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White fence rails flashed by as Ashleigh Griffen steered up the drive of Townsend Acres. All day long at school, she couldn't stop thinking about her mare, Wonder. The chestnut champion Thoroughbred was due to have her first foal at any time.
Ashleigh braked to a stop in front of her parents' house, slid out of the car, and headed directly across the graveled drive to the foaling barn. The rolling pastures of the huge Kentucky breeding and training farm stretched out around her. The grass was a brilliant fresh green, the trees were bursting forth with new leaves, and the air had the soft, sweet scent of April.
Ashleigh hurried around the corner inside the foaling barn and nearly collided with her mother. "I heard your car," Mrs. Griffen said excitedly, pushing a strand of her shoulder-length blond hair from her eyes. "Wonder's having her foal!"
"She is? Oh, my gosh! How is she?"
"Don't worry; your father and. I have been with her the whole time. So far, so good."
Ashleigh rushed ahead into the dimmer light of the barn and ran down the wide, immaculately clean aisle. Her heart was pounding with excitement and fear. Wonder had nearly died at her own birth, and Ashleigh was so afraid the same thing would happen to her foal.
Ashleigh saw her father, the barn manager, Bill Parks, and several of the stable hands standing outside Wonder's stall. They turned when they saw her approaching. Her father motioned to her.
"It"s going well," he said softly.
Ashleigh looked in over the stall door and saw Wonder stretched out on the thick bedding of the roomy box stall. The mare lifted her head when she saw Ashleigh andwhickered softly.
"Yes, girl, I'm here!" Ashleigh whispered. "I'm so glad you waited till I got home from school to have your foal." Ashleigh turned to her father. "Can I go in?"
"I don't see why not if you're careful. She might be a little nervous and confused, especially since this is her first birth, but she trusts you."
Ashleigh quietly let herself into the stall and knelt by Wonder's head. Gently she stroked the mare's silky neck and velvet nose. "That's my girl. You're doing great," Ashleigh soothed. "Pretty soon you're going to be a mother."' Wonder whuffed softly into Ashleigh's hand. Then Ashleigh felt the mare's muscles stiffen as a contraction gripped her swollen belly. Ashleigh swallowed hard and looked up at her father nervously.
"She's doing fine," he reassured her.
But Ashleigh's stomach tightened as Wonder gave a low, distressed grunt. Ashleigh continued rubbing one hand gently down Wonder's neck as Wonder's soft breaths quickened. "I wish I could help you, girl," Ashleigh murmured.
When the contractions started coming more rapidly, Mr. Griffen slowly entered the stall and stood at the far side, ready if Wonder needed assistance. "It won't be much longer," he said quietly.
Suddenly Wonder lifted her head from the bedding and craned it around, grunting loudly in pain. Ashleigh could hardly keep from groaning herself as she watched her beloved horse suffer. "Oh, girl," she whispered. "I know it's scary, but you're going to be all right, and I'm here." Ashleigh's father looked over at her and spoke with subdued excitement. "The forelegs are showing. Another few contractions, and the worst will be over."
Ashleigh chewed on her lip and cradled Wonder's head as the mare struggled through several more contractions. Ashleigh had witnessed the births of many other foals, but this was Wonder, the horse she'd raised. Ashleigh felt Wonder's pain as if it were her own. Please let everything be all right, she prayed silently. Wonder's muscles tensed under Ashleigh's hand, and the beautiful mare strained once again. In the next moment Ashleigh saw the extended forelegs and head of the emerging foal, still covered by the white membrane of the birth sack.
Ashleigh gasped. "Your foal, girl! It's almost over now." She felt her throat closing with emotion. Wonder's copper coat had darkened with sweat, and she strained once more. Then Ashleigh gasped again in awe as the newborn's shoulders slipped free and the white membrane broke, showing a portion of a tiny, wet copper head and two delicate forelegs.
"Oh, Wonder!" Ashleigh cried. "I think your baby's going to look like you!"
Wonder seemed to sense that her ordeal was almost over. She whickered and craned her neck around as a final contraction brought her foal fully into the world. The small, sodden bundle lay curled in the straw. Within moments it was thrusting its head up as it drew the first breaths of air into its lungs. The membrane had pulled away to reveal a miniature duplicate of Wonder!
Ashleigh let out a cry of joy and hugged Wonder's neck, leaning down to kiss the mare's forehead. Wonder was looking back at her newborn, too, and suddenly gave a soft whinny of delight. The little foal's ears pricked, then it began struggling to free itself from the rest of the membrane and curl its long, delicate legs beneath it.
"It's a colt," Mr. Griffen said.
Ashleigh had trouble seeing through the mist of happy tears in, her eyes. Wonder has a son! she thought in amazement. As long as the foal was born healthy, she hadn't cared if it turned out to be a colt or a filly. She heard the excited murmurs of those standing outside the stall. "A beauty," Bill Parks said. "Fine little fella."Ashleigh knew not to touch the foal until Wonder had nuzzled and licked the newborn clean. Soon the mare drew her legs beneath her and reached around to proudly touch her nose to her son's. She made soft, crooning noises as she began licking the foal dry. It was such an intimate and important moment for mare and foal that Ashleigh rose and stepped back to give them their privacy...Thoroughbred #05: Ashleigh's Dream. Copyright � by Joanna Campbell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.