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Soft white powder lightly coats the top of the mountains. The sun is struggling to be seen over the monstrous boulders. I notice brilliant, white, fluffy clouds are scattered across the open blue sky. The beautiful and delicate outside is calling to me, Ashley…… Ashley…. Ashley!
I jump out of my seat, startled by the yelling of my name. Mrs. Duncan gives me a death stare, “Ashley, quit daydreaming and pay attention. I’m done calling your name and trying to get you to listen.” I prefer the idea that the lustrous mountains are calling my name rather than grumpy old Duncan. I glance down at my watch and am pleased to notice we only have four minutes left of math class. The school bell pierces through my ears and rings in my brain. I sprint down the halls, anticipation shooting through my body with every step I take. I feel as if I do every weekday at 2:45, excited, anxious, and most of all happy, happy because I get to ride Stormy.
Stormy is my best friend; I’ve had him since I was eight years old. Eight years later and I still love him to death. I know Stormy’s not a real human or anything, but to me he’s much more than just a pet. Stormy was born in our neighbor’s barn. He was born with two broken legs - basically a death sentence for a horse. My neighbors weren’t going to spend money trying to heal the baby horse so they were going to kill him. When I went over to say goodbye to this baby horse I had only met a few times, something shocked me. The horse had a patch of white fur on his belly, which resembled a lightning bolt. The reason this lightning bolt-patch-of fur startled me was because I had the exact same shape mark on my body. I have a birthmark that resembled the same shape that this baby horse had. At that moment something triggered in my brain; something clicked in my head. I was going to help heal this baby horse and keep it as my own. At eight years old I adopted what, at the time seemed like a cool and interesting pet, but turned out to be my best friend for years to come.
I saved up enough money to help this baby horse, which I named Stormy (because of his lightning bolt) get healthy. I massaged his legs and put ointment on them when I knew they were sore. Slowly Stormy learned how to walk, then trot and finally to gallop. Stormy and I spent every free minute we had with each other. I learned how to ride Stormy and he became my partner. Together, Stormy and I won three state competitions and took second place in the National Championship. But it’s not the medals and the ribbons that matter to me. It’s the pure enjoyment I get every time I sit on Stormy’s broad back and ride like there’s nothing wrong in the world. Stormy gives me a happiness I never thought was possible to attain. If I come home from having the worst day at school, I’ll instantly be cheered up by Stormy’s loud neigh when I enter our stable. I love that Stormy will never allow anyone else to ride him, but me. If someone sits on him that isn’t me, he won’t move. I find it amazing that I have established such an amazing bond with a horse. Stormy’s like a sibling I’ve never had. I know that no matter what happens in life, Stormy will always be there for me.
I shove the large double doors from the school open and am smacked in the face by a gust of cold, December wind. The air is brisk and chilly today. But the sun’s still shining like it always does in Colorado. One of the best things about living in Colorado is the view. Walking home from school I have the privilege to see the large and beautiful mountains in the distance. Views that most people only see on a post card or a screensaver. I was born and raised in Colorado and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else in the country. As I walk towards my house I consider running straight to the barn to ride Stormy, then I think I should probably tell Mom where I’m going first so she doesn’t freak.
I open my door and the aroma of chocolate chip cookies intoxicates my body. I hear the familiar voices of my parents conversing in the kitchen. I run to my kitchen to grab a cookie and I notice my mom watching TV.
“Mom, where’s Dad? I swear I just heard his voice,” I question.
“I don’t know, honey. He was here a second ago,” she tells me.
“Well, where’d he go? He’s just gone? That’s kind of weird,” I reply in a sarcastic tone.
“Yeah, I don’t know, honey. He just isn’t here right now,” Mom says.
“Okay, well, I’m going to go ride Stormy for a little. I’ll be back in about two hours.” I begin to turn.
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea Ashley,” Mom warns me.
“Why? I ride him everyday it’s never been a problem before,” I say.
“Yes, but I was watching the news today and there’s said to be a nasty storm rolling in. I don’t think you should go out Ashley, the weatherman was predicting a foot of snow by late tonight,” Mom lectures me.
“Mom, you’re always worrying. I’ll be fine. Stormy has ridden in storms plenty of times,” I reassure her.
I don’t want to disobey Mom, but she’s always worrying and a little snow isn’t going to stop me from doing what I love most.
We turn on the TV and watch the news in silence. The weatherman talks about the incoming storm. He says the radar is showing snowstorms and windstorms to hit Vail, Colorado around seven pm. The weatherman talks more about the amount of snow predicted. Seven to twelve inches by morning, that’s a lot. My mom starts blabbing and saying how I should listen to the weatherman because he knows what he’s talking about.
“Ashley, I’m not letting you go out. That’s final. You can ride Stormy another day when there isn’t a severe weather watch.” I can tell she’s beginning to get frustrated with me.
“Mom, it’s only three o’clock! I still have four hours until the storm is predicted to hit. I’ll be fine.”
“Ashley…..” Mom says.
“Mom, listen, what if I don’t even go on the mountain path? I’ll just ride Stormy around through the woods, that way I’ll be fine if a storm hits,” I reason.
“Okay, fine Ashley, but you must be home at six o’clock latest, bring your phone, and no matter what do not go on the mountain path,” she firmly states.
“Thanks Mom! Love you, bye!”
I sprint out to the barn and Stormy meets me with a loud neigh and a sweet nuzzle to my upturned hand. I saddle Stormy up and bring him out of the dark barn. I hop on Stormy and bring him to a slow gallop as we enter the woods in my backyard. After about 20 minutes of riding around the woods I grow very bored and an idea comes to mind. “Mom will never know if I bring Stormy onto the mountain path. I won’t even go far, I’ll just go on a 20-minute trot with Stormy. Nothing will go wrong as long as I’m back at my house at six o’clock. Right now it’s four- thirty, I have an hour and a half to have some real fun.”
Suddenly Mom’s words shoot into my head like a hammer hitting a nail, “No matter what, do not go onto the mountain path.” Can I really disregard everything she said to me just to have some fun? Mom really does know best, maybe I should just turn around. But then I remember how much of a worrywart Mom is. I’ll be fine there’s nothing to worry about, a little snow can’t stop Stormy and I. I pull on Stormy’s reins so we can proceed further into the mountains. Stormy won’t move.
“What’s wrong Stormy?” No response. I pull harder on his harness.
“Why won’t you go? What’s wrong?” It’s as if Stormy knows we shouldn’t go into the mountains. I pull on the harness once more with all my might and he finally lets up and starts trotting down the path. Finally we’ve made it into the mountains and we’re nearing the three- mile mark when all of a sudden a crack of lightning lights up the evening sky and a loud boom of thunder echoes through the mountain. I swear I heard the sizzle of the lightning strike a tree, but it was hard to notice anything because Stormy started sprinting. The loud thunder must have startled him.
“What the heck is going on Stormy?!” Like he could even answer. I hold on to Stormy’s neck for dear life. Stormy starts to sprint through the cool December air. He begins running down the mountain trail as if to escape a demon chasing him. I hold on tightly and try to get Stormy to come to a halt.
Finally Stormy begins to slow down. I pat his neck reassuringly, speaking to him in a soothing voice. I reach into my pocket for a carrot to give him and feel my phone. I pull it out and notice it’s five-thirty; I begin to panic because I’ve only got 30 minutes to get home. I notice the sky has turned a dark gray color. A rush of adrenaline races through my body as I look around. I notice that the weatherman’s predictions indeed may have been a little off; the snowstorm looks like it’s going to hit an hour earlier. My Northface coat and riding pants aren’t nearly enough to protect me from the drastic change in temperature that is occurring. Around me fluffy white flakes begin to fall from the sky creating a vision of white haze as I look around. I’m nearly thrown off Stormy as a gust of wind blows over me.
I know I need to turn around the way I came from and head home immediately. I jump off Stormy because I know I can’t ride him on the mountain path; it’s much too steep. I grab Stormy’s rein and pull him towards, what I believe to be, home.
My vision is so impaired by the snow I have to hug the side of the mountain as I walk to ensure I don’t take a bad step and fall of the edge. Horseback riders using the mountain trail must be extremely skilled riders because it has a steep drop on the side of the trail. I’ve ridden on this trail nearly every day for over seven years. I know every bump and turn that this trail has, but I’m getting more and more tired walking it in blizzard conditions with Stormy. The wind starts to pick up and Stormy cries out. I turn to look back at Stormy and as I step backwards I slip and begin to slide off the edge of the mountain path. As I try to catch myself I feel my ankle twist and pain spirals up my leg through my body. I slip closer to the edge, in shock from the pain. I reach for anything to grab onto and feel the solid warmth of Stormy’s leg. As I grab his leg, he pulls me back to safety. Safe from falling off the mountain, but the storm is raging even harder.
Within seconds my entire body is covered in a fresh coating of snow. My thoughts race as I try to think of a way to get home, but the intense cold and the horrific pain from my ankle distracts me. My ankle throbs as I attempt to move it. I look down at the damage and notice my ankles already turned a dark purple and swelled up immensely. I stare gloomily at my ankle knowing I must walk on it if I want to get home. The thought scares me because I can hardly even move it let alone walk a mile on it. I know I need a miracle to help me get home.
Suddenly, something warm nuzzles my coat. I feel his teeth gently, but strongly and firmly grip the back of my jacket. Stormy has bent down at my side as if to let me climb back on to him. I throw my arms around his neck; together we work at getting me on his back again. It’s amazing to me that he knows I can’t walk and he has come to my rescue.
I grasp onto Stormy’s neck and tears begin to swell in my eyes, how has this horse just picked me up? He literally saved my life- Stormy’s given me hope that I can make it out of this storm alive. Stormy moves at a very slow pace because of the weather conditions. I’m starting to recognize my surroundings as we approach the end of the trail. The storm has only worsened and I’m sure I’ve got frostbite because my fingers have no sensation left in them. I feel my grip beginning to loosen around Stormy’s neck as I drift in and out of consciousness. The pain from my ankle has put my mind and body in a fog trance and I can’t register what’s going on. I think I hear Stormy talking to me, calling my name as if to wake me up from this nightmare. The voice grows louder and I realize it’s not Stormy, but rather Dad’s voice leading me home.
I hear the voice again.
“Ashley! Ashley, where are you? Ashley!” Dad’s voice beckons.
I try to call out, but my bodies too numb to produce words. I let out a loud groan along with Stormy’s neigh.
“Ashley!” Mom’s voice calls to me soothing some of my sorrows away.
“Ashley, its Dad and I. Are you okay, honey, can you hear us? We’re right here honey.”
I feel Stormy has stop moving and I wonder why, I lift my head up and notice an enormous shape blocking the path. A large tree has collapsed and landed in the middle of our path. The lightning did hit the tree. I see little whiffs of smoke coming from parts of the tree, almost instantly smothered by snowflakes.
I begin to cry because I can’t do much else. I cry because I should’ve listened to my mom and not gone out. I cry because I knew Stormy was trying to tell me something when he was being stubborn earlier. I cry because my ankle is giving off an unbearable pain. I cry because I’m freezing to death. I cry because my parents are merely ten feet away from me, but I can’t get to them. And I cry because I know Stormy and I won’t make it out of these mountains alive.
“Ashley, honey, don’t cry we’ll get you out! Are you okay? Say something!” Mom calls.
“Mom” is all I can get out before Stormy kneels down and slides me off his back onto the cold, gravely ground. He pushes my body towards the tree as if he doesn’t notice there’s a tree in the middle of the pathway at all.
“Ashley! You’re okay, what is Stormy doing to you? We can’t see you. Please talk to us,” Mom cries.
Suddenly I realize what’s going on; Stormy’s trying to push my body under the tree so I can get myself out.
“Mom, Stormy’s trying to push me under the tree so I can crawl out,” I manage to say with a hoarse voice. There’s a small area under the tree that doesn’t quite touch the ground. It will be tight, but I think I can get my body through it.
“Oh my God, that’s brilliant. Brian pull her arms so she can squeeze under the tree.”
I begin to move towards the tree pulling myself forward with my arms when I hear a familiar sound. Stormy cries out a loud neigh and I suddenly realize there is no chance of him getting over or under this massive tree.
“Come on Ashley, crawl forward a little so we can pull you through,” Mom says.
“Mom I’m not leaving Stormy to die,” I say in a melancholy tone.
“Ash, it’s ten degrees outside. You’ve been gone for over four hours. If you’re out here any longer you’ll literally freeze to death. This is not a joke! Push yourself forward,” Dad sternly replies.
Stormy will never survive in the cold of this blizzard. My stupid and thoughtless actions have condemned my best friend to die, my best friend who has helped me to survive. No, I won’t leave him.
Suddenly, I again feel a nuzzle at my back as Stormy pushes me closer to the tree. Stormy’s trying to save my life again and there’s nothing I can do to prevent him from doing it. As I reach back with one hand to touch his soft nose, I feel my other hand gripped hard by my father.
“Good Ash, I got you. You’re going to be okay,” my dad says.
“No!” I cry out.
“Stop it! I won’t go if Stormy doesn’t come. He just saved my life. Stop it!” I yell.
My dad reaches forward and pulls my helpless body through the narrow opening between the tree and the ground. I scream for my dad to save Stormy. I pound his back and twist my body in an attempt to free myself from his embrace. Now the snow doesn’t blind me, my tears do.
“Everything will be okay, Ashley. Just calm down, everything will be just fine,” my dad murmurs as we stumble down the path towards home.
But I know he’s wrong and as I slowly start drift off from the pain and exhaustion, I hear a soft whinny.