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A Horse For Mandy

(Chapter One)

"Can you believe it?" Mandy shouted into the phone. "My very own horse!" She could imagine Laura Callahan's face on the other end of the phone. Rich, proud Laura Callahan-who had grown up with a whole stable full of beautiful horses. But today, on her thirteenth birthday, Mandy Wilson's dream of owning her very own horse finally had come true.
"Isn't Dad terrific?" Mandy asked. Then she hurried on, not waiting for an answer. "Isn't that the neatest birthday present ever? I mean, I had no idea. He just surprised me."
Mandy stopped for a breath and Laura asked, "What breed? A Tennessee Walker, like Diablo?"
Mandy thought of Laura's big red-gold Tennessee Walker. How often she had longed to have him for her own. "No, not a Walker. Her name is Solana. Dad says she's a Paso Fino."
For a minute, Laura said nothing. Then, "Oh, one of them." Something in the sound of her voice made Mandy angry. But she swallowed hard and said nothing. She wasn't about to let Laura spoil her birthday!
"Anyway," Mandy continued, a little less eagerly, "we're heading out to your house and stables in a few minutes so I can see my horse. I thought you might like to meet us down by the stalls."
"Well of course, I would!" Laura's voice changed and she once again seemed her old friendly self. "When will you be there?"
Just then Mandy's father struck his head into her room. "Ready?" he asked.
Mandy nodded here head excitedly. "We're leaving in just a few minutes. Meet you at the stables in half an hour," she said into the phone.
"You bet!" said Laura and she hung up.
Mandy leaped off her bed and threw her arms around her father. "Oh, Dad, thanks! It's the best present in the whole world."
Bud Wilson ruffled his daughter's sandy blond hair and tapped her turned-up nose. "Anything for you, Princess," he said. Mandy reminded him so much of her mother. Blond hair, sparkling blue eyes, full of life and love...he shook off the memory, Ruth, had died over eight years before.
"Dad?" Mandy asked.
"You looked so far away. I said, "Could we go now?"
"Sorry, honey. Sure. Let's go see your birthday present."
During the ride, Mandy thought about the summer. June was her favorite month. Not just because it was her birthday month, either. Because school was out and she could spend every waking hour at the Callahan stables. She could ride, groom the horses, and help her father with his veterinarian duties whenever he needed her.
Mandy couldn't remember a time that she hadn't been around horses. But now, to have her very own horse was almost more than she could stand. Her dad had always promised her one. "When I feel you're old enough to have the responsibility, " is what he always told her. So today she was doubly proud. Her dad trusted her to care for her very own horse.
A half hour later she got out of the car. She swung poen the big gates leading to the Callahan home and nearby stables. Mandy felt like running ahead. Instead she scooted back into the car and rode the rest of the way up the Callahan driveway. But when they both got out and began to walk over toward one of the stable buildings, Mandy could wait no longer. She ran forward eagerly.
"Wait for me, young lady!" her dad called after her. "You don't even know what stall she's in."
"Oh, Dad!" Mandy cried. "You're so slow!"
"I'm so OLD!" he laughed. "It's the third stall over, honey. But slow down. Don't scare her to death."
Mandy looked inside at her horse. Solana de Omega. Mandy was sure that she had never seen anything quite as beautiful. Solana had all the fine lines of the Paso Fino breed, short inward curved ears, large, wide-spaced eyes with a gentle expression, and a thick, arched neck--all of the finest features. She was a buckskin, too. Creamy yellow in color, with a black mane, tail, and stockings. "Oh, Daddy," Mandy whispered, "she's SO perfect!"
Solana's natural curiosity brought her over to the door of the stall. Mandy stroked her soft muzzle.

Dr. Wilson looked pleased. He said, "She's a great little horse, honey. Paso's are very affectionate, you know. Sometimes they act more like puppies than horses. She'll follow you around once she gets attached to you. They're very intelligent, too."
"Can I ride her right now?" Then her face fell. "Oh, no. I don't have any tack." Mandy knew how expensive saddles and bridles were.
"That's the best part about Paso's," her father said. "Solana can be ridden with a rope rein. Here, slip this on her." He removed a handmade rope rein from a nail next to Solana's stall.
Mandy opened the stall door, slipped the gear over Solana's head and led the horse outside. Dr. Wilson gave her a leg up, and Mandy sat tall on Solana's bare back. "Go on, Mandy, give her her head."
Mandy clucked softly and Solana began a smooth, natural, relaxed gait. As Mandy rode around the yard she marveled at how comfortable Solana'a gait was. There was no teeth-jarring bouncing like other saddle horses, just a smooth, flowing ride.
Suddenly, Mandy saw the familiar form of her friend Laura hanging over the pasture fence. She tugged slightly on the left of the rope rein. Solana responded instantly and headed toward the fence. Mandy pulled her to a stop in front of Laura.
"Well, what do you think? Isn't Solana just beautiful?" Mandy asked eagerly.
"She's okay," Laura offered. "Kind of a runt, though, don't you think?"

Chapter 2

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