Authors: Judy Andrekson
Dedicated to my Nanny, Ina York
I want to see the funny side of life forever
just like you do
Many thanks to everyone who so graciously shared their stories of this remarkable horse with me. Although this is a fairly simple story, it turned out to be one of the more difficult research projects I’ve taken on, mainly due to the tumultuous circumstances the Lott-Goodwin family has endured in the past few years. Heather, I am so grateful that you finally said yes, and that you stuck it out for the many weeks of endless questions. Gunner’s story is very worth sharing, and I hope in some way it helps you to have it in book form.
Thanks also to the American Paint Horse Association for all the valuable information you have available about Paint horses and the major shows and with your assistance in locating the Lott-Goodwins. Maria Lott, thank you for sharing the story from your perspective. Heather is very lucky to have you on her side. Thanks to Brent Becknow and Mike Stable for adding your voices and memories of your experiences
with Heather and Gunner. I have to say thanks, too, to Bryan Shoemaker, for your great sense of humor and for helping Mike navigate the “scary computer.” Robert Owens, thank you so much for sharing your photos of Gunner. You helped make the book extra special.
A long overdue thank you goes out to David Parkins who has illustrated each of my books, and has done a wonderful job on this one. I’ve never met or spoken to you David, but you are a part of this writing journey of mine, and I am grateful for all you’ve done.
Finally, I would like to express my very deep gratitude to all of you at Tundra Books who have worked so hard at helping me realize the dream of seeing my stories in print. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with you.
eather Lott-Goodwin disliked the homely, potbellied runt of a colt from the first moment she watched it leap awkwardly off the trailer after it’s mother. He was a golden chestnut with high, white stockings on all four legs and a bold, white face, but his hide was so coated with grunge that is was hard to tell where the brown stopped and the white began.
Heather sighed as she recognized yet another good-for-nothing horse. They’d be stuck with paying more for feed than it was worth, then not being able to sell it later. E.W. was always bringing home these misfits!
She scowled at her husband when he handed her the mare’s lead rope so that he could unload the cow that had been included in the trade he had made with a local horse breeder. He had driven to J.C. Horses in Laurel, Mississippi, not far from their own ranch, that afternoon to make a deal on some haying equipment. The breeder was going out of business, and E.W. was always on the lookout for a good deal. It was the mare E.W. wanted. She was a nice, little American Paint with pretty markings and surprisingly good bloodlines – a nice addition to his broodmare band. She just happened to have this colt, and so he brought him home too.
While E.W. unloaded the cow, Heather had her hands full trying to keep the mare calm while the colt wandered and explored, instead of staying at her side the way any self-respecting baby would in a strange environment. This was obviously not a well-behaved son, though, and he soon had his mother frantically whinnying, twisting and turning at the end of the lead rope, trying to keep track of where he had gone.
Heather was so focused on calming the mare that
she didn’t even notice the colt come up behind her, but he got her attention soon enough when he scampered in, bit her on the behind, and darted back. Heather let out a yell of pain and surprise and spun around find him standing just out of reach, head turned to watch her intently with his one fierce, blue eye. If she had disliked the look of him before, she now disliked his bratty personality even more and didn’t trust him one bit. Rubbing her sore bottom, she was soon giving E.W. an earful about bringing home such unpleasant animals … again! And E.W. was laughing.
Life had changed drastically for that mischievous foal that afternoon, although he didn’t know it yet. He had spent his first months at his dam’s side in a small yard with several other farm animals, existing in mud and boredom. He had never been handled, although he was quite accustomed to humans and had no fear of them. He would approach people boldly enough, accept the scratches and rubs and occasional treats they supplied. To him, they were simply playthings.
No one had ever tried to halter him or train him in any way. Moreover, his playfulness had made his first owners a bit nervous of him; his naturally dominant, coltish behaviors had been unwittingly rewarded. A
quick nip or kick could send those human “playmates” scurrying. This was normal horseplay, but didn’t make for great horse-human relations. It was, however, endlessly amusing to the bored youngster.
Being loaded onto the big, dark stock trailer was the first frightening experience in his young life, and it had taken a bit of herding and persuasion to get him to jump into the noisy box after his mother. He had huddled near her side when the door banged shut behind them, and had trembled violently when the engine roared to life, making the darkness move beneath his feet. But he soon became accustomed to the swaying and bumping of the trailer and, true to his nature, his fear had turned to mischievous curiosity by the time they had reached their destination.
Such an interesting place they had come to! He could smell other horses, and lots of other animals. Fields and forests stretched out as far as his eyes could see. This was a ranch of over two thousand acres, with more green, open space then he had ever seen. The spirited little soul was yearning to explore, but he soon realized that his dam was not able to follow. As adventurous as he was, he was still very young and looked to his mother for safety, and so he turned his attention on the “playmates” close at hand.
The human at his mother’s head was interesting – a small, dark-haired woman with a strong voice and a feeling of “leader,” which was something he’d never noticed in these humans before.
Surprisingly, she paid him little attention. She barely looked at him, and she didn’t try to reach out and touch or scratch him like most of the other humans he had known. She didn’t jump away as he approached her … in fact, she seemed to be ignoring him completely. His little stud-colt heart took this as a challenge, and he decided that this human needed to know who was top pony here.
Instead of running away when he sank his teeth into her, she spun and faced him, even taking a step toward him. For the first time in his young life, he didn’t dare approach for another try. Her look told him that she, in fact, was the top pony around here, and he’d better not mess with her. Instinct told him to respect this, and he was too young to challenge it. He sniffed the air, gathering her scent, and watched her closely. He’d have to remember this one!
“Let’s just put them in the paddock here for now,” E.W. suggested, ignoring Heather’s tirade about the colt.
“What on earth are we going to do with that sassy little thing?” Heather protested. “He looks like he’s full of worms. He should have shed that shaggy baby coat by now. And don’t even get me started on his attitude …”
E.W. watched him quietly, as the colt explored the perimeter of the new paddock. If you looked past the grime and the wormy belly and the baby hair, there were fine, straight legs, a broad chest, a pretty head set on a well-formed, nicely arched neck, and intelligent, quick eyes. It was true, he did look a little worse for wear right now, but E.W. wasn’t worried. He had the mare; the colt was not a big concern to him.
“The colt’s old enough to be weaned. I think we’ll let them settle, then get him ready to go out with the other weanlings right away. He’ll make a decent little roping horse in a couple of years. He just needs good pasture and time to develop. He’ll be nicer than you think.”
Heather rolled her eyes. “I’ve heard that before,” she mumbled, as she turned away from the paddock and walked to the house, rubbing her bruised rump as she went.
That evening, the mare was led to the barn, colt in tow, and into a roomy box stall, deeply bedded with sweet-smelling straw. E.W. quickly led the mare back out, and before the colt could follow, Heather closed the door. The mare was instantly upset, attempting to return to her young son, but E.W. coaxed her away from
the barn and to a pasture as far from the area as he could take her.
Inside the barn, all hell had broken loose. At first the colt had simply stood, statue still, straining to hear his mother’s voice. But as it faded and he could no longer see her, he became frantic, storming around the stall, charging the door, filling the barn with his desperate cries. It would be one of the longest and most miserable nights of his life, a night where snuggling close to his dam’s side and nursing would have been the best thing to do, had she been there. He had never been alone. There was no mischief in him now. He was pure misery, and even Heather felt sorry for him.