Cassie, a city slicker, finds herself riding on a cow's back after a spill.

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I was born in the city. I like the city. But when Mom suggested I visit Uncle Ed and Aunt Earline and my cousin Donna on their farm, I went along with it. Why not?

Now I was standing in front of a beast that appeared to be about two stories high, with feet the size of manhole covers. It blew its hot breath down my collar and nibbled at my shirt pocket. I began to shake violently.

“Cassie,” Donna said to me, “this is Molly. She’s a horse.”

“I know she’s a horse,” I croaked. My voice seemed stuck in my throat. “I’ve seen lots of horses in books and on television, but they didn’t look this big.”

Donna offered Molly an apple from the flat of her hand. Molly slurped and burped while I regained my composure.

“Let’s go for a ride,” Donna said. She stepped up onto the watering trough and hopped on Molly’s back. She motioned me up behind her.

I only ruined one sneaker when I slipped into the watering trough, but I felt several muscle groups scream as I reached for Molly’s back. I grabbed Donna and held on tight.

Molly plodded gingerly forward and headed toward the trees at the far end of the pasture. Her back was like a soft, warm rocking chair, and I loosened my grip on Donna’s waist. Birds sang and flowers nodded in the meadow below. Filled with the beauty of the country, I was suddenly compelled to whoop with sheer joy.

"Can we go home now?"

That mare shot out from underneath us like a cannonball. A cloud of yellow dust swallowed us as we hit the ground. The sound of pounding hooves beating a hasty retreat back to the barn echoed in the distance.

“Cassie, the next time you decide to yell ‘yee-haa,’ warn me first,” Donna groaned.

“That’s the way they do it on television,” I said.

Donna stared at me from the muscadine vines she’d used for a landing strip. “Unfortunately, Molly doesn’t watch television. She pulls wagons. You yell ‘gee,’ she turns right. You yell ’haw,’ she turns left. She probably thinks ‘yee-haa’ means full speed ahead.”

I poked three fingers through my torn shirt sleeve. “Can we go home now?” I asked.

“Nope,” Donna answered. She pointed toward the cattle grazing all around us. “What do you see?”

“Cows,” I said. I was on top of the situation. I knew a cow when I saw one.

“That,” Donna announced, “is transportation!” A small caramel-colored cow sauntered toward us. Donna held out her hand, and our “transportation” nuzzled it with a wet, velvety-looking nose.

“I raised Juliet from a calf,” said Donna. “She doesn’t mind if I hop a ride now and then.”

I stroked the bristly hairs on Juliet’s back. Her skin trembled like gelatin in an earthquake.

“Nice to meet you, Juliet,” I said.

Whoofle, snorted Juliet in my general direction. Slimy globs of mucus spattered my jeans.

“Donna, I’ll be eleven years old next week,” I said. “Since I’d rather not celebrate my birthday in a body cast, I’m not riding a cow.”

“You just rode a horse. Riding a cow is not that different,” Donna said.

“I just fell off a horse. Falling off a cow won’t be that different either.” I rubbed the seat of my jeans and checked the distance from Juliet’s back to the hard ground. She was smaller than Molly, so I wouldn’t have as much time to pick up speed on the way down. I gave in.

“OK, how do I get on this one?” I asked.

Donna placed her left hand on Juliet’s neck for balance, took a quick step back, and gracefully flung her right leg over Juliet’s back.

“Easy.” Donna smiled and slid to the ground.

I succeeded in jumping over Juliet. I slipped and slid under Juliet. I even took a running start and ran into the side of Juliet. I never came close to landing on top of Juliet.

Donna howled with laughter. Tears poured from her eyes and made clean streaks down her dusty face. She stopped laughing long enough to boost me onto Juliet’s back, then sprang up behind me. With a gentle nudge from her heels, our ride lurched forward.

Riding a cow is like sitting on a throw rug pitched over a barrel. The rug keeps slipping off. The barrel is so big, there’s no way to hold on with your legs. Staying on takes balance and brute strength. I was blessed with neither.

There are about four zillion ways to exit off the back of a cow. I had already found most of them when the barn loomed into view.

We turned Juliet into the barn just in time for milking, and went to the house for supper. I had survived my first day in the country.

But dawn of the second day brought aches to muscles I didn’t even know I had. I crawled out of bed and carefully inched my way to the kitchen. Uncle Ed, Aunt Earline, and Donna were almost done with breakfast.

“Would you girls mind helping me muck out the barn this morning?” Uncle Ed asked as he rose from the table. “You’ll be through by noon in case you have plans.”

“Sure, Dad,” Donna answered. She glanced across the table at me. I suspected she was checking out the status of her city cousin.

I waited until I heard the door slam after Uncle Ed. “If you’ve got anything else to ride that doesn’t have padded seats and seat belts, count me out,” I moaned.

“Don’t worry, Cassie,” Donna said. “This afternoon, we’re going fishing.”

While shoveling and scooping and mucking and raking the smelly cow barn, I made mental notes of the problems I might encounter on a fishing trip. By lunch, I had counted four hundred and sixty-eight. By comparison, yesterday hadn’t been such a bad day after all.