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"Easy, girl," eleven-year-old Ashleigh Griffen soothed the black foal at the end of her lead line. Shadows Treasure, the full sister to Kentucky Derby winner Aladdin's Treasure, pricked her little fox ears at the sound of Ashleigl's voice. Then she bobbed her head, flipping the new halter up and down on her nose.
Ashleigh stepped forward and ran a hand down the filly's muzzle, admiring the long white blaze that matched the three white socks on Shadow's legs.
"Try again, Ash, " Mrs. Griffen instructed. She stepped behind the filly and ducked, encouraging Shadow to move forward.
Ashleigh smiled as she pulled gently on the stubborn foal's lead rope. Shadow had been born during a snowstorm, with Ashleigh the only one in attendance, since her parents had been stuck at the neighbors' farm waiting out the storm. From the moment Ashleigh had seen the black foal struggle to her feet, she'd known that this filly was special. But Shadow still had a lot to learn just teaching her how to be led was proving to be a challenge.
"She's got her legs locked, Ash" Mrs. Griffen said. She brushed her blond hair behind her ears as she prepared to give the filly a small nudge. "See if you can pull her nose a little to the left to put her off balance. If that doesn't work, we'll have to go back to putting the rope around her hindquarters.'
"Come on, Shadow," Ashleigh told the filly. "Youve got to learn to walk on your own like the big horses do." She pulled the lead rope to the left, forcing the filly out of her square stance.
"Look out!" Mrs. Griffen warned as Shadow took a huge leap forward, then rose on her hind legs and pawed atthe air.
Ashleigh fell backward, the lead rope still locked in her fist. She hit the ground with a thump, then yelped as Shadow darted to the side, pulling her to her knees.
Ashleigh's heart pounded in her chest as Shadow reached the end of the rope and reared again.
"Let her go, Ash," Mrs. Griffen cried as she maneuvered around the filly, trying to get to Ashleigh.
Ashleigh's instinct told her to listen to her mother and scramble to safety. But all the years she'd spent around the barn had taught her that if you let a horse get away with something, it can turn into a bad habit. Shadow needed to have some manners if she was going to follow in her big brother's footsteps and be a great racehorse.
Ashleigh go to her feet and spoke firmly to the spirited filly. "Whoa, girl."
Shadow stopped her antics and stared at Ashleigh with big brown eyes. She took a hesitant step forward, then reached out and poked Ashleigh with her soft muzzle, nibbling on the hem of her shirt.
"Are you okay?" Mrs. Griffen asked as she hurried to Ashleigh's side.
Ashleigh nodded, then extended a trembling hand toward the filly, afraid that any quick movement might set her off again. She touched the long blaze on the filly's finely shaped head and breathed a sigh of relief when Shadow took another step forward and rested her head on Ashleigh's shoulder.
"What happened?" Ashleigh asked, more to the fillythan to her mother. I thought we were best friends,"
Mrs. Griffen took the lead rope and wiped a smudge from Ashleigh's cheek, then brushed a strand of her daughter's dark hair back from her face. "These babies are unpredictable, Ash," she said. "But you did great!"
Ashleigh heard her mother's praise, but she still couldn't help feeling as though she'd done something wrong.
"But I visit her every day," Ashleigh protested. "She's never tried to hurt me before'
Mrs. Griffen smiled. "Shadow wasn't purposely trying to hurt you, Ashleigh. Horses do a lot of things by instinct. You know that. No matter how much they love you, you can still get hurt around them if you're not paying dose attention" She handed Ashleigh the lead rope. "Here. We don't want to quit on a bad note. Pull her head around and push on her hip. Turn her a couple of circles in each direction, then we'll stop for today. I think you've both had enough"
Ashleigh took the lead rope, noticing that her hands were still shaking slightly. She stood to the left side of Shadow and pulled lightly on the lead rope. Shadow's neck flexed toward her, but the filly didi't move.
"Now push gently on her hip, Ash," Mrs. Griffen directed. "That will force her to follow her nose and walk in a circle. "
Ashleigh placed her hand on Shadows hip, being careful to stand far enough away that she wouldn't be kicked if the filly decided not to cooperate. She gave Shadow a nudge, then grinned in triumph when the filly walked in a circle around her. She asked Shadow to halt, then moved to the other side and repeated the exercise.
"Looks like you're making progress," Mr. Griffen called from the other side of the fence as he joined them.
Ashleigh glanced quickly at her mother. Mrs. Griffin winked to reassure her that there was no need to mention Shadow"s rough start.
Ashleigh smiled at her father. Of all the Griffens, only she and her father had dark hair. Her mother, thirteen-year-old sister, Caroline, and five-year-old brother, Rory, were all fair-haired. Ashleigh liked it when people told her how much she resembled her father. She hoped that someday she'd know as much about horses as he did.
"That's enough for today," Mrs. Griffen called as she joined her husband. "Pull the halter off Shadow and let Go Gen take her back to the other mares and foals "
Ashleigh unhooked the halter and stepped back, laughing at Shadow's wild antics as she jetted off across the paddock with her dam.
Someday, Ashleigh thought. Someday Shadow would stand in the winner's circle at one of the prestigious filly races, like the Kentucky Oaks or the Mother Goose Stakes. Or maybe she'd join the handful of fillies that had the courage and stamina to race against the colts in the Kentucky Derby. Ashleigh felt an excited thrill just imagining it....