Earlier in Sam's Blog:
Sam's friend Tabby loves her Arab gelding Banner, but Banner refuses to leave the ranch without Beauty, his best friend. When her mother considers selling both horses, Tabby comes to Sam for help.
The girls think they have a solution: tiring Banner out so that he will appreciate a relaxing trail ride, but it only works once. By the time Jake suggests taking the stubborn Arabian on a scavenger hunt, Sam and Tabby are willing to try anything.
Today is Saturday, but yesterday at school, Jake met us in the library during lunchtime.
With his black hair tied back by string leather and one thumb slung from a pocket of his jeans, he explained, "So, you get Banner to behave by making him think he's getting' spoiled rotten."
Huh? I thought, but I didn't say it.
I kept my gaze on Jake's brown eyes, hoping for more. Tabby stayed quiet like she hadn't understood him any better than I had.
"Is he getting spoiled rotten?" I asked.
"'course not." Jake scanned the library to make sure no one was watching.
He pulled a slip of lined paper from his pocket and folded it into my hand like it was a secret code or something. I unfolded it.
"A recipe?" I asked.
"Will you just hush." Jake whispered. It wasn't a question ; it was a command. I guess he didn't want anyone to think he was swapping cooking tips with a couple sophomore girls.
Oatmeal, molasses and grated carrots got mixed with hot water and then baked, according to the recipe. I handed it to Tabby.
"Is it like a cake?" she asked.
Jake shrugged. "Cook that up. Put it four or five different places along the trail where you'll be riding him. If you can get him to the first stop and he eats it? I guarantee he'll forget all about – "
"Beauty," Tabby put in.
"Yeah." Jake was headed for the library door.
"Is it more like granola?" Tabby asked. "I have to know, if I'm going to make it right. "
"Forget it," Jake said as the bell told us it was time to head for class. "I'll make it. I'll bring it to your place. You just have the horse ready."
Jake's always been the sort of guy who'd rather do something himself than show you how, but I was pretty sure I'd figured out his strategy.
Even the nicest horses are food hogs.
"Banner won't want to share," I said to Tabby.
"That's for sure," she told me. "He gobbles his food down even if he can't see another horse."
This morning, Tabby and I had Banner brushed until his coat shone like silver. He was tacked up in his saddle and bridle, and since Jake had said to be ready to wear out shoe leather , I'd brought my P.E. shoes.
When Jake arrived in his blue denim colored truck, he didn't turn off the engine. He didn't get out, either, so I went to the driver's side window.
Jake handed me a bulging burlap bag.
"What's this?" I asked. "Let's see."
Jake put his truck in reverse, turned around and drove away.
I stared after him. Then, I stared into the bag.
Two horse cookies, a lump of rock salt and a bubble gum scented horse toy were inside.
Then, Tabby and I looked at each other.
"Okay," I stretched the word out, "So, the recipe was for the cookies."
"I get that part," Tabby said.
Banner's delicate muzzle nudged the bag and then he took a deep, loud sniff.
I remembered what Jake had said to me at school. Take him away from his buddy. Let him find something he likes. Then –
Then what? I tried to think like a horse.
"Give me a five-minute head start and then lead Banner in a zig-zag toward that pinion pine," I said, "I'm going to drop some treats."
"Each time he finds something he likes – a cookie, a little salt to lick or the toy -- let him enjoy it for a minute, but take him away before he's finished."
Tabby talked it through to her horse. "Banner, sweetheart, " she kissed his soft nose, right between his nostrils, "I'm not sure you'll like this. I'm going to let you have a taste of something wonderful, and then I'll let you go back to Beauty."
I took off at a jog. It was a beautiful autumn morning – not too hot or too cold – with a breeze that smelled like sagebrush and pine -- and I really expected to be able to be able to plant all the treats before Tabby persuaded Banner to leave Beauty.
But maybe Banner had understood what Tabby told him, because I'd only dropped the first cookie, when I heard Banner. He neighed longingly with each stride that carried him away from Beauty, but he was letting Tabby lead him on.
"Yum," Tabby yelled when they found the first cookie. "I could eat this."
I hid the second cookie and looked back to see Tabby trying to lead Banner home. He'd spread his hooves, refusing to move as his nose skimmed above the ground, sniffing for more.
When he finally raised his head, I was pretty sure I saw drool swinging from his lips. When Tabby led him trotting back to the home corral and Beauty, he went along, but grudgingly. Banner's gait let Tabby know that it was definitely her idea and not his.
I meandered ahead, listening to the squawk of a crow while I looked for a place to put the salt.
Banner's calls to Beauty tapered off once when he found the second cookie.
Tabby did as she had before, refusing to let him gobble half of the cookie and this time, as she led him back to Beauty, he looked back toward me, and then bolted.
Banner was no dummy. He wanted to get the trip back to the ranch over with, so he could come back for more treats.
Tabby had a hard time staying on her feet. In fact, she didn't.
The knees of her jeans were dusty from falling when Tabby swung into the saddle. Banner snorted and made a few fussy steps in place before he obeyed Tabby's order to return to his home corral.
He was back in a flash.
"I think it's working." Tabby was as breathless as Banner as he nudged the bubble gum scented horse ball. I wondered why Jake had it, and wondered if the huge dent was a bite from Witch.
This time, Banner did everything short of bucking when Tabby rode him away.
I sprinkled the handfuls of salt near a copse of cottonwood trees and sat down. This would be the end of the experiment, so I sat in the shade.
I could've walked back to the ranch, but I'd convinced myself that Tabby and I could ride Banner double. I was kinda tired from walking. I had to be three miles from the ranch.
I admit that I was napping when I heard the hooves. Even before I opened my eyes, I knew they didn't below to Banner.
I'm so glad I waited!
When I opened my eyes, I saw a mustang.
Moon, the Phantom's raven-black son, was licking up the salt I'd left for Banner. After each lick, Moon raised one hoof and looked around for predators before he took a step forward.
The young horse's chest was banded with muscle and when he heard Banner returning, his head jerked up on the strong neck of a stallion. His nostrils flared, his ears flicked and he snorted.
He might have been saying, "Yeah, you soft little show horse, I dare you to come over here."
Then, he licked up the last of the salt.
Banner saw Moon before Tabby did. Though most geldings are hesitant to take on a wild stallion, even a young one, Banner charged.
"Hang on!" I yelled.
Moon had ignored me until then, but he didn't like the change from silent-as-a-rock to screaming-like-a-cougar.
He launched himself away from me and – I couldn't believe it – Banner chased him with such energy, Tabby couldn't stop him.
It was almost dark when Tabby and Banner returned. I was leaning up against a cottonwood's trunk, eyes wide and stinging, when the dark silhouette of a horse took shape.
"Are you okay?" I didn't have to ask, really, because I could see the white of Tabby's smile.
"Fine. I gave him his head," she explained.
"You let him – wanted him to chase after a mustang?" I couldn't believe it.
"I figured every step away, he was less buddy bound," Tabby said.
"I guess you have a point," I said.
"I sure hope I do." Tabby kicked her boot free of the stirrup and held a hand down to me.
I swung up and sat behind the cantle of Banner's saddle. I didn't ask Tabby if the dash across the range was worth the craziness of the ride, even if Banner hadn't learned a thing.
I didn't have to ask, because I knew the answer. Riding the wild trail of a mustang, is something she'd never forget. Of course it was worth it!