Authors: Walter Farley
Tom sat down on the side of the water trough, his elbows upon his knees and his long, angular face resting heavily between the palms of his hands. Never once did his intent gaze leave the foal. He watched the stilt legs move carefully upon tiny, fawnlike hoofs. He watched the bushy stump of a tail swish ridiculously from side to side, slowly at first, then ever faster like the swift movement of an automobile's windshield wiper. It was as though the colt had just discovered his tail. There were so many things for him to discover, and Tom sat there watching, content to do only that.
It was difficult to explain the emotions he felt within him nor did he try. He knew only that something
beautiful and fine and wonderful was happening. Never once did he think of the years ahead, when this colt would race. Neither did he ask himself, “Will he be a champion?” Nor did he think of Jimmy Creech or George Snedecker or anyone else, even the Queen. His mind, his eyes, his whole being were concentrated on the foal who stood on trembling legs before himâthe foal who was looking at life for the first time. It was enough that Tom was there, sharing the experience with him.
An hour passed and Tom still sat there without moving. He watched as much of the unsteadiness left the colt's legs and the first confident steps were taken. He saw him lose his balance repeatedly and fall to the ground. But the colt always struggled to his feet to try once more. And when he strayed too far away from his mother, the Queen would neigh a shrill reprimand, then go back to her grazing. The foal would watch her as she cropped the grass; then he too would lower his head cautiously until his short neck could stretch no more.
But finally the colt grew weary of activity and carefully lowered himself to the grass, stretching out in the sun.
It was only then that Tom moved away from the water trough. Quietly he walked over to the foal and knelt beside him. The large eyes were closed, the breathing regular. The colt was asleep.
For several minutes Tom kept looking at him; then he got to his feet and walked toward the barn. There was work to be done, for the stall had to be thoroughly
cleaned. This would be a good time to do it, now that the foal was asleep.
I won't miss anything if I hurry
, Tom thought.
Half an hour later, when he had finished his work, Tom sat down once more on the side of the water trough. The foal still slept in the sun.
For some time Tom sat there as before, just watching the colt, but then the sound of a car caused him to turn his head in the direction of the lane. And even though the trees concealed the approaching vehicle, he knew from the sputtering of the motor and the rattling of the loose body that it could be no other car but his uncle's.
The Queen turned toward the lane, her head alert. And the foal, too, aroused by the noise of the car, struggled to his feet and stood close beside his mother.
The car moved out of the woods and, crossing the brook with undiminished speed, drew up before the paddock fence.
Tom rose to greet his uncle and aunt.
“So it came,” Aunt Emma said quietly. And then she turned to her husband, who was leaning heavily upon the fence. “It came after all you said!” she shouted to him.
The man's gaze never left the foal, and if he heard his wife's sharp criticism he ignored it, for all he said in his slowest drawl was, “It's all right.”
“It's a colt,” Tom said, his eyes shining. “Jimmy Creech wanted a colt.”
Aunt Emma nodded while Uncle Wilmer asked, “What'd you say?”
“He said it's a colt!” the woman shouted.
“I know that, all right,” Uncle Wilmer said.
The colt encircled the mare, then swept beneath her belly and came up to gaze at the three onlookers with his large curious eyes.
Aunt Emma, glancing around, saw the wet dishtowels hanging on the fence. She recognized the green border stitching and her eyes lost their warmth as she bustled her way toward the towels. Sweeping them off the fence, she waved them vigorously in the air. “Thomas!” she bellowed. “What have you been doing with my new Miracle dishtowels!”
“I-I dried th-the foal with them,” Tom stammered. “They're soft,” he added feebly.
They looked at each other for several seconds while Uncle Wilmer's gaze shifted uneasily from one to the other.
“I had to have something soft,” Tom said again. “I'm going to give them a good washing.”
Aunt Emma looked at the foal, then at the boy. She lowered her eyes as she said, “Well, see that you do, Tom.” And her voice was amazingly soft for Aunt Emma.
Uncle Wilmer had had his head cocked, listening, but he hadn't caught the woman's words. He turned to her questioningly, but she swept by, ignoring him.
When Aunt Emma reached the gate, she stopped. “Wilmer!” she shouted. “You come along. I got work for you!”
Grudgingly, Uncle Wilmer moved away from the fence after one more look at the foal. “It's a good one, all right,” he said mostly to himself. And only when he was about to follow Aunt Emma did he turn to the
boy to say, “Don't suppose you fed the chickens, did you, Tom?”
The boy's gaze left the foal for Uncle Wilmer. “I forgot them. I'm sorry. I'll do it now.”
His uncle walked toward the gate and, without turning his head around, said, “It's all right. I'll feed them. You stay with him.”
So Tom stayed with his colt. And he decided he was going to stay there all day, if he could. He didn't want to miss a thing. He'd even write Jimmy from here. He would say, “Dear Jimmy, he came this morning. A colt, just like you wanted. And I think he's the most beautiful, most wonderful colt there ever was.â¦ ”
Very often during the following week, Aunt Emma suggested bluntly to Tom that he might as well sleep in the barn for all she saw of him. “Land sakes!” she told him. “Next thing we know you'll be eating oats!”
And, more often than not, whenever the word
was mentioned, Uncle Wilmer would turn to Tom, shake his head sadly, and say, “You're wastin' good money, Boy. The mare don't need oats now. Grass is plenty good enough for her. Grass makes milk for the colt.”
And Tom would always reply, “She needs both, Uncle Wilmer. Jimmy Creech says she does.”
“Â âJimmy Creech says this'! âJimmy Creech says that'!” Uncle Wilmer would bellow, stalking from the room.
But his uncle's tantrums did not bother Tom any more than did his aunt's sarcastic remarks about his living in the barn. For Tom's world now centered there
and he accepted it. Hour after hour, day after day, he watched the colt.
He saw the sharp ribs seemingly disappear overnight and the chunky body fill out before his eyes. No longer did the colt shuffle along on uncertain legs. After his second day he was trotting about the paddock, falling only when he took too fast a turn.
And Tom watched him with wondering eyes, marveling at the rapid growth and agility of one who only a few days ago had been so helpless.
By the end of the first week, the paddock was almost too small for the frolicking colt, and Tom knew that the time had come to put him and the Queen in the pasture. He had waited for the colt to gain full confidence in his long legs before putting him to the task of coping with the pasture's hilly and uneven terrain. He had another reason, too, for having kept the Queen and her colt in the paddock. Here he could get to the colt more easily than he'd be able to do in the acres of pastureland. Winning the colt's confidence and handling him often was his most important job now. And it was a job he loved doing.
Tom would enter the paddock, slowly approaching the colt. And the colt would watch him with curious and still uncertain eyes. For the colt now knew who his mother was, and he kept close to her, using her big body as his protection against the world.
Always Tom would stop a few feet away from the mare. He would then stoop down, and sometimes even sit on the ground, for he had learned that the smaller he made himself the more confidence it gave the colt.
The Queen would come to him, looking for the
carrots in his pockets, and the colt would follow. While feeding the mare, Tom would remain very still, never making a move to touch the colt until the small head was thrust down to him and the soft muzzle searched curiously about his clothes. Tom would let him nibble his fingers and felt only the slightest edges of the colt's teeth, which were finding their way through tender gums. Very often then, the colt would encircle him, pulling at his clothes, while Tom ran his hand gently over the furry body and down the long slim legs to tiny hoofs.
Uncle Wilmer watched Tom's handling of the colt with great curiosity and apparent concern. “Y'oughtn't to make so much of him,” he would say. “You'll get more out of him if you show him who's boss right away, while you can still handle him. No sense in makin' up to him like you do. Git in there and hold him, if you want to brush him. You let him do what he wants and he'll kick the teeth out of you before long. He's gettin' stronger every day, an' if you don't act now, it ain't goin' to be so easy later on.”
Tom had listened, knowing his uncle meant well, but he wanted the colt to come to him of his own accord. He couldn't have done it any other way. But he knew, too, there was much to what his uncle was telling him. He knew he had to be more careful now, for the colt was throwing his hind legs around more often and with more force. The hoofs, while still small, could do some injury if well directed.
So as Tom sat on the ground with the colt encircling him, he was more cautious, more alert than he had been the first few days, and he was on guard
against the slightest movement of the hindquarters toward him.
Jimmy Creech had said to handle the colt as much as possible, but he hadn't told him how to go about it. Until he heard from Jimmy, he would go ahead as he was doing, regardless of his uncle's advice, even though Tom knew it was being given in his own best interest.
Jimmy Creech's next letter came with the late afternoon mail during the middle of the colt's second week. Eagerly Tom took it from the mailbox in the upper road. But before opening the letter, he turned to look at the barn set far below him. Across the waving fields of tall grass he could see a corner of the paddock, and there, sprawled in the sun, lay the colt.
He opened the envelope and began reading Jimmy's large handwriting.
I couldn't have asked for anything more than a colt, and I'm so glad everything worked out okay. I sure understand how you must have felt, and George says he does, too
I only got your letter today because George and I are now at the Clearfield Fair, and your letter was forwarded back home before reaching us here
Now I'm going to tell you what to do until we all get back to Coronet. It's not much you have to do, Tom, but it's very important. I can't tell you how important it is
First thing you have to do is to win the confidence of the colt. Make sure he learns he has nothing to fear from you. Handle him all you can. Get him used to having your hands running all over him and picking up his feet. The more used to it he gets the easier it's going to be later for all of us
I want you to get a halter. A soft web one is best if you can
get it. Put it on him now, so he can get used to it. It'll also make it easier for you in catching him when he's in pasture. I want you to start leading him around in a few weeks, first behind the mare, and later away from the mare. You'll need help, so maybe your uncle will give you a hand. But I want you to be leading the colt, remember that
He might give you a little trouble at first, Tom. He might not like being led about and not being allowed to go his own way. You got to be patient with him. I know you will be, and that's why I turned over the mare and now the colt to you. Most men, and that includes myself, don't have the patience we had when we were your age. That's why I believe the colt will do better in your hands than mine or anyone I know. You'll have to work slow, teaching him one thing at a time. When you first try to lead him, let him go his own way, if he has a mind to. Don't fight him. Just go along with him, until before long you'll find that you're guiding him and he's going along with you. But it may take days or weeks, Tom, and that's what I mean when I say you got to have patience
I don't mean that you shouldn't have a firm hand with the colt. He's got to learn obedience and he has to learn it early in life or else he'll be a rebel later. And when he gets to be over a thousand pounds it's a terrible job trying to make him unlearn any bad habits he picked up as a youngster. I'm simply saying that you can teach him obedience by winning his confidence and having him learn willingly just as easily as anyone can do it by force. And the results are a million times better! I've seen too many people try to knock obedience into a colt by giving him the rough treatment. They say it's faster, and they're right. But what they forget is that they usually break the colt's spirit, too. And when that's done you've killed what may have been a fine horse
I didn't mean to go on for so long, Tom, but I did and I'm glad I did. Do what you can with the colt, and if you can bring him back to Coronet in September knowing how to be led and having full confidence in you, I'll be a very happy man
Just one other thing, and that is I want you to give the colt all the oats he wants as soon as he starts stealing any from the mare and shows an interest in grain. Crushed oats are better than whole oats, for remember he'll only have milk teeth in a couple
of weeks and he won't be able to do a good job of masticating his food
George and I did pretty well at the Carlisle and Indiana County fairs, because Symbol is showing some speed. I'm hoping for even better results here at Clearfield. We'll be here a week, then on to the Bedford Fair. Write to me c/o race secretary at either place
George and I send our very best to you, and we'd sure like a photograph of the colt when you get one