The teachers at our small school knew little about Emily. She seemed to be another forgotten foster child enrolled in our special-needs school in central Ohio. Emily’s only companion was a small stuffed pony of threadbare plaid fabric, which had seen many better years.
When I met Emily she was a thin, withdrawn eight-year-old. Her posture and demeanor spoke of much abuse and neglect. She couldn’t allow anyone to be close to her and would seek out the farthest point in any room, away from other people. Emily never spoke, and other children left her alone.
She treated her stuffed pony not so much as a toy but as her contemporary, holding in-depth, telepathic conversations with the toy pony for hours on end. Several people tried to take the stuffed pony from Emily long enough to either clean or refurbish it, but she greeted these efforts with wails of anguish.
Social workers and psychologists worked with Emily for many weeks, trying to determine the exact course that they should take to help her. Such was her life until the day of the farm trip. That day the plan was to take Emily’s class to the Valley Farm for the afternoon.
The farm’s animals were kept in a large, open setting that allowed visitors to intermingle easily with them. Three Shetlands – two mares and one gelding – stood together in the back corner of a paddock and patiently watched as the motley group made its way toward them. The mares, more gregarious, clustered next to the fence when the children drew near. The old gelding timidly held back. The operators said that the gelding had originally been a child’s pony. When the child outgrew the pony after a few years, he languished in a field, alone and forgotten, without regular food, care, or shelter.
Everyone had a wonderful time that sunny fall afternoon. As the day grew short, it soon became time to do what we all dreaded – head back into town. Then we realized we couldn’t find Emily anywhere. We were frantic.
I decided to retrace our steps. As I reached the open barn door, I heard something. Listening closely, I finally realized it was someone singing. Very low and very soft, but nevertheless, this was distinctly singing.
I moved toward the sound. As I turned the corner, there in a stall, standing quietly munching hay, was the little gelding who couldn’t trust. At his feet, lying flat on the ground and looking up at the horse with wide and adoring eyes, was our missing Emily.
I stood in awe for a moment, taking in the gift before me. On the fresh hay, with sunlight streaming in, this frail, fair girl, who had never uttered a single word or sound around us, sang softly, melodiously, and earnestly to this wise old gelding. He stood there, scant inches away from Emily’s face. His eyes looked deep into hers, locked in what seemed to be a trance, as Emily continued her song for him.
It was then the pair noticed they were not alone, and the sound died off slowly. Emily sat up. She looked at me and said simply, “I’m sorry.”
She looked back at that old bay gelding, sighed, crossed beside him and reached out to draw his neck into her grasp. Emily gazed into his eyes and ever so softly said something that only he could hear. I noticed that she had left her ragged, stuffed plaid pony sitting on the gelding’s stall board. As I went to retrieve it, Emily said, “No, I told him I’d leave it for him. He’s all alone. He needs it more than I do.” Her voice was strangely powerful, and a golden glow emanated from her.
In those few minutes together, the abandoned horse and abused child had seemed to fuse into one. I knew we had witnessed a miracle.
From the book Angel Horses. Copyright © 2006 by Allen and Linda Anderson.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657