morning mist shrouded the valley where the little colt
lay by his mother. His first breath of the chilly mountain
air shocked him to a wakefulness he had never felt before.
The smells around him delighted and excited him. The comforting
scent of his mother, the pungent smell of the turf beneath
him, all seemed to fill him with life. Though still awkward,
he rose to his feet on his first try. Even in these first
few moments of life, the strength coursing through his
body stood out for all to see. He had a wild spirit, like
the mountains he was born into, and one day his hooves
would thunder down the valley, the sunlight flashing off
of the golden markings of his painted coat.
rose early from bed that Saturday morning, round-up day,
and her thirteenth birthday. In truth, she was up before
the sun and had her gelding, Sugar, ready to ride long
before anyone was even out of bed. Every round-up day
was exciting, but today was extra special. Today Shannon
would be allowed to select her very own foal from the
herd, a long standing family tradition. Each O'Connor
since the 1875 foundation of the Crooked K ranch in the
Black Hills of South Dakota had been given this right
of passage into the family business. The anticipation
of this very day over the last few months had grown nearly
pulled on her Wranglers and flannel shirt and stepped
to her mirror to pull back her silky, black hair, braiding
it to keep it out of the way. Shannon inherited her hair
and olive skin color from her Native American heritage.
Her mother, Mary Two-Red-Feathers O'Connor, was born a
member of the Oglala, Sioux tribe of South Dakota. Shannon
peered into the mirror and sighed. The green eyes, which
were OK, the up-turned nose, which she hated, and the
freckles, which at least faded in winter, she inherited
from her father, Ian O'Connor.
finishing her morning wash-up, Shannon headed downstairs.
The dawn was just beginning to break and the rest of the
house should be up and moving soon. Just to be sure no
one dawdled, Shannon started the coffee brewing. The smell
permeated the one-hundred year old house and guaranteed
all but her little niece would be dragged from their beds
by its intoxicating aroma.
addicts," Shannon giggled to herself as she stirred
her cup of hot cocoa. Ever since Uncle Jack had taught
her that evil trick one Christmas morning, he had never
a hearty breakfast of flap-jacks, fried eggs, sausage,
potatoes, corn bread, and lots of coffee, the riders gathered
near the front porch awaiting their instructions. Shannon's
father, a small, wiry man with a shock of red hair and
bushy mustache, addressed the group, which consisted of
family, ranch hands, and a few local friends.
thank you all for coming," Ian O'Connor boomed over
the general din of anticipation and excitement. "Should
be a fine day. Clouds have cleared out. It's soft out
there so watch your footing and don't push too hard. Let's
just get them in and settled and see where we are."
someone don't put a rope on Shannon she's likely to ride
old Sugar to his grave," Shannon's brother Mike piped
up knowing how excited his sister felt. He knew a little
about how she felt from his own experience just three
years ago when he had chosen Smoke, a flashy, tobiano,
stuck her tongue out at her brother as the group had a
good laugh. Shannon headed to the barn where Sugar waited.
Patience had never been one of her strong suits, and if
she had to stand around another minute she was likely
to burst. With her father's instructions complete, the
group separated and headed out. Even Sugar seemed to have
some spark to his step.
stallion Red Sky and his herd were not hard to find. In
the soft ground it was easy to pick up their trail. The
horses were holed up in one of the dozens of little draws
that threaded the Crooked K. The group entered quietly.
Red Sky quickly sensed the intruders and bugled his alarm,
but he was little match for the experienced riders in
this group. Soon the herd was under control and smoothly
heading back to the ranch.
searched through the moving mass of hide, and hair and
hooves. Paints were beautiful horses, but all the flash
of color and white made it hard to see each individual
separately. Shannon worked up and down one side of the
herd searching for "her" foal.
spotted a little black and white filly on the far edge
of the group. She looked up and saw her father looking
at her too. With a big grin on his face he waved at Shannon
and pointed. The little filly was a beauty, and Shannon
knew she would be his choice for her. Then near the center
of the group she saw a flash of white and dusty gold.
A little palomino colt with striking blue eyes trotted
next to his mother. Shannon feasted her eyes on his every
the one," Shannon said to Sugar. "I can feel
colt had no difficulty keeping pace with his mother. A
deep chest and powerful hindquarters moved him along with
ease. His striking markings could be seen just below the
grime of a morning roll in the mud. His color marked the
top of his head forming a golden bonnet. A large splotch
formed a shield on his chest, and also spread out across
his back and over his flanks like a blanket.
Lakota called this style of marking a Medicine Hat. The
tribes of the Plains Indians believed Medicine Hat paints
passed on special powers of strength and protection to
their riders. Shannon didn't know if she believed this
or not, but something inside told her the golden colt
was the one for her. A knot formed in the pit of her stomach.
The black and white filly was also a beauty. Shannon hated
disappointing her father. Hopefully he would understand
if she chose differently than him.