inquisition, answering literally hundreds of questions in what seemed like a moment. However, he adored the companionship and was glad that Geoffrey was there. While their friendship grew, so did Raif’s faith in the boy. Thus, he began to provide Geoffrey with more responsibility, and Geoffrey dutifully accepted it. Raif was impressed both with Geoffrey’s skill and dependability, and also with his own willingness to trust a 10-year-old boy with a $7 million thoroughbred racing stallion.

Weeks turned to months and a new race season was about to begin. Raif posted a race calendar on the wall inside the stable and circled blocks of days when he’d be away. When Geoffrey arrived at the farm after school, Raif explained that the circled blocks on the calendar indicated days when he and Tor were traveling to races. Geoffrey was saddened. He couldn’t leave school to travel with Tor, and knew that he would miss him (and Raif’s wonderful stories). However, Geoffrey also knew that he spent many hours cleaning Tor’s stable, making sure his hair was clean and brushed, ensuring he was fed, and evening learning to ride him through Raif’s rigorous training regimen. As the new season opened, Geoffrey felt that Tor was destined for the winner’s circle.

As the season progressed, Tor seemed to bring home more prize money and recognition with each trip. He noticed that with each trip that Tor seemed to be more tired and less lively. He wondered if this was normal, and so asked Raif about it. Raif told Geoffrey that he didn’t notice and fatigue, but that he’d keep a close eye open for any signs of change. As Tor and Raif pulled away for another weekend away, Geoffrey couldn’t help but worry about “his” horse.

At the Preakness Stakes, perhaps one of the most prestigious races of the season, Tor was the odds-on favourite. He emerged from his stable at the track to much fan-fare, Jackson Brussels one of the leading jockeys atop him, camera flashes ablaze and Raif, holding his lead and gently guiding him toward the track. Meanwhile reporters were thrusting their microphones and tape recorders in his face, peppering him with questions about his training program, the weight of the jockey, the mysterious boy he had working on his farm. Everything. How intrusive, he thought to himself as he dismissed the reporters with a curt wave of his hand.

As the horses we readied in the starting fence, the crowd grew quiet. The tension and excitement I the air was palpable as the PA system at the track announced the close of wagering. As the starters pistol popped, the gates flung open and the horses exploded forth as though hurled by some magical force. Your Majesty, horse number seven, pulled into the lead, leaving Tor a close second followed by a spate of other horses with names no less pretentious than the leader. Brussels, Tor’s current mount, preferred to hang in a trailing position, waiting to see what would unfold, before summoning all the horse’s energy to break the front of the pack. Normally, this strategy was sound, and part of what earned him the nickname of Chessmaster. Today, however, things would be different. As the leaders rounded the fifth corner, Your Majesty slid on some loose dirt. His rider when careening into the grass, while Tor and Brussels barreled overtop. At the time, Brussels was so close to the leader that he might very well have been riding that horse. Because of the proximity, he didn’t have time to react before he himself was skidding along the grass next, and Tor was sliding along the track..

As other, more amateur riders, passed by rescue workers and veterinarians rushed to the scene to assist the riders and tend to the horses. After some assessment, they determined that Tor has broken his right front leg. It didn’t seem bad, but he would have to be taken to hospital for closer examination and x-rays. As the track was cleaned up and the winner announced, Raif shook his head sadly. He wanted to believe that everything would be ok, but having seen this kind of thing happen too many time before, he forced himself to accept the likely reality: that Tor would have to be put euthanized.

At the hospital, the break was shown to be mild, but during testing the veterinarians discovered that Tor had a rare genetic defect that limited the amount of elemental calcium his blood could absorb, and thus infuse in his bones. It was suspects that his leg would heal, but wouldn’t be able to endure the pounding that often accompanies a race. He would survive, but his days as a champion race horse were over. Raif suspected that the owners would sell the horse to a genetics lab where his semen could be extracted and modified to remove the offensive gene. Evidently, however, the owners had the doctors harvest semen from Tor while he was sedated for x-rays; now, they had no further use for him. Raif was instructed to take him back to the farm and have him euthanized peacefully there. As Raif packed Tor and his equipment into the trailer, he wondered how he was going to tell Geoffrey about this.

Chapter 4

Raif didn’t have much time to think about how to let Geoffrey in on the news. As he pulled into his driveway, he saw Geoffrey’s bicycle leaning against the barn. Geoffrey was there setting out fresh straw for Tor and making sure his water was fresh and cool. When he saw Raif swing open the heavy door of the truck, he came running out of the barn, coated in a patina of hay, and wearing a broad, excited smile on his face. He was shouting something about winning, but most of it was lost on Raif as he sunk into the gloom that he knew would soon also envelop Geoffrey.

Raif reluctantly opened the cab door, and stepped onto the familiar gravel: only this time, it didn’t seem so familiar. He knew that what he had to tell Geoffrey was going to devastate both of them – Geoffrey because he’d become very attached to Tor and Raif because he’d become very attached to Geoffrey. As Geoffrey skidded to a halt next to the truck, Raif picked him up, and sat him on the hood of the truck. Solemnly, Raif bowed his head, still unsure of what he was about to say. He rested his hands on Geoffrey knees and said “Tor had a bad fall .” He watched Geoffrey. Nothing. It then occurred to him that Geoffrey didn’t understand what a fall often predicted; kids fall all the time, nothing happens to them so why should a fall be significant news. He steeled himself again, and said, “When Tor fell, he broke his leg. He can’t race any more, so his owners want me to put him to sleep … forever.” Geoffrey, shook his head, tears welled in his eyes and he began to cry. Under his sobs, he kept asking, “Why?”

Suddenly, Geoffrey pushed Raif backward, jumped off the hood and ran to the trailer, thinking that he’d free Tor. Raif, walked back to the trailer as Geoffrey was feverishly undoing the clasps on the back of the trailer. Through his sobs, he was shouting that no one was going to put Tor to sleep, and that he could help Tor and that Geoffrey’s friend Brian had broken her leg (Brian was a girl, given the name because her domineering and somewhat megalomanical father had badly wanted a son) and no one wanted to put her to sleep, and that after her leg had healed she was still the fastest person on the school track team. None of this made sense to Geoffrey. Raif closed the latches as quickly as Geoffrey was opening them, explaining that Geoffrey was going to upset the horse, and that he was going to make things worse. With one hand, Raif lifted Geoffrey off the ground, embraced him in a hug and carried him toward the barn, where the other truck was parked. He was going to take Geoffrey home and explain to Helen and Christophe what had happened.

As Raif pulled out of his driveway, he was as unsure of what he was going to say to Helen and Christophe as he was about what he said to Geoffrey. Since it was only a short drive to the their farm, he didn’t have much time to think about it either. As soon as the truck stopped moving, Geoffrey sprung from the cab, and ran toward his house, tears still streaming down his face. Helen opened the door, wondering who had come to visit and saw her son, eyes swollen, and collar damp with the salty brine of emotional turmoil. Her heart sunk. She turned around and shouted to Christophe who was in the kitchen preparing dinner. “Come here, she pleaded. Something’s wrong with Geoffrey.” Before Christophe could put down his knife, and wash his hands, he could hear Geoffrey sobbing. So, hands covered in tomato sauce and pieces of coarsely diced garlic, he dropped the knife on the butcher block and ran to the door, wiping his hands hurriedly on his apron.

He reach the door and saw his son, eyes filled with tears, wrapping himself around Helen. He looked up to see Raif. The two men exchanged subtle glances, mere twitches of the eyes, and gentle bobs of the head. In a moment, they were both on their way to the garden. Knowingly, Helen stepped aside, stroked Geoffrey’s hair and rocked him back and forth much as she’s done when he had trouble sleeping as a baby. Raif kicked his feet into a pair of Birkenstocks that were waiting in the foyer, and, with one sandal dangling from his left arch, stumbled out the door.

Christophe and Raif met in the garden. Apologetically, Raif explained what happened at the race and that Tor was going to have to be put down. Christophe’s mind set to work immediately, running through other possible alternatives. After some discussion with Raif, it appeared that the only feasible option was for Christophe to take the horse. Raif couldn’t afford to keep Tor, and even if Christophe paid the keep, Raif wouldn’t have room: given his reputation for turning out champions, he was sure to have a new stallion at his stable in short order. Christophe admitted to Raif that while he could take Tor, that it was a lot of responsibility for to accept, and, more importantly, he’d have to discuss the idea with Helen and Geoffrey first. Raif nodded, said that he could keep Tor until next weekend, but that he’d need a decision at that point. Otherwise, he’d have no choice but to call the veterinarian to euthanize the majestic animal. With that, Raif thought it would be best to leave and allow the family some time to digest the news, deal with Geoffrey’s pain and discuss the options before them. Besides, he had to get Tor out of the trailer, and into his stall where he’d be more comfortable.

As Raif trundled solemnly toward his truck, he noticed a goose sitting gcuriously nearby. The goose seemed almost human in its persona, and Raif thought this kind of comical. He smiled to himself and wondered what a large Canada Goose was doing sitting in gravel far away from any water or grass – AND all by itself. Strange. With a slight grin, Raif swung himself into the cab of the truck, slid the keys into the ignition, twisted them and the hefty diesel engine popped to life.

Raif turned out of the driveway, pressed the accelerator to the floor and the tires spun flinging gravel into the air as the truck sped toward Raif’s farm. During the short drive, Raif didn’t think much. He was panic-stricken. As Raif pulled into his own driveway, he wondered what was to become of Tor. He didn’t know if he would be able to bring himself to end Tor’s life if Geoffrey’s family wasn’t able to take the great horse. He trembled with anxiety and guilt as he opened the door of his truck, and walked to the rear of the horse trailer. Slowly unlatching the clasps, he could hear Tor breathing gently inside. He opened the heavy doors and Tor began to rustle about, trotting in place, wanting to be out of the trailer. He slowly backed out, Raif grabbed his lead and guided him to his stall. Tor stepped gingerly on his broken leg, which had been heavily splinted by the veterinarians at the track, as he made his way to the barn. Raif suspected that Tor couldn’t wait to get into his stall and lie down in a fresh pile of bedding.

Chapter 5

While Raif was cleaning out the trailer, down the road, Geoffrey and his parents were sitting on thick cushions in their living room, sipping hot chocolate – a ritual they followed when needing to discuss issues of importance.

Helen and Christophe knew that Geoffrey wanted to keep Tor, and the thought of terminating the life of a such a majestic animal was depressing to them, but they weren’t sure that Geoffrey was ready for all the responsibility of keeping a horse. At the same time, they recognized that Geoffrey was growing up and that he seemed wise (and mature) beyond his years. They talked.

Through his sobs, Geoffrey promised that he could take care of Tor and that he’d contribute his earnings (from his allowance and the money he made at Raif’s) to help pay for the cost of keeping Tor. The gesture meant a lot to Helen and Christophe, but they’d rather Geoffrey save for school or other things that would become more important later on. With some degree of hesitation, but with the greatest confidence in their son, the family agreed that Geoffrey could accept the awesome responsibility of owning, caring for and keeping a horse.

After finishing their hot chocolate, the family got into one of the farm trucks and drove down the road to Raif’s house. The three of them found Raif, who appeared downtrodden, exhausted and deeply upset. They were, however, smiling and hoped that their news would lift Raif’s spirits. Geoffrey walked up to Raif, stretched out his arms in a way that begged for him to be lifted into the arms of the powerful Hungarian. Riaf picked up the boy, and Geoffrey, with excitement, told Riaf that they’d decided they would be able to take Tor. Raif’s lips parted quickly revealing a brilliant smile and opening his mouth wide enough for a deep laugh to escape. He put Geoffrey down and jumped in the air with glee, clapping his hands on his round belly in delight.

Geoffrey and his parents left and promised that they’d take Tor by the end of the week. Christophe and Geoffrey would need some time to put up new shelving in their barn, build a suitable stall for Tor and arrange for feed and bedding to be delivered. Raif nodded in agreement. Raif, now more upbeat and pleased with things in general, headed back to the barn as Helen, Christophe and Geoffrey piled back into the truck. The moment they arrived home, Christophe and Geoffrey headed for the barn to begin the planning and construction of the perfect home for Tor.

They spent the rest of the afternoon drawing up plans, before sitting down to a wonderful dinner. The three spoke excitedly about the adventures Geoffrey would have with his horse and about the routine that he would have to follow to make sure Tor was properly cared for. After a long day, the family slept soundly. Geoffrey dreamed of the horse that would soon be his and the exploration he’d enjoy atop his friend. The next morning, after Christophe had finished his responsibilities around the vineyard, he and Geoffrey started sawing and hammering and planking. Soon, they had constructed a wonderful, spacious and welcome home for Tor. There was plenty of room for him to lie down, stretch about and brushes attached to the walls for him to use as scratching pads. Geoffrey and Christophe beamed with pride as they walked back to the house to tell Helen about it. She was busy in her study, writing articles about the latest misadventures of some wild British rockers, but welcomed the interruption by her two favourite men.

By the end of the week, the hay and oats and straw had arrived and Geoffrey and his father called Raif to tell him that Tor’s new home was ready. Before deliving the horse, Raif came by to inspect the stall. While he trusted Geoffrey, he wanted to be sure that Tor’s new home would be suitable. Indeed, by most standards, his new stall was palatial. Far larger than the space normally afforded to racing purebreads, Tor’s new home was luxurious. Raif drove back home, lead Tor in the trailer, latched it securely closed, fastened it to the truck and pulled it slowly down the road to the vineyard.

Upon reaching the farm, Geoffrey ran to the trailer, helped Raif unlatch the clasps and slowly entered the trailer. Tor knew Geoffrey’s smell and felt comfortable with the boy. So, it was with little hesitation that the graceful animal backed itself from the trailer under the watchful eye of Geoffrey. Patting Tor on his high shoulders, Geoffrey lead the horse to his new home, which Tor took to immediately. Because he’d played such a significant role in its construction, Geoffrey’s scent was all over the stall, which likely contributed to Tor’s overall sense of safety and comfort. He wandered around his stall for a few moments before lowering himself into a fresh pile of straw, where he quickly fell into a deep sleep.

The next few months saw Geoffrey caring for Tor, helping his leg heal, feeding him a special blend of food recommended by a French veterinarian that Christophe knew from his time in Burgundy. Tor appeared to be making remarkable progress and his health was improving more quickly than anyone had expected. There was speculation that Tor’s recovery might have been the result of the special attention Geoffrey paid him. The boy often slept in the stable if he was worried about Tor, and made sure that Tor was eating all the proper foods, getting enough calcium, and not indulging too much in “treats” like carrots and oats. While his genetic condition would prevent racing, it was believed that he would have no trouble galloping about recreationally. Geoffrey was delighted.

After a final visit with a veterinarian and another x-ray, Tor appeared ready to wander about in the field. Geoffrey put him on a lead and the two went strolling about the pasture next to the vineyard. Tor seemed to want to run, but Geoffrey, knowing that Tor had been fairly still for the past few months, appreciated the importance of slipping into this new regimen slowly. Tor felt Geoffrey pulling on the lead and respected his concern. They continued this walking for several weeks before Geoffrey allowed Tor to roam more freely (off the lead) and run a little. Tor’s leg was holding up well and the horse didn’t appear to favour it at all.

Weeks later, after Geoffrey was certain that Tor’s muscles had a chance to become accustomed to the motions of running again, he felt that it was time to test out the saddle. He placed a wool blanket on Tor and lifted the saddle atop him. The horse seemed slightly skittish, perhaps because of the memories he had of the events that followed his last saddling. Geoffrey recognized this, backed off with the saddle, and patted Tor on the shoulder while speaking to him softly, trying to reassure him that things were okay and that they weren’t going to race and that he would pay special attention to the horse’s actions. The stroking and the gentle voice seemed to placate the horse, and when Geoffrey next hoisted the saddle on to Tor’s back, he was calm.

When Geoffrey had completed tacking the horse, he climbed a set of steps that Christophe had constructed for him, swung his leg over Tor’s back and gently lowered himself, carefully watching Tor to make sure everything was ok. It was. The two set out on their first adventure. The trotted slowly down Geoffrey’s driveway and made their way to a power line just down the road. Large steel towers suspended high-tension wires high overhead, and a thin dirt path, worn by hikers, carved it’s way along the power cut and up the long, sloping hill. Geoffrey had packed himself lunch and included some treats for Tor. It seemed like the beginning of a wonderful adventure.

The two made their way up the trail, and, cresting the first hill, they spotted three white-tailed deer grazing on young poplar buds. Geoffrey giggled with delight at the sight of the deer. The deer, however, startled by the presence of a large horse and a human, bounded off into the dense forest. No matter, the two were sure to come across more animals as they meandered along the trail. And, sure enough, as the rounded the top of the next hill, they saw a large pond whose edges covered part of the trail. In the center of the pond was a large lodge, built by an industrious beaver. Geoffrey tugged gentle on Tor’s reigns and the horse stopped. Both of them looked around for a moment, trying to spot the source of the rustling they heard. Just then, Geoffrey looked up and saw a large tree swaying unnaturally. He pulled on Tor’s reigns, spun the horse around and ran about 50 metres back down the trail. Just then, a giant tree was toppled and landed on the trail near where they had been only moments earlier.

Just then, a plump beaver emerged from under the foliage, spotted Tor and Geoffrey and began to make squeaking noises that Tor seemed to understand. Evidently, the beaver’s name was Peter Castor. He was building a dam to protect his lodge and needed more wood to stabilize his damn, which was a few years old and had some parts that were starting to rot. He apologized profusely for nearly dropping the tree on their heads, but admitted he sometimes got so caught up in his work that he lost sense of what was going on around him, and was quite unaccustomed to having passers by. Geoffrey and Tor had a long day planned and it was apparent that Peter Castor was busy, so they said their goodbyes, wandered around the fallen tree and made their way further along the path. As they reached the top of the third hill – the highest point on the plateau where Geoffrey lived – they turned around to look out over the pastoral landscape of the vineyard, with the perfect rows of grapes and wonderful stone house. Further along the trail, the path flattened and there was a marsh filled with tall bulrush and several migrating wood ducks, each as colourful as the rich fall colours that painted the plateau: wild and vivid colours, almost uncharacteristic of nature, somewhat similar to a Group of Seven painting.

As Tor and Geoffrey approached the pond, Tor lowered his head to take a drink. Many of the ducks swam away, but one stayed, and began quacking to Tor. Again, Tor seemed able to understanding what the duck was saying. He introduced himself as Bradley Fir. He was making his way from Northern Canada, where he’d spent the summer, to Texas where he spends winters. He recounted to Tor a story of nearly crashing into a small glider earlier in the day. The glider was descending from its flight, and because of its silence, Bradley almost flew into it. The wash from the glider spun Bradley on his back and he was slightly disoriented for a moment. After the fact, it was quite humorous to everyone involved, but at the time, Bradley was terrified. The three laughed about the misadventures, and then Bradley swam across to the other side of the pond where the duckweed was thicker and more plentiful. Geoffrey and Tor took a little break for lunch and then began their trip home. On the way home, they again passed Peter Castor again, still busily working on his dam, and the deer, who hopped into the bush as soon as Geoffrey and Tor appeared. It was a wonderful day, and the start of many wonderful adventures the two would share.

Geoffrey and Tor arrived back at the farm around dinner time. Geoffrey led Tor into his stall, changed the bedding, put out some dinner for him. He then ran into the house, beaming with excitement, to tell his parents all about his day.