Read Saddle Sore Online

Authors: Bonnie Bryant

Saddle Sore (7 page)

S
TEVIE WOKE WHEN
a beam of sunlight hit her square in the face. She opened her eyes, blinked hard, and sat up. The door of the bunkhouse was open. She could hear Lisa snoring in the bunk below. Across the room, she could see Carole sleeping in the top bunk and Kate with her face buried in her pillow on the cot. Emily’s bunk was empty.

Stevie pushed the covers to one side and dropped quietly to the floor. She walked to the door of the cabin. Emily was standing on the porch, leaning against the railing, looking up at
the mountains and the bright, early morning sky. Her face was radiant.

“Hi,” Stevie said softly.

Emily looked over her shoulder. “Stevie! Good morning. Did you ever see such a beautiful day?”

Stevie grinned and sniffed the air. It smelled like damp earth, dewy meadow grass, and bacon from the ranch house. If she sniffed hard she could even smell a hint of the horses. She couldn’t smell her socks at all. The night air must have cured them.

“If you think this is beautiful, wait until you see the sun rise over the hills,” she said.

Emily nodded. “Our sunrise ride. I’m looking forward to it.” On the last day of every visit to the Bar None, The Saddle Club always took a bareback sunrise ride.

“Have you been awake long?” Stevie asked.

“No.” Emily grinned. “I slept well! I hope I didn’t keep you guys awake with my snoring.”

“You lost the Scrabble game,” Stevie informed her. “We made you forfeit your turns after you fell asleep.”

“I couldn’t help it,” Emily protested. “Carole was taking half an hour for her turns.”

“That’s because she’s not happy making regular words. She has to make horse words,” Stevie said. “Her triumph last night was
fetlocks
. She got the bonus for using all seven letters, plus we gave her a Saddle Club bonus for the horse word. But it didn’t matter. Lisa always wins.”

Emily laughed. “The moment she turned my word
play
into
displaying
, I knew I was in trouble,” she said in agreement. “I figured I might as well go to sleep. But I’m glad I woke up now. Let’s get those sleepyheads up. We don’t want to waste the whole morning.”

Stevie agreed. “It’s time to ride!”

A
S THEY DRESSED
, Kate told them that she was going to go ask Monica to come with them. “I always used to knock on her cabin door for early morning rides,” she explained. “She might even be expecting me.”

The other girls slipped into the ranch house kitchen and packed their backpacks with biscuits and apples. Carole boiled some water for hot chocolate and filled three thermoses. Before she was finished, Kate walked in, shaking her head sadly. “No one even answered,” she
said. “No one. I’m sure Monica would have heard me. Maybe she’s already down by the barn.”

But the barn was empty—even John hadn’t started working yet—and Monica was nowhere to be seen. Kate looked a little disappointed, but Lisa thought that there was almost no way Monica would come there early by herself. She hoped Kate would still be able to enjoy the ride.

In fact, it was a perfect morning. As they crested a ridge toward the east end of the ranch, looking up into the sun-touched mountains, they saw another rider coming toward them.

“Christine!” Stevie yelled, and loped Stewball down the slope to meet her. Dude, Christine’s dog, frolicked between the horses.

“Hi, everybody.” Christine introduced herself to Emily, and Emily to Dude.

“So this is the show dog,” Emily said.

“The obedient dog. You bet he is! I was really proud of him yesterday. He’s got the commands down pat. Now all he needs to work on is his speed. Watch this!” She rode down the hillside to where a row of sagebrush bushes grew in a line like soldiers. “Dude! Weave!”

To their surprise and delight, Dude wove in
and out through the line of brush, passing one bush on the left side and the next on the right. They cheered. “That’s amazing,” Lisa said. “I wish I’d seen—well, I wish the trial had been some other time, so we could have been there.”

“Yeah,” Christine joked, “it’s too bad they don’t hold them at midnight. That’s okay. We’ll show you all our tricks out here on the prairie.”

“First we need to find a breakfast spot,” Carole suggested. “I’m starving.”

Christine looked around. “Why not right here?”

Kate shook her head. “Nope.”

“Why not? It looks fine.”

“Because I can’t mount from the ground by myself,” Emily explained. “I need something to climb onto, and even then it has to be the right sort of something.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Christine looked a little embarrassed.

“How could you have known?” Emily asked her. “Besides,” she added, with a playful grin at Kate, “if this horse were thoroughly trained, I wouldn’t need to worry.”

Kate and The Saddle Club laughed. Christine, who knew perfectly well what a highly trained horse Spot was, looked confused. Emily explained how P.C. could drop to his knees.

“That’s a pretty specialized trick,” Kate commented. “I might try to teach Spot someday—but it’s asking a lot. Horses don’t often lie down in the wild, because they’re more vulnerable that way. They’d have to really trust their rider to do it on command.”

“P.C. is just naturally brilliant,” Emily informed them.

“What does
P.C
. stand for?” Christine asked.

“Pennsylvania Countryside,” Emily replied. “That’s where he was born.”

The others laughed and again Christine looked confused. “When I asked you what it meant, you told me Pesky Critter,” Kate said.

“What
P.C
. means changes from time to time,” Lisa explained.

“P.C. himself, though,” said Emily, “stays pretty much the same.”

After a careful search, they found the perfect breakfast spot near a small stream. A fallen tree made a decent mounting ramp. Emily dismounted and played with Dude while the others
offered the horses water and unpacked breakfast. “You know,” Emily said, washing half a biscuit down with a slurp of hot chocolate, “that’s another suggestion for your dad, Kate. Maybe he could build some mounting blocks out here.”

“That’s a great idea,” Kate said. “We’ve got several spots where we often set up picnics or barbecues. I’ll tell him.”

“And tell your mother she makes good biscuits,” Emily said, reaching for another.

After breakfast they rode over some more of the range, and then they rode Christine home. “I promised my mother I’d go into town with her,” Christine said. “I’ll come back later. Nice to meet you, Emily. See you soon.”

“Do you think we should take Emily up to Lookout Point?” Stevie asked. It was the highest spot on the ranch.

“I hate to say this, Stevie, but I’m actually getting a little tired,” Lisa said. It was true, but even if it hadn’t been, Lisa would have been ready to go back. She didn’t want Emily to get worn out again.

“So am I,” Emily said. “Do you mind if we see Lookout Point on another ride?”

“Sure,” Stevie said. “We’ve got dozens of rides left.”

“Dozens?” Carole asked. “We’re only going to be here another three days.”

“So if we average four rides a day, that’s a dozen,” Stevie said.

“Oh, good.” Carole sounded relieved.

B
ACK AT THE RANCH
, they weren’t quite sure what to do with themselves. John and his father were working, and Monica and the other guests weren’t in sight. The girls took thorough care of their horses, then meandered through the empty ranch house. “I guess my mom must have gone to the horse auction with my dad,” Kate said. They went out to the porch and sat down in the rocking chairs there.

“Nice porch,” Emily said as she rocked.

“Nice prairie,” Carole added.

“Yeah.”

“Where do you think Monica is?” Carole asked.

“I don’t know,” Kate said. “Wish she was out here.”

“Well,” Stevie said, “we should probably get ready to ride again.”

“Good idea!” Lisa stood up. “Why don’t we go out to the rock where we had Stevie’s birthday picnic and eat lunch out there?”

“That’s a great idea!” Kate stood up, too, looking enthused. “We’ve got some picnic tables and benches and straw bales out there now, because we have campfires there all the time. Emily, I’m sure we could improvise a mounting ramp for you.”

“Great!”

“I’ll call Christine’s house and leave her a message, so she knows where to find us,” Kate said, heading into the ranch house, “and then I think we should go ask Monica if she wants to come, too. She’s had almost a day to reconsider. I bet she’s ready to ride now.”

“I hope so,” Carole said. “She’ll feel so much happier once she’s on a horse.” Carole believed horses always made the tough times in her life easier.

They all went to the front door of the Hopkinses’ bunkhouse. Kate knocked loudly. After a long pause, Mrs. Hopkins opened the door just wide enough to stick her head out. She gave them an apologetic smile.

“We’d like to speak to Monica, please,” Kate said politely.

Mrs. Hopkins looked dismayed. “I’m sorry, dears,” she whispered, “but I don’t think she’s feeling up to visitors just now.”

“We just want to talk to her,” Kate said.

“We’d like her to come riding with us,” Emily added.

Mrs. Hopkins didn’t budge. “She’s busy right now. She’s in the middle of her physical therapy exercises.”

“That’s okay,” Kate said. “We’ll wait.”

Mrs. Hopkins gave them a long look. “I think maybe you don’t understand,” she said, still in a whisper. “Monica’s not going to be able to ride anymore. Her father and I think it’s too dangerous. And her accident has made her a little depressed. Kate, it’s not that she doesn’t want to be friends. She’s just having a hard time here. We’ve asked Mr. Brightstar to drive us around the ranch this afternoon in the pickup truck, so she’ll be able to enjoy the scenery. But that’s all Monica has planned for today. I’ll tell her you said hello.”

“Wait!” Kate cried, as Mrs. Hopkins clicked the door shut. Kate’s shoulders sagged. “She didn’t even let us talk to Monica,” she said.

Lisa put her arm around Kate. “We’ll try again later,” she said. “We won’t give up.” She gently
turned her friend around, and they started walking back to the barn.

“Imagine seeing the ranch from the cab of a pickup truck!” Stevie said. “That would be enough to depress anyone.”

“It’s just so irritating!” Emily exclaimed. “Why do they think horseback riding would be any more dangerous for Monica now than it was before she lost her leg? I mean, accidents can happen to anyone, on any horse.”

“Probably they worry about her losing her balance,” Lisa said. She didn’t understand why Monica’s parents were so worried, but she could see why riding would now be more difficult for her. And probably Monica’s parents were simply afraid to have her hurt again.

“They can’t keep her safe from everything,” Emily said, still angry. “She could choke to death on a piece of toast, for Pete’s sake. Mr. Brightstar’s truck could crash into a ravine. A meteor could fall on her head. Sure her balance will be worse, but so what? You told me she was a good rider. And anyway, if she falls off now, she wouldn’t be hurt any worse than if she fell off with two legs.”

Emily paused for breath. “I hate it when people
treat disabled people like they’re made of glass. I mean, okay, kids with stuff like spina bifida have to be really careful—they could get hurt badly by an easy fall—but
all
disabled people don’t need to be coddled. I don’t need to be coddled, and neither does Monica. She
ought
to ride.” She started walking again, her mouth set in a firm line. Lisa could see that her eyes were full of tears.

“Em, Em,” she said soothingly. “She will. Everything’s still so new for her. Give her time.”

Emily drew a shaky breath. “I will. I know. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to get upset. It’s just one of those things that really gets to me. Her parents shouldn’t be setting up rules about what she can’t do.” They walked into the barn and Emily went straight to Spot’s stall. She put her arms around him.

Kate looked thoughtful. “I agree that’s what it seemed like Monica’s parents were doing,” she said, “but I’m not convinced it’s true. Remember, I know them better than you guys do. If Monica were insisting that she wanted to ride, they would let her. I bet they’re just trying to make her feel like she doesn’t have to ride if she doesn’t want to.”

“I hope so,” Emily said.

“I’m sure of it,” Kate said. “Monica will ride if she decides she wants to.”

“I still think we ought to do something about that,” Stevie said. “Last night I thought of this great plan—”

“No!” the rest of them shouted in chorus. “Stevie,” Lisa continued, in a practical tone of voice, “you know we can never make you do anything. Why should Monica be any different from you?”

Stevie sighed. “I know you’re right, I just want to help her so badly.”

“We’ll keep asking her to ride,” Kate said. “Every day we’ll ask her.”

T
HEY BEGAN THEIR
ride feeling somewhat subdued, but soon the sheer joy of riding good horses through gorgeous countryside on a beautiful day filled them all. Since they were already hungry, they rode straight for Pulpit Rock and ate their lunches there. Before they were finished, Christine and Dude joined them.

Afterward, Emily said she wanted to gallop again. Kate obligingly led them to an open stretch of prairie.

“Yippee-ki-yi-yay!” Emily shouted, sending Spot forward in a burst of speed.

“Yippee-ki-yi-
what
?” Stevie yelled. She pushed Stewball even with Spot. “What did you say?”

“Yippee-ki-yi-yay!” Emily repeated. “Isn’t that what the cowboys say?”

Stevie shook her head. The wind blew her ponytail across her face, and she shook her head again to toss it back. “I’ve never heard a cowboy say that,” she said at last. “Must be a dude thing.”

“A
what
thing?” Emily yelled above the sound of galloping hoofbeats.

“Dude!” Stevie shouted, as she pulled Stewball up. Christine’s dog came running. Stevie began to laugh. “A
dude
is a city person who tries to act like a cowboy,” she explained to Emily, who had slowed Spot and turned him back toward Stewball. “Christine named Dude after us, because she didn’t consider us cowboys when we first got here.”

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