San Joaquin Valley, California, Summer 1880
Twelve-year-old Andi Carter woke up on a bright Saturday morning to the smell of sizzling bacon and fresh pancakes. She jumped out of bed and hurriedly got dressed. She pulled on a pair of faded overalls, put on her brown leather boots, and braided her long brown hair. I can’t wait till after breakfast Andi thought while she put her black felt hat on top of her head. I get to ride Taffy as long as I want without any chores to worry about.
When Andi reached the top of the stairs, she tried to decide whether she should slide down the banister or not. Andi could imagine her mother saying Andrea, young ladies never slide down banisters.
Well, it is Saturday after all. Andi quickly boosted herself onto the banister, slid down, and jumped off at the bottom with a thump.
When Andi reached the breakfast table, Melinda and her mother, Elizabeth Carter, were the only people there.
“Hello sleepyhead. The pancakes are going to get cold if you don’t start eating them.” her sister said smiling.
Ignoring her sister’s remark, Andi asked, “Where is everybody?’’ She sat down and put a pancake on her plate.
“Justin left to go to his office because he had some paperwork to do, Mitch went to town to get a few supplies we need on the ranch, and Chad went with some of the ranch hands to catch a runaway horse.’’ her mother replied.
Andi paused while eating her pancake and her eyes went big, “A runaway horse!’’
“Andrea please don’t shout,’’ her mother scolded. “And yes,” she continued, “one of the horses accidentally got loose.’’
“Which one?” Andi asked.
“Lightning,” a new voice answered. “And don’t ask if you can come along.’’ Andi whirled around in her seat and saw Chad standing in the doorway with his arms crossed.
Andi could see Chad glaring at her under his leather hat.
“I thought you had already left,’’ mother said.
Chad looked at mother. “I did, but we had to come back because one of the ranch hand’s horse lost a shoe.’’ Chad turned and looked back at Andi. “I don’t want you riding Taffy past the creek,’’
“Aww, can’t I at least help you look for him?’’ Andi begged.
“No, it’s too dangerous. Lightning is a powerful horse and could be very dangerous. If you see him I don’t want you going anywhere near him. You can only go up to the creek but no further,’’ Chad said firmly.
Andi slumped back into her chair frowning. It’s not fair! Why does Chad always boss me around?
“Now I have to go take care of a few horses.” Chad looked at Andi. “Remember what I told you,” he warned as he walked out the door.
“Why can’t I ever help when a horse goes missing?” Andi complained. “Chad always thinks that I’m too little to do anything.’’
“He is only looking out for your safety,” her mother answered while sipping her coffee. “A horse can be very dangerous when frightened.’’
Andi knew her mother and Chad were right, but she didn’t want to admit it. “I’m not hungry anymore so I’m going to ride Taffy.’’ Andi scooted her chair away from the table, grabbed a few apples from the kitchen, and went outside before anyone could stop her.
Andi squinted at the rising sun, as she walked down the porch steps of her family’s two-story, hacienda-styled ranch house, and made her way to the stables. When Andi reached the stables she saw Mitch unloading a wagon full of supplies that he got in town.
“What’s wrong sis?” Mitch said when he saw Andi’s downcast face.
“Lightning ran away, Chad said I can’t go passed the creek, and I can’t help him and the ranch hands look for Lightning because it’s too dangerous,’’ Andi grumbled.
Mitch whistled. “I don’t blame him for not wanting you to go along.’’
Andi looked at him in surprise. Usually Mitch would agree with her. “Why?” she asked.
“Because Lightning is one of the biggest horses on the ranch and could be very dangerous.” Mitch smiled and tweaked one of Andi’s long braids. “Just let Chad take care of it.”
Andi scowled and didn’t respond. Instead she said, “I’m going to take Taffy out for a ride.”
Andi walked over to Taffy’s stall. “Hi Taffy,” Andi said while petting the golden palomino’s nose. “I saved you a piece of sugar.’’ Andi dug her hand into her overall pocket and brought out a sugar cube. Taffy quickly ate it.
Andi led Taffy out of her stall and set a saddle on top of her back. She brought out a saddlebag and put the apples inside. Andi put her foot in the stirrup, swung herself onto the mare’s back, and started off toward the creek.
As Andi and Taffy trotted across the field toward the creek, Andi thought of all the different possibilities of where Lightning might be.
When Andi reached the creek she dismounted. This was her favorite spot on the entire ranch. It was peaceful and nobody bothered her here.
Andi fanned herself with her hat, “Boy, it’s hot out. Let’s have something to eat.” Andi reached into the saddlebag and brought out two apples. She fed one to Taffy than she went under a tree for some shade, while eating her apple. The apple’s sweet juice was perfect for the hot July day.
After Andi finished her apple she got up from her resting spot and said with a disappointed sigh, “Well, since we can’t go past the creek we might as well head home.” Taffy whinnied in reply.
Andi was about to get on Taffy’s saddle when she saw movement behind the trees and heard a twig snap. Andi scrambled behind some bushes. When she didn’t hear anything else she peeked over the bush. Right before her eyes was a beautiful gray stallion.
“Lightning,’’ Andi gasped. She carefully came out from her hiding spot. Andi was about to walk toward the stallion, but then Chad’s warning rang in her ears. Lightning is a powerful horse and could be very dangerous. I don’t want you to go near him.
Andi shrugged off the memory. This is the perfect chance to show Chad I can help. Andi thought. Lightning is right in front of me. I’m sure I can get him home. Andi tried to decide how to get closer to Lightning without frightening him. Then she remembered the apples in her saddlebag.
Andi walked over to the saddlebag on Taffy’s back while keeping an eye on the stallion. She pulled out her last apple and walked slowly toward the stallion. “Here boy,” she coaxed. “I’m not gonna hurt you.’’
Lightning snorted and backed up a step. Andi took a couple more steps, and Lightning shied away shaking his head nervously.
Andi kept on walking until she was only a couple feet away from the stallion. She stretched out her arm that was holding the apple, and Lightning sniffed it with curiosity. Then he started nibbling at it while Andi gently stroked his white velvet nose.
“You’re not as bad as Chad says you are. Maybe I can take you home with me. But how am I ever going to get you home?” Andi wondered aloud. She knew Taffy’s saddle was too small for Lightning. “I know!” she said. “I’ll ride Lightning bareback.’’ She had done it before with Taffy and didn’t think it would be any different with Lightning.
It took Andi a little while before she was able to get on top of Lightning’s back because he was so big.
Once Andi was on top of Lightning, she guided him, using his mane, to get next to Taffy. She intended to guide Taffy home by holding onto her reins, but when Andi got next to Taffy, Lightning reared. When his hooves came crashing to the ground, Andi was jerked forward and her breath was knocked out of her. Before she could upright herself Lightning bolted.
Andi was caught off guard and almost fell off. At the last second she grabbed the stallion’s hair. Andi’s heart was pounding as the stallion raced through the forest. Twigs and leaves scratched her face and the wind whipped at her braids.
When Andi thought she could hold on no longer, Lightning started slowing down.
Once he had finally stopped, Andi slid off the horse’s back to rest while gasping for breath. She was shaking all over in fright. Her legs ached, her hair was tangled, her lungs hurt, and her arm had a small gash. Andi moved her arm to brush tangled hair out of her eyes but winced from the pain that shot through her arm. Holding back tears, Andi looked around to see where she was, but she didn’t recognize anything. Fear gripped Andi at the thought of being lost.
Andi slowly walked over to Lightning and climbed onto his back. Trying not to panic she urged the horse forward to a steady trot. “We can find our way home,’’ she said.
But after a couple of hours Andi realized that they were going in circles. “Mother is going to be so worried, it is nearly dark out and I have no idea where I am going.’’ Andi choked back a sob.
She than remembered a verse in the Bible that she had memorized:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
“Dear Lord,” she prayed. “I am sorry for disobeying Chad and mother. Please help that I will find home soon.”
After her prayer, Andi felt better.
Andi shivered as the sun began to set on the horizon. She wanted more than anything to be in bed, under her warm covers safely at home.
A couple minutes later she heard voices. I’m probably dreaming. She thought, but the voices started getting louder. Then she saw a faint light ahead of her. She slowly got closer to the light and saw that there were several people riding on horses.
Then one of the riders saw Andi and called out, “Is that you Andi?’’
Andi recognized the voice immediately, “Chad!’’ she cried.
Chad got off his horse and walked over to Lightning and put a rope around his neck to make sure he wouldn’t bolt.
Andi jumped off of Lightning and into Chad’s arms.
“I’m so sorry I disobeyed. When I saw Lightning I wanted to bring him home and show you I could help. And I lost Taffy,’’ she embraced Chad with tears streaming down her face, “How did you find me?’’
Andi was expecting Chad to be angry, but he just smiled and said, ‘‘Don’t worry about Taffy; she is back on the ranch. I was out checking cattle when she appeared on the ranch, and I knew something was wrong when I saw you weren’t with her.”
Chad pulled out a bandana from his pocket and handed it to Andi. “You better wipe off those tears” he said grinning. “Or you’re gonna cause a flood with all that crying.”
“That couldn’t happen,” Andi said in disbelief.
“Maybe,” Chad said teasingly, but then he grew serious. “You were naughty for disobeying and could have been very hurt.”
Andi hung her head, “I’m sorry. I just wanted to show you I could help.”
Chad looked into Andi’s eyes and said, “The more important thing is that you’re safe. I forgive you.”
Andi smiled, “Thanks Chad.’’