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"Hurry up, Ashleigh!" Mona Gardner called from outside Edgardale's large brown barn. "It looks like it's going to rain soon. We'd better hurry."
Ashleigh Griffen poked her head out the stable door and smiled at her best friend. Mona was riding Frisky, her beautiful bay Thoroughbred mare. Ashleigh and Mona were both horse-crazy. A little Kentucky rain would never stop them from riding. But Ashleigh's parents didn't see it that way. If it started to rain before the girls left, they wouldn't be allowed to go.
By the look of the low-hanging clouds, they might get in an hour of riding before the rains started.
A gust of March wind blew Ashleigh's long, dark hair across her face. "I'll be out in a minute, Mona," she called to her friend. "I have to help my mom and dad bring the broodmares in. You can ride Frisky in the front paddock while you're waiting," she suggested.
A gruff voice echoed down the barn aisle. "March came in like a lamb, but it's going to go out like a lion," Edgardale's hired hand, Jonas, observed as he pulled a lead rope from its hook on the wall. "You two get going, Ashleigh. I'll help your folks with the broodmares." Ashleigh smiled at the old stable hand. Jonas had come to work at the Griffens' Thoroughbred breeding farm several months earlier, when their other hired man, Kurt, left to work on his sister's farm.
"Thanks, Jonas, but I have to do my share of thechores" Ashleigh said. "That was part of the bargain Imade when my parents agreed to let me keep Stardust." She grabbed another lead rope from the wall andstroked the pretty chestnut mare that stood in crosstiesas she passed.
Mrs. Griffenstepped out of the tack room with an armful of halters. "Don't forget that schoolwork was also a part of that deal" she reminded Ashleigh. "Make sure you're home in plenty of time to do your math before dinner." She handed two of the halters to Ashleigh and several to Jonas.
Ashleigh nodded. Her math grade had dropped so much lately that her parents had told her she either had to get the grade up to an acceptable level immediately or be grounded, unable to ride Stardust, until her grade went up.
Ashleigh cringed at the thought. She wanted to be a jockey someday-how could she accomplish that if she couldn't ride? She shook off the horrible thought and headed for Go Gen's paddock.
The gray mare lifted her elegant head and nickered a greeting as Ashleigh approached. She patted the mare and smiled. Go Gen was due to foal any day now, and she was big as a house. Her foal would be the first one of the season, and everyone at the Edgardale breeding farm was excited even her older sister, Caroline, who wasn't as interested in the horses as the rest of the family.
This year the Griffens were starting a new tradition: Everyone would make a guess at what each newborn foal's color would be. The winner got to name the foal, and had control of the television set for an hour after dinner every night for a week.
Ashleigh grinned as she stood on tiptoe to buckle Go Gen's halter. She knew which show she would pick if she won: Old Red And Me, the only show on TV starring a boy and his horse. Even Caroline liked the show, but only because she thought the boy who starred in it was cute.
Ashleigh had bet that Go Gen's colt would be gray, like its dam. Caroline guessed the foal would be a dark bay, but Rory wanted it to be black, because that had been the color of his favorite colt, Midnight Wanderer.
A cloud of sadness passed over Ashleigh at the thought of the yearling colt they'd had to put down the month before because of his broken back leg. The memory still hurt, but she knew they had made the right decision. The leg hadn't been healing, and the colt had been in a lot of pain.
Ashleigh put Go Gen in her stall and went back for Rory's pony, Moe. The Shetland turned his molassescolored rump on her and took off to the other end of the paddock, cropping grass as quickly as he could. Moe was up to his tricks again.
"Leave him alone until all the mares are in,' Mr. Griffen called from the side of the barn, where he and Ashleigh's older sister, Caroline, were unloading bags of grain from the farm's old truck. He wiped his hand across his brow, pushing the dark hair off his forehead as he laughed at the pony's antics. Ashleigh was the only child in the family with her father's dark coloring. Rory and Caroline were both blond, like their mother.
Derek Griffen grabbed the heavy feed bag that Caroline had pulled to the edge of the truck's tailgate. He hefted the bag over his shoulder and smiled at Ashleigh. "Don't worry about Moe" he assured her.
"When he sees that everyone else is in the barn, he'll come running:'
"Yeah," five-year-old Rory mimicked his father as he held open the feed shed door. "He'll come running."
As predicted, Moe waited until the last mare was in the barn before trotting up to the gate, Kentucky bluegrass hanging out the sides of his mouth.
"You're silly," Ashleigh said as she opened the gate to lead the pony into his stall. "Can I ride Stardust now?" she called down the aisle to her mother.
Elaine Griffen looked up from the stall she was mucking out and nodded. "Sure, Ashleigh, Just make sure you're not gone too long. Id like to see you finish your homework before dinner. Your father and I are expecting a good grade on that math test tomorrow. I'm sure Stardust is, too" her mother added, reminding Ashleigh of their agreement...