The Horse Rescuers #6
Dollars to Doughnuts
Piper finally has her driver’s license, but life gets very messy after she and her dad rescue a horse from a turned-over trailer. Little do they know that rescue will trigger a series of increasingly dangerous events, putting her, her family and her friends at risk. She needs to get her Junior Project going—a Pony Pals class for little kids—and ace it. Complications include nightmares, a boyfriend away at college, the upcoming Halloween Hop, and the cute guy in Science Class.
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|Middle Grade / Teens|
~ The Horse Trailer Disaster~
One of the fun advantages of having a veterinarian for a father was getting to go along with him on farm calls. He let me go with him when I was out of school. It might be a sick horse, or a cow having trouble calving, or any number of animal-related emergencies. Dad’s veterinary practice kept him very busy and I knew how to keep quiet and help out when necessary.
I’d passed my driver’s test a month ago, and had the day off from school due to Kentucky Education Association teacher workshops so I was going on calls with Dad. I didn’t have my own car, but if I raised my grades this year, he’d agreed to get me a used one next summer to make his own life easier. We drove home on a beautiful October evening after a long day of vaccinating calves and seeing colicky horses. I got to drive the pickup and he didn’t criticize the way I handled it, so I was relaxed.
However, we were both tired and hungry and it was getting late. The sun hung low in the sky, making long shadows. I was trying to concentrate on the road, but needed Dad’s input on something.
“So, Dad,” I said, “my Junior Project?” I had already explained to him how important it was, but I was having a lot of trouble coming up with good ideas.
“You haven’t picked one yet, Piper? I thought that would be easy for you.”
“It can’t be anything too easy or silly. I have to follow it for three months and then write an essay about it.”
“This is for a grade in a class?”
“Well, we get a grade on it, but it’s an independent study kind of thing, not a class. Everyone has to do one and I need to make my proposal next week.”
“What ideas have you had?”
I had three horses of my own at that point, and another one under my care. Horses were my world and my life.
“I want to do something with horses, obviously! But I can’t come up with anything helpful to other people. Oh, my God, Dad! Do you see that?”
There was a dirty black truck ahead of us on the two-lane highway, pulling an old grey two-horse trailer. It had begun to swerve all over the road, across the center line and then over to the shoulder on the right.
“Holy cow!” said Dad. “Easy, hon, don’t try to pass them; just slow down.” I slowed a lot. I don’t drive fast when I’m with Dad, anyway. What were they doing?
“Are they drunk? Is there a horse in there?” I had just seen a video at school about the dangers of driving while drinking. Those things made an impression and I took them seriously.
“Can’t tell,” said Dad, “either drunk or texting, or high. And they have at least one horse in there. I can see its head.”
Following slowly, we watched as the truck and trailer continued weaving back and forth in front of us. Luckily, it was the wrong time of day for there to be much traffic. The rolling hills of Western Kentucky, while pretty and wooded, didn’t allow for fast driving. This particular road had plenty of curves and would be treacherous if there was oncoming traffic.
“Oh, my gosh! Dad! Look!” The trailer came unhitched from the truck, the safety chain on the horse trailer broke, and it rolled off the road onto the shoulder. As we watched, it wobbled down into a ditch and turned on its side. Meanwhile, the black truck continued on for about a hundred feet, then screeched to a halt.
“Stop up there behind the trailer, and put on the flashers,” said Dad, so I pulled over and stopped the truck on the shoulder of the road near the trailer. I searched for, then put on the emergency flashers. We stared at the trailer and minute later saw a horse’s head poke up out of the escape door at the front of the trailer. Dad and I looked at each other, silently agreeing that hungry and tired as we were, we had to help out.
I walked over to the trailer to see the frightened brown and white paint horse that was looking out. I zipped up my hoodie sweatshirt, as the breeze was cool. The horse’s eyes were wide with fear and its nostrils flared as it made a snorty noise in its throat. I patted it to try and calm it, crooning to it softly. It seemed to have stable footing on something because it wasn’t flailing around, but its coat was covered with sweat, in spite of the cool evening. Its nostrils flared as it sniffed the air. I wanted to think that it was asking me for help.
The black truck backed up and two people got out, slamming their doors. A large woman with long stringy hair and a little girl, maybe four or five years old, came running toward us from the truck.
“Oh, my God, oh, my God!” The woman was yelling. “Can you help me?”
“Of course,” said Dad, whose bedside manner toward his veterinary clients was always steady and calming. He never seemed to get excited and yell, or get upset. Except, of course, with me when I screwed up. Which I did. Often.
“Is there just the one horse?” asked Dad.
“Yes, and her dog is in there,” said the woman. “Tell him, Bethanne.”
“My dod is in there.” The little girl wiped her runny nose.
“Let’s get this thing open so we can get your horse and dog out,” said my Dad, trying to open the big back door. It was stuck. Horse trailers have a latch on the back so that they do not open very easily. You don’t want a horse to back into it and have it fall open while driving down the road at sixty miles per hour.
“It’s bent and stuck,” said my dad, beating on the latch and kicking at the door. “We’ll need a cutting torch to get it off.”
“Do we have one?” I asked, still petting the paint horse, who gurgled in his throat. I hugged and patted his neck. Why didn’t that woman come and help calm her horse?
“Do you know a lot about horses?” The woman looked at my dad.
“Sorry,” said Dad, “I’m Dan Jones, I’m a veterinarian, and this is my daughter, Piper.”
He stopped wiggling the latch, offered his hand and I waved at her from my position by the horse’s head. The woman stood looking at Dad with her hand over her mouth. What was her problem?
“Hi.” I had to say something, so I waved again. Still didn’t get why she was staring at him. Dad came over and looked at the horse.
“He looks perky enough. Okay,” he said, pulling out his cell phone and dialing. “I’ll get hold of Gary Johnson. He’s a friend that has a cattle ranch close by. He’ll have a cutting torch.”
“I’m Shirley Gamble and this is Bethanne,” said the lady, looking at me and Dad, leaking tears. She wrung her hands and sniffled. “We’re on our way to Texas. I don’t know how this happened. I rented this horse trailer in Indiana and it’s been just fine till now. I think it broke.”
“It brote,” said Bethanne, pulling on one of her pigtails. Dad turned away to talk on his phone.
I wasn’t very impressed with the woman. All the women I knew kind of jumped into action in an emergency instead of just wringing their hands and whimpering the way Shirley was doing.
Dad walked over as he gave his friend directions to our location. Then he looked at Shirley. “My friend Gary will be here in about ten minutes with the cutting torch. What kind of dog is in there?” We could hear some high-pitched whining coming from inside the trailer.
“He’s a cross, collie and German Shepard. He’s Bethanne’s dog. Tell him.” She poked the girl in the arm.
“He’s my dod,” said the little girl, rubbing her eyes and sniffling.
Dad came over near the horse’s head and rubbed the animal’s neck, looking at his eyes.
“He doesn’t seem too distressed,” he said, “Just kinda freaked about tipping over. I’m betting he’ll be not much worse for wear.” Dad peeked in the door, trying to see past the horse to find the dog.
“So how did it happen? Was the trailer hitch tight when you left?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Shirley shook her head, covered with thin, dirty brown hair. “All of a sudden I heard this clanking and when I looked in the rearview, the trailer was over in the grass. So, Dr. Jones, you have a practice in Serendipity Springs?”
I listened hard and her voice didn’t sound slurred, like she had been drinking or taking drugs. But I didn’t really know what to listen for. Her breath smelled funky, but not like beer or anything.
“I hope he’s not bruised or has anything broken.” Shirley looked sideways at me.
“Well, if Dad thinks he’ll be okay, then he will. Dad sees a ton of horses all the time.”
“Good,” said Shirley, “He’s an old horse.”
“Ode horse,” said Bethanne.
“What’s his name?” I asked, thinking it might help him stay calmer.
“Spotty,” said Shirley.
“Potty,” said Bethanne, nodding.
* * *
While we waited for Gary to show up with his cutting torch, a State Patrol car pulled up with two troopers in it. Dad went over and talked to them, while I stayed by the shaggy brown and white head, stroking it and crooning about how everything would be okay. Spotty/Potty had a black mane and forelock, which made his coloring very interesting and different. My voice calmed the horse because he sniffed my arms and looked around with interest. I could tell he was a good-tempered horse because he was so mellow in this weird situation.
The troopers both must have been used to traffic accidents because neither one of those guys got excited, but they did seem uneasy around the horse and trailer. They kind of stood around chatting with each other while making small talk with Dad. I think they were glad Dad was a veterinarian and had taken over so they didn’t have to. Shirley seemed even more anxious. She wrung her hands together and wiped her forehead as one of the troopers asked about her name, where she was from, and where she was going. Maybe she didn’t like law enforcement types. I had met some people like that. Hopefully, I wouldn’t meet any more.
Gary finally drove up in a dark blue Chevy pickup with a matching horse trailer hooked on behind. Gary waved at me and I said “hi” back. I stayed with the horse while Dad talked to his longtime friend, planning what to do. The acetylene torch made a whining noise cutting through the heavy metal of the gate latch. Spotty/Potty put his ears back and rolled his eyes at the noise, but I patted his nose and talked to him some more. After several minutes, there was a CHUNK as the latch fell to the ground. The men pulled it away from the trailer and wrestled the door open.
A scrawny-looking, matted pup came blinking and limping out of the trailer. He whined and wagged his tail, looking for comfort. Dad knelt down and rubbed his head.
“It’s okay, bud. You’re out now.” He felt around all over the dog, talking softly and calmly to it. He was checking out the dog for injuries, but why wasn’t the woman or the girl hugging it? He had no collar or tags, but put his head on Dad’s knee and sighed.
Gary came walking hunched over out of the trailer, leading the paint horse. Spotty/Potty turned out to be a gelding, which is a male horse that has been neutered. Luckily, the horse wasn’t very tall and only had to keep his head low to get out safely. He jumped the last step and shook himself when he was finally standing on grass. Gary held on to the lead rope as he turned around to look at the trailer lying on one side in the ditch.
Dad walked over to the paint and ran his hands over its sides, shoulder, hips and neck. He had large brown spots all over and a thick black mane and tail.
“Nice little guy,” he said, “He seems to have weathered that okay. Maybe just shaken up a little. Hopefully, it won’t mess him up for getting into trailers in the future.” He gave the lead rope to me.
“Could that happen?” I asked.
“Horses have long memories, especially for traumatic events,” Dad said.
Shirley was still wringing her hands. “I have to be in Texas day after tomorrow to start a new job. I just don’t know what to do!” She mopped her face with an already shredded Kleenex and her lower lip trembled. “The trailer is a disaster and this guy I know only loaned it to me for three days.” She seriously looked as if she might collapse.
“Free days,” said Bethanne.
“Look,” said my dad, “nobody is bleeding. The horse and the dog look like they’ll be okay. You and Bethanne were lucky nothing went wrong with that truck, so you weren’t hurt. I think I should take this guy in to the clinic and check him out,” he said, petting the dog. “Something might be broken or bruised. Your horse looks like he’s all one piece, too,” said Dad, “but I would like to keep him somewhere quiet and watch him for a day or so. Would that work for you?”
“Can I leave them both at your clinic and come back for them?” Shirley had on a doubtful face, as if she was asking a huge favor. Actually, it was. “I don’t know what to do with that trailer. It’s a piece of junk. I guess I’ll call the guy that owns it and see if he’ll come get it.”
“Come det it,” said Bethanne.
“We can put the dog in the clinic but I don’t have stalls there.”
“Dad, we can keep him at the farm. I’ll take care of him.”
“Will you have time with school and the other horses?”
“Sure! No problem! He’s a good boy,” I said, patting the soft nose that was snuffling at my sweatshirt.
“Okay, so Shirley, we can put the horse in the barn where Piper here keeps her horses. It’s on the way and he’ll be fine there for a couple days. Piper, will you just call Miss Julie real quick to make sure she doesn’t mind?”
I called and Miss Julie said it would be fine. She’s a great friend, and always has been. She helped me save my first horse, but there are four now, and she lets us board them all for no charge.
“Great!” said Shirley, leading the girl by the hand back to her truck. “We’ll just follow you. Come on, Bethanne.” The girl went with her without a word, and without looking at her dog. What was up with that?
“Hey, Shirley,” called Dad, “What’s the dog’s name?” Shirley had to think a minute.
“His name is Bosco.”
“Bothco,” said Bethanne.
So we loaded the paint into Gary’s trailer, Dad picked up the dog and laid him gently in the back seat of his pickup, and we made a caravan down the road. Dad drove this time, while I sat twisted around, watching Bosco. He lay still, but sniffed the air a lot and panted hard. Dad said dogs do that when they are stressed. The State Troopers made sure we were on our way and then took off toward the west. The sun had set, but the sky was still the dark blue of twilight.
As we went toward Miss Julie’s, I wondered about Shirley. Why was she so nervous? Why didn’t she seem to want to care for the animals that were supposedly hers?
* * *
Our first stop was Miss Julie Applegate’s barn, where I kept my horses. Dad led Spotty/Potty into a stall while my little herd came sniffing and whinnying to see the new guy in the barn. We closed the stall door to the pasture, so they couldn’t pester the new paint horse, but he knew they were there. He sniffed the air and whinnied back.
I kept three horses on Miss Julie’s farm: Dotty, a POA pony, Nickel, a half-Arabian and Pumpkin, a palomino. Those three crammed themselves into one stall. Luckily, they got along okay and only once did Dotty lay her ears back and bite at Nickel. Daisy, a quarter horse who belongs to my friend Jackie, stayed outside, watching with her ears up.
I gave the paint some water and a flake of hay and promised him we’d be back soon. As we left, he was lipping at it happily.
I walked back out to the trucks just as Shirley Gamble was talking on her cell phone.
“Gotta go now, Max,” she said as she saw me come out. She hung up, pocketed her phone and she and Bethanne got in their truck again to follow us to the clinic. Dad said goodbye to Gary Johnson and thanked him for the help. I drove us to the clinic, where Dad carried Bosco in and set him gently on a felt pad in one of the larger kennel runs. He gave him water and some kibbles. The dog sighed and put his head down. The clinic was empty now, as it was getting pretty late. Sue, the receptionist had gone home. Dad dug around and found some papers for Shirley to sign, leaving her address and phone number where she could be reached in Texas. He explained that he would let the dog rest tonight and x-ray him in the morning if he seemed to be hurting.
“Do you want to say goodbye to your dog?” Dad asked the girl, who shook her head and backed away. What was up with that? These people seemed weird.
Shirley said they were driving on and that she would be in touch. She gave Dad a credit card number to cover any expenses, as well as her phone number.
“Thank you so much, Dr. Jones!” said Shirley, walking to the door.
“Dottor Dones!” said Bethanne. Then Shirley and Bethanne climbed in their truck and drove off.
Dad and I were so tired when we pulled in the driveway that we just made ourselves sandwiches and went to our rooms. I started to watch TV, but as soon as my recorded Game of Thrones came on, Dad knocked on my door. I turned it off quickly—he doesn’t like me watching the sex and violence—and opened my door.
“Thanks for your help tonight. You did a great job of driving today. I think you’re safe to go on your own and I’ll tell your mother.”
“Okay, thanks!” I said, grinning. That was excellent to hear. “Dad, did those people seem weird to you? Bethanne didn’t even want to pet her dog goodbye.”
“Yeah, it was weird. Neither of them seemed attached to the horse or the dog and they didn’t even say goodbye. Something fishy going on, maybe. I’ll be surprised if that credit card is good.”
“What’ll happen if it’s not?”
“Oh, we’ll have to try and track them down. If we can’t then we’ll look to see if anyone is missing a dog and a horse that look like that. And I’ll check for an ID chip.”
“They could be stolen?” Geez, even my imagination hadn’t come up with that one.
“Well. I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. Let’s see what happens before we spend a lot more time and energy on them. They might really come and get the animals in a few days. Goodnight, hon. Sleep late, no school again tomorrow.”
“Okay. G’night, Dad.”
“Oh, and Piper? Don’t tell your mother you watch that show.”
* * *
PIPER’S TO DO LIST
- Take care of Spotty/Potty
- Come up with a Junior Project
- Talk to Jeff—is he coming home? (Be nice!)