Blackjack, the first in the Morgan Horse series, introduces the character of Heather Richardson. A young horse-lover, Heather has been haunted by dreams of a very special Morgan Horse. She soon learns that the horse really exists and is thrilled when she is asked to care for him. With the help of Blackjack's owner, Heather learns to ride and show the horse and the two quickly form a very special bond. When tragedy strikes and Blackjack falls into the hands of an abusive trainer, Heather must find a way to rescue her horse before it is too late...
Ellen gives an overview of the book:
Chapter Three - Meeting the Morgans
"Mom! Mom! Guess what?! Guess what?!" Heather shouted as she stormed into the kitchen.
Mrs. Richardson turned away from the sink where she had been peeling potatoes for dinner to look at Heather.
"Slow down honey."
"But I've got to tell you what just happened," Heather gasped as she attempted to catch her breath. She had run all the way from the bus stop to her house, eager to tell her mother the exciting news.
"Okay, I'll bite. What just happened?"
"Well, we got a new bus driver this morning and..."
"That certainly is exciting news," interrupted Heather's mom, a bit sarcastically.
"Mom, come on. Let me finish," pleaded Heather.
"Okay honey, I'm sorry."
"Anyway," continued Heather, "we got this new bus driver today. A really cool guy named Chauncy. We started talking on the way to school this morning and he's really nice. On the way home he asked me about my classes. So I told him about all of them. When I got to my last class, Industrial Design, I told him that we have to design a building and I was thinking of designing a barn. He asked me why I'd want to design a barn so I told him about how I love horses so much and guess what?" Before Mrs. Richardson had a chance to respond, Heather answered for her. "He has a small horse farm and he's invited us to come visit this weekend! Isn't that great Mom? Can you believe it?"
Seeing Heather's great excitement, Mrs. Richardson tried to hide her lack of enthusiasm.
"But Heather, we don't know anything about this Chauncy. I’m not going to let you go running off to some stranger's place."
"But Mom," interrupted Heather again, "he doesn't want just me to come visit, he wants all of us! He gave me his phone number so you can call him. He said he'd be around on Saturday. Please, Mom. Can we go?"
"Well, I don't know honey. Let me talk to Dad when he gets home tonight."
"But what's there to talk about? It's just to go out to a farm and look at some horses. Please?" Heather looked at her mother with pleading eyes.
"I promise I'll talk to him tonight."
"Thanks Mom. Here’s Chauncy's phone number."
Heather reached into the front pocket of her jeans and pulled out a crinkled piece of paper. She handed it to her mom and then headed down the hall towards her room.
The following morning Heather was wide-awake well before her alarm went off. She’d had trouble falling asleep because she was so excited about the prospect of going to a real horse farm. Of course her dad didn't get home until very late. As her parents talked, Heather tried and tried to hear what they were saying. But the din of the television drowned out the conversation so that all she could hear was mumbling. That's the last thing she heard before falling asleep.
Heather lay in bed for a while, thinking about all the beautiful horses that might live at Chauncy's farm. Perhaps he had a gorgeous black stallion, like the one in her dreams. But Morgans tended to be bay, so the chances of finding a black stallion were unlikely. But what else might she find? A pretty little bay mare, with a long, flowing mane and tail, or perhaps a tall, lanky chestnut gelding with four white socks and a star on his forehead? Now that sounded nice. Maybe Chauncy would even let her ride one of his horses. With a smile on her face, Heather slowly stretched her whole body and got out of bed. She stuck her head out of her room and could smell the aroma of bacon cooking. Since she also heard pans clanking, she knew that her mom was still in the process of making breakfast. So Heather decided to take a shower before talking to her mom.
"So did you call him?” Heather asked as she sat down for breakfast.
"What, honey? Oh, you mean Chauncy? No I didn't call him. By the time your dad got home it was too late."
"Then Dad said it was okay?" asked Heather, the enthusiasm in her voice obvious.
"Yup, your dad thought it sounded like fun. So I'll call Mr., um, what is his last name?"
"Gee Mom, you know, I forgot to ask."
Heather managed to eat all of her breakfast, have a nice talk about school with her mom and still leave the house with plenty of time to get to the bus stop. Getting up early sure had its advantages, although sleeping late was definitely more enjoyable. When the bus finally arrived, Heather was fifth in line to get on. She wanted to tell Chauncy what her mother had said about visiting his farm but when she got on the bus she was disappointed to find out that the first three seats behind him were already taken. She smiled at Chauncy and then continued down the aisle of the bus until she found an unoccupied seat about halfway down the vehicle.
Before long, the bus pulled into the schoolyard and came to a screeching halt. Instantly, everyone got up, crowded into the aisle, and pushed their way to the front. As the last person slowly walked past her, Heather got up and walked towards Chauncy.
Chauncy turned to face the voice.
"Oh, hi Heather."
"I just wanted to let you know that my mom said she'd call you today. She said Saturday would be good and that even Dad will come."
"Okay. I'll be home most of the day and will look forward to her call."
"Great! See ya." Heather turned away from Chauncy and stepped down off of the bus.
The day went by quickly and even Industrial Design seemed interesting. Heather had told the teacher about her plan to design a barn, and to her surprise, Mr. Robinson liked the idea.
"I think that's great, Heather. You could design something really unique."
"It should be fun," replied Heather. "I just met someone who has a horse farm so I'm going to ask him what he would put in an ideal barn."
"Perfect, I can't wait to see your design. Have a nice afternoon."
"You too, Mr. Robinson." With that Heather headed out the door.
She stopped at her locker long enough to get her jacket and toss her notebook and pencil into the mess that had become her second home.
Heather put her jacket on and headed out the door. The line for her bus was already quite long and she knew that she'd never get the front seat. She stood at the end of the line and listened to the babbling of the two girls in front of her. They were arguing about which girl in their English class had been the worst dressed that day. Fortunately, the bus came quickly so Heather was not subjected to too much of their nonsense.
When she got on the bus, Heather smiled at Chauncy.
"Your mom called me today, Heather. We're all set for Saturday at 10 o'clock."
Heather stopped and turned to face Chauncy. People pushed past her, some grumbling at her for being in the way.
"Great! I can't wait!"
The rest of the week dragged by as Heather's anticipation of Saturday increased day by day. Finally the long awaited weekend arrived. The day dawned bright and chilly. The high was expected to be 35 degrees, which was considered pretty warm for early February. Still, it was very cold for visiting a horse farm. Heather was up, showered and dressed by 8:30.
"Hi Mom, hi Dad,” greeted Heather as she sat down at the kitchen table. Mr. Richardson was already sitting down, reading the paper and drinking his coffee. Her father was a handsome man, in his mid-forties, about 6 feet tall and with a full head of black hair. As soon as Mr. Richardson heard Heather, he looked up and acknowledged her.
"Hi kiddo, how are ya?"
"I'm great right now Dad. I can't wait to go to Chauncy's farm. I've been looking forward to it all week."
"That's what your mom tells me. I'm looking forward to it too. It should be a lot of fun, although I expect the barn is going to be awfully cold."
"Heather, do you want bacon or sausage with your eggs?"
The rest of the meal was filled with small talk, mostly about what was going on at school. Finally, breakfast was over and the Richardson family headed off to Chauncy's farm.
"My directions say that the farm is on the left hand side, about one and a half miles down Mill Creek Road, so we should be seeing the farm shortly," said Mrs. Richardson, as she looked at her directions for the umpteenth time.
"There it is, there it is!" shouted Heather, pointing to a barn off in the distance.
"That looks like it," agreed Mr. Richardson. He drove even slower as he approached the barn, peering out the window to look for a house. The barn was set back a bit from the road and was slightly hidden by several tall maple trees that were growing near it.
The car pulled into the driveway that was next to the sign advertising "Gallant Morgans-For Fun and Families." Although Mill Creek Road was in sorry shape, the driveway appeared to have been repaved within the last year. The car followed the driveway up a slight hill, curved around the maple trees until the house came into view. The ranch style house was painted barn red. "How appropriate," Heather thought. Her dad turned off the engine and all three of them sighed at the same time as they climbed out of the car. They walked towards the front door, not saying a word. The only sound was the crunching of the snow under their feet. As they approached the door it opened and Chauncy's smiling face appeared.
"Well, hello there everyone. I'm glad you could make it."
"How could we miss such an opportunity?" responded Mrs. Richardson. "Heather has been talking about this all week. Hi, I'm Heather's mom, Mrs. Richardson, we talked on the phone." She held out her hand.
Chauncy reached out to shake hands and then said, "Please come in, it's far too cold outside."
Heather and her mom entered the house, followed by Mr. Richardson. Instantly the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread met them.
"You must be Mr. Richardson,” Chauncy said.
"Yes, it's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Campbell," replied Heather's dad as he walked into the living room. The room was tastefully decorated with a brown sofa along one wall, which faced two large, comfortable looking recliners. A lovely brass model of a prancing horse was proudly displayed in the middle of the room on a small oak coffee table. At the far end of the room was a fireplace with a mantel over it. On the mantel were several silver pewter trophies, no doubt won by Mr. Campbell's horses. In one of the far corners, the one between the sofa and the fireplace, a television sat on a small stand.
"Would anyone like some hot chocolate?" came a voice from another room. Everyone turned to see a slightly plump woman with an enormous smile enter the room. She had on a pastel blue dress with slightly puffy shoulders and short silver gray hair that was brushed back away from her face. She had a very gentle appearance about her and spoke softly.
"Hi there, I'm Mrs. Campbell, it's a pleasure to meet you all. You must be Heather, I've heard all about your plans for the special barn that you are designing in school."
Heather began to blush. She couldn't believe that Chauncy had actually bothered to mention her project to his wife.
"Yes, I'm Heather, it's so nice to meet you. I'm so excited about being here and getting a chance to meet some horses."
"But before you see the animals, please come into the kitchen to warm up with hot chocolate. I've also got some raisin bread that I just baked."
Everyone slowly made their way into the kitchen. It too, was nicely decorated with simple but functional furniture, a gas stove, a plain white refrigerator and extra deep sink, the sort often found in old New England farmhouses. There was a counter that separated the cooking area from the eating area. Walking around this counter, Heather and the others all reached for their steaming cups of hot chocolate that Mrs. Campbell had placed there. Heather carried her cup over to the table and sat down. Like the living room, the kitchen also had a mantel at the far end. But unlike the other mantel, this one was covered with numerous photos of young children. Heather sat there and scrutinized the pictures. As Mrs. Campbell brought the bread, butter and plates over to the table, she noticed Heather's interest in the photos.
"Those are our five children," she said proudly. "They're all grown up now and we're expecting our first grandchild in a few months!"
"You have lovely children," politely responded Mrs. Richardson, noticing the photos for the first time. In several of the photos the children were riding horses either through a pasture or at a horse show, adorned with various ribbons.
As her parents and the Campbells continued with their talk about families, Heather turned to glance out of the large bay window that was behind her. To her surprise and joy, she saw several horses romping in the snow.
"Oh, wow! They're gorgeous!" she exclaimed. Everyone turned in Heather's direction.
"Would you like to go meet them now Heather?" asked Chauncy.
"Yeah, I'd love to!" replied Heather.
"I think I'll stay in the house dear, it is a bit too cold for me today," said Mrs. Campbell. "Would you like to stay in with me, Mrs. Richardson?"
"Call me Helen, and yes, I would. Why don't you go out with Heather, dear?" asked Mrs. Richardson as she looked at her husband.
"Okay, let's go," encouraged Heather's dad.
"Oh, gosh, what I would give to have a barn like this in my backyard!" sighed Heather as they made their way down a narrow path to the barn, a short distance away. Her dad and Chauncy just smiled.
From the outside the barn appeared to be very simple. The bottom half was made of cinder blocks and the upper half was wood, painted barn red. There was a single large sliding door at the front.
They stopped at the front of the barn. Chauncy reached over to the door handle and with a grunt opened the large door. As soon as the horses heard the rumble of the sliding door several of them nickered.
The wonderful smell of hay caught Heather's attention first. Then she looked down the main aisle in awe. The barn certainly wasn't fancy but it was clean and neat. Just like the outside, the inside was built with cinder blocks going half way up the stalls. The upper half of each stall was made with oak. Each stall had a simple wooden door, and on each door was a hook upon which hung a halter and lead rope. There were no top sections to the doors, which allowed the horses to hang their heads out so that they could watch all that was going on in the barn. There were five stalls on each side and what appeared to be a tack room next to the entrance. Several horses were sticking their heads out of their stalls, each begging for attention.
"Come on, I'll introduce you," said Chauncy. "This is ‘Gallant Queen,’ one of my favorites," he said as they approached the first stall. Gallant Queen was a beautiful bay mare with a full, wavy mane of black hair. She had her head and as much of her neck out of the stall as possible, straining against the door to try to get closer to Chauncy, all the while shaking her head up and down as if to say yes. Heather giggled in delight.
"She wants her treat," explained Chauncy. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a mint. "Here Heather, give this to her. Just remember to keep your hand flat, that way she can't nibble your hand by mistake."
Heather took the mint and with great concentration flattened her hand and reached over to Gallant Queen. The mare turned her attention to Heather's hand and gently took the mint from her.
"It tickles!" laughed Heather.
Gallant Queen began to shake her head again, looking for another mint.
"No, no. No more for you missy,” Chauncy said to the mare, the affection in his voice obvious. "This here is Gallant Queen's daughter, ‘Gallant Lady’, another favorite of mine,” Chauncy explained as he walked to the next stall.
This second stall contained a carbon copy of the first horse.
"She looks just like her mom," said Heather, a bit confused at the amazing similarity between the two.
"That's not unusual for well-bred Morgans, Heather. Queen has all the qualities I like in a good Morgan and I wanted to duplicate that. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can't. I was lucky.”
Heather and her dad had been standing next to Lady's stall, with their backs towards the horse, intently listening to Chauncy's explanation. Lady apparently did not like the fact that everyone was ignoring her and so, butted Heather with her nose so hard that Heather had to take a step forward and brace herself against her dad to avoid falling.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing?" jokingly asked Heather as she turned around to face Lady. The horse hadn't hurt Heather but had definitely taken her by surprise.
"She doesn't like being ignored!" chuckled Chauncy.
"Can I have another mint?" asked Heather.
"Actually she doesn't like mints. Here give it a try, you'll see."
Chauncy handed her a mint, which Heather carefully fed to Lady, remembering to keep her hand flat. Lady took the mint and swung her head up and down several times as her teeth chomped up and down in rhythm with her head movements. Then she spit the mint out.
"That's quite a production, Lady. It was just a little mint," said Mr. Richardson as he reached over to pet the horse on the muzzle. Lady snorted in agreement and leaned over to Heather who was still standing next to her. She proceeded to rub her head on Heather's jacket, trying to find just the right spot to itch.
"You don't have to let her do that," said Chauncy. "Just say 'no' in a commanding voice".
"No," said Heather, as firmly as she could, but Lady ignored her and continued scratching. "No," repeated Heather.
Lady stopped scratching and just looked at this new person. Heather was sure she saw disappointment in the horse's face.
"Oh, go ahead, I don't really mind," Heather gently said, giving in to the horse's imaginary pleas. Heather reached up and patted Lady on the neck. The horse began rubbing her head on her new friend again.
"She's wonderful Chauncy. How old is she?"
"She's five-years-old and her mom is twelve. All of my horses have wonderful personalities and are also a lot of fun to ride although I think Queen prefers to drive."
Before Heather could realize what she was saying she blurted out, "Oh gosh, I'd love to ride one of your horses!"
"Well I think that could be arranged but we'll have to wait until it warms up a bit. It's too cold and icy right now."
"Okay Chauncy but I'm going to hold you to that. I really want to ride one of them. I've never ridden a Morgan before, just grade horses. I've heard Morgans are very smooth with a great trot so I'd like to see for myself if that is really true." Heather hoped that this little challenge would be enough to keep Chauncy interested in having Heather ride one of his horses.
"Okay, well I'm sure that they will prove to you that Morgans are great riding horses and also make fantastic best friends. They could use the exercise too. I just drive my horses, my kids were the ones that rode them, but they can't get home very often now. Now let me show you the rest of the horses before we get too cold out here."
Chauncy walked along to the third stall.
"In here somewhere is Gallant Image."
There was no horse sticking its head out of the stall so Chauncy called the horse.
"Immie, come here boy, come on. We've got company."
A horse snorted in acknowledgement and Heather could hear him slowly walking towards the front of the stall. Then she saw him - Blackjack!
Award-winning author Ellen Feld began her career in a field far removed from horses. Receiving a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts with a double major of Russian and Soviet and Eastern European Studies, Ms. Feld continued her studies with graduate work at Georgetown...
"Ellen Feld has given kids another top-notch book in her award-winning Morgan Horse series...This book combines an exciting story with a lot of useful, practical information. It's a well-rounded way...