Author’s Note: This was my first competition piece, written on a whim in two weeks back in junior high (Spring of 1996, I was thirteen). It is unchanged and unedited since that time to give you an idea of where I “started”, as it were.
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A Horse Named Black Thunder
By Melissa Snyder
“Easy, girl, easy!” A middle-aged man spoke in a soothing voice to a restless female horse that was about to give birth. He patted her neck, which was damp with perspiration; the trembling mare snorted as he tried to calm her.
“Dad, what’s going on?!” A young girl, about the age of 14, ran out into the barn. She had creamy skin, sparkling blue eyes and long, wavy, blonde hair. She quickly ran down the winding hall of stables. When the girl reached the mare’s stall, she was panting breathlessly. “Has she…?” Her voice was expectant as she tip-toed to see over the stall door.
“It’s a colt,” her father answered happily as the mare sat up, “And a handsome fellow, too.”
The girl looked over the stall door at the little bundle of fur that squirmed and wriggled as the mare tried to lick her foal clean. The man’s name was Robert Connell and the girl was his fifteen-year-old daughter, Allison. Robert, his wife, Sharon, Allison, and Ryan, her seventeen-year-old brother, lived on a huge ranch on the Virginia hills that was called the River Heights Acres. Their prized Arabian mare, Storm Cloud, had just given birth to a single colt, her first. He was as black as night, just like his sire Hercules. Hercules was the strongest, fastest Thoroughbred stallion on the ranch.
Soon, this little addition to the family, now only 45 minutes old, began struggling to get to his feet. After one failed attempt, where he fell, all four gangly legs spread out in a very undignified manner, the colt finally was able to stand up properly, wobbling only a little. Slowly, but steadily, he began to walk. Just tiny steps at first, but then he became more confident. Storm Cloud, now on her feet again, watched her little son, who was soon nudging her side with his muzzle. One could imagine the look on her face to be one of absolute pride.
“You have a right to be proud of him, girl,” Robert said to Storm. He’d always has the ability to interpret her looks. “He’s a persistent one.”
“Yeah. He is a fast little nipper, isn’t he?” Stan, one of the ranch hands commented.
Soon the young colt was nursing hungrily, his mother giving his back a last-minute washing.
“What are you going to name him, sweetheart?” Robert asked Allison casually as they leaned against the warm stall.
“You mean, he’s mine?” she said to her father in disbelief.
“Of course he’s yours!” he replied. “I told you that Storm’s first foal, boy or girl, would belong to you.”
“Thank you so much, Dad! You’re the best!” Allison jumped at her father and hugged him tightly, almost knocking him over. She’d never actually had a horse that was hers, all hers, before. Then, she ran back to the stall to watch the little colt. He stopped nursing for a minute and returned her gaze with big, round black eyes, as though he were sizing her up.
Allison smiled back at the young little face. “We’re going to be best friends. Just you wait, little guy. Just you wait.”
Days and then weeks went by, the little colt was growing at an amazing rate. He was already kicking up his heels when they let him and his mother out of the stall a few days after his birth.
One day, Allison was watching Storm Cloud and the colt out in the pasture. All the foals were racing about with each other, but Allison was amazed to see how the young colt left them all behind. He was a fast little thing, even for a colt. The Arabian and Thoroughbred blood was showing in this sprightly little foal.
Just then, her father came up to her. “Well, Allison, have you decided what to name him?” he asked.
“Yes.” she replied. “His name is Black Thunder.”
“Why Black Thunder?” Robert asked.
“Well, just look at him!” Allison laughed, pointing to the colt who was running around the pasture and kicking up at the sky, “He’s a little thunder bolt!”
“I do believe that you’re right.” her father answered with a smile.
“Of course I’m right!” Allison replied with mock pride and a little smirk of her mouth, “Aren’t I always?”
Robert laughed. “Yes, yes. Black Thunder it is,” he said with a kind smile.
As the years went by, Allison and Black Thunder bonded. They became inseparable. Everyone could tell that there was something special between the girl and the horse. They would go on long rides in the forest, run wildly in the fields, or just play and be happy together.
One nice summer afternoon, Allison came home from a shopping trip in town. She took her bags inside and put the contents away. Then she headed down to the large, fenced-in field on the south side of the ranch. As she walked, Allison whistled a merry tune. Her spirits were high and she felt great. When he saw that his beloved mistress was approaching, Black Thunder whinnied happily and galloped towards the fence.
“Come here, Thunder. That’s a good boy,” Allison said, climbing over the fence and entering the field. The horse slowed to a canter and finally stopped in front of Allison. She petted the large horse’s velvety nose, while gazing at him lovingly. Allison couldn’t believe how he had grown in the past two and a half years. His black coat was glossy and shone in the bright rays of the sun. He was well fed and exercised. As she ran her hand along his shoulder, Allison could feel his strong muscles ripple beneath her fingers. She put his halter over his head and snapped the lead line onto it. Then, she took him to the stables where she tacked him up. Afterwards, she led him out the door. Allison patted Thunder’s neck as she prepared to mount the stallion. She gathered the reins in her left hand, stuck her left toe in the stirrup and swung her right leg over Thunder’s back, settling herself into the saddle. Allison clicked her tongue and squeezed his sides with her calves. Thunder moved into a spirited walk. He tossed his handsome head impatiently. Allison knew that Thunder wanted to be given his head; he was itching to run.
“Okay, boy. Okay.” she said with a smile. She knew how he felt. Allison pulled on the left rein, guiding Thunder to a large, green, lustrous pasture that was behind the ranch. As soon as they were out of sight of the ranch, a smile spread across Allison’s face. “Come on, boy!” she said. “Let’s have some fun!” Allison dug her heels into Black Thunder’s sides. With a loud whinny, he leaped forward into a fast gallop. Allison gave him his head as they raced through the pastures. Her heart soared! This was what she loved best; to have the wind whipping her face and blowing through her hair. Allison could hear Thunder’s hooves pounding against the hard ground like drum beats, and his mane and tail flew wildly behind him like large streamers. After a while, Allison reluctantly pulled back on the reins. With a snort, Black Thunder slowed down to a stop. “We’d better get back, boy,” she said. Allison turned the stallion around, and headed back to the ranch.
After they arrived back at River Heights, Allison rode Black Thunder around until he cooled down. Then, she walked him down the dirt path that led to the stables. When she reached the door, Allison dismounted and led the stallion inside. There she began to untack Thunder. First, she put him in the cross-ties, then she undid the girth and lifted the saddle off his back. Black Thunder snorted and shook his beautiful, black head. Then, Allison unbuckled the crown piece of the bridle. Thunder opened his mouth and allowed the bit to drop out so Allison could take the bridle off. After Allison had put away the tack, she checked Thunder’s hooves to make sure that no stones or small objects had become lodged inside of them. When that was done, she took out the dandy brush and began to brush Black Thunder’s midnight black coat. Soon it gleamed brightly, free of dirt and dust. Thunder nickered and rubbed Allison’s shoulder affectionately to show how he appreciated her concern for his well-being. She stroked his nose and smiled. “You’re welcome, boy,” Allison answered with a smile. After she was finished grooming Thunder, Allison tucked him safely away in his warm stall and left the stable for the night.
Early the next morning, Allison bounded happily downstairs. The house was warm, cozy and friendly. Pictures of horses and ribbons from numerous horse shows decorated the walls while trophies and cups sat on every shelf. The smell of eggs and bacon drifted from the kitchen and tickled Allison’s nose. She inhaled it with a smile. Her mother was an amazing cook. As Allison walked through the house, she passed Ryan who was lying on the couch, reading a novel. She walked over to him.
“Hi, big brother!” she greeted Ryan, pecking him on the cheek.
“Hi, Sis!” he replied, wiping his cheek with his sleeve.
Allison frowned at her brother, he loved to tease her. Shaking her head, she walked into the kitchen where her mother, Sharon, was cooking breakfast. “Hi, Mom!” Allison greeted her mother.
Sharon had long, blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes. Her skin was creamy and fair, and a smile was always on her face.
“My, aren’t we full of energy today?” Sharon asked her daughter.
“She’s always that way,” Ryan teased, coming into the kitchen and pinching his sister’s cheek.
“Ow! Stop that, Ryan!” Allison cried out.
“OK! OK!” he replied, sitting at the table. Ryan ran his hand through his straight black hair, his blue eyes shining brightly.
“Allison, what are you going to be doing today?” Sharon inquired of her daughter.
“Miya and I are going for a ride down by the river when she arrives.” Allison answered.
Miya Swift Wind was Allison’s best friend. Miya had straight, jet black hair, midnight black eyes, copper skin, and was very beautiful. Miya had a history of Indian ancestry. Her ancestors had been from the tribe of the legendary Powhatan Indians that had once lived around those parts. Miya and Allison had met when they were 12 years old, and had hit it off right away. Ever since 6th grade, they had been best friends. Miya also had a little brother and sister as well by the names of Michael and Deianira. The two kids were twins, and did everything together.
“Hey, Allison! Are you in there? Hello!” Ryan’s voice brought Allison back to reality.
“Yeah. I’m here,” she answered, a bit startled.
“You’re always dreaming,” Ryan said to his sister, a hint of a tease in his voice. Allison made a face at her brother.
“Alright, you two,” Sharon broke in. She turned to her son. “So, Ryan, what are your plans for today?” she asked him.
“Well, the veterinarian is coming over at ten o’clock to check that scrape on Princess Gwenavere’s left flank,” Ryan replied.
“Well, could you do me a favor and ask Dr. Price to give Lady Avalon a check up, please?” his mother asked.
“Sure!” Ryan answered.
“OK, kids! Breakfast is served!” Sharon announced. With a smile, she placed two plates of steaming eggs, bacon and sausage in front of the two teenagers.
“Thanks, Mom! It looks great!” Allison said to her mother, eyeing the plate hungrily.
“Well, dig in!” Sharon told her, turning to wash the dishes.
Before Ryan had gotten even halfway through his meal, Allison had already finished! She jumped up from the table energetically.
“Thanks for breakfast, Mom!” she said, kissing her mother on the cheek. “Bye!”
“Bye, sweetheart,” Sharon called as Allison left for the stables.
It was a wonderful day. The sun was warm, the sky was blue and she felt good. Allison wanted to jump about and sing at the top of her lungs, but she dared not, lest she scare the horses. Soon, she reached Black Thunder’s stall.
“Hi, boy!” Allison greeted her horse. Thunder whinnied a greeting. “Are you ready for a nice relaxing day?” Allison asked him while packing some lunch in the saddlebags for her and Miya. Thunder nodded his head and snorted impatiently. “I know. I can’t wait to get out of here, too,” she agreed. At the word “too”, Thunder scraped his hoof two times against the wooden floor. Allison laughed. “Not “t-w-o”,” she said with a smile, “T-o-o.” Thunder pounded his hoof four more times. Allison smiled and shook her head. Just then, a voice coming from outside reached her ears. Allison ran out to the door.
There was Miya, waiting with her white Lipizzaner stallion, Wind Rider.
“Miya! I didn’t expect you until 9:30. It’s only 8:00,” Allison exclaimed at the sight of her friend.
“Well, I finished my chores early so I decided to pop by and surprise you,” Miya replied, shifting her weight in the saddle. “So, are you ready to go?”
“Just let me tack up Thunder,” Allison replied.
She quickly ran back to the stall. Black Thunder sensed her excitement and whinnied loudly, anxious for them to be on their way. Soon, the two teenagers were galloping through the green, wide fields beyond the ranch. Beside them ran Miya’s black, white, and gray German Shepherd, Kocoum. He was a very wolf-like dog who liked to go off into the woods and hunt for his own food. The horses were old friends with Kocoum and were always absolutely thrilled when he decided to join them for a daily run. Miya and Allison laughed with extreme pleasure as they raced through the pastures. After playing around for a while, Miya and Allison rode the horses in the direction of the big river that ran through the forest. Kocoum ran ahead of them and reached the river first. He drank the sweet water, glad for the rest. Soon, the others joined him. Kocoum barked to show his appreciation for letting him come along. Miya dismounted from Wind Rider and pet Kocoum’s furry head with a smile.
“You’re always welcome to come with us, boy,” she said kneeling down and scratching behind his ears. Kocoum whined contentedly.
Allison grinned. Black Thunder nudged her in the back, and Allison turned around and stroked his cheek.
“I know. I know, boy. I love you, too,” she said with a smile.
For a long while, Miya and Allison sat beside the river and talked about horses, boys, school, and many other things. After a while, Miya took a cedar wood pan-flute that her grandfather had carved for her and played a few sweet notes. Allison leaned her back against a tree trunk and closed her eyes. Miya’s music was like the heavenly notes of an angel’s flute. After about an hour, the girls leaped astride their mounts and started for home.
The next day, Miya walked into the kitchen of her house where Michael and Deianira were playing on the floor.
“OK, guys,” Miya said to the children. “I’m going to be out in the barn. I’ll just be a while, so don’t leave the house. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Miya! We promise!” the children chorused.
“OK! Now remember, do not leave this house,” Miya said and walked out the door.
For a short while, the children played quietly. Soon, Michael jumped up. “I’m bored!” he declared. “Let’s go for a walk in the woods, Deianira.”
“I don’t know,” Deianira replied uneasily. “Miya said to stay in the house and we should do what she tells us.”
“Come on!” Michael urged her. “We won’t be long. We’ll walk down to the river and the come right back. You’ll be alright! I’ll take my bow and arrow to protect you.”
Still hesitant, Deianira sat on the floor, hugged her rag doll in her arms and thought. The more she thought, the more fun the idea sounded.
“Come on, Deianira! It’ll be an adventure!” her brother said.
“OK! Let’s go!” Deianira exclaimed, jumping up. With that, she took Michael’s hand and the two children left the farm and ran into the forest.
About an hour later, Miya came back into the house. “Michael! Deianira! Where are you?” she called for her brother and sister. She looked all over the house. “Michael!” she called again. The last place she checked was the kitchen. As she walked into the room, something instantly caught Miya’s attention. There, lying on the floor was Deianira’s rag doll! Miya knelt down and picked up the doll, her eyes clouded over with worry. She stuffed the doll in her pocket, then she rushed out the door!
“Allison! Allison!” Miya rode up to the door of the stable, calling frantically her friend.
Allison rushed out from the stable. “Miya, what is it?!” she asked, suddenly worried. Miya hurriedly dismounted from Wind Rider. “Allison, Michael and Deianira are gone!” she said. By this time, Miya was near tears.
“Calm down, Miya! What do you mean gone?” Allison asked.
“I went out to the barn and I told them to stay inside. After about an hour, I came back inside and they were gone!” Miya explained.
“OK! Don’t worry, we’ll find them,” Allison assured her friend. “Just let me tack up Thunder and we’ll go and look for them.” Allison ran into the barn and soon she emerged with Thunder. She quickly mounted and she and Miya rode toward the forest. The horses, sensing that there was trouble, galloped as fast as their strong legs could go.
Meanwhile, in the forest, Michael and Deianira were following the river while looking at all the forest animals and plants. Once, Michael spotted a rabbit chewing on some clover. Thinking that it would make a good rabbit stew for dinner, he shot an arrow at the rabbit but missed. After Michael had retrieved his arrow, he and Deianira continued their walk, unaware that it was getting very late. Deianira gathered some flowers and herbs in her little apron for her mother. The longer they walked, the deeper they were wandering into the forest and the sun was going down.
As the children walked farther and farther into the woods, Miya and Allison were looking all over for them. They galloped through the winding paths of the forest.
Suddenly, Miya heard a strange sound. It sounded like an owl hooting but it was faint and distant. “Whoa!” she commanded Wind Rider.
“What is it, Miya?” Allison asked her friend, pulling Thunder to a stop.
“Hear that sound?” Miya said. “That’s Michael’s owl whistle. He uses it all the time.”
“Oh, I get it!” Allison said. “If we follow the sound we’ll find Michael and Deianira.”
“Yes!” Miya answered. “Come on! It’s coming from the north.” The two galloped their mounts toward the sound of the whistle.
“Let’s take Wolf Ridge. It’ll be faster.” Miya said to Allison as they rode.
“Wolf Ridge?” Allison exclaimed. “That’s the most dangerous ridge around these parts!”
“We have to get to Michael and Deianira before the sun goes down!” Miya answered. “Come on!”
The horses ran faster, as if they were pushed on by some incredible force to find the children.
Soon, they reached Wolf Ridge.
“Be careful now,” Allison warned as they began to walk the narrow ridge path. Suddenly, Thunder’s hoof stumbled, sending a small shower of rocks over the side of the ridge.
“Easy, Thunder.” Allison said. “Back up. That’s it. Good boy.” She carefully backed Black Thunder away from the edge.
“Come on.” Miya said. “We have to keep going.”
Suddenly, a cry came from Allison! “Look out, Miya!” she screamed.
Miya looked up just in time to see a huge boulder hurdling toward them! “Let’s get out of here!” Miya yelled, “Hi-yahhhh!”
With a loud whinny, the two horses leaped forward and galloped down the path. The huge boulder rolled down the path after them. It was coming closer and closer! The girls urged their horses faster down the trail, trying to outrun the rolling boulder!
Suddenly, Wind Rider skidded to a stop!
“What’s wrong, Miya?” Allison asked frantically.
“There’s a big crevasse here. There’s no way to cross it but to jump over it.” Miya replied.
Allison looked back nervously at the boulder that was quickly rolling toward them. “We have no choice!” she said. “Come on!”
The horses back up a little bit and then ran with all their might to the edge of the cliff. Black Thunder and Wind Rider sailed over the crevasse and landed safely on the other side. The girls turned around and watched as the huge boulder rolled into the crevasse and landed with a crash at the bottom, breaking into a million pieces.
“Whew!” Allison breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought that we’d never make it.”
“But we did.” Miya answered. “Come on. Let’s go and find Michael and Deianira.”
They turned in the direction of the forest and galloped toward the now near sound of the whistle.
Soon, they found the children sitting behind a huge maple tree, making pictures with pine cones.
Miya jumped from Wind Rider’s back.
“Michael! Deianira!” she cried.
“Miya!” the two children exclaimed and ran to their sister.
Miya embraced the kids. When she looked at them, she had tears in her eyes.
“Miya, you’re crying.” Deianira said, wiping her older sister’s cheeks with her soft, dainty, little hand.
“I’m crying because I’m so happy to see that you are safe,” Miya answered through her tears. “Now promise that you’ll never do this again. Promise me!”
“We promise!” The two children answered together.
“Come on, you guys. Let’s go home.” Allison said from atop Black Thunder.
Michael and Deianira nodded.
Then Michael turned to his twin sister. “See, Deianira,” he said, “I told you that we would have an adventure.”
With that, Allison scooped Michael up onto Black Thunder with her, Miya picked up Deianira and the girls headed for home.
As they rode, Allison leaned over and whispered in Black Thunder’s ear, “There is going to be a big reward for you and Wind Rider when we get home. You’ve earned it.”
With a toss of his gorgeous head, Thunder quickened his step, in a hurry to get home.
Allison looked back at Miya, who was holding Deianira tightly in her arms, and smiled gently. This had definitely been an adventure that none of them would ever forget.