Girls Horse Club Blog

Int*l Horse: Summer of the White Stallion

Published by • Mar 27th, 2010 • Category: Fiction, March for Wild Horses

by Autumn Thompson, age 14

Chloe Stewart sat at the kitchen table, painting her nails hot pearl pink. She admired the sparkle it gave out as the sun shone through the window and sighed happily. It was finally June, and she could hardly wait for summer vacation to begin. Three whole months of hanging out at the pool with her friends, going to the movie theater to see the latest summer flicks, and shopping in the ritzy New York city stores—this was going to be the best summer ever, especially now that she just turned 14 last week!

Just then, her mom, Amanda Stewart, walked in, talking on the cordless phone. “Yes,” she said to the caller with a preoccupied look on her face, “I’m sure she’ll grow to love it there eventually, even though she wasn’t born and raised there like I was…No, I won’t be able to come because I’ve got a job filming a movie in California.” Chloe’s mom was an actress, had been in several movies and commercials but had never played the lead role in any of them, and had been waiting for her big break for as long as Chloe could remember. “Yeah, she’s going to be disappointed at first, but it can‘t really be helped…OK, I‘ll talk to you later. Bye.”

What in the world could Mom be talking about, wondered Chloe. Before she could speak, though, her mom turned to her. “Chloe, there’s something very important I need to talk to you about. It’s about your summer vacation.”

Uh-oh, Chloe thought immediately. She recognized that tone of voice. Usually, it meant she was either in trouble or something bad was going to happen. “What’s the matter? Is it Dad and Grandma and Grandpa?”

Chloe’s mom and dad had gotten divorced when she was only eight, and now her dad had moved down to Richmond, Virginia to become a banking accountant and help his mother, Chloe‘s grandmother, take care of her grandfather, who had cancer. Even though they talked on the phone and e-mailed and texted back and forth every day, she still missed her dad a lot.

“Oh, no,” Amanda answered, shaking her head, “it’s not about them. Well, I guess you could sort of say it’s about them, but not really.”

“What do you mean?” Chloe asked, mystified. Sometimes her mom could be so hard to follow!

Amanda said, “Honey, this is a family secret I’ve never told you about before, but I thought that since you’re 14 now, I think this is the time to tell you.” At her daughter’s questioning gaze, she went on. “You’ve always assumed that your dad and his parents are your only family, right?”

Sheesh, Mom, get to the point already! Aloud, Chloe said, “Well, yeah. Why?”

“Because we aren‘t the only family you have.” She took a deep breath and continued, “You have another group of relatives on my side of the family.”

Chloe’s mouth dropped open in amazement. “Are you serious?”

“Oh, yes,” she assured her daughter. “You have an aunt and uncle and a cousin living in Colorado. As a matter of fact, I used to live there on my parents’ cattle ranch, the Lazy K, before I moved up here.”

Chloe gasped. She couldn’t believe it. Her mom, with her chic New York City accent and fashionable clothes, had grown up on a ranch? In Colorado, for heavens sakes? Riding horses, herding cattle and whatnot? Until now, she’d always assumed both her parents grew up in the city! “But why haven’t I ever met them before, if that’s true?”

“The reason I’ve never taken you down to see them before is because my dad—your other grandfather—died in a horseback riding accident a few years before you were born,” Amanda answered, her eyes misting over. “He was riding a young horse that he was training when a rabbit ran between the horse’s legs. It scared him and he reared up and went over backwards on Grandpa. And Grandma got sick from leukemia and died soon after that. To tell you the truth, I lost my nerve to ride ever since Grandpa died, and Grandma’s parting made it even worse. So, I never wanted to ride or go back to the ranch ever again. Right about then, I met your dad and we moved to New York City together—and we‘ve stayed here ever since.”

“Wow,” Chloe said, taking a breath in amazement. She’d had absolutely no idea all this had happened in her mom’s past life! “But how did you become an actress, if you grew up on a ranch?”

“Your dad took me to a play when we were on a date together,” her mom replied, “and from that moment on, I was hooked on the theater. Plus, we had barely any money, so I thought if I could get a job as an actress, I could make a few bucks. So I honed my acting skills by acting in plays, and eventually a talent scout spotted me and employed me to act for him. But Chloe, all this I’m telling you isn’t the point I was trying to make. The point I was trying to make is…” she finished with a grand flourish, “you’ll be staying at the Lazy K for the summer!”

“Huh?” Had Chloe heard her mom correctly?

“Since I have to go away to film a movie in California for the summer, and I’ll be traveling around a lot, you won’t be able to come with me—and you can’t stay home in our apartment all summer long. So, the only option left is for you to stay at your aunt Jasmine and Uncle Mike’s ranch.”

Chloe’s jaw fell open again. But this time, she swore she could hear a “thunk” as it hit the floor. “What?! You’ve gotta be kidding me, Mom! What about my summer vacation plans? I was looking forward to spending the summer at the pool with Michelle! And I have tickets to the summer movies! You can’t do this to me–I’ll just die!” The words poured out of her mouth as she jumped up, knocking her chair over and almost spilling the bottle of nail polish, but she barely noticed. Had her mother gone crazy or what?

“Hon, I’m really sorry and I know how much you were looking forward to your vacation with your friends this summer, but I just can’t pass up this chance. It just might give me my big break, and then—who knows what’ll happen?”

Chloe refused to give up. “Can’t I stay with Dad instead?”

“He’s too busy to look after you, Chloe,” her mom calmly replied. “Staying somewhere different for the summer for once isn’t the end of the world, and you’d have a lot more fun at the Lazy K then you would cooped up in your dad’s apartment all summer long with nothing to do.”

“What about transportation? How am I going to get there? I mean, I can’t exactly walk out to this place in the middle of nowhere!”

“You’ll have to fly there, of course,” Amanda answered. “By yourself, but there’ll be flight attendants to help you through everything since you’re a minor. Don’t worry, everything will be just fine. You might not be so hot about it at first because you’ve been born and raised in the heart of New York City all your life, but I promise, you’ll grow to love it after a few weeks like I did. The peace and quiet, no incessant sounds of traffic rushing by all night and all day long, horses to ride, wild mustangs roaming the plains…So you‘d better pack your bags, because we‘re leaving early tomorrow morning!”

Chloe angrily straightened her spine, crossed her arms, and glared at her mom. “What could be there to love about this ranch except riding dumb old horses and doing hard work all day long? They probably don’t even have running water and plumbing!” she growled, stomping off to her room.

I thought this was going to be the best summer ever, she thought furiously, fighting back tears of disappointment as she yanked out her suitcase and tossed it on her bed. That is, until Mom ruined it all by sending me off to some stupid ranch out in the middle of nowhere. I’ll be bored out of my mind in, like, two days! Instead of being the best summer ever, it’ll be just the opposite–the WORST summer ever!

**************

At precisely 7:30 in the morning Chloe sat on her plane as it lifted off into the sky and plugged in her iPod. Then she flipped open her red cell phone and texted her friend Michelle.

“NYC SUMMER VACATION—CANCELLED,” she typed. “SENT TO COLORADO BY MOM.”

A few minutes later, her phone buzzed. Sure enough, it was from Michelle. “???”

Chloe texted back, “LONG STORY BUT THE GIST OF IT IS THAT I HAVE A FAMILY I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT LIVING IN COLORADO. MOM HAS 2 GO 2 CALIF. TO ACT IN ANOTHER MOVIE AND I CAN’T STAY W/ HER OR DAD, SO IT’S THE COUNTRY LIFE FOR ME ALL SUMMER. CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING TO ME!!!!! TTYL. C.”

She sighed, sat back in her seat, and slowly drifted off, lulled to sleep by the sound of her music playing softly in her ears.

**************

Four hours later, Chloe was jolted awake by the clanking of the plane’s wheels hitting the runway of the Denver National Airport. She groggily sat up and scrambled to pack away her iPod and phone.

After lots of walking, standing in lines, and waiting, Chloe was finally off the plane and walking through the airport. She scanned the throngs of people surrounding her, but she didn’t see anyone waving at her to come and join them. Not that I’d recognize anybody anyway, since I‘ve never even met them before, she thought as she sashayed through the airport, basking in the approving glances she received on her leopard-print jacket and white t-shirt, lilac suede skirt, gold designer sandals, and a red newsboy hat to top off her look.

Without warning, someone tapped her on the shoulder. Startled, she spun around and gasped involuntarily as she saw a guy dressed in a flannel shirt, dusty cowboy boots, a black Stetson, and faded, ripped blue jeans standing behind her. “You’re Chloe Stewart, right?” he asked with a smile, showing teeth that Chloe inwardly swore could have been in whitening commercials. “Sorry I scared you, but I was just wondering…”

“Oh…hi,” Chloe stammered, momentarily speechless. He was so cute–much cuter than any of the guys at her school back home–with blonde hair and blue eyes and must have been seventeen or so. Wow, if the rest of the guys at the ranch are all so adorable and nice, then maybe my horrible summer will turn out not to be so bad after all! “Yeah, that’s me.” She tried to gracefully recover from the shock and regain her composure. “And you are…”

The guy grinned. “I’m Cody, one of the Lazy K Ranch’s wranglers. Nice to meet y‘all.”

Chloe flashed him a dazzling smile and tossed her silky red hair, trying to appear elegant and sophisticated. “You too! Are you here to take me to the ranch?”

“Yep! Follow me.” He strode off to the baggage claim with Chloe having to take two strides to his one.

“How did you know who I was when you‘ve never met me before?” she asked.

“Well, Amanda—your mom—called when your flight left and said you were pretty easy to recognize with your New York City fashion sense,” he answered. “You weren’t very hard to spot with that old-style red hat you were wearin‘.”

Chloe sighed and rolled her eyes in exasperation. Didn’t people in Colorado take any notice of the latest styles these days? Honestly, they were in the 21st century, for crying out loud! She arched her eyebrows and said airily, “Actually, that ‘old-style red hat’ is called a newsboy hat, and it also happens to be one of the latest styles these days—a girl has to keep up with the times, you know!”

Cody just chuckled and kept walking. A few minutes later, they picked up her bags and headed outside. Chloe immediately could tell that the weather in Colorado was cooler than the weather in her hometown—where it was about 80 or so degrees during the day in New York, it felt about ten degrees cooler here. She couldn’t help looking up as they walked to Cody’s dusty gray Land Rover, and when she caught a glimpse of the amazing scenery surrounding them, she couldn’t suppress a gasp of amazement.

Cody grinned. “Pretty, isn’t it? The Rocky Mountains have snow on them even in summertime. But you just wait until you see it in the fall—everything is just a blaze of reds and oranges and yellows, like it‘s been painted by some gigantic hand from the heavens!”

Chloe gaped at the huge, snow-capped mountain peaks rising majestically before her. She had to admit that even though coming here had been the last thing on her mind, the scenery was nothing like New York City, where the only sign of nature was an occasional small tree growing next to the sidewalks.

She turned back and saw that Cody was standing by an open truck door, waiting for her to get in. Quickly, she scrambled inside and gingerly sat on the passenger side, brushing off any specks of dirt she happened to notice that might soil her clothes.

With a jolt and a sputter, the vehicle started off. As they drove along, Cody pointed out various landmarks along the way. “There’s wild horses roaming out there, too,” he told Chloe, “but the number’s getting real low because BLM is rounding them all up so they have more grazing land for their cattle.”

Oh, great, Chloe thought as she tried not to look too bored by what Cody was saying. This is beginning to sound like a history lesson or something! Then she remembered that her mom had said that the Lazy K was a cattle ranch. “Does that mean your family, since it’s a cattle ranch, doesn’t like the wild horses?”

“Well, your uncle Mike doesn’t necessarily love them,” Cody admitted, “after all, cattle are the ranch’s main moneymakers, since they‘re sold for meat. But then again, it sure is a pretty sight to see a herd of mustangs galloping across the range and it‘s pretty sad when you hear about all this stuff that‘s happening to them these days, so I reckon I’m on the mustangs’ side in some ways, too. In fact, just a few days ago in Nevada, BLM rounded up a bunch of horses and just left them in a holding facility with no shelter from the cold or driving snow or anything. Plus, when they’re rounded up with helicopters it traumatizes them really bad. Horses—especially foals—have died because they get run too long and hard. It’s just a cryin’ shame how bad people treat horses sometimes.” He shook his head.

In spite of herself, Chloe gasped. “What happens to them after they’re rounded up?”

“They usually get trucked off to adoption centers where they’re put up for people to adopt,” Cody answered, “but you have to have the right kind of facilities to keep a mustang and fill out special papers to show that you’ll treat it right.”

Chloe was still thinking about the mustangs’ plight as they drove on. Even though she didn’t like horses, it didn’t exactly create a pretty picture in her mind to think of the baby horses dying because of BLM, either.

**************

About 30 minutes later, Cody turned off the gravel road they were driving on and drove under an arched wooden sign. Two horses’ heads were carved into the wood with the words “The Lazy K Ranch” in between. Through the windshield, Chloe saw a round pen, a weathered-looking red barn, a large pasture with horses grazing nearby, the distant shapes of cows dotting the green hills, and a log cabin-style ranch house in the middle of it all.

“Here we are,” Cody announced, getting out and opening the door for Chloe. “Welcome to the Lazy K Ranch. Great, isn’t it?”

Brushing off her clothes as she went, Chloe carefully climbed out and looked around. In her opinion, the ranch didn’t seem all that great to her. A bunch of horses and cows in pastures, a big red barn, a log cabin—what was so great about that? “Yeah,” she said with a forced smile, pretending to sound excited, “it’s, uh, fantastic!”

A red-and-white dog with long, wavy fur and blue eyes bounded across the yard towards them, barking and waving its long, feathery tail at half-mast. “Howdy, Sunny!” Cody greeted the dog with a pat on the head. “This is Sunny,” he told Chloe. “She’s an Australian shepherd and we use her to herd the cattle and horses whenever we need to move them anywhere.” Sunny immediately trotted over to Chloe and began sniffing her all over. Uneasily, Chloe backed up against the pickup while Cody reached into the bed of the truck for her bags.

She glared at him. Couldn’t he see that she didn’t want to have her beautiful suede skirt slobbered on by a dirty, smelly dog? “Shoo!” she snapped at Sunny, who just wagged her tail in response. “Get away from me!”

“Down, Sunny!” commanded Cody, turning around. “Sorry about that,” he apologized. “She doesn‘t get to meet new people very often.” With a huff, the excited dog sat down while Chloe thoroughly inspected her clothes for damage.

Just then, the door of the ranch house flew open and a woman with light brown hair that looked a few years older than Amanda bustled towards them. A girl that looked like a younger version of the woman trailed along behind her. “Hi!” the woman called, beaming at Chloe. “I’m your aunt Jasmine, and this is your cousin Sienna. Sienna, say hi to your cousin!”

“Hi.” Sienna smiled at Chloe. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Chloe couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between herself and the cousin who she‘d never met. While she was tall for a girl her age, had pale skin and long, sleek dark red hair, Sienna was at least three or four inches shorter, had darkly tanned skin, and her light brown hair was tied up in a straggling ponytail. She was dressed in a flannel shirt like Cody’s, washed-out blue jeans, and cowboy boots that had obviously seen better days, while Chloe’s Miss Fashion Queen outfit practically screamed “New York City!!!”

“Hello!” Chloe brightly answered, flipping her glossy hair like she was in a shampoo commercial on TV and flashing her aunt and cousin a grin, doing her best to prove that she was one of “New York’s finest”.

“Cody,” Aunt Jasmine spoke up, “go take her things on in.” She turned to Chloe as Cody hefted her suitcases and sauntered towards the house. “Mike and the cowboys are out riding the fence line, but they’ll be back tonight. I was thinking Sienna could help pick out a suitable horse for you to ride tomorrow.”

“Sure,” Sienna said agreeably. She and Aunt Jasmine began to walk towards the house with Sunny tagging along after them.

Chloe followed them, high-stepping like a Hackney so as not to get her feet dirty. “A horse?” she asked, trying to sound casual but not succeeding.

“Well, that’s pretty much what we use around here to get from A to B, other than walking or driving the truck,” her aunt joked. She looked closely at Chloe. “You mean you’ve never ridden a horse before?”

Was her aunt kidding? Of course not! The only horses she’d ever seen in her entire life were the ones in pictures, television, and the mounted police force in Times Square occasionally! “Nope!” she answered, attempting to sound breezy. “Never even touched one of them in my entire life!”

“Well, all of our horses are gentle and well-trained,” Aunt Jasmine said, “so you should get along just fine. But your clothes are another story…” She pursed her lips and considered Chloe’s outfit, which would fit in just fine in NYC, but would stick out like a sore thumb in ranch country.

“What about them?” Chloe asked.

“Did you bring any working clothes with you? Boots? Jeans?”

“No way,” Chloe answered primly, rolling her eyes in disgust. “I never wear boots–just think about what my friends would think of me if I ever wore boots!”

Her aunt didn’t seem to notice. “Hmm. Well then, it looks like we’ll have to find you some clothes that’ll fit. Maybe some of Sienna’s? After all, you can‘t do any work in those fancy clothes of yours!”

Noooo! Chloe’s brain wailed. This is gonna be a total nightmare—I just know it! Dogs, horses, work—whatever next?!

************

The next day, Sienna persuaded Chloe to come out for a ride with her to see if they could spot any wild horses. Uncle Mike came outside with them to help give Chloe a riding lesson. Sienna saddled up the two horses—her own bay Quarter Horse gelding named Shiner and a chestnut Morgan mare with a white blaze named Foxy—for them to ride.

Since Chloe hadn’t brought any working clothes with her, Aunt Jasmine had insisted she wear one of her pairs of jeans and flannel shirts and a hand-me-down pair of Sienna’s boots. Even though Sienna was smaller than Chloe, her shoe size was surprisingly big—a size bigger than her cousin’s, in fact—so they fit perfectly. Her aunt had tried to convince her to wear a cowboy hat like Sienna’s to protect her from the sun, but she’d turned down the offer. Her hair would have been in horrible shape if she’d worn a hat like that all day long!

Now, standing nervously next to Foxy, Chloe stared up at the mare’s back. Even though Foxy wasn’t huge, being only 15.2 hands high, she still seemed awfully big to Chloe.

“OK, now hold the reins in your left hand and grab onto the saddle horn,” Uncle Mike instructed Chloe. “Put your left foot in the stirrup and hold onto the back of the saddle, called the cantle, with your right hand. Now just push off with your right foot and swing up into the saddle—just like getting on a bike, except it’s higher up!”

Gee, that’s a big help, Chloe thought sarcastically as she hopped up and down with the booted foot that was on the ground. I’ve never even ridden a bike before, much less a horse! With a grunt, she shoved hard with her right foot, swung her leg–and then she was in the saddle, looking down at Foxy’s shiny copper-colored neck and mane.

Suddenly, the mare shifted underneath her and Chloe gasped. “Aaahh!” she yelped, grabbing onto the horn with a white-knuckled grip. What if she fell off in front of her cousin and uncle? That would be THE most embarrassing day of her life, for sure!

“It’s OK,” Sienna said, “she’s just adjusting to your weight. Just sit up straight and hold the reins in your left hand, like this,” she showed Chloe the proper way to hold the reins, “and rest your right hand on your thigh or the saddle horn.”

“You’re leaning a little off center,” her uncle said, squinting at her position. “Center yourself in the saddle.”

Geez, if this is all you have to do when you’re just sitting still, then what’s it going to be like when the horse is actually moving? Chloe groused as she shifted her weight in the saddle and tried to do as her cousin and uncle said.

“That’s better. So, you girls ready?” her uncle asked.

Sienna grinned. “Yep!”

“Have a good ride!” Uncle Mike called as the girls started off.

Sienna clicked with her tongue and tapped Shiner’s sides with her heels. The gelding broke into a fast walk across the ranch yard. Bracing herself for any hijinks the horse might pull, Chloe tentatively copied her cousin’s moves. With a little toss of her head, Foxy walked smoothly alongside Sienna and Shiner. Chloe tried to sit loosely in the saddle, holding the reins the way her uncle had showed her.

She took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air. She had to admit that it was a lot quieter here than it was in New York City, where the air was filled with noise from honking vehicles and exhaust fumes. Here, the only noises she’d heard at night were coyotes occasionally howling and crickets chirping. But she still wished with all her heart she was back in her hometown, shopping with Michelle.

They walked on in silence. To Chloe’s surprise, she was actually starting to like swaying in the saddle with Foxy’s long-striding walk and admiring the beautiful scenery. And it didn’t feel like she was going to fall off–yet.

Just then, Chloe heard the sounds of rushing water. As they walked down a hill, a gently gurgling stream came into sight. “How deep is that water?” she asked Sienna.

“Oh, about a foot in the deepest spots,” her cousin answered carelessly, “the horses’ll be able to get through it, no problem. Just keep the reins loose and don’t pull, so Foxy can have her head free to navigate.”

Shiner walked easily into the stream like he’d done it a million times, kicking up spray from his hooves. They were getting farther and farther away from the opposite bank and Chloe and Foxy, so Chloe gave the mare a little kick. As Foxy walked into the stream, her hooves clunked on the bottom as she found her footing. Water splashed up and dotted Chloe’s jeans. She tried to ignore it as her mount made it out on the other side of the stream.

Sienna flashed her a grin. “Wasn’t that fun?”

To her surprise, Chloe smiled back. “Yeah, it was,” she answered only, not wanting to sound too pleased. As they walked through the pines uphill, Shiner suddenly stopped and threw up his head, testing the air. Foxy did the same, sharply elevating her head and snorting.

“What’s the matter with them?” Chloe asked nervously.

“They probably smell something,” Sienna answered, glancing around.

Without warning, a far-off, blood-curdling scream pierced the air! Chloe jumped in shock, and Foxy, sensing her fear telegraphing through the reins, squealed and skittered sideways. “Easy, Foxy!” Sienna soothed, grabbing the mare’s reins before she could bolt.

“What was that?” Chloe managed to gasp.

“A horse—a horse in pain or fear,” her cousin tersely answered, swiveling in her saddle to scan the area. “Sounded like it was coming from over that way—let’s go see!” She urged Shiner in the direction of the scream.

Even though Chloe wasn’t sure she wanted to know what had happened, it didn’t look like she really had a choice. After all, Sienna was the one who knew the terrain the best. So she urged Foxy after Shiner.

They rode for about five or ten minutes before they reached a dry stream bed that dropped down about six feet to the bottom. On the other side of it, a steep hill arose, sloping sharply upwards. “Wow, I sure wouldn’t like to be riding a horse if he slipped on that incline—” Sienna started, then gasped. “Oh my gosh…look over there!”

Chloe whipped around–and then she gasped, too. For about six feet below them, a white horse stood at the bottom of the creek bed! But on second glance, she also realized that his body was covered in bleeding cuts and abrasions. In spite of his injuries, however, he was the most beautiful horse Chloe had ever seen, with muscular shoulders and hindquarters, a slightly stockier build then Foxy, and wispy hair showing on his trim legs. And as she peered closer, she saw that he wasn’t quite white, but rather a pale cream color–with a red mane and tail a few shades lighter than Foxy’s–and red shading on his lower legs. His eyes weren’t the usual dark brown like other horses’, but a startling green, and his nose was a dark pink color instead of black or gray like any of the other horses’ Chloe had seen on the ranch. One thing was for sure, none of the Lazy K’s horses looked like this!

“What color is he?” she asked Sienna. Her voice made the young stallion snort loudly and shy away, trotting as far as he could away from them. He jerked up his head and whinnied shrilly, pawing the ground with a hoof. “And why does he keep making all this noise?” Then she heard a distant whinny echo float to them from over the hill, but no horse appeared.

“He‘s calling for his herd,” her cousin quietly answered, dismounting from Shiner and slowly moving over to the edge of the creek bed, “as for his coloring, he’s a perlino—a cream-colored horse with a red mane, tail, and lower legs, like on Shiner, except his are black instead of red. And it looks like he’s in trouble—he must have rolled down that steep incline, then fell into this creek bed. I’m amazed he didn’t get hurt worse than a bunch of scratches! Even though he’s hemmed in by these walls where he‘s pretty well protected against predators and wind, there’s nothing for him to eat or drink–there’s no way he’ll survive for very long. I’ve gotta convince my dad to take him back to the ranch with us.” She got up and swung onto her horse. “Can you stay with him until I bring back help? Here, I‘ll take Foxy—she‘ll probably want to run after me and Shiner and there‘s no place to tie her up over here, anyway. ”

Chloe could only gape at her cousin. “Are you kidding? I can’t stay here by myself with a hurt horse!”

“Someone’s got to,” Sienna insisted, “I can’t send you for help because you don’t know the area. Plus, I’ll be riding fast, and you probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace if we went together. Besides, I won’t be long—maybe about a half an hour. We’re not far from the ranch, after all.”

Chloe sat stubbornly on Foxy and glared at her cousin. “I am NOT staying here by myself in this dirty place! What if a wolf comes and attacks us or something?”

Sienna just laughed. “Wolves don’t even live around here—only coyotes, and they’re scared of people. Look, you’ll be fine. Just hang tight until we get back. Now climb down from Foxy, OK?”

Gritting her teeth angrily, Chloe pulled her feet out of the stirrups and slid down from the mare. She crossed her arms huffily and watched as Sienna rode away on Shiner, ponying Foxy at a fast jog. “Is she crazy?” she growled. “You’d think she knew that I hate dirty mountains and smelly cows and horses and dogs, but nooo! Must have gone in through one ear and out the other—”

She was so busy grumbling to herself and pacing back and forth that she accidentally went too close to the edge of the gully and tripped. And suddenly, she was half-falling, half-rolling down the precipitous incline, frantically waving her arms and grabbing at anything she could to slow her fall, but nothing helped. She fell on the hard ground in a heap, lying on her back and staring up at the blue sky above her.

But the sky was blotted out as the perlino stallion screamed with fear and reared up above her, his hooves flailing wildly! Chloe shrieked in terror and rolled away from his slashing hooves; even with the horse’s injuries slowing his movements, they were deadly. At last, safely away from the frightened horse, she just lay where she was. Cautiously, she moved her arms and legs and then raised her head and spat out dirt. Her arms were scraped up and dirty, there was a cut on her forehead, leaves and grass (and probably a few bugs) were tangled in her once beautiful and silky hair, and her clothes were smudged and streaked with dirt, but nothing seemed to be broken except her pride. Too shocked from what had happened to say anything, Chloe sat up and then painfully tried to climb to her feet, only to trip over a rock and fall against the side of the gully again.

For a moment she leaned against the wall, trying to catch her breath. But then, she came to her senses at what she was doing. She pushed herself away from the wall as if it had burned her and furiously brushed off dirt from her clothes.

“What am I thinking? Leaning against a dirt wall? And I’m already dirty and scratched up enough!” she bellowed. “Why did I have to come here in the first place? If it weren’t for these stupid horses and cursed cows, I wouldn’t even be here! Now I’m trapped alone in a used-to-be stream with an insane wild horse, I’m covered in dirt from head to toe, and—aaahhh, this is the worst day of my life!”

The stallion squealed and shied at the loud sound of her voice echoing in the quiet. Chloe glared at him, temporarily forgetting her fear of horses in her anger and frustration. “Yeah, it’s all YOUR fault!” she yelled, shaking her balled-up fist at the startled horse. “iIf it weren’t for you falling in here and Sienna wanting to come and help you, I’d probably be back at the ranch now instead of being trapped here! Who knows how long it’s gonna take for her to come back here with help—that is, if she even does!” The two creatures remained stubbornly where they were and glared at each other: Chloe, with her hair a disheveled mess and her hazel eyes blazing, sitting on the ground, and the perlino stallion, with his eyes rolling and his head elevated.

As Chloe angrily glowered at the stallion, she could almost swear that he was staring down his nose at her like she was some lower life form. And suddenly, the thought occurred to her how ridiculous this situation was—her looking like she’d been blown through a tornado backwards, stuck in a dried-up creek bed with a wild horse, and the two of them locked in a duel stare down. She pictured it in her mind, and then she giggled, the mental picture was so funny. And for the first time since her mom had broken the news about her extended family two days ago, she fell on her knees and laughed so hard her sides ached!

At last, she managed to stop laughing. “Wow. I guess we looked pretty silly, didn’t we?” she sighed, “but now I agree with Mom whenever she says that laughter is the best medicine for the soul!” She felt better inwardly, but definitely not outwardly—her cuts still stung and her hair was still a mess. “Great. Guess that’s the last time I ever wear my hair like this around this place, or I’ll have to get it cut off—and then I would just die if I had to go out in public!” she mumbled.

Carefully, Chloe managed to painfully raise herself to her feet. The cream stallion snapped up his head and his whole body tensed. He switched his long red-orange tail, flattened his ears, and shifted nervously back and forth. Chloe stiffened and her old fear came flooding back. Would he attack her?

Then she remembered something her uncle Mike and Sienna had told her earlier when approaching a nervous horse. “Relax, and move slowly and quietly. Don’t do anything that’ll startle the horse. You need to keep him under control and be the leader. Horses are prey animals, and they want to run from anything that scares them. And don‘t yell or shout; speak in a soft, low voice.”

Chloe held out a hand to the stallion, hoping desperately to keep him from charging at her. “Well, I just hope the advice Uncle Mike and Sienna gave me works,” she muttered to nobody in particular. “After all, they’re the ones who know about horses around here. If you would have asked me this time last month what I would have been doing this summer, I would have said I would be hanging out with my friend Michelle at the pool or shopping on Madison Avenue. I could never have predicted that my mom would have sent me to Colorado for the summer!” She knew it was silly to be talking to a horse as if the animal could actually understand what she was saying, but it seemed to be working—the stallion hadn’t made an attempt to attack her yet. “It’s weird how things happen without warning sometimes,” she went on. “And what’s even weirder, I haven’t even been here two days, and I think…I’m actually starting to like it here a tiny bit!”

Just then, she saw the perlino stallion’s ears flick forward and point alertly towards her, which meant he was interested in her. At least his ears weren’t pinned back against his head like before—one of the clear warning signs, Sienna had told Chloe, of an angry or annoyed horse. Chloe took it as a good sign, so she kept talking.

“Just this morning, I would have thought I was crazy if I actually started to like the ranch—or horses,” she continued, “but after riding through this amazing scenery around here, and meeting all these nice people, well…” She sighed. “Mind you, I still hate getting dirt on me. But since there’s dirt around here everywhere you look, well, I guess you can’t exactly help getting a little of the stuff on you wherever you go. So I guess I’ll just have to learn to ignore it. After all, nobody else around here seems to mind getting dirty…” she trailed off as the stallion shook his mane. And then, to her amazement, he took a few steps toward her!

Chloe remained stock-still, unsure of what to do next. OK, so far I’m pretty sure I’ve been doing everything my relatives have told me. So why’s the stallion approaching me all of a sudden? And all of a sudden, she remembered the slices of apples Sienna had given her in a bag to feed the horses with. She hadn’t, though, because she was too afraid that she’d accidentally get bitten. Slowly, glancing up and down to watch the horse, she pulled the bag out of her pocket and pulled a piece of apple out. Then, hesitantly, she held it out to the stallion.

“Maybe you’ll like me better if I give you this,” she said, trying her hardest to keep her voice light. “You’d better, because I don’t exactly feel up to climbing these steep banks to get away from an angry horse!”

Even though the stallion was still about twenty feet or so away from her, Chloe saw him raise his head and his nostrils flare to sniff the air. Then he stepped forward and hesitated briefly before taking another few steps. She didn’t say anything else but held her breath. The cream stallion kept coming until he was only a few feet away from her; close enough to stretch out his neck and sniff the apple, but not close enough for her to touch him.

Just then, Chloe thought she heard a horse snort and hooves thumping from somewhere nearby, but she was too focused on the stallion to look around. This close, she could see that his cuts were starting to scab over already, even after his fall. She opened her hand, palm up, keeping her hand flat so he wouldn’t bite her, but not flat enough so the apple would fall off her hand. Tensely, she waited…

And then the soft pink nose was reaching, touching, lipping the apple from her hand. While the stallion munched, Chloe slowly, ever so slowly, stretched out her hand to stroke his neck. The stallion stiffened, but didn’t move away.

“Looks like we got a new horse whisperer in the family,” a sudden male voice spoke up without any warning.

Startled, Chloe spun around and screamed in surprise. With a squeal, the startled perlino stallion skittered away and galloped over to the other side of the gully. Chloe looked up to see Cody and Sienna sitting on their horses six feet above her, grinning.

“No, seriously!” Cody said. “How’d you manage to get a wild stallion to come to you like that?”

Chloe felt her face get warm at his admiring tone. But before she could speak, Sienna interrupted. “Oh my gosh, Chloe, what happened to you? You’re a mess! When I left here to go get help, you were above the gully, not in the gully! Did you fall?”

“Man, you are a mess! What did you do—fall in a cactus while Sienna was gone and have trouble pulling yourself out?” Cody cracked.

Chloe couldn’t help smiling, in spite of herself. “I’m not such a city girl that I wouldn’t know that cactuses don’t grow in Colorado,” she answered, surprising herself with her ability to joke. “I know that much! I tripped and fell over the edge of the stream bed. And I got cut up and dirty, but I’m not hurt.”

“We’ll get you cleaned up when we get back to the ranch,” Sienna said, “but how did you tame that wild horse in only 45 minutes? When I was here earlier, the stallion was standing clear at the opposite end of the gully, and when we came back— voila! He’s eating out of your hand and you’re petting him!”

“I didn’t tame him,” Chloe insisted. “All I did was feed him an apple and then he ran away from me.”

“Yeah, because I started runnin’ my big mouth and scared him off!” Cody joked. “If I hadn’t started talking, then you probably could have gotten him more used to you.”

Just then, Uncle Mike, his other hired hand, Dave, and the ranch foreman, Troy, rode over with Dave leading Foxy. “Man, you kids go fast!” Chloe’s uncle said, halting his powerful dapple gray gelding by the other horses. “We couldn’t keep up with you because we were leading Foxy here and—Chloe, what the heck happened to you? Are you hurt?”

“I just tripped and fell, OK?” Chloe answered impatiently, “I’m fine except for a couple of scrapes. But is someone ever going to get me OUT of here?”

Her uncle grinned and pulled a rope off his saddle. Making a loop in the end, he tossed it down to her. “Here, put this loop around your waist and me and Graybeard’ll pull you up.”

“Just don’t strangle me in the process!” Chloe called as she put the rope around her waist.

They all laughed. “Don’t worry, we won’t,” Uncle Mike said as he backed Graybeard up to take up the slack in the rope. “Just hold onto the rope with both hands and pull yourself up the slope as we pull.” Then he clicked to Graybeard and pulled back on the gray horse’s reins. “C’mon big boy, pull!”

Graybeard backed up, tightening the rope. Chloe grabbed tightly on with both hands and dug her boots into the loose dirt as the horse pulled. Even though she’d hated wearing boots earlier, she was thankful she had them on now–after all, she definitely wouldn’t have been able to climb up a six-foot high, practically vertical stream bank with her designer sandals on. Finally, she was over the lip of the gully and standing on higher ground again.

“Now, how are we gonna get this broomtail outta here?” Dave said, peering down at the cream stallion.

“Broomtail?” Chloe echoed. She’d never heard of that word before and figured it must be some sort of cowboy terminology.

“‘Broomtail’ is a dumb term some ranchers call the wild horses,” Sienna said. “And yeah, I have seen some mustangs that aren‘t the best-looking in the world, but this guy is the most gorgeous one I’ve seen in a while—there aren’t many perlino or cremello horses out here, that’s for sure.” She shot a mock glare at Dave.

“Good-lookin’ stud, for a mustang,” Troy commented, “he’s in pretty fine condition for a horse that’s just fallen down that kind of a grade and into a six-foot stream bed. But Dave’s right—how exactly are we going to get him out of there without him hurtin’ himself even more?”

“There’s a lower part of the creek bed over there,” Cody said, pointing. “Could we get some ropes around him and give him some leverage so he could climb out?” Chloe glanced over and noticed a slightly less steep part of the gully that she hadn’t seen before.

“Could work,” Uncle Mike answered. “We could rope him and get our horses to help pull him out. Seems as though it’s the only way.”

“You girls are going to have to stay out of the way while we get this big guy out of there,” Dave said. “Chloe, you get on Foxy.”

Sienna dropped her reins and crossed her arms. “Can’t we at least watch? After all, we were the ones who found him in the first place!”

“It probably wouldn’t be a real good idea for them to watch,” Troy said, “since those girls are probably too soft-hearted to watch a wild horse get captured with ropes.”

Chloe frowned and placed her hands on her hips. “Just because I’m from New York City doesn’t mean I’m too delicate to watch a horse get lassoed—after all, my mom used to live on this ranch with horses every day! If I’m going to live on this ranch for the whole summer, don’t you think I should see this kind of stuff?”

“Troy!” Sienna scolded, pulling off her Stetson and swatting at the foreman. “Don’t you listen to a darned word he says, Chloe. He’s just kidding that we aren’t tough enough to watch the stallion get roped.”

Troy threw up his hands and laughed. “OK, OK. We’ll let you watch, so long as y’all stay outta the way so you don’t get hurt. He’s gonna be fightin’ like heck, even with those injuries slowing him down.”

Sienna held Foxy as Chloe climbed back onto the mare. Then Troy and Dave rode over to where the stallion was standing and started swinging their ropes above their heads and hollering to haze the stallion back towards where Uncle Mike and Cody were waiting to lasso him. Immediately, the perlino stallion screamed and reared up, his strange green eyes flashing defiance and his copper mane and tail flying. But since he was afraid of the ropes whirling in the air above his head, he galloped towards the other side of the gully. When he got close enough, Uncle Mike’s rope sang through the air and landed cleanly around the stallion’s neck. He sat hard into the saddle as Graybeard leaned back into the rope and began to pull. The stallion’s wounds began to bleed again as he reared and bucked and kicked like a rodeo horse. But slowly, as Dave and Troy hazed the stallion from behind and Cody and Uncle Mike dragged him out with their horses, the stallion made it out of the gully at last!

But getting him back to the ranch wasn’t easy. The stallion fought the entire way, rearing and fighting the ropes that held him. Finally, they released him into the round pen and watched him race in circles, screaming with all the fury of an untamed stallion that had never known the touch of human hands nor the feel of ropes in all his life on the range.

Uncle Mike crossed his arms as he watched the stallion. “We’ll let him think it over for now and check on him later. And after those cuts heal, we’ll set him free again.”

****************

Several evenings later, Chloe sat alone on the porch swing with the backdrop of a Colorado sunset and Dave strumming a guitar inside and watched the perlino stallion trotting around the round pen. He looked unearthly, like a phantom horse, she thought. She would be sad to see him go, although she knew there was no way he would be happy in captivity. He was a wild thing, born to run free like all the generations of mustangs before him…

Suddenly, the porch door creaked and Chloe turned around to see Cody step outside. “Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” he answered, sitting on the porch swing beside her. “You watchin’ the stallion?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I almost can’t believe we have to let him go free tomorrow. I’ll miss him.”

“It’s kinda funny how things turn out sometimes,” Cody said, “I’m still havin’ trouble believing you’re the same girl from Manhattan who dressed like one of those beauty queens off the cover of one of those magazines people are always readin’ these days.”

Chloe grinned. “Actually, I am too! Before I came to the ranch, when my mom told me I had a family I didn’t even know about living in the Rocky Mountains, I was sure I’d get bored in a week. Now, I love it here and I can’t understand why Mom ever left.”

“You still got that New York City accent,” Cody said, “but if you hang around us country folks long enough, you’ll pick up the country accent instead. And even though you’re still just a little bit scared of horses, you’ve got your mom’s horse sense, so you don’t need much help with that. After all, you managed to bond with that broomtail just the other day when none of us ever could…” he tried to keep a straight face, but Chloe could tell he was teasing.

Chloe pretended to glare at him and swatted him on the shoulder. “Don’t you call the stallion that! See, now you hurt his feelings,” she added as the cream stallion chose that moment to stop pacing, stare in their direction, and neigh.

“Hey, it wasn‘t my idea to call you that!” Cody cupped his hands around his mouth and called across the ranch yard. “It was Dave who told me to just before I came out here!”

“Yeah, right!” Chloe reproached, rolling her eyes. They both laughed, then sat in silence for a moment.

“Well, I’ll be coming with you tomorrow morning to release the stallion,” Cody said, “and Sienna will be too.”

“Yep,” Chloe sighed, yawning, “maybe we’ll even find his herd…” but by then she was too tired to say anything else. And several minutes later, she was fast asleep with her head resting on Cody’s shoulder, as the swing’s chains gently creaked in a warm breeze, the sun crept down behind the mountains, and Dave’s guitar sang on through the deepening twilight.

***************

Early the next morning, Chloe, Sienna, and Cody rode out with Sienna and Chloe ponying the stallion between them. They planned to release the stallion in open forest, where he had a chance of finding his herd.

They only rode for about an hour before all four of the horses whinnied. “Maybe that’s them!” Sienna said excitedly. And sure enough, as they trotted over a rise a few minutes later, a herd of mustangs came into sight!

“Wow!” Chloe sighed in awe as she watched. “Look!” There must have been about ten or so horses, with several foals and a tall stallion the color of jeans that had been washed a million times standing a little ways away, watching over his herd.

The moment was interrupted by the perlino stallion’s whinny of joy, then his half-rear and the other horses’ answering calls. “Quick, take off his halter before he drags one of us out of the saddle!” Sienna said, only half joking.

Chloe reached over as the stallion snorted and pranced and managed to unbuckle the halter. For a fraction of a second, he stood still and then broke into a fast lope towards the herd. The herd stallion snorted in greeting, and then Chloe’s stallion took his place in the herd. Chloe could feel the sting of tears in her eyes as she watched the reunion. How could she have ever thought this summer would be boring? So far, it had been the greatest summer of her life—and she wasn’t even shopping on Madison Avenue with Michelle!

Suddenly, for some reason known only to them, the wild horses broke into a trot, then a gallop, with Chloe’s stallion in the middle, shining like a diamond in a collection of rock. Their manes and tails whipped in the wind like windswept fire, and their hooves pounded out a thunderous rhythm that echoed like a tribal drumbeat. “Goodbye!” Chloe shouted for the first time, raising a hand in farewell.

And for a briefest moment, right before the band of mustangs disappeared from view, the white stallion separated himself from the other horses. He paused, looking back at Chloe. For a few breathless seconds that seemed suspended in time, the wild horses were there, and then—they were gone.

Chloe sighed and turned to her companions, who smiled at her, just as enthralled as she was. “Come on, guys. Let’s go.”

A white stallion running, vanishing from view like a ghost, like something out of a dream—it would be one of the most moving moments in Chloe’s life.

As part of March for Wild Horses, young authors were invited to submit a story about an American Mustang “character” who represents the story of many horses taken off public land and held until they’re adopted, or worse. Authors were encouraged to research the history of wild horses in the US along with what’s happening today, then create a fictional character based on fact.

The original intent was for GHC to “adopt” one of these characters into our stables. After careful thought, LeadMare has decided there’s no reason to contain and domesticate the healthy, free-hearted mustangs in these stories when there’s more than enough public land to sustain them.

These characters are fictional, but in the spirit of March for Wild Horses they will remain free as a symbol of our hope for the Mustangs.

4 Nickers »

  1. OMG!! I was totally RIVETED the entire time I was reading this. And call it my inner romantic, but do I smell a relationship between Chloe and Cody?? lol, this story is awesome! Ten stars out of five! :)

  2. You write beautifully! The scene where Chloe was stuck with the mustang stallion was so vivid. The ending was just magical, as if I was there watching the stallion galloping away. Chloe was definitely someone new to read about. It’s amazing how horses can transform you. Excellent job!

  3. lol mustang23, there just MIGHT be a sort-of relationship between Chloe and Cody…*wink*! I’m still considering writing a sequel for Summer of the White Stallion, but I bet it won’t take much to convince me, ha ha. Madelaina, thanks for the nice comments, and who knows, maybe Stacy Mulligan and Chloe Stewart can somehow meet up and become friends! Wouldn’t THAT be cool?

  4. By the way LeadMare, when are we going to have a vote on which Int*l Horse will be chosen for the GHC Stables?? Just wondering…