Lots of girls dream of horses. And there are lots of stories about horse-loving girls. What makes this story special, The Horse's Reins, by Nicholas La Cortiglia, is how Nicholas, through attention to detail, makes Julie into a full-as-life character, a girl with an obsession, but a girl who is also a normal child within a family.
Nicholas gives substance to Julie's horse obsession by showing us that the she is surrounded by images of horses - prints on the curtains, horse stickers on the VCR, horse posters, and, very importantly, her own drawings of horses. Through all these details we are left outside of the time frame of the story to imagine Julie drawing horses and looking for horse images when she goes shopping and talking about horses with her family and friends.
Nicholas is also good at relationships. Julie doesn't live alone. We see from the beginning when her mother calls her to breakfast that she lives within a family. When Julie loses the peaches, she thinks of her father and, when she sees him, very simply and realistically says, "Sorry."
The weather plays an important role in this story, as it often does in fiction writing. The storm brings dangers that develop tensions and emotions that would otherwise remain untested and unexplored.
Project: Write about a Character Who is Obsessed with an Interest.
Some children love horses, others trains, others collect rocks, others just junk. Some children read all the time, while others play football. Show us through details how your character is fully involved with his or her interest.
To make your portrait more interesting, confront your character with a problem that would make sense in the context of your character's interests: the football player might lose a very special game, the rock collector might lose a very special rock, the child who reads all the time might become obsessed, not just with books in general but with a particular character, and start pretending that he or she is someone else.
As you both imagine and write your story, keep in mind that your character has friends and lives within a family. In addition to showing your main character and his or her obsession, show how this character interacts with family and friends.
The Horse's Reins
by Nicholas La Cortiglia, age 10, Cincinnati, Ohio
Published in the January/February 1994 issue of Stone Soup
IN A QUAINT little farm at the edge of town, in Kansas, there lived a family of four: Julie, the youngest, and Jeremy, the eldest, along with their fa-ther and mother, Frank and Clara.
One morning in July, the air was brisk, Julie Harris climbed out of bed on account of the rooster. She glanced at her model of a teak horse that was propped up against her row of horse books. Julie loved horses. She would do anything to have a real one. Her room was filled with horses. At one end of her room she had a VCR that her grandparents had given her for Christmas. She had stuck horse stickers all over it! Over by the window, that overlooked the river, she had horse curtains! All over her walls were horse posters, pho-tographs, drawings, and pictures!
Julie strode toward her dresser and opened the draw-er, revealing a numerous amount of horse clothing. She had T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters, and blouses, all that had some kind of horse picture on it. She picked one out and slipped it on, as well as her jeans. She walked into the kitchen, snatching a book off of her shelf on the way.
She sat herself down at the breakfast table and began to read. "Oh, for goodness sakes, Julie! Stop reading! C'mon, eat your breakfast!" Mrs. Harris scolded.
Julie set the book down and began eating. After finishing, she put her plate in the sink and walked to the door to go outside.
No sooner did she open the door than a ray of sun-light burst into her face. She squinted and looked around. The orange-beaked woodpeckers tapped their beaks on a tree. Julie could hear the mockingbirds singing a sweet tune. The chipmunks scampered about, cracking twigs and crunching leaves as they went. The sun continued to shine. It shot straight into the old oak tree that wilted over the lawn. The light seemed to shoot in a million directions when it reached the branches. She quickly chose a spot on the grass to sit down and began playing with her toy horses.
Her father came walking past her. "Julie, stop playing around! Make yourself useful, go pick some peaches or something!"
"All right." Julie walked into the garage and got a peach bushel. She began skipping along the bank of the creek. Sometimes water trickled over her shoes. Julie soon reached the stretch of fruit trees that encircled a small pond. Her father had planted the trees when they first moved to the farm. Julie started to climb up the tree. Branch by branch she climbed higher and higher, until she was mid-way up. Julie scanned the tree. She reached out and pricked a very small peach off of the branch. Then she spotted a very big peach that stood out from all the rest. But it was just out of her reach. So she stretched as much as she could. But just as she was about to grab it, her fingers slipped and she fell out of the tree. She landed on the meadow and couldn't help herself from rolling into the pond. She bolted out of the pond, gasping for air. The bushel and the one peach had sunk. Julie trudged home, picking seaweed off of her on the way.
When she got home her father was disappointed. "Oh, no! What happened?"
"Sorry, Father," was all Julie could say. She made her way to her room and changed clothes. After dinner it was soon time for bed. In her sleep she had a wonderful dream that she had gotten a horse. But when morning came she did her usual things: got dressed, ate break-fast, did her chores, and fed her pets. As she was feeding the ducks, she felt a nudge on her shoulder. She whirled around and there was a horse! A real, live horse! Julie's whole family was standing next to it. "Surprise!" they all shouted.
Julie jumped with delight. She ran to pet it. "A horse! I got a horse!" Julie was speechless.
"She's already been washed," her mother said.
"Oh, she's beautiful! Where did you get her?"
"Well, Mr. Bailyup the street was going to sell his, so we bought her for you," her father explained.
"Show me how to ride her! Please?" Julie pleaded.
"Of course, let's bring her out in the field."
Julie, holding the reins tight, led her new horse into the field.
"What's her name?" Julie asked.
"You get to name her!" Jeremy replied, beating his parents to the answer.
"Oh, well, I'll have to think about it. In the mean-time, show me how to ride her."
Julie's father leaped up onto the brown horse.
"You get up like this," Julie's father explained, "and if you want her to go, give her a little nudge like this, and if you want her to stop, pull the reins like this, got it?"
"Got it." Julie climbed up. But she must have nudged the horse too much because when she did, the horse took off into a full gallop. Julie's hair blew wildly.
"Stop! Stop!" she pleaded. But the horse kept on going. Julie had to close her eyes to avoid the gale of wind that was blowing fiercely at her face. The horse jumped the white picket fence that encircled the field. But when the pond came into view, the horse stopped abruptly. Julie was thrown from the horse and landed gruffly on the dry ground. Her family ran to her aid.
"Julie, Julie, wake up!" Jeremy shook her. Finally, Julie fluttered her eyes and stood up.
"I think that horse needs more training," was all she could say.
Days passed and soon Julie knew how to ride her horse just like any old pro. (She let Jeremy ride it too, of course.) Julie named the horse Windfall. Julie would brush and wash Windfall every day. She would feed her, too, mostly hay, oats, and water, sometimes an apple or carrot for a treat.
When Julie went to school, she would always day-dream about riding Windfall over a rainbow, and when her teacher called her name, she wouldn't answer.
One day, Julie got up and went straight outside to ride Windfall. She climbed up on her and started to ride. Windfall wandered deep into the brush. Then she wandered farther into the forest, near the storm sewer, where the water from the creek went into. Soon Jeremy came running.
"Oh, Julie, I finally found you! Mom and Dad are looking for you!" Jeremy's eyes narrowed. "Hey, while I'm here, can I ride Windfall?"
"All right." Julie leaped off and Jeremy leaped on. Windfall trotted at a slow pace. Julie followed behind. There was a rustle in the bushes, but they paid no attention. Then Julie spotted some dark rain clouds.
"C'mon, we'd better go home. It looks like it's going to rain," Julie warned. The clouds got closer.
"All right," Jeremy replied, leading Windfall the other way. There was another rustle in the bushes. But this time a snake slithered out, right under Windfall's hoofs.
"A snake!! Look out!" Julie screamed. Windfall whin-nied and reared. She shook and neighed. Then, Wind-fall stepped on a rock and lost her footing. She tumbled into the storm sewer, along with Jeremy. "Windfall! Jeremy!" Julie held Windfall's reins and Jeremy's hands.
"Don't let go!" Julie yelled.
The sky darkened. It began to rain. Lightning danced across the sky. Huge raindrops splattered onto the ground, gathering into puddles. You could probably hear Julie and Jeremy's screams a mile away. Lightning flashed. The thunder cracked and boomed. Water gushed out of the sky. The rain fell in such torrents that Julie and Jeremy couldn't see anything. It was all gray. A flash of lightning shot out of the cloud and struck a tree. It smoked, split, and fell to the ground on fire.
The storm sewer filled up fast. The water gushed over the brim in a blink of an eye.
"Julie! Help!" Jeremy gasped and gulped. Julie's arms couldn't hold Windfall and Jeremy at the same time. The rain churned against Julie's face like a hammer hit-ting a nail. Windfall shook. Water was rising up farther and farther on her neck. Julie's gold necklace snapped off of Windfall and got caught on a rock that was stick-ing out of the water. Windfall let out the loudest whinny Julie had ever heard.
"I'll get it, Julie!" Jeremy yelled over the pouring rain.
"Jeremy, no!" Julie tried to get him to stop. But it was too late. Jeremy had let go of Julie's hand and he was now clinging to the rock.... Julie finally pulled Windfall out of the water. She shook herself dry, but the rain kept on pounding on her. Julie reached her hand out into the water. "Grab my hand!" she screamed. But then, she got pulled into the rushing water.
It began to rain more. Water was everywhere. Julie gripped Jeremy's feet. "Don't let go, Julie!" Jeremy screamed, water pouring into his mouth. Just as Julie was about to let go and be sucked into the tube, Windfall knelt down on her knees and threw her reins out to the children. Jeremy grasped hold of them. He pulled himself out of the storm sewer and then pulled Julie out just before the water burst into a giant whirlpool and started being sucked into the tube.
The clouds drizzled and stopped giving rain. They rumbled and started to clear. The sun came out and shone brightly. There was a rainbow. Julie and Jeremy staggered to the bank. They lay down. Julie got up and went over to Windfall. "You saved us, Windfall. You and your reins saved us." Julie knelt by Windfall.
The birds began to sing again. The raindrops dripped off the leaves. The animals began to come out of their homes.
Julie, Jeremy, and Windfall walked back to their house. Their mother and father came running to them.
Jeremy told them the story. From now on, Julie and Jeremy were only allowed to take Windfall into the field.
Jeremy stuck his hand into his pocket. "Julie?" he said.
"Here." Jeremy handed Julie her gold necklace.