The auburn-colored quarter horse, Stormy, has always been special. Originally a rescue horse, she'd worked as a therapy animal for kids with disabilities for three years -- until the stable that hosted the program needed to move her out to make room for younger horses. The Leonard family, of Sulphur, Louisiana, had been looking for a horse for their daughter, Emma, nine; the 30-year-old steed seemed the perfect match. Soon Emma was giving Stormy pedicures, painting her hooves hot pink with glitter, and riding her almost every day.
Last September, Emma went bareback riding on Stormy. Her brother Liam, seven, accompanied them on foot, carrying his rubber-band gun in case they met any bad guys. The trio headed down a rough-mowed country road crisscrossed by deer trails leading into a forest of oak and pine. Emma guided Stormy up one narrow trail tangled with vines and underbrush, while Liam marched behind. But as they walked, the typically calm Stormy became skittish and fretful. Suddenly, Emma heard something thrashing in the woods behind her.
As she turned in the saddle to look, a feral boar crashed through the underbrush. It was a huge, filthy-looking beast with sharp tusks jutting out of its mouth and ridged black bristles up its back. It stomped and snorted, pawing at the earth just six feet from Liam. "Run, Liam!" Emma cried. But the boy stood still, frozen in fear.
Stormy turned and trotted directly past the wild pig, putting herself between the boar and the boy, then gently nudged Liam to safety. The boar became agitated, but when it charged, Stormy was ready. As Emma hung on, Stormy lashed out with her hind legs, slamming her ironclad hooves into the animal's face. With a squeal of pain, the boar shot off into the woods.
When the kids got home, "they were white with fright and crying so much that I could barely understand them," their mother, Cathy Leonard, 38, recalls. Between sobs, Emma and Liam described the terrifying incident and how Stormy had saved them.
Why didn't Stormy instinctively startle and run? For Stormy's owner, the answer is simple: "She was very brave," Emma says, "and she loves me."