By Patty Wilber
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CALLIE’S STAR by Patty Wilber
After the hard charge out of the little draw into the meadow, the band of mares and colts settled into a fast and somewhat skittish walk. They didn’t care all that much for the people, but the confident demeanor of the rider’s horses gave them some comfort. And some of them had been corralled in previous round-ups.
By the time they had neared the corral, things were going along pretty nicely and Callie said, “The others will be out all day and not find much more than prints,” She was feeling both extremely lucky and a teeny bit smug.
“They might find The Outlaw!” said Jeff, “But you can bet they never expected us to come back with the herd!”
“Don’t count your horses before they are corralled,” said Uncle Bob, sternly. “They will get nervous as we get closer to the corral, so stay alert. Rick, you take the left side as that is the way they will break. Jeff, you go with him. Luis, watch the right side, but be smooth and quiet. I will push from behind with Callie,” and he nodded at her. “If any horses break out of the bunch, Rick and I will go after them, and Callie, you will keep working the herd forward.”
When the horses saw the corral, they became restless again, and bunched together in a prancing walk. Jeff and Rick kept them moving toward the chute from their side. Luis held them on his side, and Callie and Uncle Bob pushed them toward the mouth of the chute. The mares moved hesitantly and began to slow further as the walls narrowed, but they were in!
All five of the riders formed a semi-circle behind the mares and Uncle Bob signaled them to move slowly and quietly, to let the herd find their way into the corral itself. Suddenly, the same bay mare that Callie had turned in the meadow stopped dead and spun to face them, stopping the others. Callie sucked in her breath. This did not look good.
On Uncle Bob’s signal, Luis and Jeff pushed forward into the chute, behind the herd, shouting. This forced the horses forward toward the open gate. They shoved the lead mare who turned and moved ahead a few few, but paused again when she had to pass under the overhead beam supported by the gate posts. The other mares continued pressing in on her, and suddenly she sprang through. The herd followed, and Luis swung the gate closed.
“That worked!” said Callie, taking a breath. “I thought they would boil out for sure.”
“Once they get into the chute, they’re usually not bad,” said Rick. “Besides, look at our fine crew.”
Callie felt a balloon of pride fill her chest, and when she looked at Luis and Jeff, she saw that they were sitting very tall in their saddles.
“You all put up your horses,” said Uncle Bob, “And let’s give these mares some feed.”
Callie quickly unsaddled Flower, and gave her a pan of grain saying, “You were super! Almost as good as Cloud!” She rubbed the sweat marks behind Flower’s ears, and the horse lowered her head, pushing it toward the girl, sighing. Callie gave her one last rub, and then headed for the stack of baled grass hay hauled down for the round-up. She turned back before she reached it, and ran to the tree where she had tied Jake before they headed out this morning. He wagged his tail excitedly, and Callie turned him free. He bounded beside Callie as she returned to the hay and stacked three sections of the bale, the flakes, in her arms. The stiff stalks stabbed her forearms. “I don’t know how they eat this stuff,” she said to Jake. But, when she threw it over the fence, the horses stopped milling like a crowd after a catastrophe, and gathered around to eat.
Callie, Luis, and Jeff threw flake after flake of hay into the pen, spreading them out so the horses didn’t need to crowd each other to eat. The mares, almost all with healthy colts at their sides, took great mouthfuls, chewing noisily, as if they had never tasted anything so sweet.
Only one horse wasn’t eating. It was a filly with patchy, dark swatches of unshed baby fur still clinging to her sleek blue-gray adult coat color. She was running up and down the western edge of the pen, crying in a high thin voice.
Uncle Bob walked up and said, “What’s all this racket about?” Callie pointed to the filly.”It looks like her mother is missing, Callie”, he said.
The little horse whinnied again, and the plaintive sound made a wave of grief wash over Callie. She reached down to pat Jake and walked close to the fence, pulling a mashed and crumbling biscuit she had saved at breakfast from her pocket. She laid it in her palm, and reached between the thick pine poles of the corral toward the filly. When the horse saw the strange, sun-reddened arm poking through the fence at her, she wheeled away, eyes bulging with the same wild look the horses had had when they had charged out of the draw.
Callie’s fingers closed on the biscuit and crumbled it into tiny pieces that fell on the dust, making tiny white specks against the brown earth.
“Isn’t there something we can do for her?” she asked.
Uncle Bob patted her shoulder with a gentle hand. “She looks like she’s about four or five months old,” he said. “That’s old enough to be weaned. She’s just upset about the separation. Don’t worry, Callie. She’ll get over it.”
“Couldn’t we let her go?” asked Callie, looking down at Jake’s blue eye.
“She’d have little chance of making it without the herd,” said Uncle Bob. “Plus her mother and the Outlaw are probably long gone by now.”
Callie nodded. She knew Uncle Bob was probably right, as usual, but her heart ached for the little filly.
She knew what it meant to be motherless.