The black appaloosa pricked up his ears at the rattling of the oats and promptly started toward Amy. With his nose buried in the bucket, Amy easily slid the halter on the horse. She tied the lead securely to the fence and proceeded to brush Salty's dark coat until it shone.
Salty fot his name from the "blanket" of white across his rump that made him look as though salt was sprinkled on the back end of an otherwise black horse. Amy's brush now turned its attention to Salty's mane and tail, which like most appaloosa, was thin and short.
"I swear that horse smiles when you are here!" Uncle Ken teased. "Going for a ride around the place?"
Amy grimaced at her favorite uncle. She loved the time she spent here at his farm each summer and the chance to ride Salty. But Amy had grown tired of directing Salty around the same old familiar ground.
"Uncle Ken, I'm too old for that baby-stuff, riding in circles all around the farm! I'm almost thirteen already! You know I'm a good rider, and I promise not to go too far! Please, please, P-L-E-A-S-E let me take Salty for a ride down the road!" Amy pleaded.
"I know your a good rider, Amy. It's just that it is safest for you to ride where we can see you, Uncle Ken explained.
Amy tried to make them even more sad. "Pretty please, Uncle Ken?"
Uncle Ken looked at Amy and then at Salty. "Well...," he said as he removed his hat and scratched his head, "I guess you've never had any trouble with ol' Salty yet. I suppose a short jaunt down the road wouldn't hurt. But you must be careful, wear your helmet and stay alert! Promise me?"
"Oh, I promise!" squealed Amy. She quickly hoisted the saddle into place and replaced the horse's halter with a bridle. Amy checked her carryall pack around her waist for her watch.
"I won't be longer than twenty minutes! Thank you Uncle Ken!" Amy reined Salty through the gate that uncle Ken was holding open for her, and with a final wave eagerly trotted off to see what she could see.
Horse and rider were quickly out of sight of the farm. It seemed an invitation to explore whispered from every direction, and Amy regretted she didn't have more time. She decided on a faint path that appeared to lead downhill to the small clearing below. The incline forced Amy to lean back in the saddle to maintain her balance. She imagined herself a pioneer scouting the hills, and taking both reins in one hand while shielding her eyes with the other, she began to scan the landscape.
"Beep, B-E-E-P! Beep, B-E-E-P!" shrieked the alarm on Amy's watch from inside her pack. Frightened, Salty bolted so fast that Amy seemed to hang in mid-air before landing bottom-first on the ground. Instinctively, she sprang to her feet and checked to see if everything still worked. It did, but that was little comfort to Amy as she watched Salty galloping away with his sparse tail flagging behind him.
"Salty! Salty, come back!" Amy yelled after the sprinting horse. She started running after him, calling his name between gulps of air. Her heart and lungs began to pound. What was she going to do now? Salty wasn't responding at all to his name, and she didn't have a bucket of oats to tempt him. Amy felt like collapsing into a pile of tears. Exhausted, she dropped to the ground and watched Salty zigzag all over the clearing.
"Stupid watch! If only I had remembered to shut off that dumb alarm!" Amy thought as she angrily fished it out of her pack and threw it the ground. Realizing her foolishness, she bent to pick it up and noticed the small stones near where the watch had landed. Wasting no time, Amy emptied the rest of her pack and refilled it with the pebbles. Undoing the pack from her waist, she straightened up and set off after the still-trotting Salty. "I sure hope this works," she said to herself.
Salty didn't flinch when Amy called his name again, but stopped dead in his tracks when she started shaking her pack. "Come on, boy! I have some nice oats for you!" Amy shouted as she rattled the pebbles louder.
Salty didn't move. Then to Amy's enormous relief, he started walking toward her! As soon as he was within reach, Amy grabbed the reins and held them tightly. She led him to the spot where the contents of her pack had been dumped. As she took the pebbles out and put her things back, her breathing returned to normal. She picked up one of the pebbles again and slipped it into her pocket. Salty seemed to know that his burst of freedom was now over and he stood very sill as Amy climbed back into the saddle.
Back on the roadside, Amy turned Salty's head for home. She had both hands on the reins and her feet firmly in the stirrups. Rounding the bend just before the farm Amy saw Uncle Ken coming down the road in his pick-up truck.
"I was just coming to look for you! I was starting to get worried." Uncle Ken winked at her. "Time just ran away from you, did it?
Amy could feel the lump the pebble in her pocket made. "Uncle Ken, you don't know the half of it!" she exclaimed. I'll tell you all about it, but only after we close the gate behind us !!!"