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RANGERTHE LITTLE HORSE WITH THE BIG HEART
By CHRISTY WOOD
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Christy Wood
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMY BEGINNING
Mom must have been frightened. In her innermost being she must have known she was going to have a baby. But the rancher who owned her had no knowledge of the fact that a young yearling stud colt running with his horse herd had the moxy to be a sire. My mother, a chestnut mare, the color of a copper penny, was turned out on Wutchumna Mountain for the winter. I was going to be her first foal. As an expectant mother she tried extra hard to find grass and bark that would nourish the foal growing inside her.
As the time grew closer for my birth and arrival as one of God's precious creations on His earth, an arrival of a negative sort was brewing in the clouds. Tulare County was slated with a winter storm warning. The creeks were rising and the snow level dropping. Wutchumna Mountain was smack dab in the middle of the storm. The day started out dark and gloomy, cold and miserable, and this carried on into the dusk. Mom put her head down and turned her rump to the wind, as all horses do to survive the elements, and noticed the pains that were starting in her abdomen.
I was anxious to get out. My muscles had been twitching and contracting for months in preparation to make my legs strong enough to help me stand for the first time. I could feel the temperature rise around me and a tightening of Mom's muscles as she started to labor with my birth. She was nervous. Down she would go to the ground, pushing, then up again walking in circles, sweating and panting, then down to push again. My instinct told me to get into a diving position with my head between my front legs to become more streamline and to make myself smaller to go through the birth canal. A few more pushes and grunts from Mom and I was suddenly in shock of how cold I was becoming. I felt the stretch of my front legs pierce the rubbery sack that surrounded me. I gasped for my first breath of air – I was alive in my mother's world. Mom, I'm here! I've arrived! I longed to touch noses with her and memorize her scent. As I tried to open my eyes, the freezing rain kept weighing them down. My body felt stuck in the mud and it took all of my strength just to sit up so my lungs could take in the air I craved. The winter elements of wind and rain were tapping the life from Mom and me. We were both weak. She raised her head from her prone position on the ground and welcomed me. I sensed her love. What a sweet whinny she had. She made a grand effort and stood up. She was bigger than life to me. I desired to stand beside her, but my legs would not cooperate. They were going in four different directions. If I got my front legs up, my backside was down. When my back legs pushed my rump off the ground, I could not get my nose out of the mud. I wanted to be a horse – I was going to be a horse – I told myself. Mom gave me a gentle nudge. You can do this, son. Okay Mom, this is for you. Oh my gosh, I'm standing. I wish the ground would stop moving. It's not the ground, Son, you just have to get your coordination and strength. She knew that once I stood then nourishment from her milk would be the next important task for me. She positioned herself next to me, facing the opposite direction and even turning her inside thigh to make it easier for me to tuck my head under her leg to reach her udder. But in disappointment for both of us, she had not developed any milk for me to drink. She kept nudging me to try in hopes that something would flow from her nipples.
As minutes and then hours passed, I started to feel despair. Hunger and weakness took its toll, and I collapsed to the ground. Would I have enough strength to get up again? Thoughts invaded my mind that I had more of a purpose than to live just a few hours. I felt an urgency to be the horse that God made me to be. To carry on for my ancestors. Historically, horses had gone on before me to carry great armies into battle, conquer kingdoms, and win the West. My Mom was the last vision I had as my eyes closed and my thoughts were stilled.
I slowly began to hear voices of the human kind. I saw shadows as my eyes opened to the morning light. The storm had passed. My mother's owner and another rancher stood over me and discussed my plight. What should we do with this half dead colt? I heard one man ask. It took all my strength, which wasn't much, to raise my head as I tried to show the two ranchers I was worth helping. Mom's owner suggested the neighboring ranch that recently had a family of four children move onto the hilltop property as a possibility. They may want to raise a colt as a family project. This sounded good to me. I would be cared for by four young'uns and have a family to grow up with. Both ranchers scooped me up in their arms and laid me in the back of a pickup truck on top of a saddle blanket. I glanced back to see my mother foraging on a large pile of hay the ranchers had brought for her. She was famished and ate quickly. I called to her as the truck slowly moved down the hill. Anxiety crept into my soul and we both knew this might be the last time we would see each other this side of Heaven. Mom ran to the edge of the pasture where the fence line kept her from following the truck. Mom, thanks for giving me life and trying so hard to care for me. I'll make it, I will live, and I'll make you proud. Her cries for me faded as we left the mountain on my way to the unknown for my future and my new home.
Chapter TwoMY LIFE WITH HUMANS AND OTHER HORSES
The road to my new home was long and windy. The truck went down from the mountain where I was born, through a canyon, then ascended the neighboring mountain range. As my head bounced in motion with the rough road, I was taking in how blue the sky was. It had a calming effect on me. I was at peace, even though I was hungry and now an orphan. Then a little house appeared on top of the hill. As the truck pulled into the yard, my new family, the Nelsons, emerged from their dwelling. The father was tall with a sense of authority. The mother had a sweet smile and kind eyes. The children, three girls and a boy, were all excited and rushed to me with cooing sounds. Their soft hands stroked my neck and I felt like I belonged here. As the ranchers lifted me from the truck bed, the hunger pains increased in my belly. They laid me in their garage on several soft blankets. To my relief, Mother Nelson approached me slowly with a bottle that had a chewy end and she inserted it into my mouth. I instinctively started sucking. Sweet, creamy milk flowed through the nipple and I knew this would give me strength and life. More, more, please! I drank until I was full and fell asleep content.
The first few days and weeks at the Nelson homestead were full of nourishment for my little body and the excitement of getting to know my new human family. I listened to the Nelsons trying to decide what name to give me. They sounded out everything from Apple to Zack. Then one of the girls spoke up and said, let's call him Wutchumna because that is the name of the mountain where he was born. Everyone seemed to like it, as did I. Good name for a war horse or a conquering equine, I thought. I was ready to conquer my world.
As my body grew, I learned how to become a horse. I could munch green grass and hay with my new teeth. I could outrun the family dogs in a game of tag. And I could jump any obstacle that got in my way. I found this out one day when I was running so fast I could not stop. So instead of crashing into a wheelbarrow, I just tucked my legs and propelled my body over it. That was exhilarating! I wanted to do that again. I watched my humans and saw how they opened gates, where they stored the dog food (one of my favorite treats), and memorized the sound of the family car as they drove down the mountain and went into town. I also knew the sound of the car returning as it climbed back up the hill and parked in the garage. This was especially important because when the family was gone, I had a secret playtime no human saw.
Most of my adventures took place when the Nelsons left their hilltop home for the day. When I heard their car engine fade into the distance, I would jump the pasture fence. The pasture bordered the family's backyard where Father Nelson meticulously mowed and watered his precious lawn. What a spectacular treat for me. The lush, thick grass became a regular part of my diet. I enjoyed snooping in the garage, too. When I first arrived on the Nelson ranch, before I was strong enough to stand up, I would look up from the comfort of my blankets and marvel at all the tools and paint cans. I was now big and smart enough to go exploring. I would use my nose to rearrange the tools. Paint cans tipped easily and left bright colors on the garage floor.
Now that I was strong enough to gallop around the hill top pasture, the Nelsons felt I was ready to meet the one other horse they had living on their ranch. His name was Roper. He was a 5 year old quarter horse gelding, large in bone and muscle with a deep red mane and tail that matched his body color. The Nelsons would tell people that Roper got his name because he was so hard to catch. A cowboy who trained him had to throw a rope over his head each time he went out to the corral to bring him in for training. Roper didn't like humans much, and only showed enough interest in them to get what he wanted which was food. He could be disagreeable at times, so he was only ridden by father Nelson. Roper wasn't a safe horse for young inexperienced riders.
I was happy to know there was another horse on the ranch and I was hoping Roper would be my friend. It would be fun to explore the hill top pasture and share adventures with him. I was lead up to the pasture fence that separated the two paddocks and was turned loose to meet my new friend. My instincts told me to lower my head with a sideways glance to show my submission and respect to an older horse. Roper walked towards the fence to meet me, but a few steps away from touching noses as all new horse friends do, he lunged at me with his ears pinned against his head and his teeth and mouth open to show anger. I quickly ducked away and he bit the fence right where I was standing. I was disappointed that one of my own kind would chase me away and reject any attempt from me to be my friend. I sought the comfort of my human caretakers instead. For a while, the daily grooming, pats, and treats were good enough for me. Eventually, the Nelsons turned me out permanently with Roper on the mountain pasture. I learned immediately to run and turn quickly to avoid Roper's bites and kicks. I gave him plenty of room when hay was put in our feeding tubs and I always let him east first. I was not going to let him discourage me from growing into the best horse I could be. I really have him to thank for making me try harder to be better and stronger than he was.
I wasn't old enough or tall enough yet to start the training to be a riding horse. The little Nelson girls wanted to start riding so the family bought a POA pony, which is an Appaloosa pony. He was a bright black and white leopard. His white hair was covered from head to tail with black spots. They named him DA, after Father Nelson's job as a district attorney. DA was short and very, very round. He wasn't as quick on his hooves as I was and so I felt the need to be his protector from Roper. I would block the mean lunges from Roper and gallop circles around DA, herding him away and out of danger.
DA and I had tons of fun together. I taught him how to open gates, as he was too fat to jump over the pasture fence. We discovered that the houseplants on the back patio were a tasty morsel before lunch. Then I shared my lush backyard grass with him, and we topped it off with doggie kibble from the garage. Soon, Father Nelson caught on to our exploits and padlocks showed up on all the gates and garage door. I still jumped my fences, but poor DA had no choice except to watch my antics from the pasture side of the fence. Roper was jealous of my ability to solve problems and the strength of character I showed towards my life with humans and other horses.
Then the day came that would forever change the direction of the rest of my life. The Nelsons called a local trainer who drove to the house on the hill a few times a week to start my education. I had heard them talk about this lady many times. She was a success as a world champion rider and trainer. I thought to myself that I could handle this big person and I wasn't going to make it easy for her. I was having too much fun each day to start going to horse training school. She showed up in the late morning that first training day. I did not expect what I saw next; the person who everyone described was bigger than life was indeed a petite woman. She was small like me and had a flaxen mane just like mine. Her name was Christy. Mother Nelson greeted her with a hug, a gesture humans did when they liked each other. She then walked with Christy over to my training corral. The instant we made eye contact with each other, our souls touched. A deep respect and connection was formed. Christy then made that same special gesture toward me and hugged my neck! I was hers forever.
Christy had a gentle touch and the understanding that a young horse needs time to learn at their own pace. This way I could absorb all of the training better. I was first tied to a hitching post with an inner tube to help me learn how to stand quietly without pulling back and hurting my neck. The inner tube would give way and then bring me back close to the post if I felt the urge to play while I was tied. Then I was sacked out with a plastic rain slicker. She took the slicker and rubbed it all over my body. Next a western saddle was introduced to my back. I carried a bit in my mouth as she taught me to lunge on a longline in a 30 foot circle. Here, I learned human verbal commands. They were walk, trot, canter and most importantly, whoa. Later when I was ridden, I did whoa so well, that it became a game for me to see if I could unseat the person who was sitting in the saddle when they asked for whoa. Christy always stuck to me like glue.
She then attached two long driving reins through the stirrups on the saddle and attached them to my snaffle bit. She stood directly behind me and lightly tapped the lines against my sides and asked me to walk forward. It was a strange sensation at first to have her behind me, as she had always stood to my side for lunging. She explained to me that this would change the direction of her voice so that it would be closer to where I would hear it when she was sitting on my back. Also, the lines touching me on my sides simulated how her legs would move as a light kick to move me forward. That is what was so special about my trainer. She would stand at my head, stroke my nose and neck, and talk to me with a soft tone and explain each day's lessons. Even though we spoke different languages, our spirits connected and we knew what the other was saying and, sometimes, even thinking. The next training step was Christy putting her foot in the stirrup, swinging her leg over my hip, and sitting softly in the saddle. She was so light. This being a riding horse was going to be easy. When she knew I was ready, she skipped all the preparation that day, and said," Wutchumna, lets go. Walk out, buddy." And I did just that. We were a team, one unit, and partners for life. I was ready to be her war horse! The rest of my training days progressed quickly. I was trotting, cantering, spinning and, doing rollbacks and lead changes.
Father Nelson was so pleased with my progress that I soon found myself herding cattle that he had on his mountaintop ranch. He cared for me like I was another member of his family. My special friend and trainer, Christy, was coming to the Nelson ranch less frequently now. Her job as my trainer was done and she moved on to other horses. That last day I saw her reminded me of the last day I saw my mother. My heart was breaking for a second time. Christy felt it too, and she re-assured me that she would check up on me from time to time. I held onto that thought.
One spring day Christy showed up to help Father Nelson gather cattle. She rode DA and I carried Father Nelson over the rolling hills. My heart beat rapidly as I was very happy to see her again. I was also pleased that I was chosen by Father Nelson that day. I held my head high as I was lead from the pasture and I gave a cocky glance back at Roper who was left behind. My trainer and Father Nelson were having a friendly conversation as we rode through the colorful spring flowers on the hillsides. He was explaining to her about a career change he had accepted. He was going to move his family to the city. He explained that there would be no place for his family to keep DA, Roper and me. Fear started creeping into my heart. I did not want to go through the pain of losing another family. Being separated from my mother was hard enough for me. I was content with my life at the Nelson ranch. What would become of me? Father Nelson asked Christy to help him find a good home for DA and Roper. She said she would. Then I heard him say those chilling words - now about Wachumney? I hung my head and a tear started to form in the corner of my eye. I didn't like change, and yet, with each change in my life came another adventure and everything seemed to turned out okay. And then I heard those saving words. "Would you like to own Wutchmna," he asked? Within the time it takes to breathe in and use air to form a word, Christy said with enthusiasm, "Yes!" I wanted to squeal, run, and buck through the field of flowers to show my joy, but Christy's good training kept all four of my hooves firmly planted on the ground. I continued my responsibility for the human who was sitting on my back. Christy and I would celebrate later.
Excerpted from RANGER by CHRISTY WOOD Copyright © 2012 by Christy Wood. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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