As the months slowly turned into years, Jessie finally was able to earn Silk's trust. The oddly-colored, gangly filly had come out of her ugly duckling stage and had blossomed into a young, pretty little mare. The strange color of her coat remained however, and, at least in Uncle George's mind, too much hair. But at least now she was much more attractive than as a foal. Additionally, Jessie had even begun to ride Silk, albeit with a good deal of caution. When she had casually mentioned to her uncle about wanting to try Silk out on the trails in the woods behind the ranch, he had stated his disapproval strongly.
"That critter ain't ready for that kind o' ridin' yet, Jessie. 'Specially alone. She needs to be conditioned to the trails, otherwise you have any little thing, say a squirrel or a pheasant crosses your path. Next thing you know, yer face down in the mud lookin' up at yer horse's heels as she high-tails it home without you."
"But Uncle, Silk would never...."
"Horses spook easy, Jessie. It's just in their nature. As a prey animal, flight is their best defense. You might think that Silk would never throw you, but you can't expect an animal to go against its nature. You've been raised in the city, so you're still learnin' about horses, but they need to be trained to be safe on the trail, and that will still be a few years down the road. Horses mature slowly. She's still a young 'un. Not just that, but I never, and I do mean NEVER, want you to take ANY horse on those trails alone! Ridin' alone is never a good idea, not for anyone. You hear me, girl?"
"Yes, Uncle," Jessie muttered in a voice that was barely audible as she looked down at her shoes. What her uncle was unaware of was that Jessie had, many times, taken the various ranch horses on the nearest trails by herself. She hadn't thought anything about it and never dreamed that he would mind. After all, he let her ride them all over the ranch property.
Well, just because her uncle thought it was a bad idea didn't make it so. In fact, Jessie was pretty sure that it was important to do so, to help get Silk used to the idea. She was by now actually hatching a plan to sneak Silk onto the trails. Oh, she wouldn't ride her, not yet, but just to get her out there and let her see what it was all about.
Jessie normally would not disobey her uncle, but she knew that if she didn't take Silk to the trails, then nobody would. Uncle George was always so busy with the ranch chores, he didn't have time to bother. Besides that though, she was afraid that he really didn't like Silk all that much because she wasn't a working horse. She believed that he saw no value in her mare and regarded her as just a "useless" pet. And since Silk was costing Uncle George money for her upkeep, Jessie sure didn't want to rock the boat since she had no way yet to pay for her horse's care.
But of course Uncle George realized that Silk had value, even if just to Jessie. The critter had finally filled that horse-shaped void in the girl's life. She finally had her deepest wish.
"Easy, girl. There you are. Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Jessie whispered to Silk as she fumbled with the buckle on the halter she'd just slipped over Silk's tossing, protesting head.
Stroking the mare's face, she softly spoke again. "I'm taking you for a little walk. Just you and me. I need to show you some things. It's important, so I can take you out riding some day. Uncle George won't ever get around to it, so I'll have to."
Silk shifted in her stall and whinnied loudly. Jessie jumped, startled. "Shh! Silk, you need to be quiet, or Uncle George'll hear you! And we'd both be in big trouble if he found out what we're up to!" Jessie hurriedly clipped the lead rope onto the halter and tied it around one of the bars on the stall door, just enough to secure Silk, yet allowing enough slack so that the mare could get free if she spooked.
Next she saddled Bob: an elderly, chunky, non-descript gelding who was well-seasoned and nearing retirement. Then, checking carefully to be certain that the coast was clear, Jessie quickly and quietly led both horses out of the stables and into the sun. She knew that this would be the best time to pull this off, while her uncle was busy with the ranch work. He had a couple of sick cows to tend, he had calves ready for branding, and he would be leaving soon for another livestock auction. She was glad now that she had declined going to the auction with him- something that she normally loved to do- but this was her time with her mare.
Jessie lifted her left foot into the stirrup, hoisted herself up and swung her leg over Bob's wide, ample back, and clucked at him to move. She grasped Silk's lead rope and as they rode slowly away, Silk skittered along behind nervously but obediently. The well-worn trails were just a short distance through the dense woods that bordered the ranch. At least the trees would provide cover to help hide them from view, just in case Uncle George happened to look in their direction. Even if he did, he was used to seeing horseback riders out here. He would never be able to tell that it was Jessie and Silk. If he could even make out the two horses, he would naturally assume there were two riders and never suspect a thing.
As the three of them made their way through the brambles and the brush, she heard the occasional thump of one of Bob's hooves on the tree roots that criss-crossed their paths. She also heard twigs snapping and small rocks being accidentally kicked. And the squeak, squeak, squeak of saddle leather with every lazy stride that Bob took.
She noticed something else, too. Silk seemed alarmed at nervous at all the strange sounds, smells, and sights. The young horse was not accustomed to anything beyond the ranch and stables where she had been born. She had scarcely been off the property, and all of this was completely new to her. It was a world beyond her comprehension.
After riding the trail for a little while, Jessie dismounted and allowed Silk to investigate her surroundings. As the young mare lowered her head to sniff at the dirt trail, it disturbed a small, harmless but fast snake that darted across the trail directly in front of her. Silk exploded in terror at the sight of the reptile. Her head shot up and she reared, and it was all Jessie could do to keep her horse under control and stop her from bolting. Jessie knew it was extremely dangerous, but she held tightly to the rope and spoke soothingly to Silk while patting her sweat-glistened neck. Silk's eyes were wide with fear, the whites showing at the edges, and her breaths were coming in loud huffs blowing through widened nostrils.
Between Jessie's gentle persuasion and Bob's calm demeanor, the frightened horse eventually began to settle down. But just at the moment that all seemed well again, Silk did something totally baffling. Jessie stood next to her, combing her fingers through the mare's thick, tangled mane, when for no apparent reason Silk became enraged. She pinned her ears, squealed loudly, and whipped her head around, clamping her powerful jaws hard on Jessie's shoulder.
Jessie screamed with pain, but Silk held fast, her teeth sinking deeper into Jessie's shoulder the more the girl struggled. In desperation, Jessie slapped and punched at Silk's face to get her to release the arm. Only then did the mare let go of the girl. Then she just stood there, trembling and snorting, looking completely bewildered.
Jessie looked through tear-blurred eyes at the damage. Her blouse sleeve was torn, and a steady stream of blood was oozing down her injured arm. She knew that this little outing had just been cancelled at once. She'd have to hurry home and put the horses away, clean herself up and change clothes before Uncle George found out about it!
Jessie's shoulder hurt too much for her to ride Bob, so instead she walked, leading the two horses back home. Through the years she'd lived with her uncle, Jessie had been bucked off, knocked over, and stepped on by horses on the ranch. None of these experiences had fazed her, nor diminished her love for these animals. But now, for the first time, Jessie was afraid of a horse. And that horse was her own.