Girls Horse Club Blog

Four-Legged Hero

Published by • Sep 12th, 2009 • Category: 2009 Fiction Competition Winners

2ND PLACE, 12 and Younger Age Groupby Martha Lee Halstead, age 12

Fifteen-year-old Ellen Holwell stuffed a light sweatshirt into her already full bag. Her mind was still reeling from the conversation she had just had with her mom.

“Honey, I don’t know how to tell you this, but this is going to be the last summer that you’re able to go to Aunt Rose’s, so make sure to make it the best visit possible. We’ll need you to stay home next year and take care of Rory, or else find a job to help pay for someone else to watch him.”

Her nine-year-old brother had autism and had to be observed at all hours.

“And no, you cannot be a veterinarian.” Her mother knew her too well. “You know we can’t afford to send you to vet’s school.” Mom’s voice had been strained.

Ellen shook her head and cleared her gloomy thoughts. She should be thankful that she was able to go to her aunt’s ranch this year. Because of the extra hours her Dad was able to work, they could afford the trip and a babysitter for Rory. But they wouldn’t be able to count on those hours next summer. Ellen sat on her suitcase and snapped it shut, then pulled her cowboy boots on, and headed for the door.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Aunt Rose gently pressed on the brakes. “Well, I sure am glad you were able to come this year.” She rounded the bend in the road. Steep canyons and dark green pine trees displayed Wyoming’s beauty.

Ellen seeped it in, sniffing the royal pine scent. Aunt Rose’s log cabin, nestled in the middle of seventeen pine trees, came into view. A small corral with a goat and an old horse also greeted Ellen. Barking caught Ellen’s attention and she saw a chunky Blue Heeler pup chasing them.

“That’s Jip. I got him a month ago.”

Ellen climbed out of the jeep. Jip jumped up to greet her, licking her hands and yelping for attention.

Aunt Rose grabbed Ellen’s suitcase and they headed inside. The cabin wasn’t large–one bathroom, one bedroom, a loft, a kitchen and a small living area.

Ellen climbed up to the loft and tossed her suitcase onto her bed. She loved this place. After unpacking her suitcase, she headed downstairs to help her aunt with supper. Afterward, they cozied up on the futon and Aunt Rose read aloud from “Black Beauty.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

The next morning Ellen woke up early and whipped up some muffins. She heard Aunt Rose stirring and quickly shoved the muffins in the oven. Aunt Rose padded out in blue bunny slippers. She yawned and Ellen coughed back a laugh as her aunt stretched revealing her bellybutton.

“Oh, you’re awake already and I smell something delicious. I was going to make panca—” Aunt Rose was interrupted by Jip whining outside. “Wonder what’s the matter?” Aunt Rose gasped when she opened the door.

Ellen hurried over and saw Jip’s nose full of quills.

“Oh man!” cried Aunt Rose.

“Can you grab him and bring him to the table?” Ellen requested.

Aunt Rose scooped him into her arms and set him on the table. Ellen searched for a pair of rubber gloves and a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Aunt Rose was desperately trying to soothe him. Ellen held her breath as she grabbed the quill as close to Jip’s fur as she could, and began to tentatively pull. A four-inch long quill slid out and Ellen sucked in her breath. This process proceeded for a half-hour with Jip whimpering the entire time. Ellen hoped she had pulled all of the quills out as she gently swabbed the sores with a Q-tip. Aunt Rose and Ellen sighed and finally sank into the futon.

Aunt Rose closed her eyes, “Just for safety’s sake, we should take Jip into the veterinarian’s office.”

Ellen inwardly groaned. Going to a veterinarian’s office would just remind her that she wasn’t going to be able to work in one. She trudged over to the coat-rack and grabbed her coat. Aunt Rose asked Ellen to take Jip to the Jeep and she slowly complied.

When in the Jeep, Aunt Rose queried, “If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you didn’t want to go to the veterinarian’s office.”

Ellen sighed deeply and told her story.

“So that’s why you don’t want to go, I suppose it would just remind you of what you can’t have, eh?” Aunt Rose countered.

Ellen nodded. They had just pulled in the driveway.

“You don’t have to come in if you don’t want to.”

Ellen shook her head, “I’ll come in, if not just to prove that I’m no wimp.”

Aunt Rose tousled Ellen’s hair, “Alright, that’s the spirit!”

Ellen stepped out of the Jeep. Screams pierced the calm atmosphere, causing Jip to squeal. Aunt Rose had Jip check in at the desk while Ellen glanced around. Some shrill whinny’s were coming through a door with a small glass window in it. Ellen peered through and saw a petite grulla mare struggling on the ground. Several deep gashes in her back made Ellen wince. A boy around sixteen was unsuccessfully trying to calm her. A man, whom Ellen assumed to be the vet, was trying to give her some kind of shot, which she guessed to be a pain reliever. The grulla mare began to rise, and without thinking, Ellen turned the knob on the door and went inside. She rushed to the boy’s side and began to stroke the mare’s neck. “Easy there, you’re going to be just fine.”

The mare’s ears perked up and she began to try and turn her head. Instead, Ellen went over to her head and held it still. The mare strained against Ellen’s hold, but Ellen held on and continued talking in a soothing voice. Finally, the vet managed to give the mare the shot and she calmed down. He raked his hand through his hair and Ellen saw that he wasn’t as old as he had appeared before. In fact, he only looked to be in his early thirties.

“I’m Dr. Lanstrom, and thank you for helping, Miss…”

Ellen murmured, “Holwell, Ellen Holwell.”

He smiled, “You certainly have a way with horses. Me and Deacon here were at our wits end trying to give Starlight her shot.”

Starlight. Ellen thought the name fit the mare’s coloring perfectly.

Aunt Rose broke the silence by bursting through the door with Jip. “I was told that I’d find Dr. Lanstrom in here?” The vet nodded and he and Deacon led them into a small room with a metal table in the middle.

Dr. Lanstrom checked Jip over and remarked, “Well, someone’s done a good job at making sure this pup has been taken care of. Not one quill is left!” Aunt Rose proudly motioned at Ellen.

Dr. Lanstrom thought for a moment, “Ellen, I’m noticing that you have a natural hand with animals. Would you be interested in being a volunteer? You wouldn’t get paid, but I could really use your help.”

Ellen felt her heart sink. This was the work she’d love to do, but there was that money situation. Dr. Lanstrom himself had said she wouldn’t get paid. But what would it hurt to work here for a while? Her mom had said to enjoy herself. Ellen looked at Aunt Rose.

“It’s your choice, Ellen.”

She glanced at Dr. Lanstrom and nodded. He had a mile-long grin and told her that he’d see her in the morning.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ellen brushed her hair and threw on some work clothes. A glance at the clock told her that she needed to hurry. She wolfed down breakfast, and Aunt Rose drove her to the Beaver Creek Veterinarian Office. Once inside, Dr. Lanstrom gave her the royal tour, then assigned her to cleaning out the royal cages and stalls.

Ellen scrubbed the cages as fast as she could each day so that she could visit with Starlight. The plucky mare was improving every day. After cleaning one particularly dirty cage, Dr. Lanstrom asked if Ellen would like to help him exercise Starlight. Her eyes lit up, “Boy, I sure would.”

He chuckled and he let her work with Starlight on a lunge line outside. Starlight grunted with pleasure after the workout when Ellen gave her a bath. Ellen turned to leave, but her shirt caught on something. Starlight’s teeth! Ellen laughed and wiggled her shirt from the mare’s teeth. “You funny mare, I have to leave now.”

Starlight’s mischievous brown eyes dimmed. Ellen stroked a head now dear to her heart.

Two weeks later, Ellen was dismayed to see Dr. Lanstrom leading Starlight towards a horse trailer. She had known this day would come, but she had avoided asking anything about it. Starlight was whinnying and dancing on the rope, trying to catch a view of Ellen. Ellen caught up with Dr. Lanstrom. “Are you taking her home already?”

Dr. Lanstrom finished loading Starlight into the trailer and turned to Ellen. “Actually, I’m taking her to a disabled children’s ranch, named ‘Howling Coyote Ranch,’ where she’ll be part of a therapeutic riding team there. The ranch focuses on helping kids who are autistic, have Down syndrome, and who are disabled. Would you like to come along? I think you’d enjoy it.”

Ellen nodded eagerly. She’d love to see what Starlight’s home was like. “I wonder how much it would cost to send Rory to a place like that,” Ellen mused.

Fifteen minutes later, Dr. Lanstrom pulled under the overhead entrance sign that read in bold white letters, “Howling Coyote Ranch.”

Laughter echoed in Ellen’s ears as they pulled in. Children of ages ranging from five to thirteen crowded around the trailer.

“Is Starlight back?”

“How is she?”

“Was she hurt really bad by the cougar?”

Dozens of questions popped out from the mouths of the children.

Dr. Lanstrom smiled, “Starlight is fine and I am bringing her back. If you’ll let my assistant, Ellen, get through, she’ll bring her out.” All of the children moved out of the way and Ellen opened up the trailer gate. Starlight saw Ellen and whinnied.

Ellen softly held the lead rope in her hand. “I guess this is good-bye girl. I love you.” She hugged Starlight tightly and a few tears dropped on Starlight’s coat. They glimmered in the sun as Ellen let her out.

The kids cheered as Starlight stepped out and Ellen couldn’t help but wonder if the children had missed this mare as much as she would miss her soon. One little girl who had a hump on her back wheeled her chair over. She had amazingly blonde hair that gleamed in the sun. The girl patted Starlight and let Ellen move toward the stables. Starlight nickered joyfully when she saw the stable and pranced at Ellen’s side. Neighs chorused from the barn as Ellen led Starlight in. The mare nuzzled all the horses they passed and snorted contentedly in the stall that read, “Starlight.”

Ellen unsnapped the lead shank and walked out. She knew that if she looked back she would burst out crying. Why had she ever taken the job? Now, she’d just have to walk away on one of the best things that had happened to her in her life. Starlight whinnied for her to come back, wrenching Ellen’s heart. She broke into a run toward the truck. She shut the door and took five deep breaths.

Dr. Lanstrom headed toward the truck. He opened the door. “Ellen, the owners, the Percy’s, they want to talk to you.”

Ellen hoped she hadn’t done something wrong. She smoothed her hair and opened the door. A middle-aged couple stood in the middle of the ranch yard. Children were in large clusters around them.

Ellen reached them and Mr. Percy held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Daniel Percy and this is my wife, Heather. Dr. Lanstrom told us about your dedication to animals and horses, especially Starlight. As you probably know, Starlight is part of a therapeutic riding team. Ashleigh, that blonde, over there,” and he pointed toward the girl in the wheelchair, “is part of this team, and Starlight is going to be her horse. The only problem is that Starlight’s trainer, Jackie, had to quit because she moved.”

Ellen’s heart beat faster, “Do you need a helper for this summer?” If she could get this job, maybe it would be a way for her to make cash.

Mr. Percy looked at the little faces around him. “Children, it’s time for crafts. I’m going to take our guest inside.” The kids headed for the mess hall and Mrs. Percy led the way inside the main lodge. Once inside, Mrs. Percy handed Ellen a glass of lemonade, and Mr. Percy began, “Dr. Lanstrom called to say that Starlight was ready and I asked him if he had any promising young starts, because we were needing another hand. He told me about you and you sounded perfect, especially because of your bond with Starlight.”

Ellen wondered where this conversation was going.

“Now, he said you like to work with horses.”

Ellen nodded.

“Well, we don’t have money to pay you with, but we could use your help.”

Ellen felt discouraged when she heard this–another dead end.

“The only reason we can’t pay you is because we don’t have the money right now. We’re using it to pay taxes and repair bills.” He sighed, “Mr. Hoddson lives next door and he wants to buy our ranch. We’ve told him ‘no,’ but he’s done everything in his power to take it away from us. He has increased every bill he could to try and make us sell. We’re holding on, but just by a little bit. Soon, if we don’t find a way to pay things off, whether we like it or not, we’ll have to sell.”

Ellen thought about it. If she took this on, she wouldn’t get to work with Dr. Lanstrom anymore. There still wasn’t any pay, she wouldn’t get to stay with Aunt Rose, and then there would be the problem of saving the ranch and Starlight. Ellen sighed, her affection for Starlight outweighing the difficulties. “I’ll take the job.” Mrs. Percy hugged her and cried, “Praise be!” Suddenly, everything was rushed as the Percy’s hurried to get her a camp shirt and supplies she would need. Ellen felt exhausted by the time she drifted to sleep that night. She would have to re-pack all of her clothes because they wanted her to stay overnight there in one of their cabins as a counselor.

* * * * * * * * * * *

“Wake up sleepyhead!”

Ellen blinked her eyes repeatedly and Aunt Rose came into focus.

“It’s time to get up so you can get to your job.”

“I’m up,” Ellen mumbled. She looked at the alarm clock. “Six o’clock! I need to get going!” She looked at Aunt Rose accusingly, “Why didn’t you get me up earlier?”

She smiled, “You needed your rest. Now don’t worry, I already have your bag packed and in the Jeep, and a hot bagel and a bottle of juice awaiting you.”

Ellen was amazed, “Wow! You’re incredible!” She leaped up and gave her aunt a hug.

“All right then, get dressed.” Aunt Rose playfully spanked her and dodged as a pillow flew her way. She just laughed and clambered down the ladder.

Aunt Rose made good time and they arrived at the ranch at seven-thirty. A few counselors and guides were up, grooming and saddling the horses. Aunt Rose kissed Ellen on the cheek and handed over her bag. “Have fun. If you need me to bring anything over, let me know.”

Ellen replied, “Thanks. And if you get lonely, let me know and I’ll be there before you can say ‘Black Beauty.’”

Aunt Rose smiled knowingly, “Oh, my taxes will keep me company. I have some catching up to do.” And with that, Ellen walked toward the lodge.

Inside, Mrs. Percy was making the largest batch of pancakes Ellen had ever seen.

“Do you need some help?”

Mrs. Percy gratefully nodded.

Promptly at eight-thirty, fifty kids trooped in for breakfast. Over breakfast, Ellen learned the different names of the girls in her cabin. They were Ashleigh, Opera, Naomi, Jenna, and Gertrude. Ellen noticed that of all the girls, Ashleigh was the most distant. Even when Ellen told how she had worked with Starlight, she wouldn’t perk up.

Mr. Percy stood up and said, “All right kids, it’s time to head to the stables.” Plates and utensils clinked as the children and staff hurried to give dishes to Mrs. Percy. Ellen was pulled aside by Mr. Percy and told to follow the kids out to the stable and get Starlight ready for Ashleigh. “Try to engage Ashleigh when you work so she doesn’t feel useless. I was told by her parents that she feels useless most of the time. They were hoping that she would open up here.”

Ellen nodded and headed for the barn. Ashleigh wheeled right behind Ellen. When inside the barn, Ellen asked Ashleigh, “Would you like to help me saddle her up?”

Ashleigh shook her blonde curls vigorously.

“Come on, don’t you even want to try?”

Ashleigh shook her head.

Ellen sighed, “All right.” How could anyone feel like they were helpful if they weren’t willing to do anything?

Starlight nickered at Ellen and Ellen felt some of her tension release. “Let’s get you in the saddle now,” Ellen piped.

Ashleigh held up her arms for Ellen to lift her. Instead, Ellen held out her arm so that Ashleigh could hold onto it. Ashleigh stayed in her wheelchair, “Don’t you know anything! I can’t walk or even stand up. I’m useless, that’s why I’m in this wheelchair, dummy!” she spouted bitterly, banging her wheel.

Ellen was shocked. She speedily composed herself and groped around for something to say. She settled on something and replied, “Well, honey, I’m sorry you feel that way, because I think that you could be very useful if you want.”

Ashleigh smirked and sneered, “That’s what they all say. They say I’m going to be useful but I can’t be, I can’t, I can’t!”

Ellen panicked as the girl’s voice rose. Starlight wasn’t panicking, though. Instead, she was slowly chewing some hay. “How can you be eating at a time like this!” Ellen thought. Then she spluttered, “Calm down Ash! I’ll, I’ll lift you on your horse.”

A satisfied look came on Ashleigh’s face as Ellen lifted her up. Ellen immediately realized that the girl had gotten her way. She felt like stamping her foot and saying, “You’re not going to get your way next time!” Instead, she stroked Starlight’s head until she felt calm. Then she went to saddle up her Palomino, Imprint.

Ashleigh was a good rider, although she tried not to show it–just to spite her teacher, as Ellen soon discovered. Ashleigh slumped in the saddle and jerked on the reigns. Starlight was so polite that she ignored it and patiently followed Imprint.

That night, as Ellen lay in her bunk waiting for sleep to overtake her, she nearly pulled out her cell-phone and called Aunt Rose to pick her back up. “No, I won’t give up on Ashleigh,” she thought. “Tomorrow I’ll try a different approach to her. I won’t ask her to do anything physical for me. Just mentally.” Sleep finally came and Ellen drifted off into a restful dream.

* * * * * * * * * * *

When in the barn, Ellen made a deal with Ashleigh. “You answer my questions, and I’ll do the physical work for you today. I mean, it’s your choice if you just want to be useless.”

Ashleigh scowled.

“So Ashleigh, what’s your favorite color.”

Ashleigh spouted, “Black.” Ellen wryly thought it suited the girl.

“Who’s your hero?” The girl was silent. “You know, like Superman, Batman, your dad, that sort of thing.”

Ashleigh looked up and Ellen thought she saw tears in Ashleigh’s eyes as she bitterly replied, “I have no hero. There’s a stupid class here about heroes, and I’m supposed to have one by the end of the week. Huh! That’ll never happen.”

Ellen felt pity for Ashleigh as she heard the force in the girl’s voice. Ellen kept asking the girl questions. Ellen hoped that by questioning Ashleigh, Ashleigh would come to trust her.

Mr. Percy, who was leading out a chestnut, broke into her thoughts, “Ellen, can I talk to you for a minute?”

“I’ll be right back,” she promised Ashleigh.

Mr. Percy sighed, “Mr. Hoddson is over there. I don’t have enough energy to talk to him, would you?”

She nodded, thinking, “What am I supposed to say?”

A tall and rather portly man was standing next to a shining black limo. In the dusty ranch yard, he looked gaudy and out of place.

Ellen’s steps became slower. “Hello, Mr. Hoddson. Is there something I can do for you?” Ellen queried in her most polite voice.

He took off his top hat. “Hello, Miss, could I talk to Mr. Percy, please?” He had an unmistakable English accent.

Ellen wondered what a fellow like him wanted with the ranch. She squirmed under his stare, “Um, he’s busy right now. I can convey a message though.”

Mr. Hoddson paused to stroke his beard, then he adjusted his bifocals and quipped, “Alright, tell Mr. Percy that if he doesn’t hand over his land, I will make him give it to me.”

Ellen wished that she had a tape recorder with her so that she’d have evidence to give to the police.

He then began to talk to himself, “When I get this land, the barn and buildings will have to go.”

Ellen hated that he acted as if it was already his. “Excuse me sir, but I need to get back to my client. If you’d like to come back, visiting days are on Fridays. Bye- bye!”

He widened his eyes as she escorted him to his limo and slammed the door shut. Ellen was fuming as she raced into the barn. Ashleigh didn’t know that Ellen was coming and was already in the saddle. Ellen smiled as she heard the girl talking to Starlight. The mare was snuffling Ashleigh’s boot and Ellen felt a twinge of jealousy shoot through her. She quickly pushed that away and cleared her throat.

Ashleigh turned around so quickly she nearly fell out of her saddle.

“So, you can get in the saddle. I thought so.” Ashleigh’s face started to go blank again, but Ellen hurried on, “You are really good at riding. You try to hide it, but you are such a natural, it just shines through.”

Ashleigh didn’t say anything, but throughout the trail ride, Ellen noticed that she sat up straighter and didn’t jerk the reins. By the end of the week, Ashleigh was openly chatting to Ellen. When Ellen asked if Ashleigh wanted to brush Starlight, she eagerly accepted.

Ellen was amazed by the turnaround. Things were looking up for Ashleigh, but things for the Percy’s were getting worse. Ellen noticed that Mr. Percy’s once-black hair, was getting a gray tinge to it.

On one particular ride, when Ashleigh was having a rough time working with Starlight, Ellen felt so burdened she began to cry. Ashleigh pulled Starlight over to Ellen and asked in alarm, “What’s the matter, Ellen?”

Ellen tried to calm herself down. She needed to be strong for Ashleigh. Ashleigh tried again, “What is it, Ellen? Tell me.”

Ellen looked at the girl. She had come so far in the last month that Ellen trusted Ashleigh as much as Ashleigh trusted her. Ellen directed Imprint off of the trail into a small glen of pine trees. “You can’t tell anyone else though, promise?”

Ashleigh nodded.

“The Percy’s are having a hard time keeping up with the bills. The neighbor, Mr. Hoddson, is trying to buy it from them. I don’t know what to do!”

Ashleigh seemed to ponder what Ellen said. Suddenly, her eyes brightened. “You said that the reason they were falling behind on their payments was because Mr. Hoddson was boosting them higher. All we have to do is get enough money to pay for the repair bills, and then they could charge a little more for kids to come! That would pay off the repair bills, and then the money coming in from the kids would pay for the taxes in the future.”

“That would work, if only we could get a large enough amount of money,” Ellen mused.

Ashleigh blushed, “Well, my parents are what you might call ‘well off.’ I know my parents would willingly donate a large sum, especially after they see the change in me.”

Ellen shook her head, “That wouldn’t work. The Percy’s are too proud. They’d say it was charity.”

“Well, I’ll keep my eye open for something,” Ashleigh said dutifully.

Ellen ruffled Ashleigh’s hair and they turned their horses back onto the trail.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The next morning at breakfast, Ashleigh came bowling toward Ellen. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” she kept yelling, waving a newspaper in Ellen’s face. She was talking so fast Ellen couldn’t understand her.

“What?” Ellen asked. Ashleigh pointed at the newspaper. It read:

Horse and Rider Obstacle Course. One horse and two riders must complete this obstacle course in five minutes. There will be a prize of $50,000 going to the winner, second place gets $30,000, and third place will get $20,000. Will take place at the Weston County Fairgrounds on July 20th at 2:30 p.m. during Fair Week.

As soon as Ellen read it, she knew it was perfect. If only the Percys would let them use Starlight. Ellen jumped up from the table and darted over to present it to Mr. and Mrs. Percy.

“But isn’t it kind of risky?”

Ellen shook her head, “Not really. I mean, there’s always some risk when you ride a horse.”

The Percy’s agreed as long as Ashleigh got permission from her parents.

Ellen ran and told Ashleigh about it. As soon as she could, Ashleigh called her parents. When she came back to Ellen, her face was aglow, “They said yes!”

Ellen sent up a silent prayer of thanks.

* * * * * * * * * * *

During all of their spare time, Ashleigh and Ellen practiced the obstacle course, often working after supper when the other campers were watching old movies.

One night, Ellen noticed that Ashleigh’s eyes started to droop. Ellen looked at her watch. It was already 9:37 p.m.! “You go back to the cabin. I’ll take care of Starlight.”

Ashleigh nodded and wheeled toward the bunkhouse.

Starlight followed Ellen closely behind. Ellen looked over her shoulder and saw Starlight nibbling her hair. She giggled and playfully swatted Starlight. Starlight pranced behind Ellen, making her remember all of the times at the veterinarian’s office that she had played with her. “Don’t worry, we’ll save the ranch, and you. I promise.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

That Tuesday, Mr. Hoddson came to visit. Without thinking, Ashleigh wheeled up and told him that they were going to win some prize money at the fair to save the ranch from him.

Ellen ran to stop her, but it was too late. Now Mr. Hoddson knew their plan. He glowered at Ellen, “Think you were smart, did you? Well, don’t worry, you won’t win that money, I’ll make sure of that.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Friday came quickly, but not as quickly as Ellen would’ve liked. What Mr. Hoddson had said had disturbed her, and she just wanted to get this over with. Heat waves made their weird little zigzags on the horizon. It was a promise for a blisteringly hot day. Starlight was already sweating by the time they loaded her in the trailer. All the kids wished Ashleigh and Ellen good-luck, and then the two partners loaded themselves up. The rest of the ranch would come later to cheer them on.

Upon reaching the Fairgrounds, Ellen and Ashleigh led Starlight into a stall in the horse barn. Starlight nickered happily and chewed some hay. Ellen suggested, “Why don’t we go and try to relax until 2:30?”

Ashleigh nodded and they headed for the truck, with a plan to take a short nap. Ellen set her digital watch alarm for the desired time and put her cowgirl hat over her face.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Beep! Beep! Ellen started. She groggily glanced at her watch. She stretched and headed to the stables. Muffled whinnies came from inside and Ellen quickened her pace. She finally bolted for the doorway, and to her horror, she saw a figure leading Starlight toward the opposite door.

Ellen was tempted to yell, “Stop!” but she knew the person wouldn’t listen. She raced back out the door and speeded to the opposite one. The man was just opening it when Ellen arrived. She yelled and Starlight scampered away from the man.

It was Mr. Hoddson.

Ellen wrapped one arm around Starlight’s neck and swung up onto her back. Starlight took off. Never had Ellen gone so fast on a horse before. She seemed to be flying. Ellen slowed her down at the trailer, then pulled out her cell-phone and dialed the sheriff.

Within minutes, the wail of sirens greeted Ellen’s straining ear and she gladly met them at the gate.

The policemen searched through the horse barn, shining their light behind barrels and hay bales.

Ellen felt a hand grasp around her stomach. “Help!” Then something cool touched her head. Ellen gasped.

The policemen turned around.

“Move a muscle, and this girl is dead. I mean it. Give me the keys to her truck and give me a cell-phone.”

When no one moved, he pressed the gun tighter against her head, shifting his free hand to cover Ellen’s mouth. Ellen winced.

Suddenly, the sound of wheels crunching on gravel caught all of their attention. Ellen felt her stomach drop as she recognized the familiar sound—it was Ashleigh in her wheelchair.

Mr. Hoddson pointed the gun at the door. Ellen closed her eyes as the door opened.

Suddenly, Ellen heard some clattering of hooves, and then felt Starlight knock her and Mr. Hoddson over.

Pow! The hand-gun fired. Ellen opened her eyes and saw a hole in the roof.

Mr. Hoddson was frozen on the ground, giving the policemen enough time to jump on him and grab his gun.

After that, it was a pretty open-and-shut case.

Mr. Hoddson was loaded into a police-car, and the girls were looked after in the Fairground Office. One of the 4-H judges even gave them some cookies from one of the exhibits.

Ellen trembled thinking over how close of a call she’d had. She looked over at Ashleigh who looked pretty shaken. “Do you still want to go through with this?”

Ashleigh thought a moment. Then she nodded, “Starlight saved us, so now it’s our turn to save her.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

Ellen’s palms were sweaty. They were next to go into the arena. There had been four teams before them and they all had good times. Ashleigh sat tall in the saddle, and Ellen felt so proud of her. Ashleigh had come a long way since the beginning of summer. Ashleigh wheeled into the arena with Ellen leading Starlight. A saddle was already in the arena.

When the announcer said go, Ellen’s hands flew. She lifted the saddle onto Starlight and cinched her up. Then Ellen cupped her hands to help Ashleigh up. Ellen’s heart soared as Ashleigh galloped to the teeter-totter and crossed over without a problem before flying around the barrels.

Ellen held her breath as she saw Starlight headed straight for the barrel with the rubber-chicken on it. She gasped in relief when Starlight swerved at the last second and Ashleigh leaned over and grabbed the chicken.

Ellen prepared herself to swing up into the saddle. Ashleigh dismounted so fast that Ellen wouldn’t have known she couldn’t use her legs. Starlight perked her ears up when Ellen was in the saddle.

“It’s up to me and you now, girl. Let’s do it!”

Starlight was a flying streak. Going faster than a gallop, Ellen was afraid they would crash into the fence. She pulled on the reins and Starlight slowed. Ellen leapt off and unsaddled Starlight and vaulted back on for the bareback part of the ride. Everything seemed to be blurry as they galloped back.

Suddenly, Ellen knew it wasn’t going to end well. A boy standing by the fence let a rottweiler loose. It ran straight for Starlight. Starlight stumbled. Ellen’s jaw hit Starlight’s neck as they crashed to the ground. The mare groaned as she got up and finished the course.

“An unfortunate event gives them third place,” called the announcer. Ellen couldn’t look at anyone, because she knew that if she did, she would go and strangle that boy. Even with the $20,000 third place winnings, it still wasn’t enough to cover the ranch debts.

* * * * * * * * * * *

One week later, Ellen was leading Starlight to get some water, when she stopped by a window belonging to one of the classrooms. Inside, Ellen could see Ashleigh and all the girls in her cabin listening.

“Now, I want all of the kids who haven’t said who their hero is to raise their hand.” Ellen noticed Ashleigh raise her hand.

The teacher looked at her, “Ashleigh, do you have a hero now?”

She nodded her head, “Yes, Miss Heath. Starlight is my hero.”

Ellen felt tears come to her eyes. She was so proud of Ashleigh. Starlight nuzzled her and Ellen kissed her nose, “You are such a special horse.”

After Ellen finished watering Starlight, Mrs. Percy asked her to fetch the mail. Ellen nodded and swung up on Starlight, for the mailbox was at the other end of the mile long drive. Starlight settled into an easy canter. They reached the mailbox quickly and delivered the mail to Mrs. Percy.

Ellen finished up with Starlight and then walked to the house to get a drink. The door opened for her and Mrs. Percy surprised Ellen with a hug. Tears were streaming down her face as she told Ellen the news. “I looked through the mail and there was this letter. I opened it up and this was in it.” A note and check fell into Ellen’s open palm. Ellen looked at the note and read,

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Percy,

I was watching the rodeo and saw your brilliant horse and riders. I used to have a grulla that looked exactly like your mare. It seemed such a pity that you wouldn’t win the prize money, especially since I hear you need it. I know it’s an odd amount, but I felt led to give this to you. Don’t think to thank me, thank your horse.

Ellen looked at the check. It read: $25,238.12.

Mrs. Percy stared at Ellen, “What with the prize money, this is the exact amount needed to pay our bills, right down to the last penny!” Ellen burst out crying and hugged Mrs. Percy as hard as she could.

* * * * * * * * * * *

One year later, Ellen, her parents, and Aunt Rose watched as Rory climbed on Starlight. He was part of a pilot program of intensive cross-country training with a horse. Ellen couldn’t believe how things had worked out. The ranch had been saved, Rory had a place to go, and the Percy’s had invited Ellen to work each summer for a good wage, allowing her to save for veterinarian school. But best of all, she had gotten to be with the horse who had made it all happen. Starlight, Ellen’s four-legged hero, nuzzled Rory’s riding boot, and let out a satisfied whinny.

The End

7 Nickers »

  1. Great job, I loved it!

  2. This definitely deserved to win!

  3. Nice story!

  4. great story! i know a progrm like that called rachel’s wish…its a good cause and i support it….

  5. Top notch of a story… on the edge of my saddle wating so see what happened next! =0)

    ~HF

  6. great story! keep up the good work! as HF said, TOP STORY, worthy of your placing!

  7. This story is one of those that make you go “WOW” at the end. It’s truly beautiful and touching. I’ve read nothing else like this! You no doubt deserved to win :)