It was 5 am when she opened her eyes. They were dry and pained from the left over mascara she had forgotten to remove last night. For the hundredth time she swore to herself that she would not forget to use a make up wipe again, though undoubtedly she would. With the sun threatening to rise outside, she reluctantly rose from her comfortable bed. Natalie had way too much to do today to sleep in.
She lived in the small town of Glen Haven. It was her favorite place in the world, the kind of place where people still walked home from church on Sunday. Her great grandfather Glen had founded this town and, though she was born in the city, Natalie had always taken any excuse to go visit it. It took her years to earn up enough money to open a ranch. She had named it Someday Soon Ranch, or SSR.
This was only the second year SSR had been open for business. It was a functioning cattle ranch that also did therapy riding. The cattle ranch part had been inherited from the previous owner. The only way he would sell was if she agreed to continue his legacy. The thereapy half was something she had started. Natalie believed that horses could fix just about anything if given the chance, and she wanted to share that with everyone who would listen.
The majority of her clientele consisted of wealthy people looking for a fun vacation, but Natalie was desperately trying to expand her business. In order to do so, she ran a separate free program for veterans. Her old college roommate had been in the Army, and had benefited tremendously from horse therapy after returning from deployment. Together, they had set up a riding therapy program available to all veterans completely free. Unfortunately, it was not as popular as she had hoped. They only received about 55 veteran clients each year.
This week she had been expecting one veteran by the name of Jesse. He was a young kid recommended for the program personally by another vet who had previously attended it. Earlier in the week she had received a call from Jesse confirming his booking and asking for additional spots. Natalie was delighted at the prospect of more clients and eagerly awaited their arrival.
They were due to check in today at 6:30 am. That only left her enough time to feed the horses and get in a quick swim before everybody rose for the day and check in began. She left her pajama shorts and tank top on, packing her jeans and a plaid button up into her sling back pack. Then Natalie pulled on her Ariats and quietly exited her bedroom. As she tip-toed down the hall, she peered into the room across from hers. It looked like everyone was still soundly asleep, so she descended the creaky stairs holding her breath each time they croaked out.
Finally at the door, she met her german shepherd Ace. He was a long haired boy who slept by the door and waited for her each morning. After a silent good morning pet, Natalie grabbed the leather halter from its hanger and slipped into the cool morning air with him.
The air smelled delicious, a mix of pine and wildflowers, but she also caught a hint of fall coming in on the slight breeze. The promise of crisp cool morning rides excited Natalie. They were her favorite, yet she was sad her morning lake swim would soon have to end until next year. As she walked towards the barn Molly came out to greet her.
Molly was her favorite horse, a once in a lifetime animal. She was a tall, jet black horse with a matching mane and tail. Her mane was wild, draping over both sides of her neck, the tips an auburn color. When she ran it looked as though fire danced on her neck. Natalie had owned her for all 10 years of Molly's life, and they gone for a walk or ride together every day since.
When Natalie approached the gate Molly let out a neigh loud enough to wake the whole city. The other horses began to chime in so Natalie tossed hay and quickly haltered the horse to keep her quiet. Then, in one swift motion Natalie was up on her back and they were off to the lake with Ace trailing close behind.
The path was a familiar one, up over a cliff and then down into a small valley. It couldn't have been more than a half mile ride from the ranch. Natalie rode without reins, instead opting for verbal cues and body pressure to guide her horse. Molly was very sensitive and took to her cues well. They walked through the trees listening to the birds singing their morning songs and watching deer passing by cautiously. At the top of the cliff, Natalie paused to look at the view. You could see for miles, and this was the best place to watch the sun rising. Today the sky was illuminated pink with twinges of orange here and there. The view was stunning.
It was quiet enough to hear Molly's hooves hit each rock as they traversed down to the lake. Once they reached the waters edge, she jumped down off her horse and Molly walked away to have a morning snack. Natalie walked over to the fallen tree by the waters edge, took off her backpack and began to undress.
She preferred to swim naked. It all started when she accidentally found this lake as a teenager. Granted, back then she was trespassing on private property. She had just been driving in the mountains with her boyfriend when they pulled off to look at the view. From a car on the road you couldn't see a lake, but if you got out you could. That day they did get out, and they followed a steep path down to a 100 foot cliff that looked over the lake. Another steep climb and they made it down to the waters edge where they went skinny dipping for the first time together. For years after they had gone back to that lake together, never getting caught. Natalie was thrilled to find out that this lake was part of the property she had purchased. Now she could legally swim there whenever she wanted.
This morning, she dipped her foot in to test the temperature just before Ace made his gallant entrance. He had looped around and then run right for the lake, jumping in and splashing the frigid water on her bare body. Natalie muttered a series of curse words under her breath before diving in after him. The cold water shocked her system electrifying her as she swam the length of the lake. Lap after lap she swam until she was utterly exhausted.