Fourteen-year-old Vicki sat up in bed, her heart racing. Early rays of sunlight were just peeking through the window and everything was quiet . . . and yet she was filled with unease.
Reaching for her jodhpurs and a t-shirt, she hurriedly dressed, careful to keep quiet so she wouldn't wake her sisters. Something had woken her up from a deep sleep and she knew she wouldn't be able to relax until she'd checked her ponies and made sure they were safe.
As she opened the door into the hallway she heard horses squealing, followed by the unmistakeable ping of a wire fence.
"Something's wrong with the horses!" she cried, pounding on her parents' bedroom door to wake them before rushing outside. By the time Vicki had pulled on her riding boots and grabbed a halter, the sounds of horses screaming had intensified, and panic filled her as she up the hill. The noise was coming from Koolio's paddock, and she had a terrible feeling that her beloved but accident-prone pony was the one in trouble.
As she rounded the corner to his paddock, her worst fears were confirmed. Koolio's neck was arched as he reared up at a palomino Welsh stallion who challenging him over the fence. It was Indiana Jones, who belonged to their friends up the road. As if in slow motion, Vicki saw Koolio's foreleg strike through the wire fence, catching his hoof.
"Get Indiana out of there!" Vicki heard her mum shout. Lurching forward, she waved her arms to try to scare the rogue stallion away so he could be safely caught, but he ignored her, too focused on his rival. Finally Vicki managed to get Indiana Jones's attention, and with a toss of his mane, he leapt away from the fence long enough for her to get between the two horses. As her mum stepped in to halter him, Vicki returned her focus to Koolio.
"Woah,boy," Vicki whispered, her heart beating against her ribs in alarm as she watched her handsome show pony struggling against the wire that had ensnared his left front leg. Just as she laid a calming hand on Koolio's sweaty coat, Indiana Jones screamed out a final challenge and Koolio pulled back in fury, his leg sliding free of the fence.
Relief flooded Vicki now that the immediate danger was over, and she quietly approached her trembling pony to halter him.
"How is he?" Dad called out as he and Vicki's sisters, Kelly and Amanda, rushed up the hill to join them.
Vicki eyed Koolio's leg, barely able to make out the detail in the half-light. "I can't see any cuts on him."
"That's a relief," Kelly said as her gaze flickered between the two troublemakers. "What's Indiana Jones doing down here anyway?"
"He must have escaped from his paddock and come down the road." Mum shook her head worriedly.
"I'll put him in a yard, then call the Bennetts and let them know he's safe."
As her mum led the wayward stallion away, Vicki turned back to Koolio.
"You had me worried there," she murmured as she rubbed her pony's head affectionately.
"Are you sure he's OK?" Dad frowned, watching Koolio closely. "He's not putting any weight on that leg."
Vicki bent down to check his leg again, carefully running her hand from Koolio's shoulder all the way down to his hoof. Flinching, Koolio half reared, rocking backwards in pain.
"I'll take him down to the yard and hose off his leg, just to be safe." Stepping forward, Vicki walked towards the open gate, but rather than following her, Koolio braced against the lead rope and refused to budge.
"You've got nothing to worry about," Vicki reassured her pony. "Indiana Jones is long gone."
Reluctantly, Koolio took a tentative step, but as he bore weight on his injured leg he almost collapsed.
Distraught, Vicki reached out to comfort her pony, at a loss about what to do next. Leaving him on the side of a hill with such a sore leg was not ideal, but she didn't want to injure him further by asking him to walk on it again.
Vicki nibbled her bottom lip, gauging the distance to the yards. It was only about a hundred metres, but suddenly that seemed a long way away. "I don't know if he'll make it down."
"Let's see if we can get him to the gateway, then at least he'll be able to stand on flat ground," Dad said. "Kelly and Amanda, can you down and tell Mum to ask Mike to come over -- we need a vet."
As her younger sisters sprinted down the hill, Vicki gently urged Koolio forward again. It was only a few metres to the gate but even that seemed to take forever. Vicki watched in misery as her pony limped slowly behind her. Not once did he try to bear weight on his sore leg again.
Tears welled in Vicki's eyes as she glanced at her dad. "It's really serious, isn't it?"
"We don't know that," Dad shook his head as Koolio leaned into him for a rub. "I'm sure he'll be out show jumping with you again in no time."
As they waited for Mike to arrive, Vicki thought back to their first show-jumping event the weekend before, where she'd jumped clear on Koolio in the 1 metre class. It had been the highest either of them had ever competed.
Ten minutes later, Mike Bennett and his family arrived. Vicki held Koolio steady as he looked the pony over, while Mum, Kelly and Amanda stoof off to one side, telling Ellen Bennett and her kids about his tussle with their pony. The Bennetts felt terrible that he'd escaped onto the road overight, and especially bad that Koolio had been injured as a result.
"I don't know what's wrong with him," Mike admitted gravely, after watching Koolio attempt to take a few steps. "The leg's not broken though, and I don't think it's his tendon either."
"Will he improve if we give him a few weeks of rest?" Mum asked, joining them.
"You'll need to get a second opinion from a veterinarian who specialises in horses," Mike replied. "They should be able to tell you what's wrong with him."
"Which vet do you suggest? I'll call them now, and see if they can come out to see him."
"Unfortunately the closest specialist is three hours away. It'll be an expensive visit."
"Luckily he's insured, so at least his vet bills will be covered." Mum sighed. "I just wish I hadn't dropped his insurance cover from ten thousand down to five thousand dollars. He hadn't had an accident in months and we just couldn't afford the premiums."
"Hopefully he'll come right and a claim won't be necessary," Mike said gently. "Let's get him down to the yards in the meantime. He'll need to be restricted so he doesn't injure himself further."
Rather than reassuring Vicki, Mike's visit had made her even more worried. As she led Koolio down the driveway, letting him rest every few strides, she couldn't help but wince at every painful step he took. It took almost half an hour to get him into a yard, and with every minute that passed Vicki grew more concerned.