5th & 6th Grade Prose Honorable Mention
The skittish mare throws back her tangled mane and whinnies a shrill warning. She shies back, kicking up a hazy cloud of dust. She arrived at our ranch a few hours ago; the man unloading her was nearly kicked. Before he left, he said, “You better be careful, girl. That horse is dan-ger-ous.” Now those words echo in my head as I try to calm her. As if to prove his point, the mare steps back, her eyes wide with fear and misgiving. I feel a heavy hand on my shoulder.
“Let her settle in,” Mama says, glancing at the horse. “We’ve got all summer long ahead of us.”
“She’ll calm down,” I say confidently, gritting my teeth.
Mama nods and wipes her muddy hands on her pants, leaving a smudge of dirt. “I’ll need your help with this one. I heard she had a sad beginning.” I glance back at the mare, who eyes us curiously. I walk toward her, but she turns away and sighs, as if the world has always been against her.
I’ve learned that the world is a dangerous place and to always be wary and watchful. But this farm seems different—the people stay away except when they give me food. The girl visits sometimes, whispering in a soothing voice. Whenever she’s around, I feel something I’ve never felt before: safe. Still, I don’t let her come too close. I tell myself not to trust her, not to be tricked. Humans are complicated. You never know when they’ll turn on you.
Today, the girl brings me carrots and watches me from the other side of the barn. She tosses me one, and I walk forward to inspect it, not realizing how close I am to her. When I look up she smiles, warm like the sun. I sniff her hand. “You’re a sweet horse,” she says, with a look that makes it seem she understands. Sweet? No one has ever used that word with me. “Lazy, good-for-nothing…” Those are words I’ll never forget.
“Maybe you’ll let me ride you,” the girl continues, brightening. My ears turn back. Humans have tried to ride me before, whipping and kicking me. “Tomorrow,” the girl decides. She runs a small, warm hand down my neck. At first, I flinch and want tomove away; I’m not used to being touched. But then, against my better judgment, I relax and close my eyes.
I wake up early and walk to the barn. The heat this July is the sort that presses against your chest and makes it hard to breathe. The mare lets me come near her now, so I clip her crossties to her harness. When I put her saddle pad and riser on, her ears go back. I cross my fingers and close my eyes as I lift the saddle and gently place it on the mare, tightening the girth. To my surprise, she doesn’t react. “That’s a good girl. Let me get my helmet and crop.”
At the sight of my crop, the mare’s eyes widen and her breath comes in short gasps. Hurriedly, I put away the crop, slip on a bridle, and lead her to a mounting block. Climbing into the saddle, I feel her stiffen under me. I click my tongue and her ears swivel back; she’s listening to me. She takes a few short steps, then bursts into a canter. I jerk back on the reins, trying to slow her down, but she just goes faster. Soon, I’m galloping. “Stop!” I yank hard on the reins. The mare halts so suddenly I pitch forward, landing in the dust unhurt. Getting up shakily, I turn and look her in the eye: “You can't get rid of me that easy. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
Weeks pass, and the girl comes daily, bringing apples or sugar cubes to gentle me. Every afternoon she tries to ride me; today is no exception. She tacks me up and leads me into the ring. Swinging up onto my back, she leans forward so I can feel her breath on my neck. “Don’t worry,” she whispers. She clucks softly to me, and I walk, feeling her weight in the saddle. “That’s it,” she says encouragingly. After a few minutes, I strain to go faster. She pulls back on the reins and I stop, when what I really want is to run as fast as I can, to leave my fears behind. The girl jumps off and says, “Thatta girl. See you tomorrow.”
One cool August morning, the sky blue and clear, I try something different with the mare. I lead her to an open field, feeling her excitement. Her step picks up and her eyes are bright. When we get to the field, I slip a bridle on her and use an old stump to get up on her, bareback. Today, she doesn’t wait for me to let her run. She takes off at a gallop and kicks up her back feet, but I know she’s not trying to buck me. She just loves speed. Her mane whips back and dirt flies around me. The breeze makes my eyes water, so I shut them. Slowly, carefully, I let go of the reins, lifting my hands up in the air. “Whoo-hoo!” I yell, laughing hysterically. Her chestnut coat gleams with sweat, but she doesn’t stop. I relax into the rhythm of her gallop as she goes round and round the field.
When I open my eyes, I see us heading for one of the crosscountry jumps. Knowing there’s nothing I can do to slow the mare down, I brace myself, clenching the reins tightly and getting into two-point. Near the jump, the mare quickens her pace. We soar over the fence as if we’re suspended in mid-air. When I turn, I see Mama watching me, grinning from ear to ear. “You go girl!” she calls. The mare snorts proudly, and I raise my hands in triumph.