Authors: Bonnie Bryant
John showed off the mounting ramp he had built. It was a wooden platform about two feet high. On one side it had steps, like a regular mounting block, but on the other side it had a long, shallow ramp.
Emily started up the ramp. Steps were almost always too high for her to climb. “This is great,” she said. “Only, John, you might want to add a handrail to both sides, not just one. I don’t need it, but some of your other guests might.”
John nodded. “I didn’t think of that. I have been teaching the horses to get used to being mounted from either side.” Horses were almost always mounted from the left side only, but some riders with disabilities found it easier to mount from the right.
Kate helped hold Spot still in front of the block while Emily unfastened her leg braces and set her crutches down. She held on to Spot’s mane and the back of his saddle for support.
“The stirrups look different,” she said.
“That’s because they’re made of wood,” Kate explained. “They won’t feel much different, except that in Western riding you usually ride with your stirrups a little lower.”
“Did you remember to bring your crop?” Lisa asked. Emily showed it to her. “Good,” Lisa said. Crops weren’t generally used in Western riding, but Emily always rode with one because she had trouble moving her legs to give the horse the
correct signals. She gave them with the crop instead. She called her crop her third leg.
“We’ve been using a crop on Spot for a couple of weeks now,” Kate informed her. “He should be thoroughly used to it.”
“All aboard,” Stevie said.
Emily grinned. She carefully climbed into the saddle and settled her feet in the stirrups. She picked up the reins, and Kate moved away from Spot’s head. Spot stood still, waiting for Emily’s signal.
Emily looked around with mock dismay. “Help! I never thought about this. How do I ask a Western horse to walk?”
“How do you think?” Stevie asked.
“How should I know? I might have to pull his tail or something!”
Kate laughed. “It’s the same as English riding,” she said. “The horses are trained to the same cues. Just pretend you’re riding P.C.”
Emily nodded. “That’s a relief. I’m not sure I could reach his tail.” She signaled Spot to walk and pointed him toward the rail. “This saddle’s comfortable. It’s much more like a chair than my saddle at home. How do I look?”
The Saddle Club, Kate, and John surveyed her critically. “You tell her,” Kate said to John.
“Oh, no,” Emily said. “Sounds like I’m doing something wrong.”
“You look relaxed and comfortable,” John said, “but you’re holding your reins in both hands.”
“What should I be doing? Holding them with my feet? Draping them around my neck? Hands seem like the obvious choice here.”
“Hand,” Stevie said. “Hand, not hands. Put both reins in one hand, and keep them loose.”
“Like a cowboy,” Emily said.
a cowboy now,” Kate said.
Emily grinned. “I never thought of that.” She walked Spot several times around the arena. “Feels good. What else?”
“Move your rein hand so that your left rein drapes across his neck,” John directed. Emily did. Spot instantly swung to the right, away from the rein.
“Wow!” Emily cried. “He turned!”
“Sure.” Kate looked proud. “That’s called neck reining, and most Western horses do it. Spot does it very well.”
“Cool beans,” Emily said. She neck-reined
Spot in a serpentine pattern around the arena. Then, following John’s instructions, she jogged and then loped around the arena. A jog was a Western trot, and a lope was a Western canter. She did circles and changed directions at all three gaits. She looked easy and confident, and Spot obeyed her perfectly.
A loud bell rang across the ranch. Emily eased Spot to a halt. “That wouldn’t be—by any chance—a dinner bell?” Kate nodded. Emily beamed. “I love the West!” she shouted. “Get along, little dogies! Let’s eat!”
With all of them working together, it didn’t take long to untack Spot and turn him out with the other riding horses. John and his father left for home. Soon the rest of them were all sitting at one of the long tables in the ranch house dining room. Kate’s parents joined them for a hearty meal. No one else was in the room. Mrs. Devine explained to them that the only other visitors right now were two honeymoon couples, both of whom had requested picnic dinners to take on sunset rides.
“That’s all they’ve done since they got here,” Kate said. “We hardly see them at all.”
“They aren’t much work, but they aren’t much
company, either,” Mrs. Devine agreed. “I’m glad all you girls could come. And tomorrow, of course, we’ll be joined by the Hopkins family.”
“That’s Monica and her parents,” Kate explained.
After they helped with the dinner dishes and said good night to the Colonel and Mrs. Devine, Kate took them to the four-person bunkhouse they always stayed in. “This week it sleeps five,” Kate said as she opened the door. “I added a cot.”
“Kate always stays with us,” Lisa explained to Emily.
“Good,” Emily said.
Aside from the fold-out cot, Lisa noticed a few other small changes to the familiar bunkhouse. A new ramp had been added to the side of the porch, to supplement the steps, a wedge of wood had smoothed the step up to the door, and the door was wider. In the small bathroom, rails had been added near the toilet and bathtub. All of these would make it more usable for Emily and the other disabled visitors who would come.
Colonel Devine had brought their bags in and dumped them on the beds. Emily’s wheelchair was folded and stored beneath a bunk. “Let’s leave it there,” Emily said, pushing it farther under.
“I’m not using the stupid thing once this week.”
“You won’t have to,” Stevie said. “You’ll be riding everywhere we go.”
Lisa yawned. “I hate to say I’m tired, but …” She yawned again.
Stevie yawned in response, and then Emily did. Carole shook her head. She opened her mouth to say something but yawned instead. “It’s contagious,” Kate said. She yawned, too. “I don’t know why I should be tired.” She yawned once more. “But I guess I am.”
“The sooner we go to sleep, the sooner we can get up and ride,” Lisa suggested. The others thought this was a perfect example of Lisa’s best logic. Before long they were all in their pajamas, crawling into the bunks.
“I keep thinking about Monica,” Kate confessed, as she passed around a box of cookies her mother had given her. “I’m really excited about seeing her, but I’m sort of dreading it, too. I want her to have a fun time here. I don’t want it to be different from the way it used to be. What I really want is for her accident not to have happened. She was so lively—I think one day we
rode for eight hours straight. And once we hung a rope from the barn rafter and took turns swinging into this big pile of hay. And we used to laugh together all the time.”
Lisa tried to comfort Kate. “She’ll still laugh. She’ll be the same person—she lost a leg, that’s all. She didn’t lose her personality.”
“I don’t know about that,” Stevie said. “I mean, of course she’ll still have a personality; I’m just not sure she’ll be exactly the same. Like the people you read about in books, the dark heroes whose lives have been overshadowed by tragedy. It colors the soul.”
“Like Heathcliff,” Kate said. “Maybe.”
“No, Heathcliff’s a cat,” Stevie said. “I’m talking real tragedy.”
“Heathcliff’s not a cat,” Kate said indignantly. “Honestly, Stevie!”
“He’s a guy in an old movie,” Carole explained. “I saw it one night with my dad. He was played by somebody famous, I think, but it was in black and white.”
“He’s a person!” Kate said. “I mean, a character. In a book I read,
. His life was overcome with sorrow.”
“So he wasn’t as nice, then?” Lisa asked.
“He wasn’t all that nice to begin with,” Kate admitted. “What do you think, Emily?”
Emily propped herself up on her elbow. “I don’t have any idea how Monica will be,” she said. “I’ve never met her. But if the accident just happened recently, I’m sure she’ll still be upset about it. I would be. I think anyone would be.”
“I am, and it didn’t even happen to me,” Kate said. “I guess the only thing we can do about it is make sure she has as nice a time as possible.”
“We’re all going to have a great time,” Carole said. “I love it out here, Kate.”
Emily flopped back against her pillow. “A whole week with nothing to do but ride!” she said. “I never imagined anything so wonderful!”
HE NEXT MORNING
, after breakfast, the girls followed Kate out to the paddock beside the barn, where a dozen or so of the ranch riding horses had spent the night. John Brightstar was already there, haltering a gorgeous chestnut gelding.
Lisa went up to greet him. “Tex looks marvelous!” she said. “He’s really added some muscle since we saw him last.”
John smiled proudly. “He needs it now. You should see what he can do.” Tex was John’s horse, and John had been training him to do
reining, the most precise and elegant form of Western riding. Reining was similar to dressage in English riding.
“Come with us,” Lisa said. “We’re going to warm up in the side paddock for a few minutes, and then we’re taking Emily on her first Western trail ride.”
John smiled wryly. “Why do you think I’m out here?” he asked. “Kate already invited me. I even got up early, to get my work done first.”
“Great,” Lisa said. Something about the way John smiled always made her stomach feel pleasantly uneasy. She often wished John lived a little closer—like, in Willow Creek, or at least in the state of Virginia. Sometimes they wrote to each other, but it was hard to keep a long-distance friendship going.
“I’ll put Tex in the barn and help you guys get your horses out,” he offered. He walked away, and Lisa turned back to her friends.
Emily and Carole were standing just outside the gate, waiting with lead ropes in their hands. Kate had gone into the paddock to separate out their horses. Stevie was standing just inside the gate with her arms around a shaggy skewbald’s neck. “Good morning, darling Stewball,” Lisa
heard her say. She walked over to Emily and Carole.
“After everything I’ve heard about Stewball,” Emily said, “frankly, I expected him to look a little more spectacular than this! This is a movie-star horse?” When The Saddle Club’s friend Skye Ransom had filmed a movie at the Bar None, Stewball had been used as a stunt horse.
“Only because he takes such good direction,” Lisa said. “We had to dye his coat so that he would match this gorgeous, brainless horse they brought in. They used the gorgeous horse for close-ups.”
“Stewball’s a fabulous cow horse,” Carole added. “He can cut a cow out of a herd like nobody’s business. In fact, that’s really the reason Stevie didn’t buy him. She was going to, but it would have meant taking him away from the one thing he loves and does well. He wasn’t cut out to be an English horse.”
“He’s still gorgeous,” Stevie said hotly, coming toward them leading Stewball. “Emily, I heard what you just said about my darling not looking spectacular. All I can say is, if we were having a beauty contest, I’m not sure Stewball would do worse than P.C.”
Emily laughed. “Pretty is as pretty does. I’ve said that a hundred times myself. Don’t get your dander up, Stevie. I’ll say he’s gorgeous if you want me to.”
“You’ll say he’s gorgeous on your own, once you see me ride him,” Stevie said. “He’s a horse and a half.”
Kate led two horses over, Spot for Emily and a pretty red roan named Berry for Carole.
Carole gave Berry a hug. “We always ride the same horses when we’re here,” she explained to Emily.
Finally Kate brought out Lisa’s bay mare, Chocolate, and her own Moonglow. Before long they were all ready to ride. They had agreed that Emily should have just a little more practice in the Western saddle before they hit the trails, so they all warmed up in the empty side paddock.
After trotting and loping Tex a few times around the arena, John showed Lisa and the others why Tex’s hindquarters were so heavily muscled. “Watch this!” He loped Tex three-quarters of the way down the side of the fence, then sat back and gave an invisible command. Instantly, Tex seemed to sit down. His hindquarters
dropped and locked; he left skid marks ten feet long as he slid to a stop.
The Saddle Club cheered. “He’s really getting good!” Carole said. “He’s really listening to you.”
John inspected the skid marks with a proud smile. “That wasn’t too bad,” he admitted. “See, he stopped nice and straight.”
“That was amazing,” Emily said. “What was that?”
“It’s a reining move with a very complicated, technical name,” John explained with a grin. “We call it a stop. The longer the skid, the better.”
“I want to learn how,” Emily declared. “Does Spot do it?”
John shook his head. “Later in the week, I’ll start to teach you both.”
“Great!” Emily loped Spot up the arena and back. She sat up, and Spot came to an obedient, but normal, halt. “Don’t forget,” she said to John.
“I won’t.” Next he demonstrated a rollback. He galloped Tex down the fence line, then all in one motion turned him around and galloped straight back. He did large fast circles dropping
into slow small ones, he changed leads at a gallop, and he spun in circles. The girls applauded.