Read Saddle Sore Online

Authors: Bonnie Bryant

Saddle Sore (4 page)

“If we had a cow, I could show off Stewball’s cutting skills,” Stevie told Emily.

“I’ll get some,” John volunteered. He rode out the gate, and in a few minutes he was back, herding three young calves in front of Tex. The calves trotted into the ring and stood in a confused-looking miniature herd.

“We had them up by the barn to get vaccinated,” Kate explained. “Go for the one with the white ear, Stevie.”

Stevie pointed Stewball at the calf with the white ear. Then, to make a point, she tucked her reins loosely under her knee and crossed her arms over her chest. While Stevie sat motionless in the saddle, Stewball moved in on the calf. He dodged right, left, and left again, and suddenly the calf was trotting in front of him, away from the other two.

“Wow,” Emily said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. He does it entirely on his own, doesn’t he?”

Stevie picked up the reins and gave Stewball a hug. “He certainly does. All you have to do is
stay out of his way. But he’s not an autopilot horse, except when there are cows around.”

“You show us something, Kate,” Carole asked. She gave Berry’s neck a warm pat. Part of what she always looked forward to about the Bar None was seeing how Kate and John trained the horses. Carole liked riding English best because she loved to jump, but she was always interested in learning new things. Someday she’d like to try her hand at reining, too.

“Moonglow doesn’t do reining moves as well as Tex,” Kate said, “and she doesn’t cut as well as Stewball. But here’s one thing she does better than either of them. Move away from that barrel, Emily.” Emily jogged Spot away from one of the three barrels in the middle of the ring.

“Hi-yahiiyi-yah!”
Kate shouted to Moonglow, and the mare burst forward into a gallop. When they were even with the first barrel, Kate pivoted Moonglow tight around it. She galloped toward the second, spun around it, then spun around the third and galloped back toward the others. “Whoa,” Kate said softly, and Moonglow dropped back to a walk.

“So
that’s
what those barrels are for,” Emily said.

“Yep.” Kate was slightly out of breath. “We’re going to barrel race at some horse shows this fall.” She settled her cowboy hat more firmly on her head. “This has been fun, but hadn’t we better get going? Emily, you look like you were born in that saddle. Let’s hit the trails.”

Jogging Stewball around the clumps of sagebrush that dotted the ranch landscape felt like heaven on earth to Stevie. She couldn’t believe how lucky she was. In front of her, Emily swayed slightly in the saddle in time to Spot’s long-reaching walk. Behind her, Carole hummed contentedly beneath her breath. Lisa, John, and Kate rode ahead. Most of the people she most enjoyed riding with were right here, around her, under this deep-blue bowl-shaped sky. Stevie’s heart soared.

“Hey, Stevie, remember the time we were camp counselors out here?” Carole’s voice cut into Stevie’s reverie.

“Ugh—don’t remind me.” A few years ago, Eli Grimes, one of the Bar None’s former wranglers, had invited The Saddle Club to be junior counselors at a camp he was running. It had been a difficult week, to say the least. “At least
I
didn’t fall off leading a trail ride,” Stevie said.

Carole laughed. “Don’t remind me.”

Emily twisted in the saddle. “You fell off? Carole, I didn’t think you ever fell off.”

Carole rolled her eyes. “Please. I’d be the only rider ever who hadn’t. But it wasn’t much fun getting dumped in front of a bunch of sniggering little brats, I’ll tell you. They were all convinced they could ride better than me.”

The trail widened, so Carole and Stevie came up beside Emily. Emily waved her crop in the air. “You were right—no fences,” she said. “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I love it here.”

“We do, too,” Stevie said. “That camp was the only bad week we’ve ever had here. Part of that was our fault, but part was just bad luck.”

“And part was because we had to work the whole time,” Carole said. “I don’t mind work in general, but I have to admit, it’s a lot more fun to just ride.”

“A whole week of riding,” Emily said. “This is wonderful.” The trail they had been on widened further into open prairie. Lisa, Kate, and John waited for them to catch up, and they all rode on together. “You know,” Emily continued, “when I was a little girl, I used to daydream about being
in a place like this. Even before I knew how to ride, I pictured myself on a galloping pony, bareback, with the wind blowing and the whole prairie stretched out before us. We could run forever and never get to the end.” She gave a self-conscious laugh. “Silly, isn’t it?”

“Not at all,” Kate declared. “And it’s a daydream that can come true. Spot’s a horse, not a pony, and I think you’d do better to keep the saddle on him for now, but we’ve got the prairie and the wind, and we can certainly gallop. Want to?”

“You bet!”

Kate launched Moonglow into a gallop and Emily sent Spot right behind. The others followed, laughing. Carole bent over Berry’s neck, feeling the mare’s strides swallow the ground. Thoroughbreds were the fastest horses over long distances, but nothing could beat a quarter horse in the first quarter mile. Berry caught Moonglow and passed her. Tex streaked ahead of even Berry, and Chocolate surged right on Berry’s heels.

John’s arm went up to signal to the others that he was slowing down. One by one, they brought their panting horses to a walk. Emily’s face
glowed. “That was fabulous!” she said. “Thank you, Kate, thank you!”

Kate grinned. “You’re welcome. But remember, this is only the first morning. We’ll have lots of gallops this week. What now? Do we keep going, or head back?”

“I hate to say this,” Stevie said, “but I’m starving.”

“I second that,” Emily said.

Kate turned Moonglow. “Back it is. But really, what were we thinking? Next time we’ll bring food.” Then she said to Emily, “Something about the prairie makes people hungry. You should see how much some of the ranch guests eat.”

“I hope nobody’s keeping track of what I eat,” Stevie said, in mock alarm.

“Oh, we have been,” John said with a straight face. “But the deal is, as long as you still eat less than Stewball, we won’t charge you for groceries.” He turned to Lisa. “I have to tell you, though, she’s getting pretty close. I’ve been encouraging old Stewball to eat up, but Stevie may be in trouble soon.” They all roared. “Hey, there’s my dad waving. I’d better go.” John said good-bye to all of them, then loped across the
prairie to where his father stood next to a pickup truck loaded with hay.

“Does he always work so hard?” Emily asked.

“Always,” Kate confirmed. “John’s a born rancher. We’re lucky to have him and his father here.”

As they approached the ranch buildings, they saw a large car pull up and stop outside the house. “That must be Monica,” Kate said. She urged Moonglow into a faster walk. “Come on, let’s go say hello.”

By the time they were close, a man and a woman had gotten out. The man was unloading suitcases from the back, while the woman leaned over an open back door, speaking to someone inside. “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins,” Kate called cheerily.

Both adults jumped, as though startled, and when they turned toward Kate, both looked worried. In fact, thought Lisa, they looked as though they wished they hadn’t come. They greeted Kate in muted voices, and Lisa thought it looked as if they were making a big effort to smile.

“I’m glad you’re back,” Kate said. “Hi, Monica!”

The figure in the car made no response. Lisa
and Carole exchanged glances. Lisa felt awkward. Mr. Hopkins pulled a pair of metal crutches, like Emily’s, out of the trunk of the car. He handed them to his wife. “Here, darling,” Mrs. Hopkins said, handing them to the girl in the car. “No, not—oh dear. Try it this way—”

“Mother, that hurts! Stop it!” The girl’s voice was strident.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Look who’s here, darling, it’s Kate. And some other visitors.”

“Great,” said Monica. “Spectators. Just what I need.” She didn’t say it loudly, but the wind carried her words back to Lisa, who flinched. They should have given Monica a chance to meet them on her own terms. But then, Kate would have ridden up to greet them if Monica hadn’t been hurt, so she should do the same thing now—shouldn’t she?

Monica stood up, supporting herself on the crutches. She had long red hair and an angry expression. Just like them, she was wearing a cowboy hat, T-shirt, and jeans, but the right leg of her jeans had been neatly folded and pinned under so that it wouldn’t dangle where her leg should have been.

“Hi, Monica,” Kate said, in a slightly strained tone.

Monica glanced briefly at Kate, then looked away. “Hi.”

Kate introduced her friends to Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins and to Monica. “They’ll be staying here almost as long as you will be,” she said. Monica didn’t respond.

Emily spoke up. “You know,” she said to Monica, “you ought to do what we did when we got here—let the grown-ups take the luggage, and get on a horse as quick as you can! We’ll get a snack and wait for you, and we can all ride together.”

Monica scowled at Emily. “I can’t do that,” she said rudely.

Emily flushed but remained polite. “Why not? We don’t mind waiting.”

Monica’s face turned red. She looked as if she didn’t know whether to cry or to spit at Emily. “I should think it would be obvious why not,” she said. “People with one leg don’t ride horses.” She turned her back on Emily and hopped toward the car.

“Sure they do,” said Emily.

Monica turned back, scowling, to say something
over her shoulder. Lisa was sure it would have been something rude, but they never got to hear it. Monica tripped over the curb and fell in a tangle of crutches. Her parents rushed forward.

“Oh dear! Are you hurt?” her mother asked.

“No!” Monica threw a crutch sideways. She pounded her fist in the dirt. Tears streamed down her face. “This is stupid!” she yelled. “You were right—we should never have come here! I can’t do this! I can’t do anything anymore!”

M
R. AND
M
RS
. Hopkins huddled over their daughter. After her angry outburst, Monica fell silent; she seemed to be trying to contain her tears. Mrs. Hopkins put her arms around her daughter’s shoulders while Mr. Hopkins retrieved the crutch that she’d thrown out of reach.

“I’m sorry I yelled,” she muttered, as they helped her stand. “Yelling doesn’t change things. I know that.” Her face was red and tear-streaked.

“I know, dear,” said her mother. “It’s all right. I’m sorry, too—I never thought it was a good idea to come here.”

“We can go straight home,” said her father.

Monica looked at the ground. She still hadn’t looked at The Saddle Club or Kate or Emily, and she seemed very embarrassed and upset. “No. I want to stay. We always come to the Bar None.” She began to slowly hitch herself toward the ranch house. She didn’t look back, not even at Kate, her friend. Her parents followed, hovering around her like a pair of butterflies.

“Well,” Kate said, with a soft sigh, when the Hopkinses had gone inside, “that was awful!”

“I feel terrible,” Lisa agreed. “Did we say something we shouldn’t have?”

Emily turned Spot back toward the stable. “I’m sorry if I shouldn’t have asked her to ride. I thought it might be easier on her to try it right away.”

Kate shook her head. “No, I think asking her was okay. I don’t think we said or did anything wrong.” She fiddled with the end of her reins. “I’m just not sure anything we could have said would have been right. This is so hard.”

In somewhat depressed silence, they took their horses back to the stable and began to unsaddle.
Before they were finished, the dinner bell rang for lunch.

“Already!” Stevie said. “No wonder we’re so hungry! It’s later than I thought.”

“No wonder I’m so sore,” Emily said, as she hung Spot’s bridle in the tack room. “We rode a long time.”

The others looked at her with concern. “You’re sore?” Carole asked.

“Sure. Aren’t you?”

Carole thought about it. “I guess so. But just a little, in my legs and seat. Everyday ride-a-lot sore.”

Emily shook her head playfully. “Me too. Did you think maybe I had some kind of special soreness?”

Stevie snorted and Carole rolled her eyes. “You could have, for all I know,” Carole said. “You have to tell us if we’re pushing you too hard, Emily. We don’t forget that you haven’t done anything like this before.”

“I know,” Emily said, as they began to walk toward the ranch house. “But you don’t remember it every single second of the day, either, and I appreciate that. Don’t worry. I’m just regular old saddle sore, and I’m glad of it. It means I’m getting
some good exercise, and, more importantly, it means I spent the entire morning on a horse!”

“Hear, hear!” cried Stevie. “Hooray for horses! Hooray for saddles! Hooray for being saddle sore!”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” protested Lisa.

“Oh, come now,” said Stevie. “Surely, for the glory of spending a morning amidst the hills and scrubs, amidst the open prairie—”

“Amidst the amber waves of grain—” Carole teased.

Kate began to hum “God Bless America.”

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