By Patty Wilber
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CALLIE’S STAR by Patty Wilber
Callie approached the chestnut mare, walking in what she hoped appeared to be a confident manner while speaking in a low, even voice. The mare walked away and tossed her head, but Callie kept coming, steady and persistent. In a few minutes the coppery horse faced her and stood still. Callie half expected Flower to leap away as she approached to slip the halter on, but the mare stood quietly. Callie patted her neck and told Flower, “At least I will not put this halter on you upside down!”
Callie tugged on the lead rope, encouraging the horse and herself in the same quiet voice. The mare followed Callie, willingly, but her amber colored eyes were ringed with the white of mischief. Callie stopped at the gate to scratch Cloud’s neck and explain that she would certainly brush him later, and probably ride him, too. Cloud nudged Callie’s arm with his whiskery nose and blinked his big eyes. Callie knew he understood, and patted him again.
The girl reached for the gate and was about to unlatch it when a sharp jerk nearly tore the lead line from her grasp. Callie half turned and saw the mare with her ears flat against her head. Her lips were pulled back to expose her hard white teeth. She lunged at Cloud, and he tried to swing his rump out of her reach, but her teeth touched his back, just above the tail. They left a damp rumpled mark. Cloud squealed and humped his back, ready to kick the mare, but he’d been too well trained to strike out when a person was near. Instead, he whipped his wiry tail into Flower’s face, and trotted across the corral.
Flower tried to follow, and the lead line grew taut again in Callie’s hands. Callie’s teeth were edge on edge, and anger boiled up inside her. Callie snapped the lead rope smartly, and Flower stopped and looked at Callie. Callie took a quick step towards the horse, threading the slackening line through her hands as she approached. Callie jerked the rope again, gaining the horse’s full attention. “Don’t you EVER try to bite Cloud again,” said Callie, her voice made hard by her outrage. Flower threw up her head and leaned back onto her haunches like a dog about to sit. Then she hopped back two steps. “Whoa!” Callie’s voice commanded her. The girl’s voice was still rough, and the horse halted instantly.
“All right, then. C’mon.” Callie put her hand right up under the horse’s chin, where the lead rope joined the halter, and began to walk. Flower lowered her head, like a child that had just been scolded, and followed. Callie sighed in relief.
Aunt Martha met them at the bam door. “Good work, Callie,” she said. Then she turned to Flower and said, “You’ve got test everyone, don’t you, girl?” Flower extended her neck so that her nose was brushing affectionately against Aunt Martha’s ear, and Martha patted the horse. “She’ll probably be fine now, Callie, but keep an eye on her.”
When Callie mounted Flower, she immediately noticed that Flower felt like nervous energy trapped inside a horse compared to Cloud’s steady power. A bare tightening of her calves sent Flower eagerly forward. If one of her heels accidentally brushed Flower’s ribs, Flower moved to one side, and if she jiggled the reins against the bit, just a little, Flower tucked her head, and slowed up. There was little room for error.
After a few rounds of the arena walking, turning, halting and walking again, Callie eased the mare into a jog-trot, so smooth and collected, that Callie felt the horse must part ballerina. The lope was just as fluid.
“You look good,” said Aunt Martha from the middle. “Bring her in and back her up.”
Callie obeyed. and Flower performed the task very nicely. “Good girl,” said Callie, letting some of the stiffness ease out of her back, and patting the mare.
“Very nice,” said Aunt Martha again. She rubbed her horse’s nose, and the horse rubbed back, half closing her eyes in pleasure. “Take care of my favorite horse now, O.K.?”
“O.K.,” said Callie, “And thank-you, again, Aunt Martha.” She walked Flower toward the gate and the open ranch beyond. The sky was a cloudless impossible blue, and shimmering heat waves rose from the ground. She urged Flower away from the barn, and the horse balked. as if imaginary goblins were waiting to eat her. Callie tightened her legs and told the mare to walk in a straight line. Callie knew Flower was testing her again and she was determined to win round two, as well. After a moment, Flower walked out, as if nothing in the world was bothering her. Callie patted the horse’s smooth neck and sighed deeply.
She turned to wave at Aunt Martha, who was watching from the arena gate. Aunt Martha smiled.
First Callie rode along a fence that Uncle Bob wanted checked for loose wire and breaks. Then she rode down to Green Springs Run via the trail where she and Jeff had met the hog. Callie held her breath as she hurried through the scrub oak. When she reached the spring, she rode Flower back and forth across it, sometimes slowly, watching the clear water slide under the horse, and sometimes at a gallop, so that cool spray covered them both. She checked the water tanks and saw the salt licks were in good shape.
She rode back along the old dirt road, as relaxed as she could be on a horse as sensitive and observant as Flower. By the end of the day, Callie knew that in the week left before the round-up, she and Flower would be seeing eye-to-eye.
After Callie turned out Flower she brought in Cloud. She fed him a handful of oats and he munched contentedly as she brushed his speckled gray coat. That evening, as the sun grew red and the shadows lengthened, Callie rode him to the lookout. He wasn’t glass smooth like Flower, but he was relaxing. He was steady and calm, and besides, he was her horse; her first true friend on the ranch.