The Horse Rescuers #4
(Can be read as a stand alone novel)
Fifteen-year old Piper agrees to help her friend Jeff sell his horses to pay for college, hoping he will then appreciate her more. But a gorgeous new girl, Jackie, comes to town who threatens to attract Jeff’s attention. Piper doesn’t know how to deal with beautiful Jackie and then she finds out that Jeff’s Quarter Horse, Daisy, is prone to colic, a deadly threat in horses. All the responsibility for Daisy is on Piper’s shoulders, but can she find a good owner for Daisy while keeping her healthy? And will Jeff fall for Jackie, forgetting about Piper? Daisy’s life is at stake as the Horse Rescuers must act quickly.
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Loud hoof beats in the yard. I put down my lemonade and ran to the window. Three adult horses and a colt milled around in Miss Julie Applegate’s backyard. The six-foot wide aluminum gate hung open.
“Oh, no! Jeff, didn’t you close the gate?”
“I thought I did,” he said, setting down his physics book and standing up.
My mouth went dry. There is nothing scarier to a horse owner than the sound of hoof beats where there aren’t supposed to be any. It means horses are loose and loose horses like to run. And run. A potential disaster if they ran down the long driveway and got onto the highway to town. Disasters like that might show up on the evening news, complete with images of ambulances, cops, and dead horses. If we could just ease them back into their paddock, maybe they wouldn’t start running.
“Hurry! We have to get them back in. You walk toward them by the barn while I go around the other side of the yard. Maybe they’ll head back into the paddock. Just don’t spook them so they start running!”
Hoping beyond hope that the horses would stay calm, I walked past them in the yard of the old white house, trying to head them away from the driveway and back into their pasture. The horses tossed their heads and started trotting around, just now realizing they were free. Jeff waved his arms, but that made them wilder.
“No! Don’t scare them!” I yelled at Jeff as, nostrils wide, the horses began to gallop. Dotty, the smallest and bossiest of the three adult horses, ran right past me up the half-mile dirt driveway toward the main highway. The others followed, gaining speed.
Clattering on the gravel drive, the horses and colt disappeared over the hill, neighing to each other. They sounded like they were having a party, but I had chills, thinking of them running down the busy highway toward Serendipity Springs, the nearest town. My horses might easily be galloping to their death. Could we catch them? We had a chance if they would slow down and graze. I ran into the barn and grabbed three halters. There was one for each adult horse. The colt would follow his mother, if we could only catch her.
Who was around to help us? I ran through the list in my head as I hurried to Jeff. My best friend Addie was out of town. My dad was at work and it would take him too long to get here. Miss Julie was too old to chase horses and she was gone on an errand anyway. It was up to me and Jeff. I handed him a halter and lead, and we ran up the drive after the horses.
“Piper, should I go back and shut the gate or get the truck?” Jeff panted as he ran. He’s thin and tall, but not very athletic.
“No and no,” I said, “We would just have to leave the truck and we’ll need the gate open for when we bring them home. We might need the truck later to find them.” I prayed that wouldn’t happen.
We ran together down the lane that was the long driveway to Miss Julie’s farm. Addie and I kept our horses there and we liked to visit with Miss Julie in her big white farmhouse. Jeff lived there with Miss Julie until his graduation from high school in the spring. The mare and foal belonged to him, but he wasn’t into horses and never really paid enough attention to closing gates and such. It drove me crazy, since I was the one who ended up taking care of them. That’s what happened when I depended on him to do things.
As we ran, Jeff muttered things like, “Can’t believe I did that,” and “So stupid,” really beating himself up.
“Jeff! It’s done!” I said. “Let’s just catch them and you can call yourself names later!”
He sighed and we ran on. As we came over the crest of a small hill, we were met by the four horses trotting back toward us. One POA—Pony of the Americas—that was spotted all over, one gray half-Arabian gelding, and one bay Quarter horse mare with her look-alike colt; all accounted for. This was encouraging. Maybe I could catch them.
“Here honey, here sugar,” I called to the pony in a soft voice, and held my hand out, trying to slow Dotty down and maybe get a halter on her. Their taste of freedom made them goofy and they acted like naughty children. Heads high, tails in the air, they snorted and pranced past us as if they were kids running away from school. I imagined them saying “Haha! Can’t catch me!” Way down where the driveway meets the road, Miss Julie had seen that the horses were loose, and blocked their escape by turning her car sideways. They had turned and trotted back the way they came. What an awesomely smart old lady! Now the horses were still loose, but at least they’d be contained in the fenced yard and couldn’t get out on the main road.
“Oh, boy! Thanks, Miss J!” Jeff called to her as we turned and trudged back to the house, breathing heavily. Miss Julie waved back at him, got in her car, and drove slowly behind us to the yard. Reaching it, she parked sideways again, blocking the drive so they couldn’t escape.
My sense of panic was over, but we still needed to get them back in the fenced paddock by the barn. They trotted, snorting, around the yard.
“I’ll take Nickel,” I said, referring to the tall grey Arabian. “He’ll be the easiest to catch. You see if you can get Daisy. The colt will follow her.” I dropped one of my two halters on the ground and walked slowly toward Nickel with the other halter hidden behind my back.
“Hey, Nick. Hey, son.” I sounded like my dad, who called all girl horses Sis and all boy horses Son. Most people I knew who worked with horses did that.
“Come on, it’s okay.” I held my hand out as if I had a carrot in it. I didn’t have a treat this time, but much as I love them, horses really aren’t very smart. You can fake them out easily.
Nickel settled down and nibbled grass with his good eye on me. He was blind in one eye, but was just the sweetest horse ever. His head came up as I approached and his nose lifted to sniff at my hand.
“Good boy!” I whispered, easing the lead rope over his neck and collecting the end. He was now as good as caught, with his head in a loop of rope. That done, it was a simple thing to draw the halter over his nose, up around his ears and buckle it. I rubbed Nickel’s neck for allowing me to catch him. As I held the lead rope, he snorted at me and rubbed his nose on my shoulder. I sighed and looked around to see what Jeff was doing. He walked toward Daisy, halter at his side. Every time he got close, she moved away, staying about two arms’ lengths away from him, her shiny red coat gleaming in the sun. The six-month old colt, Dancer, followed his mom as she led Jeff around the yard. Dotty the pony was sniffing Miss Julie’s petunias by her porch, eyeing us without much interest. Miss Julie had taken up a post by her car, in case any of the horses tried to sneak past it.
“Aargh!” said Jeff, who had more patience with his guitar than his horses.
“See if they’ll follow us,” I called. I turned and led Nickel through the big gate into the small paddock between the barn and house. I walked him all the way in, toward the big oak tree that grew in the center of the field. Slowly, like a parade, my wayward horses followed, the grey gelding with me, with the spotted pony, the bay mare and the colt bringing up the rear. I was thankful that horses were herd animals and wanted to stay together.
Relieved to have everyone where they belonged, I called, “Close the gate, Jeff. And this time, latch it!” It came out a little sharper than I meant.
He pulled the gate shut hard and stalked up to the house. I took off Nickel’s halter and hugged his neck. I walked over to Dotty, the innocent-looking pony, and patted her on her spotted neck. Daisy walked over to us, sniffing for treats, so I rubbed her forehead and kissed her, gazing into her huge brown eyes. None of them looked a bit sorry for their adventure. I smiled and left the runaways happily nibbling clover. The disaster was over—no harm done. I took a huge deep breath in relief and walked out the gate and up to Miss Julie’s house.
Jeff and I flung ourselves into our usual places in Miss Julie’s rocking chairs on the wide front porch. I had the half-grown cat, Willie Nelson, on my lap. Miss Julie was inside making some celebration lemonade. Jeff rocked quickly, as if something bothered him. I wondered what he was antsy about. Easter was coming in a few days and we were on our spring break. The excitement was over so why didn’t he relax now? I slumped in my chair, exhausted.
“Mmm Hmmm?” My eyes were closed in relief from having stopped a disaster.
“You didn’t have to snap at me.”
“When?” I sat up and stared.
“When you told me to shut the gate. I mean, I know I was an idiot to leave it open, and I feel terrible about it, but I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“I didn’t snap at you!”
“Well, yes, you did. And you didn’t have to.”
“I did not snap at you. I only told you to shut the gate and latch it.”
“It was the way you said it.” Why was he being so sensitive? Jeff was a senior, while I was only a sophomore. We went out together sometimes. Well, we had twice. Okay, he was my first real date. The Homecoming Dance was fun and we had a good time. We were friends, but it felt like he was always telling me how to say things. Since the dance, we had gone to one movie and that was it. I wasn’t sure how he felt about me…or how I felt about him. Didn’t he want to go out with me anymore? I definitely wanted to go out with him again, but always got cold feet when I thought about doing the asking myself. “Hey, I’m sorry if I said it wrong. I just don’t want the horses to get out. What if they ran out onto the highway and got hit by a car? Or lost? Or stolen? Not good, Jeff, not good. You know if you don’t want Daisy you should sell her.”
“Yeah, well, I am going to sell her.”
“I need the money for college.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Look, I know you love those horses, all of them. Even mine. But I’m going to need some money and the horses are all I have to sell. I didn’t tell you sooner because I knew you’d be upset.”
“Both of them? Seriously? Even if you get a scholarship?”
“Even if. There are all kinds of expenses that a scholarship won’t cover. I can’t sell the truck—I’ll need it for getting around. And I have to buy insurance for it and a bunch of other expenses. So I have to sell the horses.”
That was bad news, having to sell that beautiful mare and her colt, but maybe they were worth a lot of money.
“Here we go! Nice cold lemonade for the Horse Rescuers. You just rescued them all over again.” Miss Julie was probably the most cheerful woman I’d ever known. She was the one who helped Addie and me rescue our two horses, and let us keep them in her barn. Holding three large glasses, she came out of the kitchen trailed by Honey, her sheltie.
“Miss Julie,” I said, “you were the one who rescued them when you pulled your car into the driveway so they couldn’t run down the highway. Jeff and I just caught them and got them in the paddock. You’re a Horse Rescuer, too.”
We dropped the subject of selling the horses. Jeff didn’t seem like he wanted to talk about paying for college in front of Miss Julie. I still wanted to make sure he wasn’t so careless anymore, but decided to let it go for now. We both took a tall glass of lemonade and drank.
“Piper,” said Miss Julie, sitting down on her porch swing. “What do you hear from Addie?”
“She’s having a fun time in Wisconsin. Her dad took her to visit some of his friends and she met a cute guy that she’s drooling over. She’ll be home Sunday, late.”
“Drooling?” asked Jeff, with his eyebrows raised.
“Well, every other text is about Joe. Joe, Joe, Joe.”
“I heard your dad is hiring another veterinarian to work in his clinic,” said Miss Julie.
My jaw dropped and the lemonade glass nearly did.
“Where did you hear that?” Nothing, I mean nothing happens with my dad’s vet clinic without me knowing about it. He tells me everything and even asks my opinion sometimes. I used to go on farm calls with him. I don’t go so much anymore since I have school and the horses and all, but I still help him order medicine, and magazines for the waiting room. When I was little, I liked to take old copies of Horse and Rider and cut out pictures of the horses I liked best.
Miss Julie looked innocent. “I overheard it at the clinic this morning when I took Honey in for her rabies shot. But maybe it was just gossip.”
Hmmm. I needed to talk to Dad and find out what was going on. Dad was too busy and actually did need to hire another vet to take some hours. I just wanted to be sure it was someone we all liked and got along with. Serendipity Springs, Kentucky is a small town.
“Well, gotta bounce,” I said, standing and stretching. I had my bike with me, so it wouldn’t take long to get to Dad’s clinic.
“Let us know what you find out,” said Jeff with a grin. He knows me—I couldn’t pass up a chance to find out more. He smiled, so maybe he wasn’t still mad at me. I patted Honey and Willie Nelson, waved goodbye and left.