LA DUQUESA – Wonder Horse Book Two
By Victoria Hardesty and Nancy Perez
Authors of Action and Adventure with Arabian Horses
Seven Months earlier…
Maryann Wilcox loved school. She was an excellent student and got along with her classmates. She tended toward shyness but loved the process of learning. She became an avid reader when she discovered books about horses. She’d already read every book in the school library that even mentioned horses, was rapidly going through the public library’s collection, and pestered her mother often enough for magazines at the supermarket and books at the local book exchange. Her reading expanded her vocabulary and improved her spelling greatly.
A few weeks into the new term, her English teacher handed out an assignment to Maryann’s eighth-grade class. “All of us dream about something special we want to have or happen in our life. I want you to write a three-page, single-spaced essay that tells me what you dream about.” The teacher gave her students three weeks to turn in the assignment. “This will be a large part of your grade this semester, so pay attention to spelling, grammar, and the punctuation we’ve been learning in this class.”
Maryann’s heart soared. This was going to be easy. There was only one topic for her. Ever since she could remember, she had the very same dream. It was comforting to her. She dreamed about the Duchess, a silvery white mare she rode bareback across a meadow in the moonlight. She loved that horse, and the horse loved her. Her ‘Duchess’ dreams were very special to her.
Maryann also had an artistic talent that surprised her mother, Aunt Adele, and Uncle Roy. She could fill in shapes in a coloring book without crossing the lines from the time she was a little over two years old. By the time she was four, she was drawing horses for fun. Some of her sketches were quite good. Her mother, Rose, framed a couple and hung them up in her bedroom for wall art. They went along with the horse theme of the room. She had horses on her window curtains, horses on her bedspread, Breyer horses on her dresser, and shelves of them above her bed, not to mention all the books and magazines with horses on the covers.
Maryann spent most of a week working on the essay to get it just right. She scratched out words, inserted new words, shuffled sentences around. When she was satisfied, she copied the whole thing neatly, then dragged out her sketch pad and pencils and drew a picture of the scene in her dreams. When she was satisfied she had a reasonable likeness of herself and the Duchess on paper, she attached the sketch to her paper and turned it in.
The paper sat on her teacher’s desk until all the students had submitted theirs. Her teacher took them home to review and grade over a weekend. She fully expected 13 and 14 years olds to write about MTV stars if they were girls, sports if they were boys, etc. She was stunned when she got to Maryann’s work and saw the sketch attached. Her teacher was well aware of Maryann’s situation. Her mother, Rose, worked for barely above minimum wages at Andrews Hardware Store in Phelan, where she and her daughter lived with her elderly Aunt and Uncle. Roy and Adele were scraping by on Social Security pensions. Maryann had about as much chance at owning a horse as she did flying over the rainbow. The fact that the essay was letter perfect and from the heart surprised her and tugged at her own heart strings. The drawing topped everything.
Maryann’s teacher brought the graded essays back to school on Monday. She pulled Maryann’s out of the stack and brought it to the teacher’s lounge at the lunch break, hoping to talk with one of the other teachers she knew owned horses. The other teacher had the same reaction. That essay tugged at her heartstrings too.
“Let me show this to Ginny Hartley, will you?” she asked. “Ginny and her husband own a large ranch in Pinon Hills where I board my horses. She sometimes needs an extra pair of hands. Maybe she’ll let Maryann work off some riding lessons in exchange for work around the ranch. This girl needs to become acquainted with a real horse.”
The essay and sketch ended up in Ginny’s hands that same day. She agreed that the “work for lessons” was a perfect idea. Ginny stopped by Andrews Hardware the next morning and talked with Rose. At first, Rose resisted. “I thank you for your offer, but we really don’t need charity. We are doing just fine.”
“No, that’s not what I’m offering,” Ginny said gently. “It appears you have a horse-crazy daughter and probably can’t afford the expense of a horse. What I’m offering is a job for her so she can earn her own lessons. Sometimes, for kids, things like that mean more to them when they earn them themselves.”
Rose considered that. “You’re right. I think it will mean more to her if she earns it. I agree with you. I’ll talk to her tonight when I get home from work. Can I call you later this evening?”
Ginny left her business card with Rose and left the store smiling. If Maryann was as smart as her teachers said she was, she would be a delight to have around the ranch. Ginny could use another pair of hands, and she loved teaching youngsters how to ride. Sounded like a win/win to her.
Rose called Ginny later that evening. She told Ginny she was going to have to tie her daughter down to a rock, or she would float away on happiness. She was over the moon excited, and they would get her to the ranch on Saturday morning. She asked how Maryann should dress and if she should pack her a lunch.
Friday night Maryann had her dream again, and she told the Duchess she would see her soon before she woke up. She was dressed and had lunch packed by six in the morning. Rose came to the kitchen for morning coffee and found Maryann almost jumping with excitement to get going. “Hey, you. Slow down and have some breakfast, will you? I promised to have you at the ranch by eight, so we have an hour and a half yet before we leave.” Maryann finally settled down long enough to eat a bowl of cold cereal, a piece of fruit, and drink a tall glass of milk. She was in the car waiting for Rose by 7:30 a.m.
Ginny met them at the gate. She told Rose to pick Maryann up at three that afternoon. “We’re usually done with most of the chores by noon, and Maryann will have her first horseback lesson after that.”
Ginny took her down to the ranch after putting her lunch sack in the refrigerator. She talked with her the whole time, telling her what to expect and what Ginny expected from her. When they walked into the first horse stall to check the water level and cleanliness, Maryann stopped and asked, “Can I touch him?”
“Can you touch who?” Ginny asked.
“This horse,” Maryann almost whispered. “And can I smell him?”
“Go ahead. This is my gelding Bobbie. He’d be delighted to have you touch him.”
Maryann reached out the stroked his neck, bringing her hand back like she was shocked. “It feels so nice! He’s so soft. Are they all like that?” She was serious. She reached out and stroked his neck again.
“Yes, this is what a real horse feels like, unless they are dirty,” Ginny chuckled. “Haven’t you ever petted a horse before?”
“No, this is the first time for real,” Maryann said with reverence. “Can I smell him?”
“Of course you can,” Ginny grinned. “You’ll get used to the smell of horses soon enough.”
Maryann pressed her nose to Bobbie’s neck and breathed deeply. “Oh, Mrs. Hartley, do they all smell so wonderful?” she asked, pressing her nose in for another smell.
“Well, to start with, my name is Ginny. I’m also known as Aunt Ginny, your choice. My mother-in-law was Mrs. Hartley. And, yes, they all smell like that unless they are very dirty or sweaty. You’ll get used to it.”
“Oh, no, I’ll never get enough of it,” Maryann smiled at her, “Aunt Ginny.”
Brody walked up then. “You need some help?” he asked his aunt.
“Yes, I have some book work I need to do in my office. You know Maryann don’t you?”
“Yeah, we have one class together. Good to see you Maryann. Heard you are coming in to give us a hand,” Brody smiled at her.
Ginny gave Brody instructions about which horses needed grooming, checking water buckets and feeders, and left the two in the barn. Brody showed Maryann where to find the grooming supplies and showed her how to brush horses down, curry them, and how to check feed and water buckets. The two of them worked side by side the balance of the morning. They chatted about horses, school, teachers they had, and the coming winter. At noon they walked back to the house. Brody left her on the deck while he went to the kitchen for their lunches. Maryann said she wanted to eat outside so she could see the horses.
Brody walked by his aunt’s office on his way back from the kitchen. “I think she’s going to work out great, Aunt Ginny. She’s smart, she’s not a silly girl, and she’s a hard worker. We’re going to have lunch on the deck, then she’s all yours for a lesson.”
After lunch, Ginny spent the next two and a half hours with Maryann, going over tack, grooming, picking out the horse’s feet, and lounging him before she mounted. Maryann already knew what each piece of tack was called and how it was used; she’d just never used it before. Ginny demonstrated mounting then walking, trotting, and cantering Bobbie in the arena. She helped Maryann mount up and told her where to keep her feet and legs, arms, hands, and shoulders, where her chin should be, and how she should sit in the saddle. She told her one time and it became set in cement for Maryann. Maryann walked Bobbie for a few laps, then cued him to trot. She sat his trot perfectly. She did several laps in both directions before cueing him on to a canter. She looked like she had been riding horses since she could walk. She was completely comfortable in the saddle even though this was her first time in one. Ginny was dumbstruck. She had a real, live phenomenon in front of her. Ginny’s wheels began to spin. What this girl could accomplish was unlimited. Give her a horse, and she would ride the hair right off of it. That was an old expression her daddy used when he watched an accomplished rider. Her daddy would have been as excited about Maryann as she was now.
At the end of the day, when Rose came to get her, Maryann was tired. But it was a good tired, the kind you get when you finish a job well. Some of her craving for horses was satisfied a tiny bit. She knew there was more to come, and she couldn’t wait to get back to it. Rose and Ginny set up a schedule for Maryann that wouldn’t impact her ability to get her homework done and still gave her time to ride. Aunt Adele or Uncle Roy could drop her off after school, and Rose would pick her up on her way home from work. Maryann had the best night’s sleep ever, and she spent time with the Duchess in the moonlight again.