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Heartland #20: Always There

After lunch, Amy brought Spindleberry in from the pasture and groomed him thoroughly on the front yard. He was doing well with his early training, but he wouldn’t be strong enough for backing for another year. At least she’d be able to do the backing herself, next summer. In the meantime, Amy wanted to give him all the training she could.

She reached for a hoof pick and ran her hand down Spindle’s near foreleg. He lifted his foot obligingly, then leaned against her as she deftly cleaned out his frog with the pick.

But the two-year old was heavy, and Amy’s knees began to buckle. “Hey!” she said, laughing. She put his hoof down and moved to the other foreleg. Instantly, Spindle leaned into her again, trusting her to support him completely.

“Spindle!” Amy exclaimed, pushing him away again. “I can’t pick your hooves if you do that.”

She managed to clean out the second hoof and straightened up, feeling secretly pleased. Spindle trusted her so much. He was certain that she could hold his weight.

Suddenly, Amy imagined how it would feel to have Spindle follow her around the ring in join up, the greatest expression of a horse’s trust. But was Spindle ready for join up yet? Would he be able to cope with the early, painful part –the part in which she drove him away?

Looking at Spindle’s calm, inquisitive expression, Amy knew that he was ready. And there was no time like the present. She felt a sudden rush. She was going to join up with Spindleberry as soon as she finished his hooves/

“I’m going to take Mischief out on the trails,” said Ty, walking past as Amy picked up a hind leg. “And I asked Joni to ride Moonstone. You don’t need any help with Spindle this afternoon, do you?

Amy straightened and shook her head. “No, that’s fine.” She smiled as Joni emerged from the tack room carrying Moonstone’s tack. “In fact, I’m thinking of trying join up with Spindle.”

“Join up?” Ty looked doubtful. “D’you think he’s ready for that?”

“Actually, I do,” said Amy. “He’s grown so much recently.”

“My mom usually waits till they’re a little older before doing join up,” Joni said tentatively.

Amy bristled. She almost felt as if Ty and Joni were ganging up on her. They were acting as if she didn’t have Spindle’s best interests at heart! She laid her hand on Spindle’s neck. “I think he’s ready,” she insisted. “He trusts me totally. It can only be a good experience for him at this stage.”

“Well…it could also go wrong,” Ty pointed out.

Amy stared at him. “But join up is the most natural thing a horse can do,” she reminded him.” It’s all about choosing to be with the herd rather than being shut out from it. In the wild, horses learn that almost as soon as they’re born. They have to.”

“That’s true,” Ty admitted, looking a little sheepish.

“I hadn’t looked at it like that,” Joni agreed. She hesitated, then smiled at Amy. “I guess you’re right. I hope it goes well.”

Amy nodded, still feeling a bit huffy. But she didn’t want to seem ungracious, so she smiled. “Have a good ride, guys. It was really gorgeous up on the ridges this morning.”

Once Ty and Joni had ridden out of the yard, Amy led Spindle down to the training ring. She still felt unsettled that Ty and Joni had disagreed with her on the join-up issue. And it wasn’t like Ty to question her judgment in front of someone else. Maybe he was already getting used to the idea of working just with Joni. Amy shook her head. She couldn’t let these worries plague her now.

Amy unclipped Spindle’s lead rope in the middle of the arena and shooed him away from her. Spindle backed off a couple a paces, then stood still, staring at her in bewilderment. It was a common reaction in horses that trusted her already, and Amy suppressed a smile. She drew herself up tall and ran toward Spindle purposefully. Spindle flinched and shied away, then started trotting around the outside of the ring, still looking unsettled by Amy’s shift in behavior. Amy kept up his momentum by chasing after him with the loosely coiled rope, and after a couple of minutes he broke into a canter, the whites of his eyes showing his confusion.

Amy walked a smaller circle in the center of the ring and kept the colt cantering around her. Every time Spindle slowed down she drove him on, refusing to let him rest. It was a good opportunity to watch his fluid, balanced movements – he was filling out well and growing into a fine, athletic horse, very different from the frightened youngster that had arrived in that horrible cattle truck more than a year before. Amy’s stomach tightened at the thought of leaving Spindle behind to continue his training without her. She knew he would be in good hands, but it wasn’t the same as training him herself.

Spindle clearly wasn’t enjoying being in the lonely place on the outside of the ring. After a couple more circuits, he lowered his neck and began to make chewing motions with his lips. This was his manner of asking Amy to let him rejoin her. Amy wasn’t surprised that the transition had happened so quickly. The two-year-old had no reason to want to avoid her – she was already an important member of his “herd,” and he wanted to restore the bond between them. Amy let her shoulders drop, abandoning her aggressive stance, and slowly turned her back. Now was the moment that Spindle could choose to demonstrate his absolute trust in Amy by coming over to join her. Even though Amy was confident of what would happen, she still felt her heart beat faster as she waited.

Almost at once, Amy heard Spindle’s footfalls heading across the school toward her. Happiness flooded her as she felt the horse’s soft breath on her shoulder. Spindle blew gently into her ear, and she turned around.

“Oh, Spindle,” she whispered, putting her arms around his neck. “You did it! I knew you were ready. And I’m so glad we joined up before I have to go.

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