Authors: Heather Brooks
Emily Summers's dad slammed on his brakes and sent herâ¦
Emily clutched the locket with the picture of Rhapsody inâ¦
Like the rest of the farm, the barn was grayâ¦
Sapphire ambled to the front of his stall as sheâ¦
Emily was giddy with excitement by the time she gotâ¦
Emily bit her lip, her heart starting to pound. She'dâ¦
Emily took the fastest shower in history, and her hairâ¦
The silence was so unbearable, Emily felt like it wasâ¦
Emily whirled on the stairs and vaulted back up theâ¦
The moment they were out of sight of the house,â¦
Panic shot through her and she rolled to her stomach,â¦
It wasn't Sapphire who was hurt, she realized with aâ¦
When Emily got inside, her dad was yelling into aâ¦
Two and a half hours later, Emily helped her dadâ¦
Her dad threw open the door and disappeared into theâ¦
Emily crept down the hall on her hands and kneesâ¦
Emily felt heat rise in her cheeks as she waitedâ¦
Late that afternoon Emily shoved the metal hoof pick intoâ¦
Three days later Emily was furious. She'd worked in theâ¦
Emily cringed and turned toward her aunt, who was standingâ¦
Emily was late to dinner that night because she hadâ¦
By Friday, Emily was terrified that Aunt Debby was goingâ¦
Once they were through the pasture gate, Emily clucked Sapphireâ¦
mily Summers's dad slammed on his brakes and sent her chocolate milk shake spraying all over her favorite pair of jeans. “Dad!”
“Would you rather I hit a horse?” he said, nodding toward the road.
Emily snapped her gaze off her messy jeans just in time to see a gorgeous dark horse skid to a stop in front of the car, his ears back and his teeth bared, as if to challenge the car to a one-on-one battle. He had a glossy black coat and a white blaze down the middle of his face. “He looks like Rhapsody!”
Rhapsody was the horse Emily leased back home in New Jersey. He was the best dressage horse in the
barn, and everyone was predicting that he and Emily would be the stars of the Norfolk Open this weekend. Then Emily's grandfather had died suddenly, forcing this trip all the way out to Oregon for his funeral. She'd never met her grandfather, barely even heard of him, and she'd been really upset at first to find out she'd have to miss the show.
Emily had almost asked her dad if he would mind going alone and let her stay with a friend so she could ride Rhapsody. But when her dad had said how much he wanted her with him at the funeral and reminded her that they'd be staying at the horse sanctuary his family had been running for almost seventy-five years, she knew she had to make this trip.
Emily's dad, Scott Summers, hadn't been back to his family farm since Emily's mom had died when Emily was two. He had never talked much about his past, and Emily was curious if he felt weird going home under such sad circumstances after being away for so long. But the few times she'd started to ask him, he'd changed the subject.
Which was okay. She wasn't really sure she wanted to know. It was unsettling to think about her dad being upset. But ever since they'd gotten off the plane, he'd been fiddling with his watch and messing with the dials
on the radio constantly. She could tell he was stressed, and it had been making her nervousâ¦until the big black horse had jumped in front of their car.
Emily threw open the passenger door and leaped out onto the dirt road, her white tennies sinking into the mud with a squish. It felt like her feet were getting sucked into the mushy ground, like some swamp monster had grabbed her and was going to pull her into the black ooze seeping up around her shoes.
Then the horse snorted, and she forgot about her feet. “Hey, beautiful. Whatchya doing running around out here?”
One ear flicked forward and the horse lifted his head, looking at her with dark, shiny eyes. He was streaked with sweat, dozens of tiny scratches on his chest were bleeding, and his leather halter was muddy. His nostrils flared as he sucked in a noisy breath, scenting Emily to identify her as friend or foe. He was well muscled and well fed, his body rounded out and shiny. His black mane flopped in all directions, and his thick forelock hung on his forehead. His coat was so black that he reminded her of the darkest night.
“Now, Emily, be careful. You don't know this horse,” her dad warned as he opened his door and climbed out.
She ignored him and took a step toward the horse, sucking her foot out of the mud with a sloppy slurp. She held her hand out to him as she eased forward. “I bet you escaped from somewhere, didn't you?” she crooned. “You're too pretty to be allowed to run out in front of cars.”
The horse's other ear went forward, and he watched Emily intently as she approached.
She felt a wave of homesickness. This horse reminded her so much of Rhapsody, with his shiny black coat and beautiful brown eyes. She was sure that Jenny Smith was going to find a way to ride Rhapsody in the Norfolk Open. It wouldn't be Rhapsody's fault if he had to be ridden by Jenny, but the thought made Emily's stomach clench. Rhapsody was owned by Alice Jenkins, and though Alice always said that if Rhapsody were sold to anybody it would Emily, there was always the chance Jenny would be able to talk Alice into selling Rhapsody to
instead. Emily's dad had promised to ask Alice about buying Rhapsody when they got back home because Alice had been hinting lately she might be ready to sell him. If Jenny got him firstâ¦
The stray horse lowered his head to let her pat him, snuffling softly against her belly. She grinned at her dad and kissed the horse's muddy forehead. “He loves me.”
She caught a faint whiff of pine shavings and knew he'd recently been lying in his stall. She pressed her face to his cheek, inhaling the fresh scent she loved, rubbing her skin against his velvet soft hair.
Her dad chuckled. “Actually, he's licking the milk shake off your pants.”
Emily looked down and started laughing at the horse using his upper lip to scrape the ice cream off her jeans. “He likes chocolate!”
“Please grab his halter,” said a girl's voice.
At the softly spoken request, Emily glanced over her right shoulder to see a girl about her age sitting on a dappled gray mare. She had apparently just ridden up the road behind the car. The girl was wearing leather chaps, an old T-shirt, and a riding helmet, and her horse was breathing hard, her neck streaked with sweat. “His halter,” the girl repeated softly, so as not to scare the black horse. “Grab it so he doesn't run away again.”
“Right.” Emily wrapped her hand around the horse's halter. “Do you have a lead shank?”
The girl lifted a coiled length of leather from the front of her saddle and held it out to Emily's dad. “Will you take this to her? I don't want to get too close or he'll take off again.”
Emily's dad took the lead shank and walked over to
Emily, who quietly snapped it onto the horse's halter. The black horse immediately jerked his head up, flattened his ears back, and bared his teeth again.
Emily's dad tried to pull her back. “Watch out, honâ”
“Give me a break, Dad.” She tugged on the lead shank. “Hey, beautiful, you're making a scene. That nasty face isn't flattering, and we both know you don't mean it anyway, you big toughie.”
The horse glared at Emily and pretended to bite her shoulder. When she didn't shriek and run away, he sighed and dropped his head to lick more milk shake off Emily's jeans instead.
She laughed. “See? I knew he was a faker.” She patted his cheek. “Let's go.”
She stepped around her dad and led the horse over to the girl. “What's his name?”
“Pain in the Butt.”
Emily frowned as the girl took the lead shank from her. “What's his real name?”
“Sapphire. He doesn't deserve it, though. He's a total nightmare.” The girl clucked and turned her mount into the fields beside the road. Sapphire pranced along beside them, swishing his tail. “Thanks for your help. I've been chasing him for almost an
hour. He drives me insane sometimes.”
“No problem. He's really a pretty horseâ”
Emily didn't get a chance to finish. As she spoke, the girl kicked her mare into a canter and took off. Then both horses extended into a gallop, and Emily could feel the thunder of their hooves rippling in her body as they pounded across the long field. They arched their necks, ears tipped back against the wind.
Emily stood and watched until they disappeared over a hill, tiny specks in the distance, her belly tightening with envy. “Did you see how fast she went? That was awesome.”
She spent all her time training with Rhapsody in a dressage ring, working on the little details of their performance. She rarely let him hack around when she was riding him, and she'd never even dreamed of galloping over a field with him. It lookedâ¦exhilarating. To feel the wind whipping against her faceâ¦She couldn't imagine.
Of course, Rhapsody was too valuable to let gallop like that, but still. To do it onceâ¦on another horseâ¦No one at her barn would have to know. “Youâ¦umâ¦think Aunt Debby might let me ride one of her horses? Across the fields?” Emily could almost hear her dressage coach, Les Martin, lecturing her against the bad habits a
dressage rider might develop gallivanting outside the ring, and she felt guilty even asking.
When her dad didn't answer, she looked back to see him gazing across the countryside with the oddest look on his face. Like he was sad and happy at the same time, almost as if he were afraid.
Emily shifted, not sure what to say. She'd never seen her dad look scared, and she didn't like it. She swallowed nervously. “Dad? Are you all right?”
He glanced down at her, then smiled and slung his arm over her shoulder, hugging her against his side, immediately making her feel better. “Yes,” he said. “I think you'll be able to ride one of Aunt Debby's horses across the fields. These fields, in fact.”
She stared at him in surprise. “These fields? These are your fields?
these fields?” She looked back out at the landscape stretching before them with renewed interest. There was lush green grass as far as she could see, with clusters of tall pine trees and bushes. The fields were mostly flat, with a few hills rolling in the distance. Not a single building. Not a single car. Just the bright green of fields, every horse's ultimate fantasy.
The grass smelled fresh, and the air smelled so clean and pure. It was incredible. Like you could ride for days and days and days and never run into anyone. Just total
freedom and space. So much space. She felt like she could yell until her throat hurt, and no one except her dad would hear her or tell her to be quiet. Nothing like New Jersey, with all its people and cars and buildings and craziness.
The vastness of the land and all the space made her feel small, but also called to her, made her feel like it would lend her its power if she wanted it. She took a deep breath, inhaling nothing but nature and freshness. No exhaust. No food. No sounds except birds and the rustle of the wind through the grasses. No cars. No one yelling. Just total, unspoiled nature.
This was where horses came from. This was where horses were meant to live. It just feltâ¦right. “I'm in horse country now, aren't I?” She didn't even need to ask. She could sense it in the air.
He ruffled her hair. “Yep. And if those horses came from our farm that might have been your cousin Alison you just met, too. She'd be fourteen now, a year older than you.”
Emily squeaked, unable to contain her excitement. “No way! We're that close to the farm?”
“We're still about five miles away by roadâ”
Emily gawked at him, unable to believe what he was telling her. Her stuffy, business-suit-wearing dad had
grown up in this horse utopia and he'd never bragged about it? “You have
of fields? How could you not have told me about this place? How could you not have brought me here before?”
His smile faded, and he touched her hair. “It's a long story, Em, but we're here now, right?”
She felt her throat tighten at the sad look on his face and decided to change the subject so he'd smile again. “How many horses live there, exactly?”
A twinkle crept into her dad's eyes, making her sigh with relief. “I don't know how many there are now,” he said. “But I think there are around fifty stallsâ”
Let's go!” Emily twisted out of her dad's grasp, raced around the car, and flung herself into the passenger seat, not even bothering to knock the mud off her shoes before she slammed the door shut. “Come on!”
Her dad chuckled and slid onto the driver's seat. “Now, remember, this place isn't like the barn at home; these horses aren't top of the line like Rhapsody. And Aunt Debby's not like your riding coach, either. She'sâ¦harder than Les.” He started the engine. “This is a different world out here.”
“Horses are horses,” Emily murmured, leaning forward as her dad started driving again, trying to catch a glimpse of Sapphire racing across the field. “Of course
there's no horse like Rhapsody, but all horses can't be that different. And this placeâ¦It's special.”
He shot her a sideways glance. “Running Horse Ridge
special, but it's not even close to your barn back home. Not even close.”
Something in his tone caught her attention, and she glanced at him. “What do you mean?”
He hesitated, then patted her leg. “You'll see.”
What exactly would she see?
Her dad turned on his left blinker, and she noticed a wooden sign strung across the dirt road. It was weathered, gray, and hanging at an angle. The painted letters were so faded that at first she couldn't read them. But after looking more closely, she worked out what it said:
RUNNING HORSE RIDGE
Emily sat up, her breath caught in her throat, as her dad turned onto the long driveway.
They were here.