In a small round pen there lived a gray pony who was what they call flea bitten. This did not mean that she had been bitten by a bunch of fleas, it is simply a horse way of saying she had spots. But not big spots, little tiny spots that looked more like freckles. This is where she got her name, Freckles. It had been given to her by a young girl when Freckles was a small filly and her freckles were just beginning to show on her grey coat.
That was many years ago and now she lived alone in a round pen and only occasionally had company when a lady with a sour face and a dog with a wicked smile, would bring her hay twice a day. The visits were never long.
One day all that changed when a white horse trailed pulled up next to her pen. A man got out and talked to the sour faced lady as her dog scowled. Freckles watched with curiosity. The sour faced lady did not seem happy, but she never did. Eventually the man nodded his head, turned on his heal and walked to the round pen as the sour faced lady and her dog returned to her little house with a slam of the door.
The man reached out a palm towards Freckles and she eagerly investigated. He seemed like the kind of man who might carry treats and she was right; a small apple flavored biscuit met her fuzzy lips. He patted her on the neck and then went to his truck to fetch a halter.
Freckles, who usually hated trailers, gladly walked in when the man led her up. She was ready to say goodbye to the sour faced lady and her wicked smiling dog. This man seemed much nicer already and he smelled like other horses, which was a good sign.
The trip took a few hours and Freckles tried to doze, but trailers are loud and windy and rock so much that all she could do was try to pass the time by daydreaming about what she’d see when she arrived.
She hoped for a grassy meadow, lots of other horses and ponies to meet and friends to make. She hoped there would be tasty fresh hay instead of the mildew stuff she was used to. She hoped there would be more treats and maybe even children to brush her and take rides.
When the trailer stopped, she indeed smelled other horses and a barn; although she couldn’t see much from the slats in the trailer. Soon she heard a nicker from another horse and rotated her ears towards its direction to get a better idea of where that other horse was. She couldn’t see, but she let out a warm neigh in reply.
The man opened the trailer door and climbed up to lead Freckles back out of the trailer. She had to go butt first and was desperately trying to wiggle and turn and see what was outside the trailer. The man spoke gently to her and patted her side. She relaxed and focused on backing carefully out. Soon she found herself standing on a gravel driveway in the sunlight. There was no grassy field, they were in the woods, but she did see before her a small barn and a large paddock with a tall, gangly chestnut horse looking at her with ears pricked and nostrils flared.
As they got to the gate Freckles reached out her neck up to meet the horse’s nose so they could smell each other. This horse was taller than her and she had to really reach, but just as she did the chestnut turned and went off to eat grass in a patch not far.
The man stroked Freckles’ neck and said a few soothing things to her before he slipped the halter off her head and let her free in the paddock.
Freckles moved towards the chestnut who was now watching the leaves in a nearby tree move in the wind. Very strange horse behavior, Freckles thought. The horse also appeared to be a mare like her and, if Freckles guessed right, was a bit younger than herself.
“Hi, I’m Freckles, what is your name?” The horse didn’t say anything but trotted over to a fir tree growing in their paddock and began to scratch her neck along the bark. When the chestnut stopped, Freckles decided to try again, “Hey, I’m new here. Who are you?”
“Spiders are not insects. They are arachnids. Some don’t know there is a difference. This is a garden spider. A yellow one. Argiope aurantia.”
“Argie ranty, what?” asked Freckles, bewildered.
“Latin. We listen to NPR in the barn. You can learn a lot of things from NPR. NPR stands for National Public Radio. It was founded in 1970. It has headquarters in Washington DC.”
The chestnut wandered off towards the far end of the paddock. Freckles was left feeling very confused, but she decided to give it a rest and go check out the barn. The barn opened towards the paddock, a run-in style with a large porch like structure where the horses could stand when it was rainy and cold. Freckles found that there were two windows which allowed her to reach her head inside the barn and look around. To one side there was the tack: saddles, bridles, blankets. There were also brushes and brooms. To the other side were large stacks of haybales, but they were too far for her to reach. In the center, also out of reach, stood large containers which smelled like oats. On top of one slept a cat. Freckles blew air through her nose hoping it would wake the cat, which it did. The cat yawned, stretched, sat up and glared at Freckles.
“What do you want?” asked the cat.
“I’m new. I’m Freckles. Who are you?”
“I’m Panther and I do not appreciate being woken up. Tell me what you want so we can solve that and then you can move along. I would like to finish my nap.”
“What’s wrong with the other horse?” Freckles asked.
“Keysha? Nothing is wrong with her.”
“I’ve said hello and she didn’t say it back. She only talks about spiders and the radio.”
“Keysha is Autistic,” the cat replied sounding more and more annoyed.
“What is Autistic?”
“Don’t you ever listen to NPR? ASD or Autism is something your born with, it makes your brain work differently than others. Some people think it is the next level of evolution.”
Freckles just stared at Panther. She did not understand at all. She had never heard of such a thing.
“Listen,” Panther continued, “what you need to know is that Keysha’s brain just thinks a little differently than most…she is a very nice horse, you just have to learn to do things a bit more on her level. You will learn. Now please go and let me sleep.”
“Alright. Sorry to bug you and thank you,” said Freckles.
Panther curled back up on the box and went to sleep.
Over the next few days Freckles tried to get to know Keysha better, but it was hard work. Keysha did not seem to like to do the things most horses do. She didn’t like to give back scratches or play tag, she didn’t like oats (which seemed totally crazy to Freckles) and she had not seen Keysha roll once. From what Freckles could tell, all Keysha did like were bugs, listening to the radio when the man was working in the barn, and counting the leaves on trees. None of these things appealed to Freckles and she was beginning to think this new home would be just as lonely as the last.
Then one day the man announced they were going to learn something new.
“Keysha, you already know how to pull a cart, but we must teach Freckles so you guys can pull the big carriage together,” the man said.
He pulled out treats for both the horses, Freckles nickered in thanks, but Keysha just took the treat and walked off. The man put a halter on Freckles and led her to the barn where he had pulled out a strange contraption she had never seen or smelled before. Freckles snorted with nervousness.
“This is a harness,” he explained, “you will soon get used to it. It will help you pull.”
He put it on her and began to walk Freckles around to get her used to it. He was right, it was no big deal. But then the man stopped her and put on the driving reigns. He urged her forward, but she was confused. She couldn’t see him from where he stood behind her and she couldn’t feel him on her back which is what she was used to. She just stood still, nervous and flicked her ears around.
“Walk on,” he said from behind her. She knew walk, so she walked. Then he said, “gee.” She didn’t know that command, but he pulled the right reign and that told her mouth to turn right. “Good girl,” said the man and they made a small circle then he told her “haw” and pulled the left reign, so they made a left circle. Freckles was getting it, but she still felt awkward and unsure. The man stopped her, gave her an apple treat from his pocket and took off the harness He told her she did a good job and led her back to the paddock. Freckles noticed Keysha had been watching.
Keysha blew air out her nose and the man petted her.
“Shall we show Freckles how it’s done?”
He harnessed up Keysha and the two went out into the road and he began to drive Keysha up and down the gravel driveway with ease. Keysha looked like a pro and knew exactly what to do. That night as they ate their dinner Freckles asked Keysha all about how she learned to drive and how she knew what to do so easily. Keysha answered all her questions and it felt like a real conversation for once.
After a few more weeks of practice the man declared that Freckles was now ready to try the cart with Keysha. He rolled out the cart from where it was parked along a side of the barn, then harnessed both horses before backing them each into place so he could attach the cart to their harnesses. First Keysha, then Freckles. Freckles was nervous.
“Don’t worry it is fun. Don’t pull with your head up. It strains your neck. Especially if we go up hill. Keep your neck down, let your back and legs work equally,” Keysha said to her. Freckles was shocked, it was the first time Keysha had started a conversation.
“Thanks for the tip. You like to pull, hu?” Freckles asked Keysha as the man finished attaching the cart.
“Yes. But after Jasper left we couldn’t anymore.”
The man climbed into the cart and told them to “walk on.” Freckles gladly followed Keysha’s lead, happy to have someone by her side to give her confidence.
“Who is Jasper?” Freckles asked.
“He was my friend. He was very old. He left a while back. I don’t know where he went.”
“Haw,” commanded the man and they turned out of the driveway into the field next door.
“I’m sorry, that must make you sad,” Freckles said.
“Yea. Now you are here and we can pull together. I am glad you’re here.”
“Thanks. I am glad too.”
“You both are doing well. Soon we’ll be able to give the kids in town rides,” the man announced from his seat in the cart.
“I haven’t seen the kids in a long time. I like kids,” Keysha said to Freckles. “Jasper and I used to go every Wednesday and Saturday.”
“You do? You did? I like kids a lot too,” Freckles said. She was feeling very happy that most everything she had wanted from her new home was working out.
From that day on Freckles and Keysha got along well and would often talk about driving and the children since those were the things they both liked. Keysha was very helpful to Freckles as she continued to learn how to pull. Keysha would still go on long walks around the paddock by herself to look at bugs, but Freckles learned to admire their differences. Freckles felt very lucky that she had such a nice horse and man to be around instead of a sour faced lady and wicked smiling dog.