Set in the months leading up to the American Revolution this is the story about a young girl who would rather be galloping down the beach on her wild pony than knitting caps and learning to behave like a proper young lady. She is famous for a daring ride that very well might have affected the outcome of the American colonists’ fight for freedom.
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Young Betsy Dowdy lives on North Carolina’s isolated Outer Banks. She would rather be riding her wild pony, Black Bess, than knitting caps and learning how to be a "proper" lady. Only when she and Bess are galloping down the beach does Betsy feel truly free.
Far away in Boston, war is brewing between King George and the colonists. Betsy isn’t worried - until word comes that Virginia’s governor Lord Dunmore and his British soldiers are moving toward Currituck Banks, burning houses and killing livestock. Suddenly Betsy’s beloved ponies are in danger. In a daring all-night ride, Betsy and Bess race to warn General Skinner of the coming attack. Can she reach him in time? What will happen to her family and the wild ponies if she doesn’t?
This book includes a Teacher’s Guide, featuring: • Dates to remember • Activities • Questions and answers • Classroom and Internet resources • Vocabulary
We stood on the top of Penny's Hill, my pony and I. I could see the back side of Currituck Island and across the sound all the way to the mainland. To the east the ocean stretched until it disappeared into the sky. On the far side of the ocean I imagined I could see the green hills of Ireland, home of my ancestors.
At the bottom of the dunes, on the sound side, the geese were flying to settle down for the night. They came here every year to spend the winter. There were so many of them, they blacked out the sun like a thundercloud. That's where Currituck got its name; it is Indian for ‘land of many geese.’
Below us was the wild pony herd. Black Bess’s mama belonged to that herd. The horses grazed on the tough grass that grew in a little hammock between the sand dunes. From our vantage point on top of the dune Bess could see her relatives, and whinnied a greeting to them. I felt her body vibrate under me.
"Tougher’n nails," Grandpa would say of the ponies, "been on these islands for about two hundred years. The sea makes anything tough that can survive it."
I’d lived on this island all my life, watching and loving these horses. They were not actually two hundred years old, of course, their ancestors had come over on ships with Spanish explorers two hundred years ago. Some people say the horses swam ashore when the boats wrecked off the coast, or that they were brought here when the explorers came this way looking for gold and other riches.
Grandpa told me the Spanish did not find what they were looking for. The Indians ran them off so fast, they left their horses and livestock behind.
"Hightailed it for Florida and left these horses to fend for themselves. And fend for themselves they did,” Grandpa said. He loved the wild ponies as much as I.
He helped me tame Black Bess. I saw her for the first time when she was only a few days old. Black as the ace of spades, she was. And always so full of herself, bucking and frolicking around her mama, who just ignored her antics and went on grazing.
When I told Grandpa about her, he couldn't wait to have a look-see. He stopped right in the middle of mending nets and followed me up the beach to see Bess.
The filly ran a circle around the little dune where her mama stood grazing, and then she peeked out from behind. All of a sudden, she ran back hard as she could and play-kicked at her mama. Her mama ignored her, and just kept on munching grass.
"Just like you," Grandpa laughed, "plumb full of herself."
We were best friends right from the start. Grandpa and I started right away getting her used to us. We brought her treats like cornels of corn and carrots. Bess soon let me pet and brush her. By the time she was a two-year-old, I could do anything with her. My beautiful, black pony didn’t mind a bit the first time I rode her.
Grandpa retired from sailing, settled on Currituck Banks, and worked as a fisherman. He used to take me out on his skiff to run the nets. I helped sort the fish and then we'd carry them over to the mainland to sell.
After Grandpa died, Bess helped fill the hole left in my heart. He was old and Mother said he had lived a good life. But I missed him, missed him a lot.
He knew a lot about horses, too. He admired their intelligence and how they learned to adapt to living on the Banks. Grandpa once told me that being out on the sea was the closest anyone could get to God this side of heaven. I know now what he meant. It’s so quiet and peaceful there. I wasn’t allowed to take the boat out by myself, but even on shore I felt like Grandpa was right by my side. If I listened real carefully I could still hear him talk to me.
I slipped off Bess and sat down in the sand. The sky was beginning to turn a soft pink. A few geese squabbled over territory, honking and flapping their wings at each other. Behind me, on the ocean side, I could hear the rhythmic pounding of the surf.