Authors: Dandi Daley Mackall
Tags: #Retail, #Ages 8 & Up
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Copyright Â© 2003 by Dandi Daley Mackall. All rights reserved.
Cover photograph copyright Â© 2003 by Bob Langrish. All rights reserved.
Interior horse chart given by permission, Arabian Horse Registry of AmericaÂ®. www.theregistry.org
Designed by Jacqueline L. NuÃ±ez
Edited by Ramona Cramer Tucker
Scripture quotations are taken from the
New Living Translation, copyright Â© 1996 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or publisher.
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ISBN 978-0-8423-5546-9, mass paper
To my future
who is my
Table of Contents
“Towaco, no!” I jumped from the paddock fence and raced to the pasture.
The grumpy Appaloosa ignored me. Ears flat back, teeth bared, he wheeled on Nickers, my white Arabian.
All Nickers had done was rest her head on the Appy's back. I'd seen them do it a dozen times. But this time Towaco wanted no part of it.
“Nickers, run!” I shouted, trying to get to them. I stumbled over a clump of slimy brown leaves.
My horse nickered, the friendliest sound in the world. She lifted her head to greet me.
“Nickers, look out!”
Towaco's head shot forward like a snapping turtle's.
I heard a
as the Appy's teeth closed around Nickers' horseflesh.
Nickers let out a squeal and skidded back.
I raced up to her. “Nickers, are you all right?” I ran my hand down her neck and chest until I felt the teeth marks. Towaco had caught skin high on Nickers' chest. Two tiny patches of hair were missing, but there wasn't any blood.
I hugged my horse, feeling the pain myself, as if Towaco had bitten
in the chest. “Don't feel bad, girl,” I murmured, pressing my cheek against her neck, feeling the early winter fuzz. “IÂ know. You were just being a buddy.”
I glared at Towaco. He stood a few yards off, head lowered, but not grazing.
A picture of Nickers and Towaco a couple of months earlier flashed into my head. Like it or not, I have a photographic memory. It would be great if I could choose the pictures my brain takes, but I can't. This photo came in full-blown color, showing the same two horses, but with Nickers as the bad guy, ready to kick a frightened Towaco.
Back in August, Victoria Hawkins had broughtÂ me her Appaloosa, the first problem horse for my new business as Winnie the Horse Gentler. Dad had sold our ranch in Wyoming after Mom died. Then he moved my sister, Lizzy, and me around for two years until we ended up here, in the last house in Ashland, Ohio, on the very edge of town. At first, I hadn't expected to stay in Ohio any longer than we'd lived in the
statesâIllinois, Indiana, and Iowa.
But a lot had happened since then. I'd ended up with my own horse, the most beautiful white Arabian in the whole world. People around here were pretty amazed that a kid like me, who looks even younger than twelve because she's so short, could tame a horse everybody called Wild Thing. So I got a reputation like my mom had in Wyoming for gentling horses instead of breaking them. Mom taught me how to pay attention to the little details of a horseâhowÂ he holds his tail, twitches his withers, blinks his eyes, communicates.
Victoria Hawkins, who answers to “Hawk” when she's not with our other classmates, had talked her mother into letting me work with her Appaloosa. The gelding had picked up some bad habits at Spidells' Stable-Mart, a fancy stable across town, and I knew all he needed was pasture time. But the minute I'd turned Towaco out with Nickers, Nickers had wheeled around and kicked.
Remembering, seeing that mind picture of Towaco on the receiving end of mean, kept me from getting too angry at him now. “Come here, Towaco!” I called. “Let's all make up, huh?”
Towaco didn't stir, didn't even twitch an ear. The Appy had been acting weird for over a week, ready to fight one minute and the next minute acting like he was too tired to come in for dinner.
“Hey, Winnie!” Lizzy, her brown hair pulled up in a perfect ponytail, raced by on the other side of the fence. People say my sister and I look alike, but Lizzy, who's a year younger than me, is two inches taller. She doesn't have my freckles. And even though our hair's the same color, hers never looks like she just stepped out of a tornado. Without even trying, Lizzy was already the most popular girl in her sixth-grade class.
Behind Lizzy ran a girl about her size, with a short, blonde ponytail. The kid wore jeans and aÂ navy sweatshirt like my sister's.
“This is Geri!” Lizzy shouted.
So that was Geri. Lately, every other word that came from my sister's mouthâand that was a
. If they weren't off somewhere together, they were talking on the phone.
Geri waved. “You're Lizzy's
sister?” she shouted.
Lizzy didn't stop. “Geri thinks she heard a peeper! Frog!”
If Geri loved frogs like my sister loved lizards, small wonder they'd ended up best friends. Back in Wyoming, Lizzy had her own lizard farm. Kids from school took field trips just to see her collection.
Nickers rubbed her soft muzzle into my neck. I think Towaco had hurt her feelings more than anything. It was like she'd lost her best horse friend.
I blew gently into her nostrils. It was an old Indian trick my mom had taught me, a sign of friendship horses exchange among themselves. Nickers snorted back.
“I know just how you feel.” Something had been kicking up inside me, and I couldn't explainÂ it. I've always considered horses myÂ best friends. People are too hard to figure out.Â But lately, I'd had a longing for a human best friend. Maybe it was because Lizzy was gone so much with Geri now, or because it seemed like everybody else in middle school fell into best friends.
Or maybe it was one more way of missing my mom, who had been my best friend right up to the day she died.
Whatever it was, I'd been thinking about it all week. Hawk was the closest thing I had to a best friend. When we weren't in school, we had fun riding horses together. We'd even ridden in a circus once.
At school it was a different story. Middle- school kids aren't that different from horses in the wild, splitting off into “herds” and jockeying for position in their groups. Hawk's herd was the popular group, and I didn't fit in. It had taken some time, but things had gotten better. At least Hawk wasn't afraid to say hello to me at school. Most of the time, she acted like my friend.
But for the past week or two, Hawk had been neglecting Towaco
me. Every day she came up with a different excuse why she couldn't ride with me.
Now, finally, Hawk had agreed to a Saturday ride. I might have known today would be the day her horse would act up.
“Towaco?” I tried calling him again, but he acted deaf.
I headed toward the barn for oats to coax the Appy in. Nickers trailed after me, nudging my back to speed me up. A late-fall wetness hung in the morning air under a gray sky that made it feel like dusk.
When we stepped into the paddock, a handful of sparrows shot out of the barn. I squinted to see inside. “Hawk?”
Something rustled in the doorway, and out came four cats. One was my barn cat, Nelson, the sweetest little black kitty, with one white paw he manages to keep clean, even on muddy days. I recognized the two orange tabby cats as Moggie and Wilhemina, part of Catman's brood.
“Hey, Catman!” I called, picking up Nelson and setting him on Nickers' back. My kitty curled up and purred, rocking as Nickers walked smoothly into the barn.
Catman Coolidge nodded as Nickers passed him. “Far out, man.” Catman should have been born in the 60s, when he wouldn't have been the only hippie in town. I'd gotten used to his striped bell-bottoms, tie-dyed shirts, long, wavy blond hair, and leather thong sandals, which he wore even on chilly days like this one.
“Like, coming or going?” Catman asked. Half a dozen more cats crept in from the pasture, the yard, the south field, all intent on getting Catman's attention. Lizzy calls him the Pied Piper of Cats.
“Hawk's supposed to come over and ride with me,” I said, following Nickers into the barn.
“Groovy.” Catman knew Hawk had been acting weird toward me. He has a quiet way of making me tell him things I never planned to tell anybody.
It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the dark barn. I love our barn. Actually it's owned by Pat Haven, my substitute science teacher and my boss at Pat's Pets. The gray barn slats let in just enough light to send streaks of hay dust dancing through the row of stalls. And the whole barn smells like horse and hay and home.