The Runaway

by Stephanie V. Moody

Chris and Old Paint had just crested a hill near the Broken Arrow Riding Stable when Chris heard the terrified screams.

“Help me! Help!”

In the distance Chris saw a big, white horse racing across the pasture. The horse’s reins were flying loose, and the rider had slipped dangerously to one side, clinging to the saddle.

Chris tightened her hands on Paint’s saddle horn. She knew the rider. It was her best friend, Jennifer, and she was riding Dynamite.

Chris’s mind whirled. Jennifer should have known not to take Dynamite out of the corral. The mare was too spirited, too wild. She spooked at anything. Yet there she was, racing across the meadow, out of control.

Chris trembled as Jennifer shouted again. No one else was in sight,and the panicked mare was heading for the barbed wire fence that enclosed the pasture. Chris urged Old Paint down the hill.

“Oh, why did Mr. Sanders make me ride you today?” she said. “You’re too old and slow.”

She nudged Paint into a lope, and they plowed through a tangle of bushes and trees to shorten the distance to Jennifer’s runaway horse.

Branches smacked Chris’s legs and stung her face and arms as Paint swerved to avoid the trees in their path. Chris shortened Paint’s reins as they soared above a fast-running stream. When Paint clambered up the bank, Chris could see Dynamite running just in front of them. Jennifer still clung to the saddle horn, her frantic screams and the clatter of hoofbeats echoing across the pasture. One leg was draped halfway over the saddle and the stirrups were swinging wildly.

With each of Dynamite’s powerful strides, Jennifer inched closer to the ground.

“Hold on!” Chris hollered, urging Paint to a gallop. “Hold on, Jennifer. I’m coming.”

Chris leaned over the saddle horn. Getting close to Dynamite wouldn’t be enough, she knew. They had to stop her. But how?

Dynamite’s flying reins whipped just beyond Chris’s reach, tempting her to grab them. She had seen riders stop horses that way on television, making a daring rescue. But what if she were to fall?

“If only I could rope her,” Chris thought, squinting her eyes to block out the dust. But even thought Paint was used to a swirling rope from his days as a cow pony, Chris had never roped anything faster than a fence post.

Paint’s breathing was labored as he raced closer to Dynamite. Paint was running as he had when he was younger, chasing a cattle stampede, trying to turn the cows back to safety.

“That’s it!” shouted Chris. She nosed Paint next to Dynamite’s withers. “We can turn her. It’s our only chance. Turn her in circles Paint. Turn her until she gets tired.

Chris shifted her weight, and Paint responded immediately. He edged closer to Dynamite. Chris gasped when she saw the barbed wire only yards ahead, its pointed strands threatening disaster. But she kept yelling encouragement to Paint.

He was turning the mare, just a little at first, then more and more. Paint finally nudged Dynamite away from the fence and kept turning her until they had made a loop. Around and around they went, slowing at last. Jennifer still clung to the saddle horn.

With a final snort, Dynamite stopped. Jennifer slipped to the ground.

“Are you all right?” Chris gasped, too weak to dismount.

Jennifer nodded. Mr. Sanders, the stable owner, pulled up in his truck and clamoured out of the cab.

“That was quick thinking,” he called to Chris as he hurried over to Jennifer. “And mighty fine riding. Jennifer owes you a heap of thanks and I do, too. From now on, you can pick your own horse to ride. You’ve earned it.”

Chris looked down at Old Paint, his sides still heaving from his run. “In that case,” she said, stroking the horse’s neck, “I’ll pick Old Paint. We make a pretty good team.”

Old Paint pawed the ground. His friendly nicker seemed to say he had known it all along.