Horse Sense

“Billy! Time to get up, or you’ll be late for school,” called Mother.

Billy Burke snuggled farther down under the warm quilt and wished that he didn’t have to get up. It was raining, and rainy days are nice times to burrow down in bed and sleep.

“Billy, do you hear me? I don’t want to have to come up there and get you. Hurry now, or you’ll be late for school.”

“Yes, Mother, I’m coming.”

Billy knew his mother didn’t want him to be late for school, but his horse, Brownie, could be depended on to get him there before the bell rang.

Living seven miles out in the country was fun most of the time. However, it meant that he had to get up earlier in the morning than the other kids and that he didn’t have as much time to play after school. He had his own horse to ride, though, and Billy thought he was about the luckiest ten-year-old boy in the county.

While Mrs. Burke piled hotcakes onto Billy’s plate, she said, “I want you to start early this morning because of the rain.”

Billy couldn’t understand why his mother never liked the rain when there was so little of it in this dry land. Nevertheless, he ate his breakfast quickly and went outside to the barn. Brownie stood in his stall, hunched against the chilly dampness. When Billy tried to put the saddle on Brownie, the horse shied away. “Stand still, Brownie. Do you want us to be late for school?”

Brownie usually liked the walk to school and the attention he got from the other children. Sometimes someone would bring him an apple or some carrots. But Brownie was behaving in a most peculiar way this morning.

“I know what’s the matter with you—you’re afraid the rain’ll make you rust, aren’t you? Well, it won’t,” Billy said as he tightened the cinch. As Billy rode out of the yard, he gave a quick wave to his mother.

The road followed the river up a narrow, steep canyon for the first two of the seven miles to town. There was no place to go in case of trouble except up the canyon walls—and that was where Brownie was going now!

“Brownie! Have you gone loco? Stay on the road.”

The usually obedient horse had a mind of his own this morning. Laying back his ears, he kept trying to climb the steep canyon wall, slipping and sliding on the loose stones. Billy did something that he had seldom done before—he smacked the little horse on the rump with the ends of the reins.

Ignoring Billy’s irritation, Brownie continued to scramble up the steep slope. The rain had seeped into the ground enough so that it was very difficult for the horse to keep his footing. Gooey mud tugged at his hooves, and the rocks were bruising his legs, but he kept struggling upward.

“Brownie! Please! I have to get to school. You know Mrs. Thompson gets cross if anyone is late. Now, come on. Please!”

Brownie slipped and went to his knees, then regained his footing and climbed frantically toward the top of the canyon walls.

Billy was getting scared. Brownie had never acted this way before. Realizing that he could not make the horse go back down to the road, Billy let the horse have his way. Once on the brow of the hill, Brownie headed straight home.

“Why aren’t you in school?” Mother asked.

“Brownie had other ideas, Mother. I couldn’t make him stay on the road.”

“Something must be wrong. Brownie never behaved that way before, and he’s trembling,” Mother said as she stroked Brownie’s neck. “Billy, why don’t you go inside, put some dry clothes on, and have a cup of cocoa. I’ll take care of Brownie.”

Suddenly, with a roar that shook the earth, a torrent of water surged down the river and through the canyon. It moved boulders as if they were pebbles, and great fingers of water reached out and grabbed trees and brush, devouring them in huge, gluttonous bites.

Billy turned and shouted above the roar, “Mother, what’s happening?”

“The river is flooding. There must have been a cloudburst in the mountains, and it’s just now reaching here. The farther it goes, the faster and more furiously it rages. You’d never have made it to school if Brownie had stayed in the canyon!” Mother declared.

Later, after Billy and his mother had thanked Heavenly Father for their safety, Billy helped her peel apples in the warm, cheerful kitchen.

“Well, now, apple pie sounds good on a cold, wet day like this, doesn’t it?” Mother asked.

“It sure does,” Billy answered as he went out the kitchen door with a bowlful of apple peelings. “And this ‘apple pie’ is for the smartest and bravest horse that ever set foot on this earth!”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Howard Post