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"Here, Shadow. Here, Go Gen", eleven-year-old Ashleigh Griffen called as she climbed the white-board fence that surrounded the broodmare paddock. She adjusted the lead rope and halter slung over her shoulder. "Time to head in."
She pulled herself over the top rail and paused. In the large, twenty-acre paddock, ten broodmares grazed peacefully. Their foals frolicked, napped, and nibbled tender shoots of grass. In the smaller, five-acre paddock, Edgardale's yearlings tested their strength and speed as they raced around the pasture, kicking up their heels and nipping at one another's flanks.
Ashleigh smiled. As usual Bandit, My Georgina's light bay colt, was in the lead and trying to stir up trouble.Ashleigh's smile faded a bit as she watched the beautiful yearlings circle the paddock with their manes and tails flying. This time of year was always bittersweet.
Prepping the yearlings for the annual Keeneland sale was a lot of fun. But at the sale's end, the yearlings would have new homes away from Edgardale. Ashleigh rarely saw them again.
The high-pitched whinny of a foal reminded Ashleigh that she had a job to do. Her mother had asked her to bring Go Gen and her filly, Shadow, into the barn.
"Come on, girls, you can move faster than that!" Ashleigh laughed as Go Gen lifted her head from the Kentucky bluegrass. The big gray mare casually headed in Ashleigh's direction. "I don't have all day, you know."
Ashleigh jumped to the ground, her sneakers making a soft thump as she hit the drying grass. She looked at the large oak and maple trees that dotted Edgardale's landscape. The leaves were turning beautiful shades ofyellows, oranges, and reds. She dosed her eyes and breathed deeply of the cool Kentucky air. Fall had definitely arrived.
Ashleigh's hazel eyes flew open at the sound of hoofbeats. She smiled as Shadow, a black filly with three white socks and a blaze, streaked across the paddock, challenging her mother to a race. Ashleigh thought she'd have to climb back onto the fence, but Shadow began to slow. The filly shifted her weight to her haunches as she came to a sliding stop three feet from where Ashleigh stood.
"You're such a show-off," Ashleigh said fondly as she ruffled Shadow's wispy black mane.
Ashleigh had been there when Shadow was born, and they had developed a bond.. That bond had grown even stronger several months ago. Shadow had been stolen, and Ashleigh had been the only one who believed the filly was still alive. Ashleigh smiled. She was glad Shadow was only six months old. She would have the filly all to herself for a whole year before Shadow would be sold at auction.
Ashleigh giggled as Shadow nibbled at the lead rope and tried to insert her nose into the blue nylon halter. "No, silly, this is for your mother," she said. "You won't fit into it for at least another year." She pulled the halter over Go Gen's head and hooked the buckle, then led the horses toward the broodmare barn.
As they walked beside the fence, Ashleigh noticed how dose Shadow walked to Go Gen's side. Ever since the filly had been stolen from Edgardale and was separated from her dam for many days, Shadow never strayed far from Go Gen's side. Tomorrow was weaning day at Edgardale. Ashleigh had a feeling it was going to be especially hard on Shadow.
They reached the gate, and Ashleigh unlatched it, leading Go Gen through the opening. Another gust of wind banged the gate dosed. Ashleigh didn't notice that Shadow was left behind until she heard a frightened whinny and the sound of hoofbeats as the black filly raced frantically up and down the fence.
"Easy, Shadow," Ashleigh said as she turned Go Gen back toward the gate.
The big mare nickered to her foal and began to dance at the end of the lead rope. Ashleigh held on tight, pulling Go Gen toward the gate, but Shadow cantered in the opposite direction with a panicked whinny.
"Shadow, come here" Ashleigh called as she fought with Go Gen. The big gray mare tried to follow her foal up the fence line, but Ashleigh held on tight, digging her heels into the dirt as Go Gen tossed her head and called desperately to her foal.
"Ashleigh," Mr. Griffen hollered as he stepped from the barn. "What's going on?"
Ashleigh turned to her father, her heart pounding in her chest as Shadow pivoted on her haunches and raced back toward them. "Shadow got stuck on the other side of the fence", she cried. "She's scared, and she's running crazy." She winced as Go Gen tossed her head, jerking hard.
Derek Griffen dropped the bucket of feed he was carrying and ran toward his daughter. "Give me the mare, Ash " He grabbed for the lead rope and tried to calm the agitated broodmare. "Open the gate for Shadow before she decides to try to jump it or go through it"
Shadow turned and ran toward the gate as Ashleigh approached. "Whoa," Ashleigh said as she waved her hands in the air, trying to discourage the filly from jumping. Ashleigh knew that Shadow was too little to clear the fence, but young horses often did things that got them into serious trouble.Ashleigh 9: Holiday Homecoming. Copyright � by Joanna Campbell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.