Read Saddle Sore Online

Authors: Bonnie Bryant

Saddle Sore (2 page)

Emily burst out laughing. “You’re right, Carole,” she said. “You said I’d feel like I knew her right away, and I do. Who’s John?”

“He works at the Bar None—he and his dad. He’s our age.” Lisa’s eyes were shining. She liked John Brightstar quite a lot. They all did, but Lisa liked him the most.

Emily made her way slowly and carefully down the ramp. None of The Saddle Club offered to help her, and neither, they noted with satisfaction, did Kate. Emily was very firm about doing things for herself.

Before long they were all on their way to the ranch. The drive was barely long enough to exchange all the news with Kate. Before long they were talking about horses.

“This is P.C.” Emily pulled a photograph out of her backpack. “I knew you’d want to see what he looked like, so I brought this. It’s his summer coat, fortunately. In winter he looks like a yellow bear.”

“He’s adorable!” Kate said. “Look how nice his expression is.”

“He’s perfect for me,” Emily said. “He tries to do everything I ask.”

“Emily even taught him to lie down on command,” Stevie bragged. “She uses it for mounting and dismounting whenever there isn’t a ramp around.” Emily couldn’t lift her foot high enough to mount a horse from the ground.

Emily grinned. “We all taught him that, Stevie, and it was your idea in the first place. But he does do it whenever I need him to.”

“Well, we haven’t got any lying-down horses at the ranch yet,” Kate said. “Moonglow does most other things, though. I can’t make up my mind what sort of horse I want her to be, so right now I’ve got her jumping logs, schooling trot extensions and collections, and working on spins.”

The others laughed. Trot extensions and collections were advanced English-style riding; spins were advanced Western. “What sort of saddle are you riding her in?” Carole asked.

Kate shrugged. “Usually Western, but sometimes English.”

“I didn’t think you were jumping much out here,” Lisa added.

Kate shrugged again, this time with a wide
grin. “You see a log, you might as well jump it,” she said. “Moonglow seems to think so, too.” Kate had gotten Moonglow from a government sale of wild horses. Moonglow’s training had been an extensive project that Kate thoroughly enjoyed. Before her parents bought the ranch, Kate had been a top competitive junior rider, but her drive to win had taken all the fun out of riding for her. She’d given riding up entirely, until she met The Saddle Club; now she rode strictly for fun.

“We’ll have to see some logs, then,” Carole said. She loved jumping. “Kate, we came to an agreement on the plane. Emily’s never ridden in a place like this, and we haven’t been here for a long time. So we’re going to ride all week long.”

Kate looked surprised. “Do you ever do anything else?”

“Well, sometimes—”

“This week we’re not doing
anything
but riding,” Stevie cut in.

“Ride, ride, ride,” Lisa said.

“Great!” said Kate.

Emily grinned. Her friends could see how thrilled she was.

“So, Emily,” Mrs. Devine said, over the back of the front seat, “did Frank tell you all about our improvements?”

“No, he just told me to fasten my seat belt. What’s new?”

They talked for a while about the ramps added to all the buildings, for wheelchair entrance, the enlarged doorways in some of the bunkhouses, and other modifications the Devines had made. Kate told them excitedly about the retraining program she and John Brightstar had undertaken with some of the ranch saddle horses.

“We tried to do everything the people from NARHA told us about,” she said. “Getting them used to the mounting ramp and being mounted from either side, getting them to move off voice and stick commands, as well as leg commands—everything. Plus, of course, making sure they’re super calm. We’ve got two or three horses we think are completely ready, and several more are coming along.

“Emily, I’m going to give you Spot for the week. He used to be my horse, until I got Moonglow, and he’s got wonderful gaits and a great disposition. You’re going to love him. He’s an Appaloosa.”

Emily grinned. “Thanks, Kate. I’m sure I’ll love him.”

“One of our mares is doing amazingly well,” Kate continued. “Her name is Buttercup. I’ve been working with her a lot, because I want her to be ready for Monica. Monica always rides Buttercup when she comes here.” Kate’s voice dropped to a sad tone. “I haven’t told you about Monica.”

Mrs. Devine looked over the back of her seat again. “Such a tragedy. And they’ll be here tomorrow.”

“Who?” asked Lisa.

“Monica and her parents,” Kate replied. “See, they started coming here the first year we opened the ranch, and they loved it so much they came back every year. Monica’s our age. She’s funny and athletic, and a great rider. We got to be pretty good friends.

“She had an accident on a motorbike last fall. It crushed her lower leg, and they had to amputate it. Her parents had already made their reservations to come here. They told Mom they wanted to cancel, but Monica wouldn’t let them. She wants everything in her life to be the same as it used to be.”

Kate’s eyes filled with tears. “I wanted to have disabled people come to the ranch, but I didn’t want that to mean Monica! I mean—of course I’m glad she’s coming, I’m just so sorry this happened to her.”

Carole patted Kate’s leg sympathetically. Lisa gave her shoulder a squeeze. “It sounds terrible,” Stevie said. “We’ll just have to do all we can to make sure she has a really good time.”

“If she was a good rider before, she should still be a good rider,” Emily said. “Does she have an artificial leg?”

Kate blinked. “I don’t know.”

Mr. Devine shook his head. “I don’t think so. I think it’s still too soon.”

“That’s too bad,” Emily said. “What about her knee? Did they save her knee?”

Lisa burst out laughing. “Emily, what a question! You sound so practical—in a ghoulish sort of way.”

Emily shook her head. “Think about it. If she still has a knee, her seat in the saddle will feel pretty normal. Otherwise it will be harder for her to balance, without an artificial leg.”

“She still has her knee,” Kate confirmed. “I didn’t talk to her—she was still at the rehab hospital
when her mother called here—but her mom said it was just her lower leg.”

Emily nodded. “Good. She can use a crop for leg commands, the way I do, but she should be able to adjust quickly. She’ll be able to ride every day, just like us.”

“The more the merrier,” Stevie said, and the others agreed.

C
OLONEL
D
EVINE PULLED
the truck to a stop in front of the ranch house. “Home, sweet home,” he said.

The girls piled out. “C’mon!” Kate said. “Let’s go see the horses!”

“What about your luggage, hmm?” her father asked. “Or maybe Emily wants a glass of water. Have you thought about that?”

“Oh, the luggage!” Lisa stopped in her tracks. “I suppose—”

Kate pulled her forward. “He’s joking! Don’t worry about it! Only—”

“I’m not thirsty,” Emily said, walking forward without a backward glance. “Which barn has my horse in it?”

As they approached the horse barn, a tall, dark-haired boy in a cowboy hat and blue jeans came out to greet them. “Hi, everybody,” he said softly. “Hi, Lisa.”

“Hi,” Lisa returned. “Emily, this is John Brightstar. John, this is Emily Williams.”

John tipped his hat. “Pleased to meet you, Emily,” he said. “I’ve been working Spot for you. Want to try him out?”

“Right now?”

“Why not?”

Emily beamed. “Wonderful!”

They entered the big, high-ceilinged barn. Inside, the air was rich with the fragrance of hay. Only one horse stood in the stalls inside.

“Where’s Stewball?” Stevie demanded. Stewball was the horse she always rode at the Bar None. “You’ve made poor Spot stay inside by himself! Where are all the others?”

“Outside, where they belong,” John replied. “And poor Spot has only been inside for ten minutes, since I saw Kate’s dad’s truck turn off
the road. I haven’t even gotten him groomed yet.”

“That’s good,” Emily said. “I’d rather groom him myself, so I can get to know him.” She walked to the door of the stall and held her hands out so that Spot could sniff them.

“Here’s what John and I thought,” Kate said to The Saddle Club. “Emily’s never ridden Western, which is a little different, and she’s used to her own horse, not Spot. So—sorry, Stevie, if this disappoints you—we thought just Emily should ride right now, in the paddock, to get used to things. We can all show her how to do it. Then tomorrow we’ll head for the trails, where we belong.”

“That sounds perfect,” Carole said.

“I agree,” Stevie said. “Just let me duck outside and tell Stewball about it. I wouldn’t want him to think I was ignoring him.” She went out the back door.

Emily attached a lead rope to Spot’s halter and led him into the aisle. She tied him there so that she could groom him. “Is Stevie always that way about Stewball? She talked about him the whole trip, but she never actually told me what he was like.”

“Put it this way,” Lisa said. “Stevie and Stewball are
exactly
alike.”

“Oh.” Emily chuckled softly.

Kate came out of the tack room with a bucket of grooming supplies in her hand, a Western bridle slung over her shoulder, and a heavy Western saddle over her arm. Carole and Lisa quickly relieved her of saddle and bridle. Kate handed the grooming bucket to Emily.

Emily took a rubber curry out of it, then set the bucket down on the ground. She had to maneuver carefully around it so that she wouldn’t hit it with the tip of a crutch. “Here’s an improvement for you,” she said. “See, Kate? I’m going to have an awful time getting stuff in and out of that bucket. When I bend over I sometimes lose my balance. At Free Rein, we’ve got a little shelf to keep stuff like this at waist level. Your dad could build one in here.”

“I’ll tell him,” Kate said. “That’s a good idea.”

“When Emily comes to Pine Hollow, we use a hay bale,” Carole said. She dragged one within Emily’s reach and put the bucket on it.

“Thanks,” Emily told her.

Carole grabbed a brush and went around to Spot’s other side. She started untangling his
mane, humming as she did so. It felt so great to be back at the Bar None, surrounded by horses, mountains, and friends. But not in that order. Maybe friends, horses, mountains? Horses, friends, mountains? It was hard to decide. The mountains were definitely the least important, so they should go last. Friends were most important, so probably they should come first. But then horses were important, too, and the Devines had so many horses, they really outnumbered the friends. Maybe horses should be first, because there were so many of them. Carole laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Emily came around Spot’s rump and started to curry his withers.

“I’m trying to decide what friends are worth in terms of horses,” Carole said. “If I have four friends here, how many is that in horses? The Devines have nearly a hundred horses—but maybe foals don’t count as much—”

“How good are the horses?” Emily asked.

“Very good.”

“How good are the friends?” Kate chimed in.

“The best.”

“Then each friend is worth thirty-two point two five horses,” Emily said. “So unless you’ve got more than, uh—”

“One hundred twenty-nine,” Lisa said. She was good at math.

“One hundred twenty-nine horses here—we’re still worth more.”

“Sorry, Carole,” Kate said. “Last count was seventy-eight horses, including foals.”

Stevie came back in time to hear most of this. “Stewball counts quadruple,” she said. She picked up a comb and started on Spot’s tail. Lisa was picking out Spot’s feet. Emily traded the curry for a large body brush and began brushing the dirt from Spot’s flanks.

“Hey,” Kate protested to The Saddle Club, “the only reason I didn’t grab a brush is that you guys told me Emily didn’t like to be helped. Now there’s nothing left for me to do!”

“You could brush his face with the soft brush,” Emily suggested. She went on to explain. “They’re right, I do like to do things for myself. It drives me crazy when people rush in to help me because they think I can’t do something, or because I’m doing it more slowly than they would. But two things make this different: First, you guys are my friends, and even when you’re helping me I know you know I’m capable of things. Second, Kate, this is The Saddle Club. Have you ever
seen them stand near a horse and not try to groom it? You should have been there the first time they met P.C. They practically had to sit on their hands not to touch him.”

Kate laughed. Carole said, “She’s got us figured out.”

Lisa had just started to wonder where John had gone when he came in through the back door. “I watered the paddock down,” he said. “It’s dusty out there. Is Emily ready?”

Kate finished explaining the intricacies of a Western girth to Emily. It was the only thing truly different about saddling up a horse Western. “We’re ready,” Kate said.

Emily led Spot outside. Though she walked slowly, Spot kept his head level with his shoulder, just as he should. “Good boy,” Emily murmured.

“He’s always been this good,” Kate said proudly.

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