A/N: This is the final chapter of Riding Toward Tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read & review. This is the only Thoroughbred story I wanted to write.
Mikki looked between her mount's ears as they galloped down the track. She could hear the roar of the crowd as they headed towards the finish line – she was ahead by two lengths.
"C'mon, California Dream." Mikki whispered in her mount's ear. The horse zoomed under the wire as the other horses galloped behind them. Mikki smiled as she talked with the reporter, also on horseback, pointing Dream towards the Winner's Circle.
Once the photo shoot was finished in the Winner's Circle, Mikki dismounted Dream and walked her to her stall.
"I am so proud of you." Parker said, coming up behind Mikki.
"Thanks. She did really well, I'm proud of her." Mikki told her father, handing Dream's reins to a nearby groom while she went to the jockey's changing rooms to change into her street clothes.
"Congrats on your race." A fellow female jockey said.
"Thanks. I'm Mikki Townsend."
"Nice to meet you. Which stable do you ride for?"
"Townsend Acres. You?"
"They have some nice horses."
"So does TA."
The other jockey smiled and put her T-shirt on.
"Who was your mount?" Sara asked as she and Mikki exited the changing room.
"California Dream. Yours?"
"Townsend Blue Devil."
The girls ended up chatting for a little longer until a trainer Mikki didn't know called Sara over.
"I gotta go. It was nice talking to you."
"You, too. Hey, are you on Facebook?"
"Of course. I'll friend you."
"Cool – my picture is of me on a dark brown horse."
"Okay. I'll friend you later."
"I'm coming! Don't get your panties in a twist!"
With that, Sara headed to where the voice was coming from. Mikki watched her go before walking to where her parents and adopted brother, Heath, were waiting.
"You were awesome Mikki!" Heath told Mikki as they got in the van to head back to Whitebrook. The horses were already in the horse trailer and on their way back to Whitebrook.
"Thank you, Heath." Mikki told her fifteen-year-old brother. He loved horses as much as Christina, Parker and Mikki did, but had never been on one himself. He had dark curly hair, green eyes and was about a foot taller than Mikki. He also had Cerebral Palsy.
"Someday, I want to ride in a race, too."
"Maybe you will."
Christina looked in the rearview mirror at her children, smiling at them.
The van pulled into the Whitebrook driveway half an hour later. Everyone was smiling and laughing, but stopped when they saw the vet's truck parked outside the barn where the horses in training were kept.
"Uh oh." Heath muttered as Christina, Parker and Mikki jumped out of the truck, Heath stumbling after them.
When they reached the barn, they saw the vet outside Splash of Color's stall. Mikki's heart leapt to her throat – Splash was Jenn's horse.
"What's wrong?" Mikki asked the vet.
"She's having a difficult time breathing. I called Jenn and she's on her way over." The vet told Mikki. Mikki looked at her best friend's horse – she was on her side, breathing labored.
A soft whinny next to Mikki made her jump. Turing around, she saw Rocky, ears pricked and a curious look in his eyes. Mikki absentmindly rubbed Rocky's blaze.
"What's wrong with Splash?" Jenn asked, running towards where her mare was stabled. Splash weakly raised her head and let out a little nicker.
"She had a colic attack and now there's a giant knot in her stomach." The vet explained.
"Maybe I could walk her – that would make her better, right?" Jenn asked the vet. He shook his head.
"Making her get up would only hurt her more." The vet said.
"I don't want to put her down, but I don't want her to suffer, either." Jenn said, feeling tears in her eyes.
"Dear God, I know I don't pray very much and I'm sorry for that, but we need a miracle here. Please help Splash feel better. Amen." Mikki quietly prayed.
"Heath, come on up to the house. Let's leave them alone." Parker whispered in Heath's ear. He nodded and followed his parents up to the house, knowing that Mikki would update him as to what was happening.
The three of them – Mikki, Jenn and the vet – stayed all night outside Splash's stall. At one point, Mikki moved Rocky into a vacant stall and cleaned out Rocky's stall so that she could set up sleeping bags for the three of them.
"We should watch her in shifts, like the vet said." Jenn told Mikki after the vet left. It was six o'clock in the morning and Splash showed no signs of getting better.
Then, when it seemed like all hope was lost, Splash struggled to her feet and put her head over the stall door.
"Neiiiiigh!" Splash neighed without a hint of weakness.
"What the heck?" Mikki asked sleepily.
"Oh my God!" Jenn gasped, getting up from her sleeping bag.
"Splash! She's all right!" Mikki whooped, startling some of the still sleeping horses. Jenn went into Splash's stall while Mikki went to call her parents then the vet.
"What did you do?" the vet asked as he sprinted down the aisle.
"Nothing. I prayed a little bit, but other than that, nothing." Mikki told him as he checked Splash's heartbeat and vitals.
"The knot in her stomach seems to be gone." The vet said when he finished his examination of Splash. The mare stomped her foot and threw her head. Jenn cried into her mare's mane, not believing this was happening.
Two weeks later, Mikki was riding in her first major competition aboard a horse named Pay N Go. Pay was Mikki's dressage horse while Chocolate Lilly was her jumper. Mikki had paid for both horses using the earnings she won from races.
"And in first place, number 11350 Makaylah Townsend riding Pay N Go." The announcer told the anxious crowd. They cheered loudly as Mikki and Pay exited the arena at a trot. Heath smiled as he pinned the first place ribbon on Pay's bridle.
"Mikki! Hey!" a voice called. Mikki looked over her shoulder and saw Sara walking towards her, leading a pure white horse.
"Hey! What are you doing here?" Mikki asked, dismounting Pay.
"I'm watching my twin sister compete. This is her horse, actually." Sara said, stroking the horse's nose.
"Pretty horse." Mikki said, leading the way to where she was stabled.
"Thanks. Yours too."
"I bought him and my jumper with my earnings from races." Mikki said, untacking Pay.
"What are their names?"
"My dressage horse is Pay N Go. My jumper is Chocolate Lilly. What's your sister's horse's name?"
"Roman – it's short for Romanesque."
"Mare or gelding?"
"Thanks. I better get her back to my sister. It was great seeing you."
"You, too. When you get a minute, I want to introduce you to my best friend."
"I would love to meet her. I'll be right back." Sara said, clucking to the mare. Roman followed willingly just as Jenn entered the barn, followed by her boyfriend of six months, Peter.
"You were AMAZING!" Jenn told her friend, picking her up and spun her around. Mikki smiled and clipped a lead rope to Pay's halter.
"You guys want to help me wash him?" Mikki asked as Peter grabbed Pay's wash bucket. Both girls laughed and headed to the wash stalls.
"Hey Mikki!" Sara greeted Mikki, tying up a big gray horse.
"Hey Sara. Sara, this is my best friend Jenn and her boyfriend Peter. Jenn and Peter, this is fellow jockey Sara Green." Mikki introduced her friends.
"It's nice to meet you." Jenn and Peter said in unison. Sara smiled and ran the hose over the gray's body. It flattened its ears against its head as Sara snaked the hose up its neck.
"Hey! None of that!" Sara told the horse, smacking it with her hand.
"Your horse?" Peter asked, going over to help Sara bathe the horse.
"No, he belongs to my twin sister. She's in the ring right now, so I volunteered to wash her horses for her." Sara told him, handing him a sponge.
"What's his name?" Jenn asked, gently massaging shampoo into Pay's mane.
"Thunderstorm." Sara answered.
The four of them finished bathing the horses and were walking them when they heard a voice coming from the direction of the ring.
"SARA! WE GOT SECOND!" a voice called. Mikki squinted against the sun to see who it was. A girl that looked exactly like Sara came riding over on Roman.
"Only second?" Sara asked, stopping Thunderstorm. Roman stretched her neck out to sniff Thunderstorm when there was a loud squeal. "Gracie, back up a bit."
Sara introduced Mikki, Jenn and Peter to her sister, Gracie.
"Which one of you is showing?" Gracie asked. Mikki tentatively raised her hand. Gracie looked Mikki up and down. "Good luck, you'll need it." With that, she walked towards the barn up on the hill.
"Ignore her – she's very competitive." Sara told her friends as they walked Pay toward the barn where Mikki's horses were stabled.
"I will. I should probably get ready for jumping. It was great to see you again." Mikki told her friend, hugging her. Sara hugged her back and led Thunderstorm back to the barn on the hill.
"In third place, number 12457 Gracie Green riding Thunderstorm. In second place, number 332459 Addie Van Helsing riding Rookie. In first place, 11350 Makaylah Townsend riding Chocolate Lilly." The voice on the loudspeaker announced. Cheering erupted everywhere as the first, second and third placers trotted out of the arena, then reentered for the victory gallop.
"Two firsts in one day! Amazing!" Heath mused as he and Mikki cooled down Chocolate Lilly. The mare kept whinnying to every horse and person she saw. Mikki rolled her eyes and patted her horse's neck.
"Don't forget, I still have Jumper Showmanship and Dressage Showmanship." Mikki reminded her brother as they headed back to the barn. In front of Pay's stall stood a mother and her young son.
"Momma! I want a horsey like him! He won a first place ribbon!" the son exclaimed. The mother smiled and moved out of the way so that Mikki and Chocolate Lilly could make their way to Lilly's stall.
"Excuse me, where did you get these beautiful horses?" the mother asked.
"I got them at an auction at Keeneland. Why?" Mikki asked, feeding Lilly and Pay carrots from her pocket.
"I was wondering how much your Leopard Applassoa was worth." The mother said. Mikki felt the bottom of her stomach drop, along with the ground beneath her.
"I got him for ten thousand. I got my bay mare for eight thousand."
The woman whistled.
"Mommy, I want the Applassoa!" the little boy whined, already doing the latch on Pay's stall.
"These horses are not for sale." Mikki said, her voice firm.
"MOMMY!" the little boy yelled, startling Pay.
"Nathan, stop! Mommy's trying to get the horsey for you."
"Next up, Jumping Showmanship." The voice on the loudspeaker droned. It was then that Parker came over.
"Mikki, you need to get ready." Parker told his daughter.
"Dad, she's trying to buy Pay." Mikki told her father. Parker stood in front of Pay's stall while Mikki quickly got Lilly ready to go in the ring.
The class of fifteen entered the arena, all of their horses looking beautiful. Mikki pushed the thought of the woman and her annoying son out of her head as she went over the pattern.
Trot to judge, salute, stand on right side, then left, smile then trot back to spot on fence.
The judge nodded to Mikki. Mikki remembered the pattern and did it perfectly. She let out a sigh of relief as she trotted out of the arena so that the announcer could say who came in first, second and third. Mikki squealed when she heard she came in second. She and Lilly trotted into the arena, where the judge pinned the red second place ribbon onto Lilly's bridle.
"Good girl." Mikki praised as she and Lilly made their way back to the barn. When she put Lilly in her stall, there was no sign of the woman, her son or her father. Mikki took off Lilly's bridle and put on her halter. She then put on Lilly's purple blanket and shipping boots. She was done for the day.
"Okay, Pay. It's your turn, buddy." Mikki told her horse, opening the stall. Entering the stall, Mikki panicked – there was no sign of her horse. With a shaking hand, she dialed her father's cell phone.
"Don't worry, hun. He's with me, Maria and Nathan." Her father reassured her.
"Wait – they didn't buy him, did they?" Mikki asked, feeling a knot form in her stomach.
"No, honey. We're heading back now. I know you have a class. How did you and Lilly do in Jumping Showmanship?"
"Dad, Dressage Showmanship is next. Where are you?" Mikki asked, panicked.
"We're entering the barn now." Her father answered. Mikki hung up her phone and turned around, disgusted at what she saw – the little boy was riding her horse!
"Dad! WTF?" Mikki exclaimed, motioning for the woman to take her son off Pay.
"He wanted to go for a ride on Pay."
"Dad! He's a SHOW HORSE! MY SHOW HORSE!" Mikki exclaimed, feeling tears in her eyes. Parker put Pay in his stall while Mikki calmed down.
"You know what, stay the hell away from my horses!" Mikki told her father, exiting the barn and headed to her class.
After the class was over, Mikki led Pay back to the barn when she heard Sara call her name. Turning around, Mikki saw the fellow jockey come over.
"What's wrong?" Sara asked, seeing tears in Mikki's eyes. Mikki explained what happened as she and Sara got Pay ready to go back to Whitebrook.
"Does your mom know?" Sara asked, putting Pay's yellow sleazy, blanket and shipping boots on Pay.
"No, but I think she will soon." Mikki said, putting Pay's tail in the yellow tail bag.
"Makaylah Lynn Townsend! What gave you the right to yell at your father?" Christina asked, enraged.
"HE WAS USING MY SHOW HORSE AS A DAMN PONY!" Mikki yelled. Sara put the horses in the trailer, along with everything else while Mikki and Christina exchanged words.
"WHY WOULD YOUR FATHER DO THAT? HE KNOWS HOW MUCH YOU VALUE YOUR HORSES!" Christina exclaimed.
"Mom, you don't have to yell." Mikki said, rubbing her ear.
"I was yelling at your father." Christina reassured her daughter. Parker and Mikki explained what happened with the woman and her son.
"Parker, I don't understand why you would let a FOUR-YEAR-OLD ride your daughter's SHOW HORSE!" Christina shouted at her husband. Mikki rolled her eyes and went to help Sara muck out the two stalls she was using.
"Thanks." Mikki thanked her friend.
"You're welcome. So, are you still mad at your dad for what he did?"
"Yeah – I'm going to see if Jenn and her family can keep Rocky, Splash, Pay and Lilly at their place. I don't want my father anywhere near my horses." Mikki told her friend. Jenn and her parents recently bought a farm and a few horses.
"I'm sure they would love to." Sara said. Mikki smiled, thankful to have a friend like Sara.
Racing season started back up in the early spring. Sara and Mikki were entered in a lot of the same races and often hung out after they were finished for the day.
"Are you liking your mounts?" Sara asked.
"Yeah. They're all pretty good."
"Some trainer in California saw me race and wants me to come ride for him."
"That's great! I'm happy for you."
"You don't sound it."
"I am, really. It's just, I can't stop thinking about what happened last summer at the horse show."
"I know. Are you and your dad still talking?"
"Not really. If we do, it's just him telling me which horse to ride."
"At least you have a dad. Mine died when Gracie and I were four."
"He was out hunting with friends and someone shot him by mistake."
"God, I'm sorry."
"Thanks. My stepdad isn't bad, though."
"Mikki, tell me what's going on."
"Splash passed away last night, along with Rocky."
"Colic attacks at the same time."
"I'm so sorry." Sara reached over and hugged Mikki. Mikki smiled and hugged the other girl back.
"Since I'm not riding Pay and Lilly so much, Jenn has offered to ride them for me until I get the time."
"That's nice of her. How are she and Peter doing, by the way?"
"They broke up last week."
There was a pause as the girls listened for the races.
"This is my race coming up now. I'll see you later." Mikki told Sara, getting her racing saddle and went to the scale to weigh in. One fifteen, perfect.
"You ready?" Christina asked, meeting Mikki in the saddling paddock. Mikki nodded and tightened the girth on her mount – a chestnut colt named Rocket Racer.
A moment later, Mikki was mounted on Rocket. They had drawn the number two position, which wasn't bad.
"Remember, keep him away from the rail and find your hole when it's time." Christina told her daughter. Mikki nodded and smiled when a lead pony came to get them.
Mikki heard the cheering of the crowd as she and Rocket passed in front of the grandstand. Mikki smiled at the crowd and let out a chuckle as Rocket bit the lead pony's neck. The other horse pinned its ears back as Rocket danced sideways.
"Could we canter, please?" Mikki asked the rider of the lead pony. The rider nodded and squeezed the lead pony into a canter. Rocket continued to dance sideways, a sign that he was excited.
The race went by so fast, Mikki barely had time to breathe. Somehow, she and Rocket had won the race by a quarter length, beating a slew of other colts.
Mikki ended up riding horses for another three years, when she decided to call it quits. She bought a stable close to the Lexington track and currently has twenty horses, all of whom she loves equally.
In a way, Mikki had the best of both worlds – racing and eventing, two things she loves more than anything.