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Terri Farley
HomeBooksThe AuthorConnectEducationWild Horses

July 1

Royal moved to River Bend Ranch about three days ago.

He's a great horse. I saw him for the first time about a year ago when Rachel went horse-shopping at Three Ponies Ranch and watched Jake ride him.

Then, Jake had only had him for a little while. In some complicated deal with one of his brother, Jake had swapped a tractor engine for Royal and was training him as a stock horse. Royal is a bright fox-red and muscular as a bull and even Rachel knew herself well enough to realize he needed a strong rider. Which she isn't.

Jake kept working with Royal until he was one of the best cutting and roping horses Dad had ever seen, and that's why he bought him.

Once Royal arrived, we put him through the usual slow introduction process we reserve for new horses, keeping him in a little pipe corral next to the ten acre pasture, but there was no snapping and kicking, no snorting or squeals of outrage. The other horses just accepted him being there, except for Strawberry and Tank. They became his over-the-fence friends!

Today, though, when we turned him out with the saddle herd, he turned into a bully.

We'd just turned him out with the others, and watched him race up to Strawberry and Tank, ending his sprint in a slide that belonged in a rodeo arena.

"Yep," Dad said, admiring him, "that one can stop on a dime and give you nine cents change."

I love watching horse behavior and I thought it was interesting the way Blue Wings, Popcorn and Ace all kept their distance from Royal. All three are mustangs, of course, and to tell the truth, the way their ears were flicking around, it was like they were gossiping about the new guy.

Jeepers-Creepers and Amigo kept grazing as if Royal wasn't even there, but then Royal spotted Penny. He sensed her blindness, her difference, right away.

He pawed the grass and gave a snort.

Penny's blindness rarely made her vulnerable. She'd only had one rough day settling into the saddle herd and who'd picked on her? Strawberry and Tank.

Today she decided not to take any chances. She trotted away from the herd, before they could turn on her. When she bumped into the far fence -- something she hadn't done for months -- she stopped, then paced up and down the far fence. Right away, her gleaming copper chestnut coat began to darken with sweat.

Dad glanced toward the house to see Brynna coming out onto the porch. Penny was her horse, recovered from a failed adoption, and it was as if her blind mare's uneasiness had called Brynna to her.

Royal shouldered his way past Tank, and the bald-faced bay looked surprised. Royal didn't try that with Strawberry, because she's the unofficial boss of the saddle band. Then, just as Penny lowered her head to snatch a mouthful of grass, the gang of three charged.

"It only takes one," Brynna said when she stopped next to me.

"I hate a bully," Dad muttered. He and Brynna held hands as they watched, trying to let the horses work out their problems without human interference.

The only thing that would make them jump into that corral was if Penny broke into a blind panic -- which suddenly meant more to me than ever before -- and headed for a fence or tree.

But that didn't happen.

I don't know the exact meaning of Penny's worried nicker, but Ace noticed. Head high, black-tipped ears swiveling to catch her tone, Ace took a step away from Popcorn and Blue Wings.

My little bay horse tucked his chin as if the star on his forehead was a spotlight focused on Penny.

"He remembers," I told Brynna and Dad.

Horses have a pecking-order and Ace had been at the bottom, constantly marked and sometimes bleeding from bites and kicks. He wasn't going to watch that happen to Penny.

Ace didn't walk or jog . He launched into a gallop so firm-footed, the smell of crushed grass came to us as he crossed the pasture, then slipped in front of Penny.

His body became a bay barricade between Penny and the three other horses, but he didn't square off to fight. Instead, he stretched his nose toward Penny's and took a noisy whiff of her.

Something about that greeting made Strawberry pretend she'd just heard grain swishing from a feed sack. Tank moved lazily away from Royal, then he and Strawberry both dropped their heads and began grazing toward Blue Wings and Popcorn.

Ace didn't have to be Penny's seeing-eye horse, but he was letting Royal know how things were done, here.

Royal's mouth opened twice, as if he was about to say something. He looked from Penny to the others, and back.

Ace might have been saying, Don't even think about it! as he glared through his black forelock.

Royal sneezed, shook his heavy mane and blinked in the direction of Three Ponies Ranch. No doubt he'd learn such behavior from Jake's bossy mare Witch, but my little cowpony had set him straight.

I was proud of him, as usual, but it was Brynna who echoed what she'd said before, "Good boy, Ace. It only takes one."