Authors: Bonnie Bryant
Stevie continued, ignoring them. “—surely, for the delight of being one in spirit with these wonderful four-footed creatures here on this glorious ranch—”
“Are you talking about the horses?” Lisa asked.
“Surely,” Stevie said loudly, “a little momentary discomfort to the posterior regions is something we can all willingly endure!”
“Well, of course,” Emily said. “I said so all along.”
They went into the ranch house and sat down. “Neither of the honeymoon couples has come for breakfast yet,” Mrs. Devine informed them, as she set a plate of barbecue sandwiches in front of
them. “Kate, after lunch I want you to take some baskets of food to their bunkhouses. Just leave them on the porches for them. After I run you into town, I have some errands to do, so I won’t be around to feed them until dinnertime.”
Kate’s mouth dropped open. “How could I forget!”
“Forget what?” Carole asked.
“Christine’s dog show! I mean,” Kate amended, “I didn’t forget I had to help her, I just forgot to tell you guys about it. I’ve had so many things to tell you!”
“Christine is another one of our friends out here,” Lisa explained to Emily. “She lives just on the other side of the ranch, and she usually rides with us a lot. She’s got a horse named Arrow and a dog named Dude.”
“She’s been training Dude for dog obedience trials,” Kate said. “Have you seen those? They’re miniature obstacle courses, with jumps and ramps and all sorts of things. The fastest dog wins.”
“I saw some once at a fair,” Emily said. “It was hilarious.”
“So I’ve been helping Christine with Dude, and I promised I’d come to the trials, to assist
her—sort of like being a groom at a horse show. This is just a little event, like a practice. I know Christine would love to have you come, but I don’t think she’ll care if you don’t. I mean, if you come you wouldn’t be able to ride this afternoon.”
“Not ride!” Emily spooned some coleslaw onto her plate. “I thought you guys rode all the time!” Remembering how funny the other dog trials had been, she almost wished she were going to see Dude perform. Almost.
Stevie passed Lisa the bowl of chips. She looked up at her friend and knew Lisa was thinking the exact same thing she was. It would be great to see Christine and Dude, but Emily couldn’t ride by herself on the trails. She would have to go to the dog trials, too—and she was so excited about riding. They glanced across the table at Carole, who also seemed to be sharing their thoughts.
“Not ride!” Stevie said. “We couldn’t not ride!”
“Tell Christine good luck for us, please, Kate,” Lisa said, “but we were planning to spend the afternoon in the saddle.”
Kate smiled. “She’ll be less nervous without an audience, anyway,” she said. “I know she’ll understand.”
“Ask her to come back and ride with us,” Carole said. “She needs to meet Emily.”
Kate agreed readily. “Don’t show Emily all the good spots until I get back.”
“How could we?” Stevie asked. “We can’t ride fast enough to see all the good spots in one afternoon.”
and Emily offered to clean up the kitchen so that Kate and her mother could leave. Stevie cleared the table, Emily started filling the dishwasher, and Carole and Lisa began to put the extra food away. Suddenly a thought occurred to Lisa. “They didn’t eat!” she said.
“The honeymoon couples? Kate remembered to put their baskets out,” Carole replied.
“No, Monica and her parents. They didn’t come to lunch. Should we make them a basket, too?”
Carole paused from pouring leftover chips back into their bag. “I don’t know. They must
have heard the lunch bell. Wouldn’t they have come by now?”
“Maybe they aren’t hungry,” Emily suggested. “Maybe they had lunch in the car on the way here.”
“Or maybe they’re just getting settled,” Lisa said. “My mother always likes to unpack before she does anything.”
“Since they’ve been here before, they’ll know where they can get food if they’re hungry,” Carole said. “I guess they probably don’t need a basket. What do you think the chances are that Monica will come riding with us this afternoon?”
“Slim,” Lisa said. She grabbed a wet cloth and wiped the countertop down. “She doesn’t think she can do it, remember?”
“She might change her mind and want to try,” Emily said. They all agreed that this was possible.
When they were finished with the kitchen, they went outside and looked at the long row of bunkhouses. “That’s Monica’s, the third one down,” Lisa said, pointing. “I saw Colonel Devine and Mr. Hopkins carrying their luggage in.”
Carole bit her lip. “Do you think we should go ask Monica to ride?” she asked. She hated to think of Monica’s being left out, but on the other
hand the girl hadn’t acted very friendly, and she didn’t know them at all. Probably she wouldn’t come with them.
Stevie looked at the quiet bunkhouse and shook her head. “Let’s give her until tomorrow. We’ll ask her then.” They all agreed.
They started to walk back to the barn, but before they were halfway there, Colonel Devine came out of one of the outbuildings and began to walk alongside them. “Do you all have specific plans for this afternoon?” he asked.
“We’re riding,” said Stevie.
He laughed. “I guessed that. I mean, do you have somewhere special you’re planning on riding?”
“Everywhere seems special here,” Carole said. “But no, we’re saving all the extraspecial rides for when Kate and Christine can be with us.”
Colonel Devine grinned. “Then maybe, since Kate isn’t here, you’d spend the afternoon with me. I’ve got a few new trails to show you.”
“New trails? Cool!” said Stevie.
Inside the barn, John proudly showed off the narrow shelves he’d built into the aisle. He’d added one near every pair of cross-ties, and he’d put them on hinges so that they could fold
against with the wall when not in use. “I rounded the corners, too,” he said, “so that if a horse bumps into one, it won’t get scratched.”
Emily examined the shelves with pleasure. “Gosh, we should have you come to Free Rein!” she said. “These are fancy!”
“Wait until you see the rest of our handiwork,” Colonel Devine said. He saddled up a big Appaloosa gelding for himself, and before long they were all ready to ride.
“Here we go,” Colonel Devine said, leading the way at a swinging walk. He rode behind the barn and followed the paddock fence for a little while. Where the fence ended a small patch of scrub and a stand of pine trees began. The land rolled away toward a wide stream.
“This is pretty!” Carole exclaimed. “I didn’t know this was here.”
“It’s so close to the ranch house, it’s easy to overlook,” Colonel Devine replied. “Now, do you see my markers?” He pointed to a row of small, widely separated wooden signs, bearing the numbers 1 through 6. “Which one first, ladies?”
“Begin at the beginning, I guess.” Lisa was mystified. “Are these riding trails?” Now that she looked, she could see several wide paths leading
into the woods and brush. The Bar None was so big that the horses rarely wore trails in the earth even along the most popular rides. There was simply too much grass. But these looked as if they were cut on purpose.
“Trail Number One it is.” Colonel Devine rode toward it. “We can fit three abreast on these trails. Emily, you come up here and ride beside me. I’ll want your opinions.”
Emily rode forward with a smile on her face. “You made these trails, didn’t you?”
He grinned back. “You’re a fine rider,” he said, “and I know you can handle anything on this ranch. But as you know, our ranch has always welcomed beginner riders. On a quiet, well-trained horse, with proper supervision and if they take it slow, most beginners can ride over most of our land, too. But if you have a beginner rider who’s also disabled—”
“A lot of the riders at Free Rein are more disabled than me,” Emily said, nodding her head understandingly. “Some of the people who use wheelchairs all the time probably won’t ever be able to ride safely without having someone lead their horse or walk beside it to make sure they don’t fall.”
“Leaders and sidewalkers,” Colonel Devine said. “I know all about it. See? I’ve been doing a lot of research.
“I don’t want to limit our guests to just riding in the paddocks, no matter what their circumstances. I want them to be able to enjoy the land. That’s why I developed these trails, and that’s why they’re so wide—so that the leaders and sidewalkers would have enough room.”
Emily looked around. Trail Number One was a simple walk through pine trees. Sunlight filtered coolly through the branches, and the air smelled sharp. Birds twittered. They could hear the gurgling of the nearby stream. The path was wide, as Colonel Devine had said; it was also smooth and flat, with none of the rocks or bumps she’d noticed elsewhere. “I think you were really smart,” she said. “People will love it here.”
“I hope so,” he replied. “Guests only come back a second time if they’ve enjoyed the first. Now, as we ride along, try to imagine that some of the other people from Free Rein are here. Tell me if you think I should change anything. Okay?”
“Okay,” Emily promised. She closed her eyes briefly. The wind blew against her face. The pine
scent seemed sharper. “Even the blind people will love it,” she said.
“Blind riders?” Colonel Devine sounded surprised.
“Sure,” Emily said. “We’ve got tons of them at Free Rein. I know one girl who jumps.”
“How could she?”
Emily shrugged. “Her horse can see.”
They rounded a bend and Emily saw to her surprise that they were back at the barn.
“Trail Number One is the shortest,” Colonel Devine explained, as they waited for The Saddle Club, who had fallen a little behind. “It’s only half a mile long. I figured that might be enough for some of the walkers. I end all the trails at the barn, too, to make things easier on everyone. Ready for Trail Number Two?”
Each trail was a little different, and they were progressively longer; Trail Number Six lasted nearly three miles and included two shallow stream crossings. Colonel Devine had graded the crossings and added sand to keep them smooth. “What about the walkers here?” Emily asked, as Spot splashed across. “Will they have to get their feet wet?”
“We’ll tell them to wear waterproof boots for
Number Six,” Colonel Devine replied. “Foot-bridges would just wash out in the spring floods. A crossing is easier for us to maintain.”
Since they stayed at a quiet walk, riding the six trails took up the entire afternoon. Back at the barn, Colonel Devine had one final question for Emily. “Mr. Brightstar and I have been talking, and we could fence in Trail Number One,” he said. “If we ran a rail fence down both sides—”
“No,” Emily cut in firmly. She leaned against Spot, gathering her strength before sliding his heavy saddle off. “No fences.”
“But I thought—”
“No fences,” Emily persisted. “Not here.”
Colonel Devine grinned. “All right, then.”
Mr. Brightstar came up to speak to Colonel Devine, and John followed and offered to take care of the horse. Colonel Devine agreed, and the two men went off, talking urgently.
“There’s a problem with the water pump in the calf pasture,” John explained to Emily. He turned toward her just in time to see her nearly drop Spot’s saddle in the aisle. He grabbed it quickly. “Whoa, Emily! What’s wrong?”
Emily started to lose her balance. She caught herself and sat down on the hay bale that was still in the aisle. “I guess I’m tired,” she said. “My legs aren’t cooperating, and I’m even having trouble straightening my arms.”
John bent forward. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Lisa!” He motioned her over. Lisa and the rest of The Saddle Club came quickly.
“What’s wrong?” Lisa asked.
“I’m just tired,” Emily said. “I always have a little more trouble when I’m tired. Please, it’s no big deal, I promise. Only, would one of you mind putting Spot’s saddle away for me? I can handle everything else.”
“Sure.” Stevie took the saddle from John and swung it onto her hip. “These things are a lot heavier than English saddles, anyway.”
“Is there anything else we can do?” Carole asked. Lisa went back to Chocolate’s side, but Carole stayed near Emily, just in case. Emily did look tired, and the tiredness seemed to be making the muscles in her arms and legs more tense than usual.
“No,” Emily said. “I’m fine, I promise. A hot bath is all I need. And dinner. I’m starving.”
“Me too. Whenever we ride this much, we always get this hungry. Colonel Devine said we were having chicken and noodles.”
“Great!” Emily stood and started to brush Spot off. Carole returned to Berry. John finished taking care of Colonel Devine’s horse and put Spot out in the pasture for Emily. Just as they finished tidying the barn, the supper bell rang.
On the way to the ranch house, Emily walked much more slowly than usual. Her friends kept pace with her. Lisa tried not to show how anxious she felt. What if all that riding had done Emily some harm?
“Lisa,” Emily said, as if she could read her thoughts, “if you don’t stop hovering over me I’m going to hit you with my crutch. Think about it. You guys have seen me this tired before—it’s when I usually resort to using my wheelchair.” She tripped and fell but got up quickly.