A Boy and his Mustangs – A Story for Children

James, having finished his chores and his homework for the weekend, treated himself to a visit to the barn cats. He brought a large bowl of meal leftovers and some dry food to the cats who were all half-wild. They scattered at his approach, then circled back behind him to be first to the food. James placed the bowl in the barn’s large hay loading door, then went inside and sat on a bale to watch the interplay of the cats as they scrambled for the food.

After the bowl was empty, the cats began their aimless wandering about the barn. James half closed his eyes to watch them. As he sat quietly, the cats began to ignore his presence and he saw their dance spread quietly into the space he occupied. Then, as he wordlessly, thoughtlessly contemplated them, he saw faint lines of white light connecting them and realized their wandering was not aimless but a pattern covering all the space in the barn as if forming a net. He saw scurrying along the walls and, realizing they were mice, noticed that no mouse was more than a step and two leaps  away from one cat or another. The cats were patrolling the barn as a unit, covering all the places where mice could hide.

At dinner, James remarked on what he had seen, expecting casual confirmation from his parents who must have noticed the same thing many times from their years on the farm. What he got instead was a gentle ribbing about his creative mind and how he might be using that imagination of his to tell tall tales to the credulous. James was shocked that neither parent had seen the cats in patterned hunt.

The next Saturday, James hitched Old Ned and Jake to the family buckboard for the trip with his father into town to buy their weekly needs from the general store and to sell James’ eggs collected that morning from the coop. The townsfolk were almost all Amish, with the notable exception of Mr. Crouse, who owned and operated the store. In consideration of the practices of the townspeople, James’ father used the old buckboard pulled by their horses whenever he went to town rather than driving their truck. James suspected his dad just liked driving the old buckboard, too.

Mr. Crouse mentioned to them that Mrs. Grable had a new stray in her kennels out back of her house. She collected the few strays that managed to find the their way into  a town out in the middle of nowhere, tamed them and gave them away to families when she could. James asked his father if they had time to go over and see it.

After they arrived, Mrs. Grable told James’ father that this dog was in very bad shape and refusing food, just drinking water, and that she didn’t expect him to live long. She said she’d looked up what he might be and based on size, coat and general shape figured him likely for mostly Newfoundland. James approached the kennel and sat down close to the dog. He half-closed his eyes and ‘communed’ with it for a while, the closest word he knew that seemed to fit what he did with animals. Then he looked the dog in the eyes and the dog looked back. “He wants to come with us and he won’t need a collar or chain,” said James.

Mrs. Grable just shook her head and said, “Well, James knows best.”

“You can’t mean he’s done this before with your dogs?” asked James’ father, looking surprised.

“Of course he has,” replied Mrs. Grable, “whenever I need to know what’s going on with one of my dogs, I go over to school and ask Miss Barker to please send him over for a few minutes after school. It never takes him more than a minute or two. He has tamed all your chickens, hasn’t he? Someone was mentioning that a while ago.”

“Well, yes he has. He’s got each one to come to him by name except for the rooster, that doesn’t seem to like him much.” replied James’ father. “Well, I guess it’s time he had a dog. Ask him if he’s house trained, son,” he added, smiling.

However, James took the suggestion seriously and, putting his arm through the kennel bars, placed his hand on the dog’s head and half-closed his eyes again. “He wants out of this kennel and says he wants to come with us, as long as we don’t use a collar or a chain. He’s had a bad experience with them. And yes, he was allowed in but had to sleep outside.”

“Well, he sure could do that,” said James’ father, “look at that coat on him. Well, let’s take him along. It’s time you had a dog,” James father said. “Maybe he can protect you from that rooster!”

After thanking Mrs. Grable for taking care of the dog, James led him away, sure enough with no collar or leash, back to the store and the buckboard, and they headed home.

You might be wondering where’s the mustang in this story? Well, hold your horses (ha, ha) and you’ll find out. It seems James was a passionate boy scout in the little community troop, and loved camping trips most of all. He loved to sleep under the stars, next to the campfire. As far as he was concerned, the tent was just for rainy nights.

As a scout, he got a copy of the scouting magazine “Boys Life” each month and in the June issue there was an article about a wild horse roundup that took place once a year when the horse population got too large. It seems the horses that were collected were sold or given away to families who had the space and interest to care for them. This set James’ mind going a mile a minute. “We’ve got the space for another horse or two and the feed and I have the interest,” said James to himself, as he ticked these off on three fingers. “I need to think this over.”

The next day James shared his plan with his parents. “My Boys Life magazine says this year the Bureau of Land Management is going to round up 800 horses and they never have near enough families to take them all. If you let me get one of them, I’ll tame it and we can all ride a mustang, even you, mom.”

“Not on your life, James, you won’t catch me on a wild horse, or a tame one either,” she said definitively.

“And James, these mustangs are smaller than our horses because they have to survive in the wild. We could never team one up with Old Ned or Jake,” his father added.

“Dad,” bargained James, “that just means we should get two. Old Ned is 18 and Jake is 16. They won’t be pulling the buckboard much longer.”

After considerable discussion, James prevailed much to his surprise, though his mom didn’t change her position on riding. James and his father decided riding mustangs would be fun and a nice thing for a father and son to do together. James would be completely responsible for the care of the horses, which was fine by him. James outlined the rest of his plan. He would visit with the other scouts in his troop to gauge interest in the idea of a scout outing to Billings during the roundup.

The other scouts were all excited about the roundup and James raised the idea up at the next scout meeting with Mr. Pearson, their troop leader. (James had given Mr. Pearson a ‘heads-up’ before the meeting so he wouldn’t be surprised.) Mr. Pearson agreed with the plan provided at least six of them got permission from their parents to go along. He also asked whether the others knew of James’ plan to take home two of the mustangs. They all clamored that they did and were excited by the possibility of riding the wild mustangs once James had them tamed. It turned out all the boys got permission and Mr. Pearson’s ‘stretch’ van was full of boys and gear.

The plan went off without a hitch and at the end of their week of camping and outdoor activities, James’ dad arrived pulling their horse trailer. James rode back with his dad to keep the horses, a stallion and a mare, quiet during the long ride home.

During the next several weeks, James tamed the two with apples and carrots within their corral, first leaving the snacks at the same time each day, then at different times to increase the mustangs’ sense of anticipation, then back to the same time each day with him sitting nearby inside the corral, not paying any attention while they ate, followed by looking at them while they ate, and so on until he had tamed them ever so gently.

He and his father did enjoy riding together and his scout buddies did too. Though his mother never rode, she loved to feed them special treats from time to time. Later, when James took over the farm, he expanded the corral to a nearby thirty acres of grassland and small woods, that had a stream running through it.

In the years after, James gradually converted the farm to exclusively raising mustangs, selling them as ready-to-ride two year-olds to families who loved horses and could provide them a good life. James often got letters with pictures of the horses he’d raised. He posted all the pictures on a special wall in the barn, to share the presence and companionship of generations of half-wild cats.

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