Willow King

Willow King

by Chris Platt

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Katie makes a sacrifice to save the life of a disabled racing colt—but will it all be in vain?

At Willow Run Thoroughbred Farm, horses are born and bred for racing. When a much-anticipated bay colt endowed with the farm’s finest racing blood is born with terribly twisted legs, the obvious choice is to put him down. He’d be lucky if he could stand and nurse, let alone race. But thirteen-year-old Katie can’t stand the idea. Born with one of her legs almost an inch shorter than the other, she wonders what would have happened if her parents had felt the same way about her. What if they had given up on her entirely when they realized she couldn’t be a prima ballerina?

Desperate to save the colt’s life, Katie works out a deal with the farm’s owner and becomes the proud owner of Willow King. Can she help him overcome the odds and claim his place as the racehorse royalty he was born to be?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497638921
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 08/19/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 180
Sales rank: 921,606
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Chris Platt is an award-winning author of more than one dozen books for young readers about horses. Willow King was awarded the Golden Heart Award from the Romance Writers of America, and Star Gazer was part of the Kansas State Reading Circle Recommended Reading List, as well as a Parents’ Choice Approved book. Her other novels, including Moon ShadowStorm Chaser, and Asta, have also earned prizes, such as the Bank Street College of Education Award, and have been championed by librarians, parents, and schools around the country.

Before earning her degree in journalism from the University of Nevada, Reno, Platt lived in Oregon, where she was one of the first female jockeys in the state. She is also a marathoner, plays the drums in a bagpipe band, and has a black belt in hard-style Shotokan Karate. She lives in Washoe Valley, Nevada, with her husband, four horses, two cats, and an ornery parrot. 
Chris Platt is an award-winning author of more than one dozen books for young readers about horses. Willow King was awarded the Golden Heart Award from the Romance Writers of America, and Star Gazer was part of the Kansas State Reading Circle Recommended Reading List, as well as a Parents’ Choice Approved book. Her other novels, including Moon ShadowStorm Chaser, and Asta, have also earned prizes, such as the Bank Street College of Education Award, and have been championed by librarians, parents, and schools around the country.

Before earning her degree in journalism from the University of Nevada, Reno, Platt lived in Oregon, where she was one of the first female jockeys in the state. She is also a marathoner, plays the drums in a bagpipe band, and has a black belt in hard-style Shotokan Karate. She lives in Washoe Valley, Nevada, with her husband, four horses, two cats, and an ornery parrot. 

Read an Excerpt

Willow King

By Chris Platt


Copyright © 2010 Chris Platt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-3892-1


"Destroy him? What do you mean 'destroy him'? He was just born!" Katie stared at the bay colt that lay nestled in the thick bed of straw. Grey Dancer, his dam, nuzzled his still-wet coat and nickered softly to him, encouraging him to stand and nurse.

Katie leaned her forehead against the cold wood of the stall door and listened to the drumming of the Oregon rain on the barn roof. The gloom of the day settled over her like a wet blanket.

Old John, the trainer for Willow Run Thoroughbred Farm, placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I tried, missy, but it's the boss's orders, and what he says goes. There's nothing either of us can do about it. This is a farm for racing stock. With legs like that, this colt will be lucky to stand and nurse, let alone race someday."

Katie looked down at her own legs. Where would she be if her parents had felt the same way about her at her birth? With one leg almost an inch shorter than the other, it wasn't a great handicap—but it was enough to set her apart.

She wiped the back of her hand across her eyes, fighting the burn of tears. She was thirteen now, too old to break down and cry like a baby. But she felt so helpless. She had no claim to the farm. She didn't live here. She was just the neighbor girl who had bugged Mr. Ellis until he had finally given up and let her help with the horses.

She pushed her long brown curls back over her shoulders and turned pleading blue eyes on the old trainer. "But it's not right, John. Look at how big he is. He's the best-looking colt foaled this season. So what if his legs are crooked? The rest of him is perfect."

"You're right about that, Katie girl."

Together they watched the colt struggle to rise. A gentle nudge from his dam sent him scurrying to stand. Legs tangled and buckled, but eventually he got to his feet, teetering as he stretched his neck to suckle.

"Attaboy, Willow King." Katie spoke words of encouragement to the new foal. His ears flickered at the sound of the human voice and he turned his head to stare in her direction, milk dripping from the curly whiskers under his chin. But the effort was too much for him, and his legs collapsed under him like a folding chair snapping shut.

"See? He knows his name already," Katie said as she knelt quietly beside the mare and foal, intent on helping him to stand and nurse again. Fortunately, Grey Dancer was a kind mare. She wouldn't turn on Katie for entering the stall when there was a new foal inside. Many mares would.

"Don't you be namin' that colt now, Katie," John said testily. "No need for you to go gettin' attached to him when Mr. Ellis has ordered him put down."

Katie stood and brushed the straw from her jeans, then limped to the edge of the stall. She had forgotten to wear her orthopedic shoe this morning. Her back would pain her later, but it would be worth it. She wouldn't have missed this birth for anything.

But now it might turn into a funeral. "I'm not going to let him do it," she told John determinedly. "So what if his legs are too crooked to race? He could be a trail horse or a carriage horse, couldn't he?"

John tilted his head and settled his felt hat more firmly into place. "Now, missy, this colt's got some of the finest racing blood this farm has to offer. You think he'll ever be content to be an ordinary cart horse?"

Katie thought of her dream of becoming a ballerina. That dream had vanished when she hadn't outgrown the clumsiness of her disability. She could handle the fact that she would never be a dancer, but how would she feel if someone wanted her dead?

"Being a carriage horse is better than being put to sleep!" Katie exploded. She turned from John and helped the foal to stand. He wobbled and bobbled but soon found the food supply again and resumed sucking greedily.

"That's it, King, drink all you can," Katie urged. "It'll help you to grow up big and healthy." She knew how important it was for the foal to get that first milk from his mother. It contained all the antibodies he would need to survive and grow strong.

Katie surveyed the colt's crooked limbs. "What about leg casts, John?"

Old John took off his hat and scratched his head. "I've seen it done," he admitted. "But it's hard on the little ones. They can't run and play like the other foals when they have those heavy casts on. And the things have to be taken off every couple of weeks and tightened for them to work. Sometimes those casts do more harm than good."

Katie sighed and went back to the foal. King stopped nursing and turned his big brown eyes toward her, seeming to size her up, determining if she might be a worthy playmate once he learned how to work his legs properly. He made a faint attempt at a nicker and took a step toward her, but his legs tangled and he fell in a heap at his dam's feet.

Katie laughed at the surprised look in his inquisitive brown eyes. King floundered for a moment in the bedding, then lay back in the deep straw and closed his eyes. Only the rhythmic chomping of Grey Dancer at her hay and the chickens scratching at the dirt on the barn's floor disturbed the quiet.

"Look at him," Katie said. "He's so trusting, he doesn't even know that death is near. Isn't there anything that can help him?"

"Well," old John began as he forked some hay into the stall. "I tried to tell the boss, but he didn't want to listen. I've seen a few colts born with crooked legs. Of course, none of them were as bad as this little colt's. The best remedy I've seen is good food, plenty of sunshine, and lots of pasture to run in."

"That's it?" Katie's eyes widened in surprise. "No medicines or bandages?" That seemed far too simple to work. She wished the problem with her own legs could be fixed that easily.

"That's it," John repeated. "It's best to let Mother Nature take her course. Those legs will straighten of their own accord. Most of those colts went on to win races."

Hope fluttered in Katie's heart. "But if that's all it takes, then why won't Mr. Ellis give it a try?"

"The final decision rests with the boss, and he thinks the colt's legs are too crooked for it to work."

The sound of tires grinding on the gravel driveway announced the arrival of the veterinarian. Katie's heart sank again and her stomach felt as if a large, cold stone lay inside it.

Dr. Marvin, the stable's vet for as long as Katie could remember, ambled up the shed row, shaking the rain from his hat and coat. "Morning, John. Katie." He tipped his head in their direction. "So where is the little fella?"

Katie stepped aside, and the vet entered the stall, shrugging off his raincoat and throwing it over the door. "Not a, very good day to be born," he noted as he dried his hands before picking up his instruments and beginning his examination of the colt. "But it's also not a very good day to die."

Katie heard the sympathy in Dr. Marvin's voice and pounced on it. "Oh, Doc, you can't put him down. He could be a champion someday!"

The vet paused and turned to Katie. "I wouldn't get my hopes up that high," he cautioned. "He's got some of the worst legs I've seen on a colt.

"But," he added, "I think they might straighten enough for him to be of use somewhere."

"See!" Katie beamed, turning to John. "Now all we've got to do is make Mr. Ellis understand."

"I've already tried that, Katie," Dr. Marvin said. "It's breeding season, and having a bad-legged colt out of your prize stallion's first crop doesn't go over well with buyers or breeders. Mr. Ellis has high hopes for Beau Jest's offspring, and he doesn't want anyone to know this colt of his exists."

Katie shook her head, tossing her brown curls over her shoulder impatiently. "I didn't know Mr. Ellis could be so heartless."

"He's really not being that cruel," Dr. Marvin said, pulling a stethoscope from his bag. "He doesn't expect this colt to be able to stand and nurse. A quick death is preferable to slow starvation."

"But he's already stood and nursed." A note of hope crept back into Katie's voice.

"He has?" Dr. Marvin's brows rose to a point in the middle of his forehead, giving him the appearance of a wise old owl.

"Yes, he nursed for about a minute."

"That's a good sign." The vet put the stethoscope to the colt's chest and listened. King shifted in the straw and Dr. Marvin put a steadying hand on his side. "He's got a strong heartbeat, and his lungs are clear. If he could get enough milk into him to gain some strength, he would make it."

"Do you really think so?" Katie was getting more excited by the minute.

"Too bad his legs are so crooked. This is one of the best-looking colts I've seen come off this farm."

"We've got to convince Mr. Ellis that Willow King is worth saving!" Katie huffed an exasperated breath. So what if the colt had a handicap? He could overcome it.

"Here he comes now," John warned. "If you've got a plan, it's now or never, my girl."

Katie jogged awkwardly down the barn's shed row to greet the owner. Tom Ellis sloshed into the barn through the mud, his wide-brimmed hat set against the rain. Behind him, a splash of yellow daintily picked its way between the puddles, a large umbrella turning back the onslaught of rain.

Only Cindy Ellis would wear her best school dress to the barn, Katie thought sourly. She and Cindy had been neighbors for the past eight years, but they could hardly be called friends. They tolerated each other, and that was about it. What was she doing here? Cindy only came to the barn when her horse was bridled, saddled, and ready to ride. Today was definitely not a day for a gallop over the fields.

"Hello, Katie. What brings you out on such a miserable morning?" Mr. Ellis's voice always sounded so businesslike.

Cindy closed her umbrella and daintily brushed at the water spots that speckled her dress. "Yes, Katie, what are you doing here?"

Ignoring Cindy's curious gaze, Katie managed to get a few words past the lump in her throat. "It's Grey Dancer's foal, sir ..."

"Ah, yes. She's always been your favorite of all my horses, hasn't she? It's too bad about the foal. I had great hopes pinned on that colt."

"He could still be a winner, Mr. Ellis." Suddenly, Katie lost all control of her tongue. "He stood and nursed. Dr. Marvin says he will live if he just gets some milk down him. Old John says he just needs lots of sunshine." The words tumbled out of her mouth like water over a fall.

"Hold on there, Katie. What are you getting at?"

"Please don't put Willow King down," she pleaded, looking to Cindy for help. The two of them didn't see eye to eye on too many things, but surely Cindy wasn't so horrible that she'd want to see the colt die.

"Willow King?" Tom Ellis stared at Katie. "That's a powerful name, but I'm afraid he won't be able to use it. There's no hope for that colt, Katie."

"Nothing is ever hopeless," Katie said.

Cindy stepped forward and pushed her straight blond hair out of her eyes. "Are you sure, Daddy? Maybe he'll outgrow it?"

Katie managed a weak smile for Cindy. She was grateful for the help.

"No, girls. There's no sense getting your hopes up. The colt's too deformed to make it on his own. He'd take a lot of extra work, and even if he did make it, he'd still be worthless. No legs, no racehorse. You two run on up to the house now. I promise you, the colt won't feel any pain." He shooed them toward the barn door.

"Wait!" Katie yelled. She had to make them see that the colt didn't have to be perfect to be of use. "You can't do this! If it's too much work for you, I'll do it. Just let him live. Please!"

Mr. Ellis sighed and put his hand on her shoulder. "Katie, you just don't understand. No matter how much work you put into this colt, he'll never amount to anything."

But she did understand. She saw the same sentiment in her classmates' faces when it came time to choose teams in gym class. Nobody wanted to pick ol' limpalong Katie; she couldn't run as fast as the others or move as easily. She understood all right.

Mr. Ellis continued. "We could save him, but the only thing he would be good for is standing in the pasture. At best, you might be able to do some light riding on him when he's older. But this is a racing farm, not a convalescent home for hopeless horses."

Katie could tell he was at the end of his patience. If she didn't convince him now, King would be gone forever. The rain outside turned to hail and began to beat down furiously on the roof. It echoed the turmoil she felt in her heart. The colt was worth saving. The tears that had threatened earlier now slipped down her cheeks. Cindy was looking at her with sympathy in her eyes. Maybe she wasn't so bad after all.

Mr. Ellis turned to walk away, but Katie reached out for the sleeve of his coat, stopping him in his tracks.

"What if I buy him from you?" It was a desperate attempt, but it was her last hope.

Cindy stepped forward, the look of pity gone from her eyes. Curiosity had taken its place. "Katie Durham, how do you think you can afford to buy one of our racehorses when your mother can't even afford to pay the taxes on your farm? What will you do with a horse if you lose your land?"

Cindy's father gave her a sharp look and the girl retreated behind him, her bright yellow dress disappearing behind his gray overcoat like the sun slipping into a storm cloud.

Lose the farm? Katie wondered what Cindy was talking about. Her mother had never mentioned that they were in financial trouble. Things had been rough since her father died, but Katie hadn't known they were that bad. If that was true, then they needed King worse than ever. If he was raised right, he could become a valuable champion, like his father, Beau Jest.

Katie watched as Mr. Ellis scratched his chin and studied her. She saw his gaze drift to her leg and comprehension dawn in his eyes. He now realized why this colt was so important to her.

"Katie," Mr. Ellis began in a fatherly tone, "you don't have any money to purchase a colt. You already have one horse, and I doubt your mother would let you have another. I could give you the colt, but it's still going to cost for his vet bill."

"I want to pay for the colt. I can work it off. You know I'm a good groom." Katie jammed her hands into her pockets and kicked at the dirt on the ground, willing the tears in her eyes to stop falling.

Cindy stepped out from behind her father. Katie didn't like the look in her eye. When Cindy Ellis wore that sugary-sweet smile on her face, it spelled trouble for somebody.

"I know a way Katie can pay for the colt," she spoke in a cotton-candy voice. "You can trade your show horse, Jester, for him."

Katie sucked in her breath. She felt as if somebody had just punched her in the stomach. Not Jester! Her father had given her Jester for her tenth birthday. Cindy knew how much that horse meant to her. And to think she had been having nice thoughts about the girl!

"That's an idea." Mr. Ellis scratched the stubble on his chin. "Cindy has been bugging me to buy her a new show horse. She always complains about you beating her in the ring. Maybe she would have a chance at some ribbons if she had Jester. I'm sure your mother wouldn't want to part with such a valuable animal, but maybe you'd be willing to lease him to us for a few years? It would certainly make it easier on you and your mother if you only had one mouth to feed. Of course, this whole deal hinges on her approval."

Katie swallowed the lump in her throat. Thoughts of Cindy riding her beloved horse turned her stomach. The girl didn't have a very good seat, and she continually sawed at her horse's mouth. But Mr. Ellis had a point. If her mom was having trouble with the farm, it would be easier to care for only one horse, and once King grew strong enough to run in races, he would eventually pay his way and theirs, too.

Father and daughter stood waiting for her answer—Mr. Ellis with a friendly, helping smile and Cindy with a greedy smirk. She had been trying for years to beat Jester in the show ring. Now it looked as though she would be winning all the blue ribbons on him.

Never in Katie's life had she had to make such a difficult decision. She opened her mouth and forced the words out before she could change her mind. "Okay, Mr. Ellis, you've got yourself a deal." She saw the admiration in his eyes when he reached out to shake her trembling hand. Cindy looked like the cat that ate the canary.

"You've made a good decision," Cindy bubbled as she looped her arm through Katie's and pulled her down the shed row. "I'll let you come visit Jester anytime you want."


Excerpted from Willow King by Chris Platt. Copyright © 2010 Chris Platt. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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