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Jessica Marstell kicked at a stone as she trudged down the dirt road. She was headed for her uncle’s horse ranch in Country Ridge, Arizona. She didn’t like going to Uncle Jame’s ranch because she didn’t like horses. Jessica had to work at Uncle Jame’s ranch all summer, though, because she wanted a new laptop computer, and Mr. and Mrs. Marstell insisted that, if Jessica wanted a brand new computer at twelve years old, she’d have to pay for it herself. Jessica had asked her parents to buy her many things and she had gotten them, but now they decided it was time for her to learn more responsibility and appreciation by earning them herself.

“Hurry up, Jessie! Old Speckles is waiting to be ridden!” Uncle Jame called out as soon as Jessica was in sight.

“If Speckles is so old, why does he have to be ridden?” Jessica answered weakly. Uncle Jame frowned at his niece. Jessica turned around and gave the horse a sour look. She put her foot into the stirrup and swung into the saddle of the broad Appaloosa. Even though Speckles was wearing a western saddle, Jessica still posted to his trot. Jessica was a pretty good rider because her parents made her take lessons at an early age, but now she didn’t always ride the way she was supposed to. Jessica had become a little bit of a spoiled and careless girl.

Jessica urged Speckles into a gallop as soon as they reached the trail that led up the mountain, through some trees. Jessica slowed Speckles when she thought she saw something in the trees. “Whoa, boy,” she told Speckles as she dismounted. When Jessica got a closer look, she realized that the thing was a horse!

Jessica’s Horse riding a horse
“Hey, Uncle Jame! Look what I found!”

Jessica shook her head in disgust when she saw how dirty the horse was. “I think I’d call you Mudcake if you were mine—not that I’d want you.” Jessica was surprised when the horse came up to her and sniffed her face. The horse was a gelding, his coat nearly all covered with mud, but under that mud there seemed to be a shiny dark bay color. “Even though I’m not so fond of horses, I guess the right thing to do is bring you back with me.” Jessica smiled when Mudcake nodded his head up and down. She tied a rope around his neck and got back on Speckles and rode back to Uncle Jame’s with Speckles’ reins in one hand and Mudcake’s rope in the other.

“Hey, Uncle Jame! Look what I found!” Jessica said as she motioned to Mudcake. Uncle Jame came over to them and ran his hands over the new horse’s body.

“Well, he looks like he’s been abandoned. These cuts and bruises are not that bad, though, and he’s a quarter horse.”

“So are you going to keep him?” Jessica stroked Mudcake’s neck while she groomed him carefully.

“I thought you didn’t like horses,” Uncle Jame said with raised eyebrows.

“Well, um—I kinda like them better now… especially Mudcake,” Jessica blushed.

“I can’t take another horse, but I think I know who should have him,” Uncle Jame smiled.

“Oh.” Jessica felt disappointed at the thought of someone else taking Mudcake.

“He’s all yours.” Uncle Jame handed her the lead rope.

“What? Me? Mudcake? Mine?” Jessica sputtered.

“Yep, your parents have been wanting you to get back into horse riding again, and your Mudcake can stay here for a while. I’ll feed him for you at first, but eventually you’re gonna have to buy him food and other supplies yourself,” Uncle Jame said.

“Oh, of course! I can’t believe I’m saying this—but I think I’m starting to like horses!” Jessica hugged her uncle. “And, I’ll take great care of Mudcake—is he really all mine? I mean, why are you giving him to me? I haven’t been all that nice to you or the horses lately…”

“I gave him to you because you are good for each other, and I know you’ll take care of him. If he’s not already trained, I’ll help you with that,” Uncle Jame answered.

Jessica had never thought that she would ever love horses, but now she loved Mudcake, and the other horses no longer seemed so bad. “I always thought that horses were just big dirty animals that were unfriendly and unuseful, but I was wrong,” Jessica smiled. Jessica began to realize that Mudcake taught her that horses could be a human’s friend, even though he hadn’t done much. Jessica hugged Mudcake, her new horse—her new friend.

The next day Jessica and her mom went to the tack shop. “What made you change your mind?” Mrs. Marstell asked.

“Mudcake was just so friendly and funny, and he made me feel good. Then I started to realize how awful I’ve been to horses and I decided to change,” Jessica said as she entered the tack shop. She bought grain, a grooming bucket and tools, a feeding bucket and saddle pad. She’d use Uncle Jame’s saddle until she could afford her own—that new laptop didn’t seem to be so important anymore.

After shopping, Jessica went to Uncle Jame’s ranch, did her work chores quickly, and then tacked up Mudcake. She climbed carefully into his saddle. She wasn’t sure if Mudcake was trained to ride, but he stood calmly with her on his back, so Jessica was relaxed. I love having my own horse, Jessica thought with a smile. Then she trotted Mudcake out into the field to start their very first ride together.

Jessica’s Horse Ismena Jameau
Ismena Jameau, 10
Sebastopol, California

Jessica’s Horse Annie Liu
Annie Liu, 13
Somerset, New Jersey