Authors: Terri Farley
Wild Horse Island 11
Sugarfoot had kind eyes.
The ground really did rush up to meet her, andâ¦
Ann was begging her father to drive her and Darbyâ¦
“Good thing you're back,” Jonah told Darby as the Pottersâ¦
Hoku didn't care that Darby hadn't brought wisps of hayâ¦
“She's okay with that saddle, yeah?” Jonah asked, and thereâ¦
During dinner, no one mentioned Sugarfoot.
The next day, Darby had a chance to see forâ¦
“So then my mom said, âEd, he's a good-hearted horseâ¦
During their first day of practice, the girls rode inâ¦
Darby saw Tyson walking in circles, trying to catch hisâ¦
The next day, it was clear the boys had doneâ¦
It was too depressing to go stand with Pauli asâ¦
Ann was right. Tyson and Sugarfoot took to each otherâ¦
Wild Horse Island is imaginary. Its history, culture, legends, people, and ecology echo Hawaii's, but my stories and reality are like leaves on the rain-forest floor. They may overlap, but their edges never really match.
Perhaps because the islands themselves hold worlds within worlds, Hawaiian is a many-layered language. A single word, like
, means “hello,” “good-bye,” and “love.” In that spirit, I wish my friends, readers, and all who guided my time in paradiseâ¦
ugarfoot had kind eyes.
Even though Darby Carter stood outside the pasture fence, she could see his eyes glimmer. When the gold-and-white pinto tilted his head, he looked sweet.
“Are you just totally misunderstood?” Darby called to the horse as she hefted a bucket and started to open the pasture gate.
“Careful when you go into the pinto pasture. Smudge and Red Cloud have manners, but you can never tell about Sugarfoot,” cautioned Ann Potter, Darby's best friend. “He can fool anyone.”
, Darby thought. The horse didn't look a bit dangerous.
Sugarfoot grazed between a gray-and-white pony
and a rawboned mare, at least seventeen hands tall. Judging by the mare's drooping lower lip, she was old, but her bright bay-and-white coat gleamed like she'd just been groomed for a horse show.
Darby still didn't understand why Ann and her mother had been reluctant to ask her to keep Sugarfoot busy on the other side of the pasture while they had a visitor.
She made a kissing sound at the gelding and his ears pricked alert. If she hadn't known for weeks about Sugarfoot's habit of charging, she wouldn't have thought twice about spending time with the horse.
“Thanks for keeping an eye on Sugarfoot while we're busy. My mom just thinks it's safer for him to be watched when she's teaching someone who's never ridden before.” Ann looked at Darby over the grape sodaâcolored back of the horse she was saddling. “They'll be working in the arena and I'll just be standing over there for backup.” Ann paused to retie the black ribbon headband that was supposed to tame her unruly red hair, and then glanced toward Sugarfoot again. “You're sure you don't mind?”
This was totally silly, Darby thought. After all, one of the things that had brought them together in the first place had been the sight of each other's riding boots, at school.
“Mind?” Darby asked. “Hmm, yeah, you know how I hate playing with horses.”
“Just make sure he doesn't end up playing with
.” Ann grinned as she settled a Western saddle onto Soda's back.
Darby couldn't take Ann's warning to heart. She'd been deprived of horses for the first thirteen years of her life. Now she couldn't get enough of them.
Before, she'd lived in a world of fast traffic and crowded apartments. The only horses she'd known had been in books and her imagination.
Since she'd moved to Moku Lio Hihiu, the Island of Wild Horses, to live with her grandfather on âIolani Ranch, she spent every minute she could with them.
At the sound of women's voices, the girls looked over to see Ramona Potter, Ann's mom, approaching. Beside her walked a short, chubby-cheeked woman.
“That must be Mrs. Mookini,” Ann said.
“Mookini?” Darby repeated the last name. It sounded familiar.
“Gemma Mookini. You probably read about her in the paper,” Ann said quietly. “The legal secretary who was trapped for a full day after the earthquake?”
“I remember hearing about that,” Darby admitted. “She managed to crawl under her desk and that kept her from being crushed by falling rubble, right?”
Ann nodded, but something else about the name continued to puzzle Darby.
“Ever since the earthquake, she's been afraid of open spacesâ¦,” Ann said, and Darby's expression must have shown her surprise. “I know, that seems contradictory, huh?”
“I think confined spaces would creep me out after something like that,” Darby said, and then she pictured herself curled up in the dark, with only a few slabs of wood holding off death. “But maybe she can't forget that the desk saved her?”
“Maybe,” Ann said. “Anyway, she only feels safe at home and inside her car. She can barely go to work anymore, so her doctor suggested she take up horseback riding to experience open spaces in a positive way. And that's where you come in,” Ann said, kissing Soda on the nose.
With an overhand knot, Ann joined Soda's split reins together, then tossed them over his head.
“I know you can keep a secret, or I wouldn't have told you all that about Mrs. Mookini,” Ann said.
From someone else, Ann's words might have been a hint to keep quiet, but Ann's tone said she trusted Darby.
Darby used her free hand to make a zipping motion across her lips.
“If they head for the indoor ring, you should come over and watch,” Ann said. “Mom's really good with new riders, and even Sugarfoot can't spook Soda through the barn walls.”
Ann had shown Darby the indoor ring the previous night. It looked like a big old barn, but the floor was covered with sawdust and mirrors lined the walls, so riders could check their form.
“Ann, honey, we're ready,” Mrs. Potter called.
“Come on, Soda,” Ann said to the blue-black gelding. She jogged forward, leading him by his neck rope. “Time to earn your daily grain.”
For a minute, Darby watched them move away. Then she walked across the pasture toward Sugarfoot.
“And it's time for
out of trouble,” Darby told the gelding. She swung the bucket of alfalfa cubes so the aroma would waft toward him.
All three horses smelled the treat. Gray-and-white Smudge trotted beside her, trying to be her new best friend. Red Cloud took a long, appreciative sniff.
“Sorry, you guys, this is a bribery bucket,” Darby said, but she took two alfalfa cubes out of the bucket and wedged one into each of her jeans pockets. For later. Smudge and Red Cloud shouldn't suffer for their good manners.
Sugarfoot swished his tail with calm curiosity, but Darby caught something besides a craving for food in his expression as he lowered his head to the bucket.
“What are you thinking, Sugarfoot?” Darby asked.
The gelding blinked his palomino eyelashes, but he only turned one ear toward the sound of Mrs. Mookini's voice as she cheered, “I'm riding!”
Darby had to look. Mrs. Mookini sat in the saddle and even though Soda wasn't moving, the woman sounded delighted.
What a cool job
, Darby thought. Ann had told her
about the work her family did with at-risk horses and riders, but this was the first time Darby had witnessed it in action. She couldn't see or hear half of what was happening, but if a doctor had recommended the Potters' therapeutic riding program, it must have lots going for it.
Smudge gave a neglected whinny and tossed his cottony forelock out of his eyes.
, he seemed to say.
Untouched by his pasture pal's complaint, Sugarfoot kept eating. His nose was in the bucket, but his eyes peeked over the brim, looking toward the arena.
“You can't stir up trouble from here,” Darby told him.
It would be next to impossible, she thought, because the Potters' ranch was perfectly designed to keep horses and riders safe.
The ranch had originally been a llama ranch. When llamas had grazed these fields, it had been known as the Heart of Hawaii Ranch. Now most people called it the Potters' place, or referred to the ranch as Pulling Together, the name of its successful riding program.
Darby knew that the Potters had arrived in Hawaii with a ton of money from selling their Nevada ranch. They didn't have to work. According to Ann, though, her parents hadn't made good rich folks. They'd spent much of their fortune on the ranch and buying horses that needed to be rescued.
The Potters' house was no mansion. Built of native
wood, the modest but rambling home sat at the front of the property, almost like a gatehouse. Behind it lay hundreds of acres with white pipe fencing around the perimeter and many smaller pastures and corrals with shelters inside.
Viewed from the air, it probably looked like a blank crossword puzzle, Darby thought. The fencing strategy was brilliant. If an animal escaped one pen, it found itself inside another enclosure. If it slipped through an open gate or jumped the rails, a maze of taller barriers confronted it. An arena and an indoor riding ring were inside the highest fence.
No horse, no matter how determined, would escape without someone noticing.
Darby stood on tiptoe and saw that Mrs. Mookini was riding at a walk. And even though Ramona held the end of Soda's neck rope, it was Mrs. Mookini, using Soda's reins, who turned the horse as Ramona told her to do.
Sugarfoot gave the bucket a last lick, then lowered his head to begin grazing. Darby sat beside him on the soft grass.
“She's doing better than I did on my first day,” Darby told Sugarfoot as she watched Mrs. Mookini ride.
Sugarfoot didn't seem interested in her memories. His teeth clipped the grass energetically.
“You're doing so well, let's go out into the open pasture,” Ramona's suggestion carried, but then she and
her student talked more quietly and Darby could only pick up their tones.
The student sounded unsure. The teacher sounded confident. The student asked a question. They both laughed.
Then they headed out of the arena with Ramona and Ann walking on either side of Soda.
Sections of white fencing made a sort of alley between Sugarfoot's pasture and the empty one across from it.
The new rider and her escorts were headed toward a big open field. To get there, Mrs. Mookini would pass between the pinto pasture on her right and the empty pasture on her left. A closed gate would have to be opened, then bolted shut to reach the field ahead of her.
Since Ann and Ramona walked alongside the horse, making sure Mrs. Mookini felt steady and sure, Darby called over, “I'll get the gate.”
She set the bucket down. Then, to be safe, she checked Sugarfoot. His ears flicked when he felt her stare, but that was all. Just as she'd guessed, his rowdy behavior had not materialized. He was much more interested in finding bits of alfalfa that had fallen from his mouth onto the grass.
“I'll give it a try,” Mrs. Mookini said, clearly not answering Darby, and then she gave Soda a little kick with her heels. “I d-d-did it!” Mrs. Mookini's voice bounced with Soda's slow trot.
Darby started off toward Sugarfoot's gate, but she tripped. Her boot collided with the bribery bucket and sent it rolling.
Kicking the bucket
, she thought.
Not a good omen.
She glanced back to make sure Sugarfoot was still eating. He was.
Soda and Mrs. Mookini had drawn even with Sugarfoot's gate when Ann's head whipped toward Darby. Then Ramona stared in the same direction, and Darby realized they were both staring
A flurry of thuds shook the ground, and this time when Darby looked back she saw Sugarfoot bulling by the pony and old mare.
Gold, white, and speedy, Sugarfoot barely touched the ground. Darby grimaced at her gullibility. Then Ann's voice rang out, but she wasn't yelling at Darby.
“Soda.” Ann's voice was low but urgent as she worked to slide the bolt on the gate to the empty pasture across the alley. “Soda, in here!”
The gelding tried to obey, but Mrs. Mookini hung on tight. Her fists clamped on to the reins, pulling them to her chest, using them as a lifeline. She didn't know they led to the bit. She couldn't see Soda's mouth was wrenched open and his front hooves had left the ground.
He can fool anyone,
Ann's warning echoed in Darby's mind as Sugarfoot's hooves came closer.
He looked huge. If he sailed over the fence and crashed into Mrs. Mookini and Soda, everyone would
go down in a deadly tangle of horseflesh.
Darby risked a quick look over her shoulder. Sugarfoot's chest came at her like a train engine. Was he after Soda or the horse's strange rider?
It didn't matter. He looked relentless. Unstoppable.
Okay, then I won't try to stop him
, she thought.
Sugarfoot's shoulders heaved up and down, shoved forward by strong hind legs. A rhythm wrapped him, and as he came closer, she realized that if she could distract him and force him to break his rhythm, she could at least slow him down.
Darby stepped into his path and stood her ground, just as Ann had told her to do.
She wouldn't think about getting trampled.
Nausea twisted her stomach, but the Potters had trusted her to keep Mrs. Mookini safe, and she'd do her best.
The earth still shook under Sugarfoot's hooves as he slowed a step and veered around her.
No! He was still running and she had only a few seconds, a few hoofbeats, a few
beats, to act.
Darby bolted, sprinting alongside the horse. She had to stop him, and since he didn't wear a halter, she grabbed a handful of mane.
Sugarfoot squealed and yanked her off her feet. She didn't lose her grip, but her head snapped backward on her neck as he lashed out with his back legs. Was the gelding insulted that she clung to him like a circus monkey?
She dug in her heels and hoped he wouldn't try to jump with her hanging on. It wasn't until Sugarfoot veered away from the fence that she released her grip and fell face-first into the ground.