[emaillocker] Thick fog hugged the conifers planted along the club side of the track as Tarik joined Kaan at the white, blistered rail. Wind jackets zipped up, they shivered in the cold. Trying to see which group of horses was theirs, they were surprised by the quietness of the racetrack that morning.
It was 6:30 a.m. and Kaan had Wolf’s Son out for a workout. Despite the ban, he had continued with the horse’s training like nothing had happened. His broad hand closed firmly around the old-fashioned stopwatch as he stared hard into the damp air.
Gloomy, Tarik contemplated the trainer at his side. He respected Kaan’s expertise, but sometimes the man was difficult to deal with. Kaan hadn’t missed a chance to express his outrage about the ban on Wolf’s Son, but he hadn’t suggested any solutions either.
Tarik was going to have to tell him he was bringing in someone else to help.
Dreading the coming conversation, Tarik stared into the mist that covered the track. He faintly recalled how brightly visible the stars had been the night before, which was peculiar as it had been very humid during the day. Today’s cold morning was thick with fog, which didn’t help the two men waiting to see their horse’s workout.
A batch of horses thundered by, leaving the earth vibrating. Not theirs. Suddenly a dim shadow appeared in the distance approaching the fence the owner and his trainer were leaning on. The shadow formed into the silhouette of a father holding his young boy by the hand. Of course, Tarik thought, they’ve come to see Wolf’s Son. His chin dropped to his chest and disappointment hit him all over again.
The father would have surely told his boy about Wolf’s Son. That he was a horse like no other, big and powerful, with an attitude to match. That he could beat every horse that tried to race him, that he would leave them all behind to inhale the dust stirred up by his feet. That he was the fastest, the strongest and the most celebrated horse in Turkey.
The father might even have told his boy that holding on to Wolf’s Son on the way to the track would often prove very difficult. And he might have told him how the crowd would gasp when Wolf’s Son tossed his head and dragged his groom Halim for a few feet before submitting to be led to the track.
The boy would have to learn about the ban sooner or later.
Tarik swallowed hard. He was glad he couldn’t make out the few other enthusiasts that were on the track today. He had a lot on his mind and some serious decisions to make, choices that would affect not only him, his stable and Wolf’s Son, but also the people who followed his horse.
The father must have gotten special permission to come so close, thought Tarik as he watched the man pick up his son, sit him on the rail in front of him, and, holding him from behind, instruct the boy how to use the binoculars.
The father and boy had provided a valid distraction, but gradually Tarik became aware of Kaan again. Noticing his furrowed brow and narrowed eyes, he knew this wasn’t going to be easy. Tarik was stalling, lacking the right words to say to the trainer, but he had to start the conversation somehow. He cleared his throat.
“Kaan, my father told me last night that in Kentucky they had great success in helping one of their racehorses overcome a problem using horse psychology. They called on a professional horse whisperer,” Tarik began. Kaan just kept looking into the fog.
“Umur seems to think that we should give their method – what they call ‘natural horsemanship’– a try,” Tarik persisted.
Kaan gave him an odd look, like he couldn’t understand what his employer was saying.
Tarik kept his tone reasonable. “So I thought there might be some value in using horse psychology, since all else has failed.”
“We haven’t failed,” Kaan snapped. “The ban is ridiculous. The other owners are just jealous of Wolf’s Son’s winnings.” He stared motionless into the now-lifting fog.
Tarik spoke more firmly this time. “No, Kaan, the ban is not ridiculous. In fact, I think it will turn out to be a good thing. It’s forcing us to deal with a problem we should have dealt with long ago. I should not have let Wolfie suffer so long, and I take full responsibility.”
“It’s not on you,” he continued. “You’ve tried to help him, but his problem is just too big and we need to try some other way… to be open to what worked for others in other countries. For the sake of Wolf’s Son.”
“I completely disagree,” Kaan said dismissively. “Wolf’s Son is a racehorse, not a pet. I know how to do it. You feed them well, train them, run them and rest them. That’s all there is to it. The ones that are born to win, they all overcome their fears of the gates over time.”
“We’re past waiting for Wolf’s Son to get over his fears now, surely you can see that. I’m asking you to be open to try something new, so we can get him back on track.” Tarik could feel his blood heating up but he refused to let his stubborn trainer get to him.
“I will fix it,” Kaan said with finality, biting off the edges of his words. “We have time. It’s nearly a month before his starting test. Let’s see how he does in the practice gates.” He continued to look down the track for Wolf’s Son. He should be coming any minute now, he thought, his fat thumb flicking the stopwatch button in anticipation. He had already dismissed the conversation from his mind. All he cared about was the horse’s training.
Tarik breathed deeply and reminded himself that Kaan had one great and very rare quality for a Turkish trainer: he was patient. He would never run a horse too soon. He would wait and go for a win. Training and winning were his passion.
Still struggling to keep his voice neutral, Tarik turned to Kaan: “I’m sorry you feel that way, but you’re going to have to let me bring someone in. You – we – have tried everything we know. Now we need to try something else. OK?”
Kaan said nothing, just looked at him coldly.
“I’ll let you know when the horseman is coming. Ah…” This was the part Tarik hadn’t been looking forward to. “…horsewoman. She is from England and comes highly recommended. I’m waiting to hear back from her assistant about her availability.”
There was a beat of silence, then another, before both men heard the sound of galloping hooves. Looking up, there was Wolf’s Son! Both men watched the horse gallop by, effortless in his motion. Kaan’s thumb clicked automatically down on the stopwatch button, absorbed in the horse’s movement. The father and son at the fence shouted and yelled, and Tarik cheered up at the sound.
As soon as the horse passed the post at the halfway mark, Kaan said in a low voice to Tarik, “If you think I will ever let a woman work with that horse, you are mistaken. I will quit before that happens.” With that, he abruptly turned on his heels and stomped toward the stables.
Tarik sighed and followed. He didn’t believe Kaan would quit, but his reaction was as he had expected. Kaan, who had never married and never wanted to, didn’t like women all that much. To be honest, the man seemed to despise women, or he was afraid of them. Tarik had never wanted to ask why.
Up ahead Kaan suddenly stopped and turned around. His face was twisted up with what looked like pain, as if a horse had stamped on his foot and ground it into the dust. Facing Tarik, he said, “It’s crazy to want to bring in someone else. I know this horse better than anyone.”
Temporarily dumbfounded by his normally stoic employee, Tarik finally lost his temper.
“Kaan! I told you I don’t blame you. But this is my decision. And my horse. And regardless of whether you want to continue in my employment or not, I will do what’s best for Wolf’s Son. End of discussion.”
“Very well,” Kaan growled. “Make all the decisions then. Listen to your friends in the U.S., Tarik. Maybe it’s time for me to go anyway, before you turn the respected Yilmaz name into a laughingstock and me with it. Fine. Get that Englishwoman in here and go whisper to the horses together,” he sneered. “I bet that will make them run faster. You’re a – ”
“Kaan!” Tarik cut him off. “Enough! Perhaps you are forgetting yourself. Go, cool down and we’ll discuss this later. Our conversation is over.”
“I don’t need any cooling down. I have made my decision.” Kaan said, his eyes narrowed to slits. He walked right up to his boss before saying in a low voice, “I mean it! If you think a woman will… it’s not going to happen. I. WILL. Leave.”
Doubt crept into Tarik’s mind. Losing Kaan would be devastating to the Yilmaz stable. “Very well Kaan, I will take your opinion into consideration,” he said through clenched teeth. He left quickly before saying anything he would regret, and headed for the Clubhouse. Behind him, Kaan stormed off in the other direction, still angry, but pleased with himself at the same time.
– by Ingela Larsson Smith & Tobi Elliott[/emaillocker]