Time Deprivation


Author: Analise Verberkmoes – Third Place Junior Division 2024

Savannah Wilson stood, surveying the rolling hills and pastures of her family’s farm in Whitefish, Montana. The lush country grass swayed from side to side in the cool breeze. Savannah’s mind wandered as she wondered what she would do this summer during her spare time. The previous summer, the Wilsons had begun to expand their boarding facility and there were always stalls that needed mucking, hay waiting to be hauled, or horses that needed exercise. What Savannah really wanted was a horse of her own that she could train, groom, and eventually barrel race. With a sigh, Savannah snapped out of her daydream and headed for the Wilson’s cedar-sided house a short distance from the barn. She walked up the front steps and into the house, sliding her boots off on the entryway mat. She headed into the kitchen where she found Mrs. Wilson slicing an apple.

“Hi, Mom!” Savannah said, stealing a slice of apple from the cutting board.

“Hi, Savannah! By the way, I got a phone call asking for Savannah Wilson. It was a man by the name of Dick Nelson. He said he’s boarding at Oakland Stables just down the road and was hoping you could call him back as soon as possible. Here’s his number,” she said handing Savannah a scrap of paper and her cell phone.

“Any idea what he wants?” Savannah questioned.

“He said something about having a horse that he wanted you to see,” Mrs. Wilson recalled, placing the apple slices in a bowl.

Savannah warily began to dial the number; she hated calling people she didn’t know. Finally, she got the guts to press the call button. She put the phone up to her ear. On the second ring she heard a man’s voice.


“Hi, I’m Savannah Wilson. Is this Dick Nelson?” Her words came out in a rush. She was practically shaking.

“Yes, this is Dick. I’m so glad you called back! Listen, I’m having some trouble with a new horse I bought. I was wondering if you would be interested in trying to train him. I’ve heard a few grooms here at Oakland highly recommended you. Of course, I would pay you to do it,” he said, his voice rising in excitement.

Savannah sat down with a thud. She couldn’t believe Dick was really asking her to train his horse. She had been around horses almost as long as she could remember, but she had never trained a horse for someone else.

“Well… I mean… I could…” She stuttered, unsure how to respond to the abrupt question. She gathered her thoughts and tried again. “It’s such a kind offer but I’ve never trained a horse. I’ve worked with many horses and ridden for a while, but I don’t know if I could take on such a big responsibility,” She waited anxiously for his reply.

“If someone doesn’t train this horse, I’m selling him. I bought him with the intention of jumping him. I thought I could make some money off of him, and he seemed like a good jumping horse. Once I got him home, I realized he had hardly had any training. He obviously has never jumped before. In fact, I think he would make a better barrel racer. On top of that, I don’t have the time or experience to train him. As far as I know there aren’t any other decent trainers in the area. I know you’re not a trainer, but people say you have a touch for horses. If you change your mind, let me know,” he said, sounding ready to hang up.

“Wait, can I come look at him?” Savannah cried. “I can come tomorrow morning.”

“Absolutely! How about nine o’clock tomorrow morning?” he asked, some of his friendliness returning.

“I’ll be there,” Savannah said, a slight edge in her voice. Dick Nelson sounded like someone who was more interested in money than the well-being of any of his animals. Savannah knew she had to train Thunder. If Dick decided to sell him, Savannah was certain he wouldn’t end up in a good home. Savannah knew too many people who were strictly in the horse industry for money reasons rather than the enjoyment of the sport. She had a feeling Dick was one of those people.

The next morning, the alarm blared at seven a.m. sharp. Savannah rolled over, ready to hit the snooze button, then it dawned on her. Today she was going to see Dick Nelson and his horse. She threw off the covers and snapped on the bedside lamp. Then she selected a pair of bootcut jeans, long socks, and a light blue sweatshirt she had gotten from participating in a horse camp. She headed off to the bathroom where she quickly showered and dressed. Then she headed for the kitchen to get a bowl of cereal. In the kitchen, Mr. Wilson was making coffee and Mrs. Wilson was pouring herself a bowl of cereal. “Morning,” Savannah said opening the cereal cupboard and selecting a box of Cheerios. “Morning. You’re up early,” Mr. Wilson commented. On most mornings Savannah would have preferred to stay in bed until at least eight o’clock.

“Yeah! This morning I’m heading to Oakland Stables to see Dick Nelson’s horse, the one I was telling you about at dinner last night.”

“We better send you with a horse trailer,” Mrs. Wilson joked. It was true, Savannah jumped at any opportunity to bring home a new horse.

Savannah laughed and took another bite of cereal. She looked around at her four other siblings who were also eating their breakfast. They were younger than Savannah and were used to her rushing off and spending her days with the horses or her best friend Adeline. Adeline was thirteen; two years younger than Savannah. Savannah and Adeline, who each had a love for horses, had become good friends two summers ago at a horse camp.

“Well, I’ll see you when I get back,” Savannah said, getting up and setting her bowl in the sink. Then she hurried outside, grabbed her bike, and began peddling toward Oakland Stables which was about a mile up the dirt road that the Wilsons lived on. When Savannah arrived, she parked her bike outside the barn and walked into a dimly lit area. Up ahead she saw stalls with horses poking their heads out. She walked along looking for someone who could tell her where she could find Dick Nelson. Finally, she spotted a middle-aged woman filling a large hay net.

“Excuse me, I’m Savannah Wilson. I was looking for a boarder by the name of Dick Nelson. Do you know where I could find him?”

“His horse is stabled in that barn. You can try looking there,” the woman said pointing towards a large barn off in the distance.

“Thanks,” Savannah said before hurrying off. As Savannah walked along, she admired the large, beautiful barns and rolling pastures of Oakland Stables. Horses peacefully grazed in the pastures, their manes and tails glistening in the morning sunshine.

When she entered the barn, she spotted a tall, dark-haired man standing in front of one of the stalls. He was staring hard at something, his hands on his hips.

“Hi, are you Dick Nelson?” Savannah asked as she approached. The man turned abruptly as if startled to see her.

“Oh, you must be Savannah Wilson,” he greeted her, a smile lighting up his face.

“That’s me,” Savannah said, turning to look into the stall he was standing in front of. Inside was a coal black gelding who was eyeing his visitors suspiciously. There was a gleam of mischief in his eye. Savannah couldn’t help but smile at him.

“Well, this is Thunder, the horse I was telling you about. Let me warn you, he’s a handful, and he likes to bite,” Dick grumbled, frowning.

Savannah reached out cautiously; Thunder took a step forward stretching his muzzle out to reach her hand. Suddenly he opened his mouth, bared his teeth, and tried to bite Savannah’s arm. With a swift movement she yanked her arm away. She placed her other hand on his cheek where he couldn’t reach her and firmly pushed his face away. Obviously, Thunder thought of himself as the boss.

“See what I mean?” Dick bristled.

“I see what you mean, but I think Thunder just needs someone who’s firm and patient. He’s trying to be the boss and he doesn’t see me or you as his leader yet. He has to learn and accept that people are his leaders, and that people will take care of him. I get the feeling that before you bought Thunder, people didn’t spend a lot of time with him. Now he doesn’t completely trust people,” Savannah explained.

“Well, do you want to try and train him?” Dick asked. He didn’t seem to care about what was wrong with Thunder. He seemed as if he wanted to get rid of Thunder as fast as possible.

“Yes, I do, under one condition. I get to bring Thunder to my family’s farm,” Savannah said, waiting for Dick’s response. She knew she would accomplish more training if Thunder was stabled at the Wilson’s.

“Deal, you can pick him up tomorrow,” Dick turned to leave and then stopped. “By the way, I’ll give you two months to straighten him out. I want Thunder to be calmer, more behaved, and able to be ridden. If I see no improvement, I’m selling him,” With that, he turned and strode down the aisle.

The next morning Savannah picked up the phone to call Dick. Her parents had agreed to letting Thunder stay at the farm and Savannah was eager to pick him up. She called Dick, arranged a time to pick Thunder up, and then rushed to get the trailer and a stall ready. Half an hour later Savannah and Mr. Wilson pulled into Oakland Stables lot. Dick was standing next to the barn. Thunder, who seemed to be behaving well, was standing next to Dick. Thunder was haltered and Dick was holding loosely onto the lead line. Savannah unlatched the trailer door and slowly lowered the ramp; she had a large hay net already attached to a hook up in the trailer. Mr. Wilson was talking to Dick as Savannah walked over.

“Here he is,” Dick said, pressing the lead line into Savannah’s hand. She reached out to stroke Thunders dark face. He stood perfectly still and allowed her to rub him. “Guess he’s in a good mood today,” Dick said with a chuckle. Mr. Wilson smiled.

“Better load him up so we can get him settled back at home. My daughter will take good care of Thunder for you,” Mr. Wilson said, studying Thunder.

Savannah slowly led Thunder up to the trailer; she talked soothingly and urged Thunder to step onto the ramp. Obediently, Thunder began to walk up the ramp.

“Good boy!” Savannah praised. After a few more steps they were into the trailer. Savannah quickly connected the lead rope onto a hook in the wall of the trailer. She praised Thunder and patted him as she walked out. Mr. Wilson lifted the ramp and secured it behind Thunder who was contentedly munching hay. Dick placed Thunder’s saddle, bridle, and grooming items in the truck. With a quick goodbye to Dick, Savannah and Mr. Wilson drove away.

When they reached the farm, Savannah unloaded Thunder and settled him into his stall. Thunder was curious about his new home, but he didn’t act up as Savannah settled him and ran a dandy brush over his sleek coat. Savannah watched Thunder, who was looking around curiously at his stable mates. With a final pat, Savannah latched the stall door and headed back to the house. Savannah wondered if what Dick had said about Thunder was really true; she supposed she would find out when she started training him.

The next day dawned clear, sunny, and warm. Savannah decided to start Thunder’s training by seeing how he walked on a lead. She could take him down the driveway and onto the dirt road that paralleled the Wilson’s pastures. Savannah stepped into the barn and saw Thunder poking his head out the stall door.

“Hey Thunder, want to go for a walk?” Savannah smiled. She was sure Dick had been wrong about Thunder. She unlatched the stall door and snapped a lead line onto his halter. Thunder obediently followed Savannah out of the barn and into the sunshine. They easily walked along. The grass swayed and birds chirped in the trees. Thunder flared his nostrils taking in all the new smells. Suddenly Thunder planted his feet and threw up his head letting out a shrill whinny to his stable mates.

“Easy, Thunder,” Savannah said calmly as she stroked his neck. When Savannah began walking again, Thunder broke into a trot and tried to cut Savannah off. Savannah firmly grabbed the lead rope and made him back up until he was once again standing at her shoulder. The next time he thought about cutting her off, she waved the end of the lead line in front of him. For the next hour, Savannah walked Thunder away from the barn, toward the barn, and in large circles. By the end, Thunder was walking calmly in all directions. Savannah brought Thunder back to his stall and began to brush him down. As she brushed, her mind began to wander. She knew Thunder still had a lot of training left and she only had two months until Dick was coming. She mentally listed the things she would need to accomplish before Dick came. Thunder needed to be able to walk on a lead, lunge, tie, accept a rider, and so much more. Savannah sighed; she realized she had just taken on one of the biggest projects of her life.

Over the next week Savannah walked Thunder and began to do basic groundwork exercises with him. Occasionally, Adeline came over to watch her work Thunder or go on walks with them. Thunder was improving daily. Gradually, their walks grew longer and each day they went farther from the farm. By the end of the week Savannah was walking Thunder one mile a day. He also smoothly walked or backed on command. Savannah was happy with the improvement, but she felt as though Thunder was being rushed. Savannah knew she hadn’t formed a bond with him yet, one of the most important steps in training. She needed to put him in a round pen and get him to join up with her. Savannah had seen many trainers teaching horses to join up, but she had never done it herself. Tomorrow Savannah would try a join up.

The next day was overcast and breezy. Savannah put on a lightweight jacket before heading out to work Thunder. When she got to his stall, she carefully slipped on a halter. Just as she clipped on the lead line, Thunder tried to nip her.

“No!” She scolded. Thunder immediately forgot the idea as Savannah made him back up. Although Thunder occasionally tried to nip, he was getting much better about it. Savannah led Thunder to the round pen and detached the lead line.

Thunder, like most horses, walked off to investigate his new surroundings in the small pen. Savannah picked up a lunge whip and strode to the middle of the pen. She lightly cracked the whip on the ground, asking Thunder to move out at a walk like he would on a lunge line. Thunder jerked his head up and began trotting around the perimeter of the round pen. After a few laps, Savannah asked him to change directions, which he did obediently. After two more laps Savannah dropped the whip, turned away from Thunder, and began walking in the opposite direction. If a horse was ready to join up, they would begin to follow the person. Thunder hesitated, and then cautiously began to follow Savannah until he caught up with her. Savannah stopped; her heart was pounding. Thunder had joined up with her. She felt like clapping and shouting! Instead, she turned to praise Thunder.

“Good boy, Thunder!” she said, scrubbing his neck. Thunder blew out a long, contented breath. Now they were getting somewhere.

Three weeks later, Savannah and Adeline walked down the neatly swept aisle at the Wilson’s farm. Thunder was doing well in training and the two girls had been taking Thunder and Twix, who was an experienced trail horse, for trail rides around the property. A week ago, Savannah had started riding Thunder, and he had been doing very well. As Savannah approached Thunder’s stall, he stuck his head over the door.

“I’ll meet you in front of Twix’s stall in ten minutes,” Savannah called to Adeline who continued down the aisle toward Twix’s stall.

“Okay,” Adeline called over her shoulder.

Soon the two girls had set out along a grassy lane that led to open rolling fields. Twix led the way with Thunder following. The girls chatted easily about the upcoming school year. Soon they had reached the open field. Thunder tossed his head up in excitement.

“Should we trot them?” Adeline ventured. She was already gathering her reins.

“Let’s canter,” Savannah called. She knew it was a daring move, but she had been dying to canter Thunder in the field.

“Okay,” Adeline murmured. She sounded unsure; however, she quickly urged Twix into a canter. Savannah urged Thunder into a canter too. Thunder took a few strides in a canter and then lowered his head. Savannah caught her breath. Thunder was going to buck! She tried desperately to pull Thunder’s head up. She was too late; Thunder gave two tremendous bucks. The first buck unseated Savannah; she felt herself being thrown forward onto Thunder’s neck. She tried to grab a hunk of mane to steady herself. Before she could get a good hold, Thunder bucked again. This time she felt herself being hurled through the air. She hit the ground with a thud, and everything went black.

When Savannah finally awoke, she was in a white room surrounded by medical equipment. She felt a sharp pain in her right arm and winced. Then it all came flooding back: the trail ride, the cantering, and the fall. She shuddered at the thought.

“Hi honey, you’re in the hospital. You took quite a spill on Thunder. I’m afraid you’ve sprained your wrist,” her mother talked softly and pushed a strand of hair out of Savannah’s eyes. Savannah blinked back tears. This could only mean one thing: she wouldn’t be able to ride for weeks. She wondered how she could train Thunder with a sprained arm.

“No,” was all Savannah could whisper. With that she flopped back onto the pillow and fell into a restless sleep. She dreamed about Dick selling Thunder to an awful home where no one fed or cared for him. When she awoke, the hospital room was dark; her cheeks were tear stained from crying in her sleep. Savannah couldn’t help but feel that she had gotten herself into a big mess.

A few days later Savannah and Adeline were brainstorming how to finish Thunder’s training. Savannah had a small brace on her arm, and the doctor had made it clear she was not to ride for three weeks. Unfortunately, Dick was coming in two weeks. Savannah couldn’t ride Thunder and that was the main thing he needed to work on. Suddenly Savannah gasped.

“I know! Adeline, you could finish his training! I can coach you.” Savannah looked expectantly at Adeline.

“I don’t know if I could handle him, Savannah. I don’t have nearly as much training experience as you do,” Adeline looked reluctant.

“Please, Adeline, just try it. Thunder just needs practice in the arena at a walk and trot. You have to trust me, Adeline. I promise I won’t let anything happen. If you don’t, Dick will sell Thunder and all of our hard work will be wasted,” Savannah pleaded.

“Okay, but you have to coach me every step of the way. And I don’t want to do any cantering,” Adeline said looking doubtful.

“I will, I promise. You won’t have to canter. Dick said he would be happy if Thunder was safe at a walk and trot. Besides, I obviously don’t know how to properly train a horse to canter,” Savannah said referring to the accident.

Over the next two weeks, the girls worked hard. Adeline rode Thunder most days and if she didn’t ride, she did other things like groundwork. Gradually, Thunder grew to like Adeline. Finally, it was two days until Dick was supposed to come visit Thunder. The girls stood outside Thunder’s stall. Savannah toyed with the brace on her wrist wondering how Thunder would behave when Dick came. Most days Thunder behaved wonderfully, but occasionally he had an off day. Savannah hoped Thunder would be on his best behavior when Dick came.

“Should we practice everything we are going to show Dick?” Adeline asked abruptly.

“That’s what I was thinking. Thunder likes routine. If we practice it, he’ll be more familiar with it and likely will behave better,” Savannah said.

For the next two hours the girls rehearsed. First, they would show Dick how Thunder walked on a lead at both a walk and a trot. Next, they would show basic groundwork skills as well as how Thunder worked on the lunge line. Finally, Adeline would ride him. The girls decided that Adeline would walk him around the ring, trot him around the ring, and lastly show Dick the barrel pattern they had taught Thunder.

On Saturday, Dick pulled into the drive at nine o’clock in the morning. The girls had Thunder ready to go. So far Thunder seemed to be on his best behavior. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were standing talking to Dick.

“Ready to see your horse?” Savannah asked. “I think you’ll be surprised at his transformation.” Adeline looked tense. She was stroking Thunder’s neck. Savannah flashed Adeline a thumbs up. Adeline managed a small grin. Adeline walked Thunder around within good view of Dick. After doing a large circle, she asked Thunder to trot and began to run next to him. Thunder trotted easily, his muscles rippling under his gleaming coat. Next Adeline worked Thunder on the lunge, he switched directions and gaits on command. Then she did a few basic groundwork exercises. Savannah caught her breath; this was the final test. Thunder already had a saddle on, and Adeline easily swung into the saddle. She began to walk around the arena. Suddenly, Thunder stopped and flared his nostrils. Savannah gasped; Thunder couldn’t misbehave now. Adeline talked soothingly to him before urging him forward again. Thunder moved forward. In a few minutes, Adeline had him trotting around the ring. Finally, she trotted him through a barrel pattern. He behaved well and when they were finished, Adeline walked Thunder over. Savannah held her breath, wondering what Dick had thought of Thunder. He looked deep in thought. Finally, he spoke.

“Wow, you’ve done a wonderful job!” he exclaimed.

“Would you like to try working him?” Savannah asked hesitantly. She hoped Dick didn’t want to sell Thunder.

“I would if I thought I was going to keep him, but I’m not going to keep him,” Dick stated. Savannah’s heart plummeted. Dick still wanted to sell Thunder. “You’re going to keep him,” Dick announced excitedly. Savannah gasped.

“I…I…can’t,” Savannah stuttered.

“Yes, you can, and you will. I have no right to own this horse. He obviously loves his new home, and he obviously loves you and your friend!” Dick exclaimed. Savannah gasped and threw her arms around Thunder! Then she turned and hugged Adeline.

“Thank you so much!” she cried. “But I couldn’t have done it without Adeline,” Savannah felt on top of the world. She had a horse of her own that she had trained! The whole time Savannah had been training Thunder, she knew she wanted him but she had never dreamed he would one day be hers.

While Mr. and Mrs. Wilson worked out the details with Dick, Savannah and Adeline talked excitedly about all the things they could do together now that Savannah had her own horse. Savannah thought this was the best day of her life, she hoped it was the best day of Thunder’s life too!

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