Perched on a hill, Brummel Equestrian looks even larger in real life, and the farmhouse beside the barn is more impressive than I had imagined. Framed by mighty oaks, the white columns on the front porch can only just be glimpsed through heavy branches. All around us are grassy hills and dark brown horses graze in pasture by the road. Google Earth’s satellite maps have already shown me how there’s a kidney shaped swimming pool and guest cabins behind the house, and myriad horseback riding trails crisscross the natural ravine at the back of the property.
“Stop the car!” Ainsley Chan points at the farm, “I want to shoot an introduction.” My Chinese Canadian friend clips a lavaliere microphone to her collar and turns-on the RF transmitter.
“Alright. You’re the director,” I remind myself not to be offended. “But I thought we’re being covert?”
“We are,” Ainsley glances at the red barns. “Up there.”
“Not out here?”
“Not so much.” My friend threads the microphone cable down through her shirt. “Anyone who sees me will just think I’m a Horse Girl doing her Instagram.” She opens the passenger door and leans out to clip the electronics on her belt before she steps into the orchardgrass. “Get as wide as possible. Be sure and include the house.”
I stand-up through the sunroof and lean-over with my elbows on the hot steel to make a tripod-steady shot. “Okay. Ready.”
“I’m Ainsley Chan, Welcome to Suffering in Silence." my friend begins. As a narrator she likes to over-emphasize the last words of each sentence, which bugs me. She also leaves long gaps in her voice track which demonstrates her experience as a video editor. “Look behind me.” Ainsley continues, “would you believe such a pretty ranch is one of Canada’s cruelest places?" She pauses. “Today I’m going undercover, taking my dressage lessons here at Brummel Equestrian with a hidden camera.” She pauses, “I’ll show you how they work their horses. You’ll see firsthand how they use whips, constricting saddles, and double bridles with the harshest mouth bits. I’ll point out these cruelties during our lesson, which is little more than an indoctrination into a legacy of torture.”
“Someone’s coming,” I nod toward the dust cloud in the distance.
“Alright. Enough for now,” Ainsley returns to the car. “I’m just giving myself options, you know?”
“Yeah. It’s smart.” I want to encourage her as much as possible. This is her project and I’m just the cameraperson. Ainsley is a year older than me and fresh out of Ryerson. Her dad bought her a pony when she was younger and that’s how she became a horse girl. Ainsley is all grown-up now, and this farm is where she boards her jumper, a ten-year-old thoroughbred gelding. It’s also where she came to believe the whole industry is cruel to animals. I’m not convinced, but willing to help her collect the evidence. In truth, I kind of regret my decision. I’m a city girl and already eager to get back downtown. I’m an urban lifestyle YouTuber and all this open country is bad for my brand.
“Toni. Drive slow. I’ll do some voice over.” Ainsley switches-on my Panasonic and begins recording the tree lined entrance. She’s so similar to me in her scandalmongering, neither of us can turn-it-off. The first day we met-up, the waitress told us the kitchen was out of fish and we both asked, ‘what happened?’ When we see people whispering to each other, we try to guess what they’re saying and we always imagine the worst possible scenarios. We’re muckrakers. Ainsley saw the press I got during the Black Lives Matter protests in Toronto and she reached out. She wanted a camerawoman with balls is how she phrased her email. We met and liked each other and I signed-on for a twenty percent stake. These are her friends she’s betraying, and that’s some drama I have to witness. Maybe I’ll publish outtakes once her documentary is released.
Toni Petti LIVE is my YouTube channel and it’s why I can be so confident and consider myself equal to somebody who’s older, wealthier, and better educated. I’m a semi-famous vlogger with over half a million subscribers. My two ID Refusal videos, only three weeks old, have already been viewed over two million times each. If I had more of those vids I could live comfortably on the proceeds. It’s August 2020 and my channel earns a few thousand dollars each quarter. I should be enjoying twice as much revenue with so many subscribers, but I don’t have enough content. Still, it’s enough to finance this cute little car, and some new devices.
“We’re getting all this on my dash-cam.” I point to my new camera suction-cupped to the windshield just below the rearview mirror. “Don’t forget about that.” I’m reminding myself.
“This is Brummel Equestrian,” Ainsley uses her narrator voice as she points my Panasonic at the big red barn. “There are forty horses incarcerated. We’ll go in so you can see the conditions firsthand." She pans-left to record an outdoor sand ring cluttered with barrels and bits of fence. “We’ll be practicing our jumps outside today because the weather is nice...”
“What’s all that debris called?”
“The elements? They all have names; cavaletti. Uprights and oxers. Let’s not get into that.”
“Where should I park?”
I slow down when a John Deere tractor blocks the driveway. The heavy hauler has an eight-foot section of metal pipe bleachers forked in its frontend loader. The struts bleed yellow straw on the tarmac which evidences how the seating was stored. My eyes are on the young farmer operating the machine. His upper body appears in profile when he turns and I discern his muscular build. He could be handsome but I can’t see his face.
A shrieking whistle cuts-through the diesel engine’s rattle. Somebody is upset. The whistler is a bald man in a suit jacket with an eight-inch handlebar mustache, dyed black. The old timer pushes himself in a wheelchair, but he’s not confined to the carriage. He stands by the topiary shrubs at the entrance to the stables and waves a bamboo cane. He looks like Mr. Monopoly, the tycoon in the game’s Chance cards, and he’s angry. He whistles again at the equipment operator and draws his free hand across his throat which is a crude signal to kill the engine. The young fellow obeys his geriatric overseer; he turns-off the tractor and the bleachers swing in the air.
“Who is that?” I note the tractor-man’s rugged frame as we pass in front of his machine, and I try again to see his face. My friend switches off the camera.
“Teodor Brummel,” Ainsley answers. “You’re better off trying date one of the horses.”
“Wha? Is he gay?” I ask, and she laughs. This is our little joke. It stems from the idea that we’re both divine and could attract any man at any time, unless they’re homosexuals. We know it’s not true, but it’s fun to believe and a real confidence builder. If guys don’t return our friendly smiles, which does happen occasionally, we automatically assume they’re gay.
“No. Err well. Maybe Teo is gay. He’s weird.” Ainsley continues, “but you would be too if your dad was Terrence Brummel.”
“That’s the baldy back there with the squirrel on his face?” I watch the invalid wheel himself away; I’ve read Terrence Brummel’s Wikipedia page but the pictures were from the nineteen seventies and eighties. He’s famous, a champion horse breeder and whisky distiller.
“Yeah. I’m surprised to see him get up out of his chair like that. He’s terminal. But they’re managing it pretty well I guess.”
Ainsley points out where to park and I follow her finger. We coast along a strip of gravel in front of the red barn and past the words Brummel Equestrian stenciled on the boards. Inside, I glimpse three young women moving horses through a breezeway. The girls wear different coloured spandex leggings but they all have blue jackets like the one in the backseat of my car. Ainsley also brought riding boots, her helmet and two different saddles.
“Oh perfect. All the catty bitches are here today,” Miss Chan sneers at the girls. “You see ’em in there? Our video’s gonna knock ’em down a peg.”
I frown but keep silent. I don’t like it when she talks like that. Documentary filmmakers shouldn’t seek vengeance; they should adopt a neutral perspective even if that’s not how they feel. My own belief in The Wheel guides me. I’ve experienced rehabilitation, which is a nice way of saying I was in Juvenile Detention, which is a synonym for jail. I learned some hard lessons when I was just seventeen. Life is circular and any negativity you inject in your path always comes back to hurt you, and it comes a lot quicker than you’d ever expect. Girls like Ainsley don’t get it, or haven’t felt it yet.
I park beside a canary yellow Mazda Miata and I’m just about to turn-off my car when part of the red wooden structure ahead of us shifts. A concealed door opens. A fifty-year-old man with a hook nose and beady brown eyes glares out and looks annoyed. His boots and coveralls suggest he works here. He forces the wooden panel out with his shoulder and exits in a hurry. The door seems like it hasn’t been opened all summer, judging by how the grass blocks its movement.
“That’s Bernard Delany. We call him Barnyard,” Ainsley says. “He’s the stable manager. That’s the back of the Premier Barn.”
“He looks pissed about something,” I turn off my car and hope his expression changes.
“He’s a curmudgeon.” Ainsley directs my eyes over to the ornate front entrance. “We’ll enter through the people doors.”
Mr. Delany’s grey jumpsuit has Brummel Equestrian stamped on the back and his pantlegs are tucked into rubber boots. He busies himself resealing the wall but returns his eyes to us when Ainsley steps from the car. One look at my Chinese friend and his grumpy face melts to happiness.
“Hello Ainsley Chan. How wonderful,” Bernard nods and waves, “the girls are inside. I see you came dressed to ride.” He nods at me. “Your friend is welcome to watch.”
“Bernard, this is Antonia,” Ainsley doesn’t give my surname. My new hairdo, a floral dress and silk hat comprise the entirety of my disguise; we don’t want anyone up here recognizing me as the girl who disrupted the march in Toronto three weeks ago.
“Charmed,” Bernard stares at my silk organza with its floral centerpiece which conceals a GoPro camera. The rig isn’t turned-on yet. “What a lovely fascinator. A magnificent piece of millenary.” He bows with respect.
“Thank you,” I glance at Ainsley who smiles at the praise. We made it ourselves. Bernard finishes with the wall and Miss Chan gathers her riding gear. I push both saddles across the backseat towards her as the barn manager shuffles away. I wait to see if he’ll peek at her bottom. She’s wearing tights and any man might find that attractive, but he doesn’t. Good for him.
My friend slips off her running shoes and pulls on her tall black boots. She peels off her t-shirt exposing her sports bra and slender figure. There’s nobody around, and I’m not recording yet. Instead, I watch her transform into a proper equestrian. She dons a white ratcatcher shirt made of combed cotton with a little spandex added for stretch. Despite the flexy fabric, the garment has a stock collar and looks uncomfortable. Over this she wears her blue blazer with gold trim. This isn’t even her best uniform. It’s just the garb in which she practices, and what she brought for our video. Her real outfit is even fancier, but only worn during competitions.
“Let me get a picture of you.”
Ainsley looks sharp in her knee-high black leather boots, beige tights and blue blazer Her riding helmet’s nylon chin straps dangle beside her pretty face. Her navy-blue jacket is trimmed to hug her waist and has gold piping on the collar and sleeves. It has weighted tails with a faux leather lining which ensures a polished look even if they do flip-up during her ride.
I snap Ainsley’s portrait in front of the barn and a dun-coloured fjord horse can be seen in the stable window behind her. There are more horses farther along and they watch us stroll to the front entrance carrying her two saddles.
“We should switch-on the camera now.” Ainsley points at my hat. “We might see the harshest treatments right inside the door.”
“Okay. Can you manage?” I bend my neck and stare at her boots until the GoPro emits a muffled beep. Now we’re recording.