Emma and the Cutting Horse
of sorrel legs and flinty black
hooves, landing hard on her left shoulder. Her head smacked the
dusty ground and bright lights blinked in her eyes when she opened
them. Her father bent over her, concern written across his face, as
the mare continued to buck wildly across the pen.
    “Emma. Emma. Are you okay?”
    Emma sat up slowly and looked around. The
world seemed slightly tilted, but everything still worked as she
struggled to her feet, her father steadying her arm. The mare
stopped in a corner of the pen and blew through her nose at
them.
    “I’m all right. But I need to get back on,”
Emma said. “This time, I’m going to let you hold her. That little
performance really caught me off-guard.”
    With her father holding the halter rope, Emma
swung back into the saddle quickly before her courage deserted her.
She felt like she was sitting on a bomb, and could feel the mare
trembling beneath her. Her father led the mare forward for several
steps, but she moved stiffly, as though an explosion was
imminent.
    “That’s enough, Emma,” her father said. “I’d
get on her myself, but I don’t want you holding her, and I really
don’t think she’s ready to be ridden yet. You’ve worked hard with
her, but we need to go back to square one for now. Climb down,
before she puts you into orbit.”
    * * *
    The next weekend Emma’s dad loaded Miss
Dellfene back into the trailer and hauled her to a trainer.
    “We don’t have time or enough health
insurance for broken bones,” he said, “and this trainer knows how
to deal with young horses that haven’t been handled much. He’ll
know before long if she’s worth keeping or if we just need to sell
her and cut our losses. She’s rough around the edges, but there’s
something I really like about the way she moves.”
    “I thought I was making some progress with
her, but I guess not,” Emma observed.
    Two weeks went by before Emma’s father called
the trainer to see how things were going.
    “He said she’s the hardest-headed horse he’s
ever dealt with,” Emma’s father reported at supper that night. “He
hasn’t even gotten on her yet, says she’s not ready. He keeps her
in a stall with a low ceiling and every single time he goes in to
put a halter on her, she throws her head up in the air and cracks
it on the ceiling. I asked him if he thought she was stupid, and he
said no, he just thinks she’s hardheaded and hates being forced to
do something she doesn’t want to do. We paid for a month of
training, so I guess we should let him have his month with her and
see if he can change her attitude.”
    Emma’s parents owned a small cattle ranch,
but they both had to work, her dad at the sheriff’s office and her
mom in the pediatrics unit at the hospital, to make ends meet. They
raised a few quarter horses, trained them for ranch work, and then
sold them to add a bit of extra income. Emma knew they didn’t have
extra money for outside trainers and that they had hoped Miss
Dellfene would make a profit for them. Now, it didn’t look likely.
Emma stopped asking her father about the mare because she knew he
was worried about losing money on her. He was too honest to
misrepresent her to a prospective buyer. Even with her impeccable
bloodlines, it would be hard to find a buyer for her if she
couldn’t be caught or ridden safely.
    * * *
    On a Saturday afternoon after the month of
training had passed, Emma and her parents traveled to the trainer’s
place to check on Miss Dellfene’s progress. When they arrived, they
saw the mare standing in the shade with a saddle on her back, tied
to the side of an empty trailer. An unpainted gray barn leaned a
bit off center next to a large outdoor arena with weathered wooden
fences. Gary, the trainer, strolled over with a friendly smile. His
straw hat was slowly taking on the color of dust and appeared to
have been trampled beneath the feet of many horses.
    “I keep your mare tied up almost all the time
when I’m not riding

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