He honestly never intended to eat them all.
It started out with just one—necessary, really—to make sure he got enough of what he needed to make his bones grow strong. That first bite was so sweet on Teddy’s tongue, and the crunch was music to his small ears. There was such a huge pile of them, nobody could possible notice if he sampled another one. Or even two. Teddy swished his black tail. He knew that being the smallest and youngest pony on the farm, he’d get the tiniest pile of carrots tomorrow morning, and he snorted. It was simply not right. Just a few more then, only to make it fair.
Half an hour later, Teddy had the beginnings of a very sore tummy. Looking into the empty wheelbarrow, he knew he could not eat another bite. In fact, he never wanted to see a carrot again in his life. He gave into an enormous yawn—all he wanted now was to lie down in the shelter and sleep. With his bulging tummy, it was a challenge to turn back around to see the fence rail he had escaped under. Would he even fit now? The thought of trying to do this made his head hurt almost as much as his belly did.
So, with his tummy swaying from side to side, Teddy gingerly made his way along the trail away from the barn, away from the horse shelter, and away from the group of horses he had come to call family. He soon found a soft patch of ground and lay down to sleep it all off.
Waking the next morning Teddy felt the sun already warm on his back and realized he must have slept in. He started to jump up to his feet to see if Pickle and Disa were awake yet. But the heavy feeling in his stomach soon confirmed what his eyes told him, as he looked around at the unfamiliar trees surrounding him. This was not home, and his herd was not here. The activities of the previous night came flooding back to him and he lay back down with a thud. Feeling his insides grip again, Teddy groaned. What was Skye going to say? And Pickle? And the rest of the herd?<
Maybe they wouldn’t realize it was Teddy. Nobody saw him, after all. Teddy shook his head. A quick glance at the sun told him that the other ponies would all be awake by now and he’d have to explain where he’d been all night. Maybe he could tell them he’d gotten lost? Or that he had been sleepwalking? Or that a coyote had chased him away?
Teddy stared down at the unfamiliar ground. That would never work. Skye always seemed to know everything he did. And anyway, Teddy knew his tail twitched when he told lies; he’d never get out of something as big as this. He slumped back on the ground. He couldn’t go back home. Not today, probably not ever.
For a few days, Teddy was reasonably comfortable in his new-found home, especially once his belly stopped hurting. He found a peaceful clearing in the forest he had happened upon, with grass to eat and a small stream nearby. Maybe things would work out after all.
Those coyotes, though, sounded much closer and louder when he didn’t have Skye, Pickle, and the rest of his herd nearby. A few days later, Teddy had finished all the grass. With his hunger came the thought of carrots, and Teddy started to think about what he’d done. He dropped his head down and remembered how excited Pickle and his other friends had been as they’d looked forward to their treat. The feast of carrots that he, Teddy, had ruined. He sighed. He longed to be able to tell his friends how sorry he was. If only he could do something to make things right.
Teddy thought about home all the time.
The next day Teddy tossed his head and started walking. He didn’t expect the ponies would let him back in the shelter and he was sure they wouldn’t share their hay with him. But, maybe he’d get to be close to them at night time. And maybe he could do something to make up for the wrong he had done them. Anything was better than being on his own.
Pickle saw him first. Teddy walked so slowly, with his head hanging low, it hardly looked like him—but Teddy it was. Running over to Disa, who was snoozing peacefully in the shelter, Pickle almost shouted: “You’ll never guess who’s back! Wait till you see. Just sauntering down the lane like nothing ever happened. What do you think Skye will say?”
Disa scrambled to her feet and stared at Pickle. Pickle shook his long mane. “Remember that awful morning when there were no carrots?” he demanded of Disa, with an indignant snort and stomp of his foot. “I would never have done what Teddy did!”
Pickle darted back around the corner, just in time to see Skye charging down the fence line towards Teddy, his hay forgotten. Wow. Teddy’s really going to get what’s coming to him now. But then Pickle paused, confused. Skye’s neighing as he raced towards Teddy was joyful, not angry.
Meanwhile, Teddy had a speech all ready. After trying out a few stories about coyotes and sleepwalking on the surprisingly short trail home, he decided the best thing was to just come clean: to admit everything he’d done and to tell Skye how sorry he really was. Hopefully, there was something he could do to make things right again, however long that might take.
But before Teddy could even get started, Skye was leaning over the fence, nickering gently and nuzzling Teddy’s back. Teddy crawled cautiously under the fence and felt Skye’s love wash over him.
“Teddy,” Skye called, out of breath from his run, “I have been so worried about you.” I’m so glad you’re safe. You’re home, you’re home, I’m so happy you are home!”
Later that afternoon, Teddy stood in the shelter with Skye. “What I did was very wrong, Skye, and I’m so sorry. What can I do so that you’ll forgive me? I’ll do anything to be a part of this herd again, so you will love me again. I’ll give Pickle all my hay for a month. I’ll stand guard at night so you can sleep, I’ll —”
“Hush, Teddy,” Skye interrupted, softly nudging Teddy’s shoulder. “You are a member of this herd. I never for a moment stopped loving you, and you are already forgiven. Completely. There’s nothing you need to do, or even can do, to earn any of that, because I have already chosen to give it to you. All you need to do is receive it.”
Leaning against Skye’s warm, solid body, Teddy let out a long sigh, and allowed himself to do just that.
Pickle, however, observing from a distance, snorted in disgust and stomped off to find Disa. “I don’t understand it,” he complained, with a toss of his head. “He eats all our carrots, runs away, causes everyone no end of worry—and meanwhile, I did everything right. I was sure he would be in so much trouble. But look at them, fussing all over him like that. It’s just not right.”
Disa blinked slowly and didn’t respond. She agreed with Pickle to some extent; in fact, she too had expected Teddy to be in big trouble. Yet another part of her was just so relieved to see their youngest and most mischievous herd member safely back home.
Just then Pickle turned to find Skye standing next to him. He was watching Pickle.
“Teddy knows he made a big mistake, Pickle,” Skye explained quietly. “He’s already suffered for this and likely will for some time to come. But he’s come home to us, and that’s so much more important.” Pickle was about to argue, ready to tell Skye all the ways that Teddy had messed up—while he, Pickle, had done all that was expected of him. Skye stopped him with a nuzzle to his shoulder. “I know, Pickle, and all you want to say is true. There will be more carrots and you will get your share, while I doubt Teddy will ever want to eat one again. But we thought we’d lost Teddy, and now he’s home. That’s worth more than all the carrots in the world.”
Pickle watched Skye trot back over to Teddy, then turned back to stand beside Disa. This would take some time to figure out.
Copyright: Sue McIntosh, Cremona, AB, 2017
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Author and counsellor at Healing Hooves, Sue McIntosh
This story is part of a series for parents, teachers and helping professionals to read to children. All of the animals featured in these books are real therapy animals who live and work at Healing Hooves in Alberta Canada. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of these books fund Equine Therapy sessions with low income families.
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