Chapter 10


Ebony woke in a fug. Well, maybe she woke up. Maybe she was dead? Her eyes struggled against the sunlight coming through the window. She tried lifting her head and groaned, sinking back. Damn champagne. Hangover City. She hauled her arm out from under her blankets and looked at her watch. 11:26. Oh god.

Struggling upright and holding her head, Ebony blinked ferociously trying to collect herself. On the floor in a heap was the black dress and one of her black heels. The silver bracelet was broken.

Suddenly it all came flooding back; the shopping, Mira's gold dress, the champagne, Marc the barman, the annoying laugh, and the kiss. And the vomit. There wasn't much after that... a few glasses more of champagne; drunk far too quickly, a cry on Harrison's shoulder, a few Tequila shots... She could briefly remember thinking "it's ok - he's gay" when Harrison put her to bed...

Oh god.

A noise downstairs made he think of the horses, and struggling to free her legs from the twisted blankets deposited Spud unceremoniously on the floor. He gave her a wounded look, and yawned heartily, wandering off downstairs. Ebony followed clutching her head.

The barn was quiet. The stalls were empty, as was 'Astral Traveller' upon closer inspection. For once, Dale's chamomile tea was just what the doctor ordered, and Ebony swiped absent-mindedly at a beetroot stain on the counter top with a sponge while going over the night's events in her head.

It shouldn't really have come as a shock to her. I mean, it's not as if it was the first time a guy had favoured Mira over her. It didn't matter how often it happened, she still managed to convince herself each time that this guy was different. She was so stupid. You'd think you'd get used to it after all this time. It's not like Mira ever meant it. She never actually purposely chased the men that Ebony was attracted to. She didn't have to: They found her, eventually. Then it was always the same. Choosing between Mira and Ebony was like choosing between a fine wine and a cup of tea. The tea was comforting and friendly enough, but no match for the rich, sensual, exotic 'nectar of the gods'. She just never measured up, and she always ended up 'the good mate'. The one that was 'like a sister'. The 'bridesmaid' at Mira's wedding.

The kettle snapped off and Ebony poured her tea, and wound a pencil into her hair to keep it out of her face. It felt like spiderwebs. Her mouth tasted like vomit, and she burnt her mouth trying to wash away the taste with hot tea. The chamomile felt good, and soon her stomach settled, and her headache became a dull moan, rather than a shriek.

Hearing Spud bark outside she slid aside the roller door and squinted into the bright midday sun. Her old tracksuit pants felt clammy, and she had slipped on a pair of gumboots. Over on the flat, Cathy was putting Boston over some low gymnastic jumps, and Dale was picking up any fallen rails. Boston looked calm and supple, and Cathy's riding seemed not to be suffering after her night out.

"Ah - she awakens!" cried Dale, waving her arms dramatically, her bangles jingling and glinting in the sun. "Darling the flies are awful out here - come and spray on some citronella, eucalyptus and lavendula." She whipped out a spray bottle and spritzed Ebony liberally. Unfortunately Ebony chose that moment to protest and was given a throat full of tangy, breath-taking citronella for her trouble. Spluttering and coughing, she took another huge gulp of hot tea, which made her eyes water and her nose run. She wiped her nose on her sleeve. Cathy was reining Boston in and walking over to the pair.

"I just gave him a stretch before tomorrow Eb, I hope that's ok...? He seems fit and ready to go. You... um... came in pretty late last night, and um... I... you... so I lunged Buddy. He's in the paddock... " Cathy tailed off, sensing she may have over-stepped the mark.

Ebony shook her head. "No, fine. I mean, thanks. That's great. Thanks. Bad night. Bad seafood canapes and mixed my drinks a bit... you know. The heat! What's with this heat?!" Ebony squinted at the sky.

"There's going to be a storm. A big one I think. The ants are out, and my third eye has been tingling all morning," said Dale pressing a thumb to her forehead between her eyes, squeezing them shut. "Oh yes, something wicked this way comes... not good..." she murmured, wandering off to the barn. Ebony rolled her eyes and smiled reassuringly at Cathy, taking a big deep breath. Dale was a bit behind the times on this occasion.

* * * * * *

Sunday dawned cool and wet. There had been a cracking storm during the night - as Dale had foretold - and although the lightning and thunder had passed, the heavy thick clouds had settled in a sludgy biliousness over the showground. The air was cooler, although still had a thickness to is that was almost gelatinous. Ebony double-checked Buddy's purple studs and girth tension before sitting on an up-turned bucket in the horse float to put on her gaiters. It was raining in a smeary way, so that everything felt wet and slippery. Buddy poked his huge head into the back of the float and nibbled the toe of her boot thoughtfully, making Ebony snigger and flick at his drippy forelock. She was lying low. Not really avoiding anyone per se, just avoiding explanations, the questioning looks: "Oh, he's with her, I thought...? I mean they were hanging out so much together, one could only assume... But then there she is, and there they are..."

Yuk. She was not ok with it. She was definitely NOT ok with it. But there was no use making a fuss. No one had actually set out to intentionally hurt her, it's just the way things turned out. As usual. Nope, the best course of action was to do what she always did. Pretend nothing happened.

Leading Buddy out to the practise arena, it was obvious that Mira's mind was occupied on other things. Her horse pulled maniacally on his bit, foaming around his fluffy sheepskin noseband and tipputting sideways around the ring. He swished his tail angrily at the rain and clenched his jaw in irritation. Mira looked stonily ahead, battling for the colt's attention.

Paddy whistled low as Ebony wandered up, trying to arrange her fingers inside clammy gloves. "He's not been a happy boyo that one!" he commented. "And neither is he by the looks" the Irishman said, indicating Mira's father, standing commandingly under a golf umbrella with a stop watch and a program. "She's just had a near thing, screaming around those fences like the devil. She'll be for the jump-off, but I dare say the colt may keep up the speed, but not the accuracy. He's fair upset now, and this weather wont be clearing up today."

Ebony sucked on the side of her cheek and said nothing. Ryan appeared at the arena edge and beckoned Mira up to him. The two chatted intensely for a few seconds, and the tension in Mira's shoulders eased a little as she laughed at something he was saying. He clapped her gently on the thigh and smiled up at her with his eyes crinkling. Ebony turned away quickly and watched a rider completing the course.

"That was a good idea getting your other gaiters and gloves," said Paddy "damn this water making things so greasy. It's like an ice pond out there," he nodded at the puddles splashing across the arena in mirrored sheets. "Mind you watch your corners, take him careful now" he said patting Buddy affectionately on the neck. But Ebony wasn't listening. She was thinking about winning, about 3 months away in Germany, without seeing Ryan or Mira or anyone, and filling all the corners of her mind with horses and training. When she heard her name called, she crammed her helmet harder on her head, and sprang clumsily into her wet, slippery saddle. A quick warm up lap and a few small jumps told her that Buddy was ready, his blue eye blinking against the drops of rain. Cantering in a wide circle, Ebony finally was called into the ring and given the bell.

The first jump was a nice inviting rustic fence, with nothing scary or demanding. A nice introduction to the course. It lead to a wide sweeping right turn to a triple bar, which again, though solid, was not threatening. Ebony briefly registered the gasps and comments as Buddy's crazy sideways jumping style turned heads but she pushed it, and everything else, back into her head, and focused firmly on the course. A double of oxers, and a stile flew by under Buddy's drumming hooves, and at a sharp left bend, Ebony felt the big gelding slide momentarily before he found footing and made two very clever strides into a blue and white bounce. She patted him quickly on the shoulder and said 'good boy' as he flicked his ears back to the sound. A heavily decorated flower-bed style jump was a rainbow blur in contrast to the greying mist as Buddy pounded along, popping carefully over it and making another left turn. Ebony slowed him carefully and made a wide turn to the final combination. Buddy would need a balanced approach to the treble of an upright and two oxers. The big horse gathered and stretched, slightly miscalculating the take-off for the final element, but recovering quickly after pecking the ground, and cruising into the finish line.

Paddy was clapping firmly as she crossed the finish. Mira was holding a water-bottle and smiling encouragingly at Ebony. "That was nice, Eb. You did the right thing taking that last turn wide - hopefully you won't be too slow. Then it'll just be us and that lady on the palomino in the jump-off!" Mira smiled. Ebony forced herself to smile back. She was being nice, and she probably had no idea how Ebony felt anyway. "Thanks." Ebony smiled. "Actually, I'm gonna quickly go to the bathroom before the jump off - can you hold him for me?" she said, slipping off and handing the reins to Paddy. Paddy took the reins and walked Buddy around Mira's truck while Mira loosened his girth by two holes.

As it turned out, the palomino had over-reached and cut his coronet in the first round, so there was only Mira and Ebony to jump-off for first place. Ebony's mouth was sticky and she was clammy with rain and sweat as she kept Buddy warm for the round. Mira's father barked like a drill-sergeant at his daughter and her plunging, foaming mount, who seemed unable to settle with the rain. Ebony felt a twinge of sympathy for Mira as people watched her being grilled over the warm up jumps, about timing, and strides, and building a quality canter. The pressure sure was on her. A flash caught Ebony's eye as she noticed Dale had driven in, and was maneuvering the station wagon to a place where she could spectate from the warmth of the front seat. Ebony waved happily and turned to watch Mira's round. The colt was powerful, but Paddy had been right about his accuracy, and now that the ground had been reduced to slush, the going was even more treacherous. The flower bed had a particularly big puddle in front of it, from having had many a horse slide spookily into a halt of refusal in front. The colt reared to a halt in front of it, and Mira only managed to clumsily clear it at the second try. But the colt was very upset now. He bolted the final corner, crashing through the first element of the treble before remembering himself and making an almighty lunge for the final spreads. He cleared them both and bucked twice before carting Mira across the finish line. Mira, however, looked happy.

"Paddy - did you see him? He was so brave! He stuffed up part A of the treble, but he listened and sorted himself out for the last part. He really tried, even though he was confused and upset. I'm so stoked with that!" She smiled, rubbing the young horse's arching neck. Mira's father was not so happy.

"Why the hell did you lay off him into that flower-bed? I told you; you need open strides. You need to be committed. And that treble was just laziness on his part, and poor handling on yours. We're going to have to do some hard, hard work before Pan-pacs..."

Ebony shook her head. No time for that now. Time to win. Collecting Buddy, she circled once again. The gelding felt ready. He felt forward and confident. The bell sounded, and Ebony turned for the first fence.

The rustic flew by, as did the triple bar. A slight slip in the pool of water that was now the turn was forgotten quickly, as the gelding thundered into the stile. The flower beds again proved no problem, but Ebony felt her heart skip a beat as the gelding slipped again in the mud. There was no way she was going to ease up now though. She was focused on Germany. Coming around the final turn, she felt elated. The gelding was on-song. He felt strong and joyful. He tucked his powerful quarters under him and pounded eagerly into the treble. A few strides out he slipped. Just a back leg, but trying to regain his stride, he slid again. Ebony felt him falter and tugged the reins. It was too quick: She had to pull him out or they were going to crash. Germany or no, it was not worth Buddy's safety. A sharp tug on the slippery reins proved useless, as the wet leather slid through wet gloves, at the same time as hoof slid again on muddy turf. The big gelding's black wither rose to meet Ebony's chest, winding her. There was a massive crack, and red and white poles split and scattered. The gelding's huge hooves floundered for grip, his shoulders pitching suddenly.

Ebony saw red and white. Heard thumping. Felt a tug of reins from her scorching hands. felt the huge black horse flailing wildly beside her saw him pitch upwards and fall back again.

Saw a silver bracelet. Gold sandals and champagne bubbles. Smelled wet grass and mud and sweat. Saw dark, grey clouds massing above her.

Then darkness.

Chapter 9

That weekend, Cathy moved into the barn, and into 'Astral Traveller'. Bert and Ernie made squealing noises at Buddy and Boston, and high-taled it along the fenceline in a spirited game of tag. Boston high-stepped and bounced around at the sight of his new neighbours, whilst Buddy snuffled Bert's wiry mane and scratched his withers over the fence.

Ebony immediately insisted that Cathy ride Boston in the Pro-bix charity showjumping event the next weekend, upon finding out the prize that was being offered. Three months, all-expenses paid, live-in training with showjumping legend Paul Schockemohle in Germany. It was an opportunity that neither of them could miss, and Ebony wouldn't hear of Cathy's protests; she needed this break more than Ebony, really. Ebony found that Boston responded beautifully to Cathy's sympathetic riding style, as she had known he would. They only came up against a minor hiccup, since as Cathy was of such a tiny frame, Boston occasionally got a little strong and difficult to stop, since Cathy did not have Ebony's way of slowing her horses using her seat and weight. It was minor problem though, and with a little practise and a change of bit, they were happily jumping well enough to enter for the event. Ebony was delighted to see her horse going to so well, and felt proud of him. Her attention had been so wrapped up in saving Buddy of late, she had been feeling a little guilty at taking Boston for granted. Now here he was, showing off how well she had schooled him since his days off the track, and Ebony felt her heart swell with pride. He was her first love, after all.

On Thursday, Cathy insisted that they go into town and splurge on something vicious to wear to the ball. As Ebony walked into the air conditioned mall and heard the techno music pounding out from the clothes stores with their bubble-headed, doe-eyed mannequins, she almost ran back to the truck. Cathy grabbed her arm.
"No you dont!" she said. "We're going to find you something fabulous! I just love shopping!"
"Yes, but look at you." Ebony pointed out. "Shopping's easy when you're tiny. There's never anything that's made to look nice on someone who's a size 14."
Cathy just shook her head and dragged her into the first shop.

An hour later, Cathy's disembodied voice came from beyond the dressing-room curtain.
"How's it look?"
Ebony swished open the curtain and grimaced at her. "Great - on the coat hanger. I cant get the stupid thing to zip up!" She tried to reach her arms behind her, and realised some of the teenage girls in the shop were giggling and pointing. God, dont let those girls be from my school, she pleaded silently.
"Turn around...oh look... Ebony, you've got the lining all stuck in the zip. No wonder you cant get it done, wait pull this down...." Cathy tugged and struggled with the zip, then finally, Ebony felt the satin lining of the dress slide down into place and the zip go up with a satisfying 'zzzzzzziiiiiip'.
"There. Perfect."

It was not a flashy dress, but Ebony did not like to stand out. It was structured around the bust like a corset, and the fabric runched and gathered around her bust in gentle lines which were black with a hint of silver shimmer. from the waist, the dress fell away in a soft flowing skirt which reached the floor. It made Ebony look elegant and understated, as well as showing off all her assets.
"It's prefect, Eb! You look like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's! ... which gives me an idea... I'll get you some gloves and a diamonte choker..." and Cathy was off again. The girl sure did love to shop!

Friday night came before either girl knew it, and soon, they found them selves primping and doing their hair in the bathroom, wiping the mirror with a towel as it fogged-up annoyingly from the shower. Cathy was putting on turquiose eye shadow along her lids which went beautifully with her neutral makeup, asian skin colour, and turquoise dress. The dress she had decided on was simple, to the knees with spaghetti straps, but she had found the most glamerous shoes which were turquoise with a killer heel.
"I dont know how you expect to dance in those things," laughed Ebony reaching down to do up her simple black heels with an ankle strap.
"Dahling!" cried Cathy dramatically, "One simply must be prepared to suffer for beauty!" she laughed, "plus I'm like, two feet shorter than everyone without them! I'll be left out of every conversation if I dont do something about my vertical disadvantage."

Finally there was a rattle on the roller door, and Ebony slide it aside to reveal Ryan in a sleek charcoal grey suit with a burnished orange tie. His hair had been coaxed with product into shiny waves, and he smelled deliciously of aftershave.
"" He stepped back. Then he looked questioningly around him at the barn, "have I got the right place?"
Cathy bounced up to him and whacked him playfully with her clutch-purse. "Shut up. I hope you cleaned your car before picking us up in our finery"
He took Ebony's hand and slipped a fine silver bracelette over her gloved wrist. It sparkled. It was perfect.
She looked up at him grinning "Ryan, what..?"
He put his finger to his lips and gestured toward his ute. "Your pumpkin awaits".

The ball was at a manor house located just outside the town. Inside, the walls were all painted cream and fairy lights and tiny candles twinkled and flittered all around. Deep blue velvet couches and some small tables and chairs were arranged around a stage and dancefloor festooned in gold fabric and Pro-bix's navy blue logo. A few people were dancing, some were at the bar ordering drinks. Ebony spotted Harrison almost immediately and waved.
"Baaaaaabe! You look good enough to eat! Oh my god, look at your boobs, darling! They're exploding out of there!" he poked jokingly at her cleavage. "Aren't you the lucky one? She enough to turn me straight... well not quite." Ryan laughed.
"And there you are Cath, my little peacock!" Harrison picked up a squealing Cathy and hugged her to him like a doll. "Goodness, I'm glad you're all here. I dont know where Mira or that mad paddy are, but I am having a lovely time flirting with Marc over there" he waved at the barman who blushed. "Oh isn't he gorgeous? Over here from Argentina to play polo apparently." He explained sipping his champagne. "Like my suit?"
It was quite a suit, Ebony had to admit. It was deep purple, and Harrison wore it with a lilac shirt, unbuttoned without a tie, and thin silver aviator sunglasses. His hair was coifed up into a faux-hawk.
"Would you like a drink?" Ryan asked the girls.
"Mmm! Champagne!" nodded Cathy, and Ebony nodded her agreement.

They wandered around and socialised, catching up with some of the people they only saw at horse events. Sometimes, they failed to recognise people, as they usually only saw them in their riding clothes. Everyone was so dressed up. Ebony wished she had exercised more over the last month, and wished for the millionth time she could lose a little more weight. She felt a little frumpy, especially next to tiny, brightly coloured, Cathy. But no one could feel bad around Cathy for long, as soon she was giggling like mad and dragging Ebony out on to the dance floor to do Nut Bush. Ebony jumped around with the other dancers, giggling and holding her cleavage to stop it bouncing around. Her face felt red and hot, and some of her hair was working its way loose and falling in sweaty strands around her face. She spotted Mira who had finally arrived talking to Ryan. Ryan was laughing at something and Mira was touching his arm. Ebony shook her head and decided it was time for water. She made a 'drinking' motion to Cathy and slipped in between the dancers and over to the bar. Marc gave her a tall glass of iced water and smiled at her. He really was lovely. She raised her champagne flute and winked at Harrison, who winked back. Mira walked up and kissed Ebony on the cheek.

"Hey there Hun! That dress looks great" Mira said smiling and asking Marc for a champagne. Her own dress was stunning - of course. Mira was one of those girls who could wear anything, and it would look stunning. She could wear a chaff bag and still look like a Miss Univese entrant. Her Big brown doe-eyes sparkled slightly with gold shimmer, and her full lips were glossed. her chocolatey, Sri Lanken skin perfectly accentuated the gold slip dress she wore, with it's delicate straps and plunging neckline. She wore high gold sandals which criss-crossed up to her knees, and her shoulders sparkled gold. She looked like a Ferrero Rocher. She looked like a golden goddess.
"Mira, that dress is.... incredible!"
"Thanks." Mira looked around, "Have you seen Paddy?"
"No," said Ebony. "He'd be here somewhere though. I'm gonna quickly duck outside to cool off. I think I've danced all my make up off, and I probably stink!"

She wandered out onto a small balcony and found Cathy laughing with Harrison and a couple of Swedish riders they had met. The champagne was flowing fast, and all of a sudden, Ebony felt the world tilt to one side and everything go fuzzy. The Swedish woman laughed and it pierced the air. She had big white teeth, that flashed as she laughed: Haw-haw-haw. Cathy asked her something, but it swam around her ears, and so Ebony just nodded and gulped a little more of her champagne. She stood a little unsteadily and breathed in the cool night air, clinging on to the railing. Slowly, the nausea slipped away and her head cleared.
"You ok?" Cathy asked.
"Yeah, i think the champagne's just gone to my head! I cant feel my legs!" she laughed.
"Wanna go to the bathroom and splash your face?"
"Yeah," Ebony turned from the railing to face the room and the scene before her hit her like a punch in the gut. In the middle of the dance floor stood a couple. They stood separate from everyone and everything around them. The world seemed to slow down, as they burned bright in the centre. Ebony could hear nothing, feel nothing, as she saw the look in Ryan's eye as he gazed down a Mira. His arm encircled her tiny gold waist and they swayed close. Mira was talking and suddenly their faces were getting closer and Mira's lips parted-

Ebony felt sick. The bile rose violently in her throat, the vomit filling her mouth as she pushed roughly through the people and into the toilets.

Chapter 8

As Summer turned to Autumn, Ryan's feeding plan for Buddy took effect, and the gelding was glossier and stronger than ever. His black coat deepened to blue-black, and shone over his muscled shoudlers with the look of mercury on top of oil. He had grown a little, but his growth spurt settled and he stood a shade over 17.2 hands high.Although he still jumped with a style all of his own, and still often skated and slipped with out the aid of studs on his big flat feet, he grew more confident at each event, bringing credit to Ebony and Ryan's efforts. To Ebony's delight, ryan had taken a keen interest in the gelding's welfare, and Ebony had settled into a routine of a Tuesday afternoon visit to check the gelding's weight and rations, and also consulting with the vet about supplements and possible vitamin deficiencies he may have developed due to prelonged mal-nutrition.

Harrison of course was delighted at this turn of events. From the day he had introduced Ryan and Ebony, he had seen the sparks fly between them, and had immediately designated himself “Match-making Fairy”, much to Ebony's red-cheeked protests. Although clearly, he was being made redundant, as Ryan and Ebony seemed to be orchestrating their own relationship quite well on their own.

It was on such a Thursday that Ebony trundled in the driveway from having a quick chai-tea with Dale, and picking up some hoof oil and worming pastes at Webster's, and found Greg, Lisa, and Ryan parked at the barn.

“Hey guys! Didn't expect to see you all here! How were 9 Blue today for you Greg? They were so ratty yestderday! It's so hot, they just want to be down the beach, not stuck inside doing maths! I let them finish their worksheets out on the seats under G-block, because of the breeze – did they tell you?”
“Yep – that was a great idea!” said Greg nodding, “it was a bit cooler today. They were ok. I think they're all a bit over the heat!”
Ebony nodded her agreement and fumbled around in her handbag for her keys. She dropped it clumsily and a volcano of bobby pins, old receipts, shredded tissues and – gasp – tampons came spilling out onto the ground. Ebony blushed furiously and tried to gather it all up as quickly as she could. Lisa snorted, and began to help, as did Katie and Cameron. Before anyone noticed, Cameron had picked up a tampon and held it up to Ryan. “Is this chalk?” he asked, and Ryan looked with amusement at Ebony who wanted the world to swallow her up.
“Yes Cam – it's very special chalk. In its own wrapping and everything.”
“Can I draw?”
“Darling, Aunty Eb needs that for school. You know like Daddy's chalk” Lisa quickly interrupted, putting the tampon safely back into Ebony's handbag.
“That's nothing like what I use!” Chuckled Greg and Lisa laughed and slapped him quickly on the arm.
After what seemed like an eternity, Ebony found the keys, pulled open the roller door and busied herself getting tea and coffee with her back to her guests, trying not to die from embarrassment. Why me? She thought in exasperation. Why now? Why infront of Ryan?

“Jesus Christ!”
Ebony turned with a tea bag and spoon in hand to see Lisa, Greg and Ryan gaping at the purple monstrosity squatting in the corner of the barn.
“What in the wide-world-of-sports is that?” said Lisa pointing.
“Oh, it's Mum's.” shrugged Ebony, laughing at their gaping faces “she had it given to her, and she's got nowhere to put it.”
“Whoa” said Greg, “mind if I take a look?” Ebony shrugged and waved her hands toward the van before helping Cameron to sit up on the couch.
“You want a drink Buddy?” she asked him, “Katie: Want a drink?”
“Cam, what do you say? Yes please, Aunty Eb. And water will be fine.” Lisa corrected him.
“Yes peas”
“What lovely manners! I think I do have some juice anyway... apple, I think. Coffee Ryan? Lisa?” Eb ferreted around producing two plastic tumblers and a bottle of apple juice.
“No thanks Eb, we just dropped in to give you those maths books and papers you leant to Greg to set the year 10 half-yearlies. And the kids nagged us to come see Boss, Buddy and Spud.” Spud wagged his plumy orange tail in agreement and sat at Ebony's feet having heard the fridge door being opened.
“I will - sure.” said Ryan.
“It's not as bad as it looks outside on the inside,” said Greg coming back from inspecting the caravan and dusting his hands off on his trousers.
“Thank god” laughed Ebony handing a mug of coffee to Ryan.
Greg laughed. “No, it's clean and quite well-kept inside, but there's a bit of damage in one corner of the roof, so you should probably keep it in here incase it leaks.”
“It does, I am.” replied Ebony.
“It's got a little bed, some cupboards, a little sink, it's quite cute and cozy actually. They gave it to her, you said? Good score.”
“We better head off Greg, and get some things for dinner” said Lisa, standing up and looking at her watch.
“Chippies?” Said Katie, and Cameron nodded hopefully.
“No, not chippies” said Lisa rolling her eyes, and gathering up the children's hats and cups.
“Those books you leant me are in your horse float, Eb – we thought we'd missed you when you weren't here when we turned up. I was gonna leave them in there and phone to tell you later tonight. Come on kiddies, say 'bye bye'” Said Greg herding the two chatting kids toward the door.
“Bye you four! Give those goats a big pat for me!”

The car finally pulled away, and Ryan and Ebony were left on the couch, together. Ebony smiled.
“So how's business?”
“Ok. Same old, same old. Actually I have some bad news, and some good news” he said cryptically raising an eyebrow and looking at her over his mug.
“Uh huh...” Ebony hesitated.
“Well, the bad news is that Cathy's had some more bad luck. Well, good and bad. The lady who was loaning her the land she's on, bought that big ugly Thoroughbred, Ringo, off her-”
“But that's excellent news!” cried Ebony, “Oh-unless she didn't get enough money for him? But she's got those other 2 babies to work on -”
“No, that's not it.” Ryan cut her off “she got the money she wanted and everything, that's all fine. But the lady bought the horse because her daughter's coming back from overseas and is taking over the property.”
“Oh no,” said Ebony slowly, “but that means...?”
“Yeah. She's got nowhere to live again.”
Ebony swallowed her tea thoughtfully. This was bad. Poor Cathy. Now she had no place to live, and nowhere to keep her horses. And by selling Ringo - sure the money would go a long way to paying off her debts and saving for a new place - but she didn't have a horse to campaign. Now how would she advertise her skills so she could get established?
Ebony picked idly at the orange dog hairs she just realised were all over her shirt. Suddenly an idea slid into her mind, like a visitor edging in the door of an open house and calling 'Hello? Anyone here? I'm just here about the Cathy-problem...'

Ebony looked at Ryan and snapped her fingers.
“She can stay here! In the caravan! Mum won't mind; she doesn't want to use it right now anyway. There's plenty of room for her horses, and we wont get in each other's hair, 'cause she can have the downstairs floor and my room and my stuff's all upstairs anyway!” Her eyes glittered happily, and then stopped. “Oh I mean, she might not want to, it's a bit rough and know, with the stalls down here and...”she trailed off indicating the concrete fllors, the roller-door, and the places where the stuffing was sprouting from the tears in the couch. “But at least it would be cheap! It'd be nice to have someone here to help feed and rug horses and stuff; good company for me! I dont need to charge her rent or anything - I'm not paying any, but she can chip in for bills, and save up for a deposit for her own place...”
Ebony looked expectantly at Ryan, who grinned back. “It's a great idea! She'll be so relieved! It's not so rough – it's clean and airy and light. Better than half the flats you'd rent in the city!” he laughed. “And somehow, I dont think stalls and the horses being in at night are going to worry someone like Cathy...” He laughed. “Good, that's that problem solved. So, problem number two, the second reason I'm here”
“The good news?”
“That's right. Next Friday night, Pro-bix – that horse feed we've been pumping into Buddy – is having a charity ball night to raise money for the new animal shelter that's going in just out of town there. It's meant to be a pretty big facility, catering for domestic animals and farm animals, and having veterinary facilities onsight... anyway, it's a chariy ball. All the who's-who will be there, everyone from the horse world especially, because on the Sunday, there's a charity showjumping day. Lots of fun, good cause, all that.” He took a breath and took a slurp of coffee. Ebony felt the strongest urge to play with his dark hair that had flopped over his forhead. She took a big gulp of hot coffee and forced herself to get a grip.
“So, I thought we might go together.”
Ebony choked suddenly on the mouthful of tea as she sucked it in with a shocked intake of breath. She had to grab a tea towel to mop it off her chin and the front of her Spud-hair covered shirt. She coughed noisily, and spluttered, telling herself to breath slowly. Ryan took her mug from her hand and thumped her back.
“Are you ok?”
“Yes....yes. Sorry. Went down the wrong hole. WAY. Went down the wrong way.” Oh god.
“Right. Breath Eb. Cant have my favourite person dying on me now”
His favourite person? Ebony looked at him and he smiled back gently. “I really would love it if you could come.”
“I'd love it if I came-Uh...could come. Come with you, I mean. To the ball-thing. Oh god!” she coughed again and mentally slapped herself in the face. Idiot! Talk normally.
Ryan laughed and smiled at her. “Ok. It's settled. I want to see you in your sexiest dress. I wanna be the envy of all the men there. All the women too, come to that” he laughed, tipping the dregs of his coffee into the sink. “Right, I'm off to tell Cathy about your place, and tell all the boys at the pub that I've got a hot date to the ball”
As he left he put an arm around her back and kissed her slowly on the cheek. Ebony breathed in his spicy aftershave and put a hand on his hard abs. She felt a jolt at his closeness, could feel the warmth from his body, his hand felt hot on her hip.
“Cant wait,” he said softly.

Chapter 7

Ebony turned up the volume of the F-100's radio and bit into another red jelly snake. It was just on dusk and the farm was coming into view. Boston's red ribbon and Buddy's green one hung limply from the rear-vision mirror, and Ebony chewed contentedly. She was happily exhausted, proud of her boys, and thinking about getting them settled infor the night and taking a long hot shower. The headlights wove through the gate and down the drive and slid along Dale's station wagon, which was parked at an odd angle as usual, and spot-lit Spud who was trotting beadily up to the truck. Ebony pulled into the float bay and caught sight of Dale replacing the spare key which was always stuck to the underside of Spud's water-bowl.

“Mum! What are you doing here?!”
“Hello Bub! How did you go? How was the new boy? Ooh! Two ribbons: Wow!” Dale swept up to the driver's side door and kissed Ebony through the open window in a cloud of vermillion fabric and sandalwood.
“Yep” said Ebony jumping out. “They did well! Boston cleaned up in the Novice – I didn't think he was going to, but he did! And Buddy showed a lot of potential. He's such a trier.”
“I took Spud for a walk for you, Sweetie – hope you dont mind. I was going to the beach and I thought of him home alone, so i came and picked him up. He had a wonderful day.”
“Oh thanks Mum, he would have loved that!” Ebony hugged her Mum and glanced at the little orange mongrel, who was now systematically sniffing and lifting his leg on each of her tyres. “I usually take him, but this event was on private property. No dogs.” Ebony hopped down from the cab of the truck, stretched her aching back and offered Dale a jelly snake from the open packet.
“Mmm!” nodded Dale, picking a yellow one.
Ebony took two more snakes and offered one to each horse as she reached through the front access door of the float to untie them. Boston nodded his head and curled his lip appreciatively. He was such a sweet-tooth. Buddy slobbered happily on his snake dropping half on the ground, where it was promptly gobbled up by the lurking Spud.
“It's the quick and the dead round here, mate!” she laughed, patting the gelding's huge white face.

“I thought you might be late back, so I made up the feeds and stuck them in the stalls to save you some time. I hope I did it right...” Ebony sighed and thanked God once again for such a thoughtful person as Dale. She may not have been the typical horsey, pony club mum, but she supported her daughter where and how she could. “... I added a few drops of arnica which will help ease their sore muscles, and some vervain to calm them. I brought you some of my lentil lasagne for you to reheat for dinner. Actually you could use some arnica too...”
Ebony put Boss's lead rope over her forearm and shouldered open the roller door. A purple mass loomed in the end stall and Ebony stepped back. Boss threw his head up and planted his front feet in shock.
“Oh yes – that's the other reason I come over. Isn't it great? Amidoo and Nehara gave to to me! They're heading over to India for a few years to train with that yogi... some sort of buddhist reatreat with chanting and drumming and vegetarian food – sounds incredible! Anyway, it leaks and they dont know when they'll be back... I figure I might fix it up. Or maybe I'll strip it and donate it to the day care for a cubby for the kids...” Ebony looked at her mother in horror.
“What the hell is it?”
“Oh, it's a caraven. Little kitchen, little table, little bed... You dont mind, do you darling? It's just that it leaks so if I park it outside...”
Ebony looked incredulously at the round purple bulk squatting in her fourth stall. It was the colour of an eggplant, and rather the shape of one too. Nehara had made some purple and orange paisley curtains for the windows, and along its side ran the words 'Astral Travellers' in curly pink letters. Ebony let the air escape from her lungs.
“Whoa. WHOA. It's very... um... 'eye-catching', isn't it? Ha. No, I dont mind, Mum, you can leave it here. I hardly use that last stall anyway... only really when I'm too lazy to clean one of the others!” Laughed Ebony, leading Boston into his stall, where he buried his nose in his feedbin. He looked cautiously over at the big purple beast in the next stall, flattened his ears back and bearing his teeth in a 'I am so NOT sharing my dinner with you' gesture, and firmly turned his hindquarters to it. Dale lead Buddy into his stall and clapped his neck, bangles and bracelettes jangling. “So..... cuppa?”

After school on Monday afternoon, Ebony bounced along the dirt track out to Ryan's feed warehouse. The truck squeaked and rattled over the cattle grids, leaving clouds of billowing orange dust in its wake. Spud's orange face hung out the passenger window, his whiskery chops flapping in the breeze. His eyes watered as he strained against the wind, his whole body wagging excitedly in time with his tail. Ebony had gone home to change after school and grab the dog before heading out to Ryan's. She had laughed incredulously as she found herself undecided as to what to wear. 'I'm buying feed, for heaven's sake!' she chortled, and pulled on her favourite jeans and a black polo shirt. In true Ebony style, she of course noticed as she was halfway to the farm, that the reason the polo shirt had been discarded, was that it had a white blob of dried toothpaste down the front. Ebony licked a finger and rubbed fruitlessly at the mark. Useless. Oh well.

At last she pulled up to the feed warehouse, jumping down from the cab, followed at speed by a scrambling Spud, claws catching on the frayed seat covers. The place was still, and the building was cool and dark, but empty. Skirting around the side, Ebony caught sight of movement from the corner of her eye, and spotted Ryan chatting to Cathy beside a high-fenced cattle yard. She waved and wandered over.

“Heya.” waved Ryan, tucking his hands into his jean pockets and leaning back onto the fence. “Come round for that feed?”
“Yep. Hey Cathy!” Ebony nodded, looking into the cattle yard. “Who are these two critters?”
A pair of leggy young ponies stood warily at the far end of the yard. The smaller of the two was about 13.2 hands high, and a rotund little chestnut with a bushy mane and tail. The other horse stood close to 15 hands, a gold-coloured buckskin, with a springy black mane which stood straight up. The way his forelock stood up as if it had been hairsprayed gave his face a look of startled suprise.
“That's Ernie, and the the bigger one is Bert. I named them after the Sesame Street characters – you can see the resemblance, huh?” Cathy laughed. “Did I tell you? My brother Steve brought them up from Jindi for me...?” Ebony remembered and nodded. “Yeah, I told you. Anyway, this is them. My two baby brumbies. Totally wild and full of themselves,” she laughed.
“They're not bad sorts” Ebony said eyeing the horses critically, “good bone – that's a brumby thing – they'll be tough as nails. And brave. The chestnut one's a bit short, but that wont be a problem for you” Ebony gestured to Cathy's five-foot-two, tiny frame. “Bitch.” she added, jokingly.
Cathy laughed good-naturedly. “Its not so great actually. Mostly I have to shop in the kid's section of K-Mart, so it's hard to find clothes that fit me that dont have the Wiggles or Dora the Explorer on them.” She laughed. “Plus my horses have to carry so much lead when I event to make correct weight. I mean, better for them to carry a couple of kilos extra of 'live' rider, than a slab of lead.”
“As a sensitive new-aged male, I'm frightened to participate in this conversation regarding female weight” joked Ryan, holding up both hands in mock surrender. “Can I just nod neutrally and change the subject? The feed: let me show you what I have.” Ryan laughed, leading the way to the big warehouse, “Step into my office ladies.”

Chapter 6

Later that afternoon, Ebony, Harrison, Paddy and Mira sprawled in the sun on the tail gate of Mira's truck. There was a light breeze ruffling the trees and lifting the horses' manes as they stood here and there in yards or tied to floats, swishing their tails and casually picking at their hay. Mira's mother had packed a hamper of smoked salmon and camembert quiche, potato salad, Roma tomatoes and olives, which her three friends had swooped on at lunchtime, knowing that Mira's mother always packed enough to feed an army. Paddy tossed up olives and caught them in his mouth, while Harrison poured each person a sparkling apple juice into a miss-matched plastic cup. Ebony bit into a juicy tomato whole, and felt it squelch on her chin, they were so ripe and juicy, she had to wipe away the seeds from her chin, and a few had gone down her front. Mira tossed her a towel.

Ebony rocked back on her milk-crate, tilting it so she could lean on the wall of the truck. She shut her eyes and breathed deeply the smell of horses, and listened to her friends gossiping and ribbing each other. She was so relaxed that she didn't notice how quiet her friends had suddenly grown – until it was too late. Paddy had snuck up beside her with a handful of ice, and before she knew it, she felt a bite of cold on the back of her neck, inside the collar of her polo shirt. She shrieked and grabbed at her collar, upseeting her milk-crate which slipped on its balanced edge and deposited her very unceremoniously onto the ground.

“You rotten...!” she screamed, lunging for one of the sponges Mira had used to sponge down the horses and throwing it sloppily at Paddy. It hit him in the crotch with a splat, and left a large wet patch which sent Mira and Harrison into fits of giggles. Next thing they knew, the sponge hit Harrison in the face, making him sputter. His first reaction was to fix his hair, which sent Mira into more giggles until Harrison grabbed her arm and began to threaten her with a glassful of apple juice, while Ebony snatched up the sponge, dunked it into a bucket and hit Paddy square in the back as he ran for cover. Sponges, ice, and towels flew through the air and buckets were over turned as the playful water-fight turned to all-out war. Ebony stealthed up to the side of the truck with a wet towel in hand, Harrison's Ralph Lauren-shirted back in her sights. She sidled up beside Goosie, hiding herself behind his bulk, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

“Scores are up, if you wanna come look,” it was Ryan, looking quizzically at the towel.
“Oh, um, yeah. Cool. We all had a fight. Sponges were thrown.” Said Ebony, squeezing out the towel. The next minute Ebony's breath left her lungs in a rush. Paddy had snuck up, and dumped and Goosie's entire water bucket over Ebony's head. Her cute white T-shirt was soaked to her ski, and she sputtered and wiped her eyes in shock. Paddy and Ryan roared with laughter, and Ebony was laughing too hard with shock to notice that her t-shirt had gone completely see-through.

Later Ebony found a spot near Cathy to stand with Buddy while they waited for their turn in the Showjumping Arena. Cathy's horse was a big bay with a long ewe neck and a coarse head. He was wearing a running martingale which hung in loops from his neck as he slept dozily with one hind leg resting. His long ears and the long leather straps made his neck look even longer, and suddenly Buddy looked slightly less ridiculus.
“Dont we make a pair?” laughed Ebony, indicating to Cathy the similarities between their mounts. A bark of laughter burst from Cathy, and she shook her shoulders quickly.
“Thanks – that helps me feel a lot less nervous!”
“Are you?” said Ebony understandingly “How's this guy to ride?”
“Oh he's ok. He's inexperienced, but basically sweet. Probably not an Olympic prospect, but he was all I could afford after...” Cathy's voice trailed off and she shut her eyes briefly “...after everything. You know, the fire and stuff...” Ebony saw her mentally shake herself, and take a few deep breaths.
“Cathy, I heard about it from Ryan. I'm so sorry.” But Ebony felt dumb. Like 'sorry' was enough. Like 'sorry' was gonna help anything when the poor woman had lost it all.
Cathy met her eyes and smiled a little. “I appreciate that; thanks.”
“I know it's not much, but if you need anything. You know – feed, rugs, a paddock for a while, you only have to let me know. I dont have much, but I know what it's like to struggle, and if there's anything you need...?”
“I will, I will – thank you so much, Eb. Everyone's been so great. Ryan with the float and the feed; my land lady letting me use her land in exchange for taking care of her cattle and horses. Even my adopted brother – he lives down in Jindabyne and brought me back two brumbies as a present from the Snowy Mountains. They're young, but I can train them to sell or something. Plus I found this guy going cheap off the racetrack – so he's my little project to work on for now.” Cathy ruffled the bay horse's forelock playfully and he butted his ugly head against her hip. He actually was quite a sweet horse, now that Ebony saw the way he buried his head under Cathy's arm and snuffled his mistress.

Wow, thought Ebony: And she was adopted! Ebony had realised that Cathy was of Asian descent, but 'Generation Y' was increasingly multicultured, multicoloured, and multi-lingual, so Cathy's features hadn't stood out to Ebony more than anything else about her. Cathy had obviously grown up Australian; she had no trace of any accent, and she wore jeans and t-shirts and stuff. But Ebony wondered where her birth-parents were. She must be an amazing person to be so positive, and be able to bounce back from everything that had happened. Next moment Cathy's number was called.

“I'm up – wish me luck!” she smiled, springing lightly up onto her big ex-racehorse.
“Take it easy – remember to breathe!” laughed Ebony as Cathy did a few warm up jumps to settle the big bay. Ebony instantly admired Cathy's riding: She rode quietly and sympathetically, making small adjustments here and there, but ultimatly leaving the horse alone to jump unhindered. The bay horse wasn't confident, but he was kind, quietly picking his way over the small fences and bobbing his ugly head. No, not an Olympic horse; but a fun horse. A confidence booster. A project for Cathy to keep her busy while she got her life together. Ebony smiled as the big bay putted around the course finishing with 8 faults. She decided she really would try to help Cathy out if she could.

Chapter 5

At 7 am sharp the next morning, Ebony was woken by the shrill ring of her mobile phone. Dazed, she sat up, cursing as she hit her head on the roof of the F100’s canopy. As she fumbled amongst her swag for the phone her mind started to clear. Sunday. Crosscountry and Showjumping.

“Eb, it’s Mum. Sorry to ring you so early but I’m just off to yoga, so I thought I’d see how you went yesterday.”
“Good. Good,” yawned Ebony rubbing her eyes, “I should be getting up any way. Boss ran around with his head in the air in the warm-up - and then aced his test, which was a relief. And the new boy put in a nice solid baby-test. He wasn’t completely round, but I wasn’t going to put too much pressure on him just yet.”
“Yeah – he’s still just building up those top-line muscles, so it’s hard work for him to stay in the right frame for a long time”
“Bowen, Sweetie. Bowen therapy. Meant to be brilliant for balancing horses and riders. Aligning your energies. That’s what you both need. I’ll ask Karma about it today at Yoga”
“Ok mum, that’d be good,” Ebony smiled and shook her head, “anyway, we’ll see how he goes today”
“What time do you ride?”
“Ummm…..” Ebony checked her watch “9:50, and 11:05”
“Great, good luck baby – ride carefully. Wear your helmet, and hang onto that horse’s mane. Take some Bach flower essence. Give some to Buddy and Boss too”
“We have to wear our helmets Mum – it’s the rules. Don’t worry ok? My boys look after me. Have a good day – say hi to Karma for me. Love you.” Ebony pressed ‘end’ and noticed the message symbol flashing.

God luck 2day in the cross coutry. Luv Lisa.

Ebony smiled and snapped the phone shut. Time to rock and roll.

* * * * *

At 9:30 there was quite a crowed gathered around the practise ring. Everyone wanted to check out the strange skinny black gelding who took the fences sideways. Eb wasn’t totally keen on being watched, and Buddy was wary of the crowd too, flicking his ears and flaring his nostrils at the onlookers. Eb slowed to a walk; that was enough of a warm up for now anyway. Mira steered her horse to fall instep next to Ebony. She sat aboard her young bay stallion, a new addition to her eventing stable, that her parents had had imported from Germany. He had been nicknamed Goosie for his long, snakey neck and bad attitude. Mira stood out on Goosie, as she sat aboard the prancing stallion in her token sky-blue coordinated eventing outfit. Ebony wore more muted colours, preferring to direct people’s attention to her horses. She wore olive green jodhpurs, and a simple black polo shirt with her dark grey back protector and her back-number over the top. Goosie flirted his sky-blue bandaged fetlocks, as he tippeted along, veins coursing under his coat, which was shiny with sweat, while Buddy toddled alongside, looking at his knees, but keeping one eye on Goosie’s foaming, crunching mouth. His black coat was almost shiny now, thought Ebony. Almost.

“Number 9 – 30 seconds” called the steward. Mira smiled at Ebony.
“That’s me.”
“Good luck, Chickadee” said Eb encouragingly “see ya at the finish line!” Ebony knew that Mira would do one Preliminary event with Goosie, then he would be rapidly levelled up as she campaigned him. Mira liked her horses to level up fast. Ebony decided to see how Buddy handled today. Since she didn't know anything about Buddy's background, she thought it might be better to take things slowly and build his confidence up. No time to think about that now though.

“Number 17 – 30 seconds”called the steward. Ebony began to make her way over to the starting box. As the steward began to 10 second countdown, she walked the black horse calmly into the box from the back.
“4, 3, 2, 1 – Go! Good luck!”
Ebony squeezed her calves against the black horse, and they were away. Buddy hesitated. Coming from a smallish warmup arena into a wide open space, he felt disoriented: Where're we going, lady? But suddenly he spied the first jump – a small, inviting log – and a lamp in his head switched on. The first four jumps flashed by in a blur. They were low and inviting fences, aimed at getting the horses comfotable and confident early in the course. Ebony marveled at her new horse's bravery. He bumbled up to each new obtstacle and picked his way over cheerfully. Ebony found herself enjoying the ride. And the swinging slightly from side to side as she rose in the saddle became second nature after a while. It felt like the way a motorbike rider might lean into a corner. She just kept her centre of gravity above the horse, and let him to the rest.

Cantering happily down the hill, the water fence came into view. It was not a hard fence: A simple jump in, jump out, and a little log to complete the combination. The water was not more than 20 centimetres deep. However Ebony knew that water often spooked horses. It moved, it sparkled, it reflected. And when the horses jumped in, it splashed up and slowed them down. Ebony let buddy trot into the first element. He paused on the edge, looking down between his front hooves in astonishment. You want me to go where? He edged back a little, but Ebony persisted, talking to the horse and encouraging him with her seat and calves. The big horse shook his head. Okay... He seamed to say, shutting his eyes and leaping off the edge in a slow-motion dive into space. They hit the water hard and he pecked slightly. Ebony lost both stirrups and banged her nose on his neck, but realising she was still aboard, fumbled her reins back into place and faced the horse at the jump out. Oh – it's only up to my fetlocks! That's not so bad! And the black horse popped handily out of the water and over the log, kicking-on up the hill and swishing his wet tail.

The rest of the course passed in a blur, with only one more spooky moment where some spectators had shaken out their picnic rug nearby a fence. Buddy had spooked sideways, but had still clattered over the fence and carried on. Ebony felt so pleased with him. As she galloped over the finish line, a few people clapped. She dropped off the black horse and scratched his sweaty face proudly.
“Well done, Mate – you did good.”

She was letting down her girths when Mira jogged up with a water bottle and a bucket and sponge.
“Oh thanks Mir – you're a legend” Ebony smiled at her friend, gulping down some water gratfully, half of it running down her chin onto her shirt. Mira began sponging Buddy down a little, between his back legs, and around his mouth. Ebony took of her helmet and fluffed up her hair, which had become plastered to her head with sweat.
“Geez Eb, you get so red in the face!” laughed Mira, handing Ebony the reins so they could walk the horse to cool him. Ebony laughed and saw Ryan Price jogging over. She groaned inwardly and wondered why she always looked like a wreck when he was around.
“Hi there – how'd it go?”
“Good!” Ebony smiled “we might be a little over time – I didn't really push him. The studs did a great job with his grip and confidence. And he hesitated at the water, so we may have a refusal – I'm not sure if he stepped back or not.”
“Wait and see, i guess” shrugged Ryan kindly “and how were you, Mira?”
“Ok” she nodded “we made good time – I dont think that will be a problem. But we had a refusal at that narrow fence between the trees – it was dumb. Dad went nuts when i told him.” She smiled ruefully.
Ebony smiled at her friend “but he's a new horse, Mir, he's got plenty of time...”
“Yeah, I wish” laughed Mira mirthlessly. “Mum and Dad like to see their investments pay off immediately, you know? Oh well, I've still got Eddy in the Novice this afternoon. So do you Eb – we'd better head off, so you can put this doofus away and get on Boss and jump some real jumps!”
“Me too” said Ryan, “I'd better get Pete warmed up and find Cathy. She's new here, just moved her since her old place burned down. Most of her horses were killed or really badly burned, and she lost all her gear. The insurance company are digging in their heels, so she's doing it tough for a while. I'm helping her out with feed costs and we're sharing travel til she's up-and-running again. She's had a rough couple of months.”
“That's aweful,” cried Ebony aghast “Imagine that – your horses being burned alive. I dont think I'd ever get over something like that. Is there anything we can do?”
“Probably,” smiled Ryan “She's a tough cookie, but she needs some good mates right now.”

Chapter 4

The first event Buddy was entered in to compete was the Webster One Day Event, which was a small event held about an hours drive away. Ebony had entered Buddy into the Preliminary class, in which horses would not be expected to jump much higher than 90 centimetres. It still had lots of nice cross country combination fences, but these were smaller, easier versions of the harder Novice event, in which Ebony had entered Boston. Many of te serious competitors entered the event as a warm up for their advanced horses, a practise for the greener mounts, or rehabilitation for horses coming back from injury. The event was sponsored by Webster's Stockfeeds, a local feed store, and frequented by locals and pony club hopefuls, who entered in the introductory classes. This year was proving to be no exception.

Ebony trundled up the long dirt drive in the F-100, scanning the sea of trucks, floats and horses for familiar faces and vehicles. Soon she spotted Seamus O'Day (known to all and sundry as 'Paddy' O'Day), Harrison Keen, and Mira gathered on the tail ramp of Mira's truck. If she could just manouvre around that old Landcruiser, she might be able to squeeze in near them... She swung the wheel and brought the F-100 to a shuddering halt in the space. Boston stomped a foot in impatience, smelling the smells of his new surroundings and eager to introduce himself around. Buddy dozed sloppily next to him.

Ebony jumped out of the driver's seat and banged the door shut. Unfortunately also catching the corner of her jacket in the door, and having to wriggle around and open the door again to free herself. Puffing and dusting off her shirt, she wandered up to her amused onlookers.

“My Eb, you certainly know how t'make an entrance there, dont you?” Quipped Paddy, in his Irish-Australian lilt. He and his parents had moved out to Australia when Paddy was thirteen.
“Leave her alone,” cut in Mira, elbowing him playfully, “Gee you were lucky to get that spot! What time are you on?”
“Eleven-thirty, and one-twelve,” Ebony answered double checking the crinkled dressage draw in her pocket.
“I'll help you unload your beasts, Darling. I'd be worried about their safety if I let you do it alone,” joked Harrison, the third member of the party. Harrison was very rich, and like many men who ride competitive performance horses: Very gay.
“Gee thanks,” Ebony laughed pulling a face.
“I've been dying to see your new one anyway, Mira tells me he's an absolute hoot!” Harrison pulled open the acess door at the front of Ebony's float, and peered in. “goodness he's tall, honey! You're going to have to do some stretches to hop up there! Tight new jodhpurs are going to be a no-no. I tell you what: my feed man does a fantastic conditioning mix that would put a few more kilos on him, I'll give you his card. Oh and make sure you watch him lift it into your car – his butt looks so fine in a pair of Wranglers. His name's Ryan, anyway, and the shop's not too far away.”
“Oh Ryan Price?! Well, It's sorry that I am to inform you Harry, but he's not gay, but a lovely chap, whom I've met lost of times for a pint at the pub. He's got horses, mind, and he's here today, I'm thinking, with a few of his wee wild ones from the mountains. He's a bit of a stockie, but I'll grant you, Ebony – he knows about his horses. And his feeds. He'll set you right with the big bloke.” Paddy added as he backed Boston steadily off the float.
“well, what I really need today are studs – have you got a spare set Harrison?”
“Yeah, somewhere. Ask one of my stable boys. And dont ever call me Harry, Paddy – you know I hate it.”
“Yes I do,” winked Paddy cheekily “and that's why I do it.”

With both horses securely tied to the float, Mira and Ebony wandered down toward secretary's shed to get their back numbers, and check if there were any last-minute changes to the draw. Ebony carried a large water bucket, in case she happened upon a tap on the way so that she could water the horses.

Suddenly an electronic version of “Let's Get Loud” piereced the air and Mira took out her mobile phone, withering when she saw the caller ID on the screen. “Hi Dad,” she sighed rolling her eyes, and pointing Ebony toward a tap she had just spotted “Yes, I did. Yes, I have. I know, I will...”

Ebony wandered off to the tap to fill her bucket. She sure was glad her Mum wasn't THAT interested in her riding, and didn't feel the need to phone in and check up before, and several times during and event, like Mira's parents did.

* * * * * * *

At 10am, Ebony had saddled Buddy and he looked... ok. She had to admit, he still had a fair way to go, but the hessian-like patches of coat were slowly being replaced by a glossy blue-black sheen. He was still skinny, but he had a light covering of muscle, and his head no longer looked rridiculously huge in comparison to his emaciated body. Ebony and Mira had both agreed that Buddy had to have some draught-horse blood in his breeding somewhere. It would acount for his colossal height, his big roman head, and the thinckness of fur around his hooves and muzzle. Not feathers exactly, but definitely noticable.

However, it was his hooves that were proving to be his undoing. Big, spread, and flat, Ebony had noticed that Buddy tended to slip alot in wet conditions – especially at speed. His feet just seemed to slide like a frisbee across a frozen pond when it was wet. Not willing to risk the big horse's confidence this early on, Ebony had decided that studs were definitely a must. The set she had borrowed from Harrison (and which he later said she could keep: “Darling you're clumsy enough for you AND that big flat-footed horse”) were in her hnd now, ready to be screwed in. in true harrison style, they were of course, purple. Ebony had snorted when he had handed them over. Harrison had waved a hand at her.

“I know, they're a bit... well... queer-looking, but let me tell you, when you drop one of these in the grass – you can definitely find them.” And Ebony had had to admit, the purple studs were practical.
Now Ebony was bent over one of Buddy's huge hooves, holding it between her knees as she struggled to find the stud-hole. She puffed, and grunted, telling him to “get up” occasionally. Some of her hair had worked its way free of her pony tail, and there was a huge smudge of dirt across her left cheek. Most of the detritus from under Buddy's hooves had tranfered itself onto her old faithful “trakkie-pants”; the huge sweat pants she wore over her joddies at shows to keep them clean. She was therefore, looking particularly red-faced and pathetic when Harrison sauntered up.
“Oh god, luvvie, you could have tarted yourself up a bit more! This is Ryan Price – the feed man. And this is Cathy Redlands”

Ebony moaned in disbelief, and laughed at her appearance. She held her hand out to Ryan, and then laughingly took it back as she saw how covered in... well... 'god knows what'... it was.
“G'day,” she laughed “Who knew dressage was such a filthy business!”
“It's not, darling, but you've definitely made it look that way,” laughed Harrison, bitchily, but not unkindly.
Ebony punched him playfully on the shoulder. “Yeah – thanks. Anyway... so i got the studs in, by the way. This is Buddy, Ryan. He's my project at the moment, though it still looks like he should be World Vision's project. Think you can help me get the weight on him?”

Ryan walked around the big gelding, and put a gentle hand on his big white face. “God, he's had a tought time of it, hasn't he? Is he part Percheron?”
“I dont know,” Ebony confessed, “he's put on lots of weight since I got him, but, I'm having trouble keeping it there. He eats and eats and eats, but, it all just seems to come out the other end!” she laughed.
“Yeah, that's pretty common with neglect cases. It takes a while for their insides to get back to normal, and start working properly again. I've got some terrific conditioning mix I've been feeding to a couple of brumby orphans I've picked up. They're doing really well on it.”
“Great,” said Ebony, patting the big gelding's shoulder.
“Poor old thing,” Cathy spoke up for the first time, “I have no idea how anyone could do that to an animal. He looks really well though Ebony – good on you. Look at him, doesn't he love the attention?” Buddy looked around, with a mouth stuffed full of hay, lifted his tail, and farted. The foursome giggled.

“Pop round to our truck later, Ebony. It's a blue Hilux ute, with a light blue double float on the back. Cathy and I both only brought one each today. See you later” and he turned to walk away. Ebony looked appreciativley at the way his Wrangler jeans fitted his muscly legs and butt, and soon noticed that Harrison was doing the same. They caught each other's eye and doubled over into fits of giggles.
Harrison put his arm around Ebony's shoulders playfully. “Unfortunatly i think you have more chance with this one than me, sweetie.”
“Yeah,” she laughed “shame about the girlfriend.”
“Cathy? No, they're neighbours! She just hitches lifts with him because she doesn't have a float or a truck. I think she does it pretty tough. He tows her horses and she puts in for petrol. No sweetie, I'm pretty sure that's a platonic thing they have going on – lucky for you!” he winked naughtily and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. Ebony pegged a tail bandage at him.

Chapter 3

As summer warmed up, Buddy slowly began to settle in and fill-out. The vet pronounced his sight 100% fine, stiched the wound on his chest, started him on a course of antibotics, making recommendations for Buddy's recovery process.

Ebony soon found that the gelding's character matched his oddball appearance. He was exceedingly gentle, allowing himself to be handled like a big dog by anyone who had a kind word for him. Ebony had no fear when Glen and Lisa brought the children around, and often found them plaiting his tail and mane with flowers, or climbing him like a tree. All the while, Buddy stood with drooping lips and floppy ears, enjoying being the centre of attention. He bonded instantly with Spud and Boss, following either of them around the farm, or seeking out their company if he lost sight of them. After being abandonned for dead once; the big gelding was not going to let any of these kind friends out of his sight ever again! He had also formed a special bond with Dale, and Ebony often came home from work to find her mother and a massive black gelding chatting amicably in her downstairs lounge room, Dale doing the talking, and Buddy resting a hind leg and drooping his head sleepily over the back of the couch. Dale's mum even took to making the gelding bowls of camomile tea, which suprisingly – he loved.

Ebony's first few tentative rides on him were equally suprising. The gelding responded well to initial dressage training, loving the way he was rewarded with a pat and a 'nice voice' from his mistress when he did the right thing. He hated to be reprimanded, and his one show of true disobediance was one afternoon when Ebony was riding him back to the barn after a work out, and noticing her long dressage whip she'd left on a fence post. Planning to pick it up to carry it back to the tack room, she reached over to pick it up, and felt Buddy tense under her. She got her fingers around the handle and picked up the whip, but the second she did so, Buddy spun to face the object of his terror, backing away rapidly and dislodging Ebony onto his neck, where she promptly dropped the whip into the long grass. Speaking soothingly to him, Ebony slithered off, and looked in horror at the poor horse. Every vein on his body was popping out, his nostrils were huge, sucking in air, and he was rolling his eyes and chomping his bit in terror. Runny green manure splattered down his back legs, and the gelding's knees shook violently. Buddy was returned quickly to the barn and given a massage, a small injection of ACE and a bowl of his favourite camomile tea, and a few hours later, he had calmed down enough for the sweat to dry and the trembles to stop. The whip was never retrieved from the long grass.

Buddy's initiation into jumping and cross country were by far the most alarming experiences, however. Floating him over to Mira's one weekend, Ebony had had notions of trying Buddy over some baby jumps, to see what he would do. The look on Mira's face as Ebony took a couple of 2-foot rails on the gelding confirmed what she was feeling: The gelding had NO technique. None.

“He looks like a cow trying to jump those fences!” Mira laughed, but not unkindly.
“He feels.... bizarre.” Ebony agreed, “but he's not afraid. Actually look how he pricks his ears, I think he enjoys it. He just, I dont know, seems to tip sideways, instead of jumping straight! It's the strangest feeling I've ever had on a horse! It's like both his legs go to one side – like a high jumper doing the frosby flop!” Strangely enough, it felt safe. Buddy was not going to stop. His jumps were honest, and careful, but... sideways. And his legs could go to either side of his body, depending on the canter lead he was using. Ebony shortened her reins, deepened her heels, and turned to gelding toward another of the little fences. Sure enough, like clockwork, the gelding shuffled into the jump, picked a take-off spot, sat on his hocks, and corked screwed his big body over the fence, legs to the right, while Ebony bent her right knee more then her left, and felt her seat hovering to the right of centre of her saddle's cantle. The gelding landed clamly, and shuffled cheerily off down the slope, as though nothing was amiss.

“Mira – you're gonna think I'm nuts – but whack that little spread up to about a metre ten, would you? And only about half a metre wide. I just want to see what he does.”
Mira looked wary, but shrugged her shoulders and hefted the poles into place on the wings, thinking to herself that it was lucky she had her mobile phone with the ambulance on speed dial in her pocket. It was a plain, unpainted fence, on a slight upward slope, with no shadows or false ground lines. Ebony thumped her helmet firmer onto her head and tightened the chin strap, flexing her calves so that each heel was deep and anchored her balance on the gelding.

“Okay, here goes” she breathed, turning the gelding into a wide circle. Buddy picked up his customary shuffly canter, and circled quietly in a beautiful round frame – the way he knew got him a pat and the 'nice voice'. As Ebony turned him to face the fence she felt the gelding's head shoot up, and his ears prick forward like bullets. “Oh-oh” she gasped, but it was too late now – they were committed. Yanking a big lanky horse like Buddy sharply out of a jump at speed was risking a slide or a fall, or worse, damage to his precious tendons, not to mention his confidence. Grasping a handful of black shaggy mane, Ebony sank into her heels, and waited as quietly as she could for the jump to come.

The gelding saw the fence and sank onto his hocks into a powerful forward canter. He'd done this loads of time before; hopping an old sagging barbed wire fence into a field with a sprinkling more grass than his abandoned, unkempt, bare paddock, so that he wouldn't starve. Finishing the grass in that field, he had noticed the field beyond that had a higher fence, but a bit more grass. And so he had hopped back and forth between the three paddocks for months before he was taken to the sales. Jumping was good. Jumping was easy, and something the gelding had done every day.

Jumping meant food.

Ebony braced and rose into two-point position as the gelding launched his powerful body up and into the air, he seemed to hang suspended at the highest point of his arc, and he remembered to tuck his legs sideways just as he did for all those minths to avoid the barbed wire, which had torn his at his chest the one time he hadn't been so careful. Flicking his legs sideways kept them safe, and he felt his mistress shift her seat sympathetically the same direction, so that their centre of gravities were aligned. Straightening his front legs, he reached for the ground on the other side of the jump, landing lightly as a deer, and shuffled bouncily away up the hill.
Ebony pulled him up, puffing and laughing, turning to Mira. Mira was running toward them, laughing and pointing at Ebony's red face.

“I thought I was gonna die!” gasped Ebony wiping her eyes and patting Buddy, incredulously.
“Shit Eb, he cleared that by about a foot! But he was – literally – sideways in mid air! God knows how you stayed up there! Why the heck does he jump like that?!” Panted Mira arriving at their side.
“I have no idea” Ebony began lauging again. “It's bizarre! You want a go?”
“NO THANKS” Mira shot quickly, bursting into fits of laughter again. “Well, I guess he's not going to be your olympic horse, hey Eb?” she joked.
“Well, that's the thing, Miz, he's ultra careful, and he's honest! I had no doubt in my mind that he would jump. He got the height – no problem there. And yeah; it feels bizarre! But it's ok; I just have to balance myself a little differently.” She saw Mira's incredulous look. “I know it looks funky, but it feels - I dont know - safe. Weird, but safe. He's totally self-assured. He knows what he has to do, and in his own way, he gets it done. And look at him! He loved it!” Ebony pointed a finger down at the black gelding whose ears were still pricked keenly and was looking about him cheerfully. “I think he just... walks to his own beat, is all”
“Yeah!” Mira scoffed, shaking her head. “His own beat, eh? Well, it's some pretty funky music he's listening to then!”

Chapter 2

The Whitewood sale yards were abuzz with activity. Held on the last Friday of each month, they sold all manner of livestock and farming equipment. The day had become a family gathering as well, now that the local Country Women’s Association, and the local RSPCA branch ran stalls, jumble sales, pony rides, a jumping castle and various food stalls to raise money. Ebony eased the F100 and the old grey horse float into a parking spot, looking at Lisa apologetically as the truck belched and spluttered to a halt. Lisa just rolled her eyes and laughed as they hopped from the cab.

Ebony recognised a few of the families from her school. She waved at some teens eating chips and draped lazily about the tray of an old ute.
“G’day Miss”, they called.

The smell of Dagwood dogs, donuts and fairy floss hung in the air, mingling with the musty stench of animal manure, dust and heat. In patches, the green grass – well-trodden – had been replaced by areas of red-brown hard-packed dust. A few blow flies did the rounds, sticking to sweaty brows and tickling hot skin. The sleepy Australian summer afternoon did nothing to abate the energy of the children, who flipped and cavorted inside the plastic sagging jumping castle. It had a donkey’s head hanging lethargically from the centre of the roof. Occasionally a child was ejected roughly, crying from a bumped-head or a bit-lip.

Lisa lolled her tongue out from the side of her mouth and lifted her hand to her mouth in a ‘drinking’ motion. Ebony nodded her agreement and they made a bee-line for the nearest food stall.

Four raspberry slushies later, the two women wandered between the livestock holdings and admired the stock. The air inside the hug pavilion was slightly cooler, but unmoving. The sheep panted in their pens and chickens protested jerkily, beaks parted.

“Is it lot 67, or 76?”
“Ummm,” Ebony turned the pages of her catalogue. “74? No – wait. Here it is: ‘4 x 2 yo miniature goats - F.’ That was it, yeah?”
“Mmm hmm,” Nodded Lisa in agreement, stopping to scratch the wide, bristly behind of an enormous pig. The pig’s lips curled upward as it grunted its appreciation.

Ebony cast her eyes along the rows of stalls. Most of the smaller livestock was kept toward the back, which is why something caught her attention. Ebony had done a double-take, thinking that the corner stall held a large black mule. She’d never actually seen a real mule before and was just about to tug Lisa’s sleeve and point, when a second glance at the animal hit her like a fist in the gut. It was the biggest, ugliest, most decrepit horse Ebony had ever seen. Leaving Lisa to indulge the pig, Ebony sidled up to the horse feeling her heart break. The horse was black with a huge white blaze down his long face. His muzzle and dangling lower-lip brushed the dusty floor, as though lifting his head was just too much for his sinewy neck. His spine and rib cage resembled a rail hung with empty wire coat hangers, and his coat had the look and feel of Hessian. The horse’s dinner plate feet were spilt from floor to coronet, and a large gash on the horse’s chest exposed its flesh like raw meat hanging from a meat hook. The horse made no attempt to swish the flies from its wound or its sticky eyes. Ebony fought the urge to wretch, checked the animal’s teeth, and was stunned to see that it may have been only five or six. It looked like it had been suffering for about 80 years.

Ebony glanced around for Lisa and noticed an old man shovelling aside the manure of the three Hereford steers in the next stall.
“Excuse me?” The man looked up from under his old terry-cloth fishing hat. “Um, is this your horse?”
The old man spat with disgust. “No m’am. I wouldn’t have kept that animal alive long enough to bring it down here. Horrible, the way some people treat their animals.”
“I know.” Ebony agreed. “Do you know what he’s doing here?”
“Well, now. He came in with some business men. Real posh suits an’ all that. Think they were divvyin’ up some poor old sod’s deceased estate. Don’t think they knew what to do with ‘im.”
“Hmm. Hoping the doggers would take him I guess.”
“Yes m’am. Though I reckon they’d be hard up to find any meat on the poor wretch’s bones. Poor lad’s only good for the grave, aren’t you old timer?” The man conceded rubbing the horse’s sparse, grubby forelock. The glazed eyes hardly moved.
“Thanks. Good luck with your cattle. They’re really good-looking animals.” The old man raised a hand modestly and returned to his shovelling. Ebony trotted-off to find Lisa, knowing what she was about to do was foolish at best, but not being able resist.

A few hours later the ancient F100 grumbled and groaned its way around the barn and into its parking spot. With a final cough, and a shudder it shook its squeaky chassis and settled down to sleep. Ebony fell soggily out of the cabin, catching her foot in the truck’s step and tripping unceremoniously onto the driveway. It was dusk, hazy and grey. A sharp whinny trilled from the innards of the barn and Eb called out “Yeah, yeah Boss – in a minute!” She felt so dehydrated from the day, she took a few seconds to gulp a few handfuls of water straight from a nearby tap.
“Right Mister” she said straightening up and heading to the front access door of the float. Wrenching at the protesting handle, she reefed the door open and peered inside. The big black bulk stood where she had left him, one back leg resting on a toe. His nose was snuffling at the doorway – his dirty white blaze the only part of him discernable in the half-light.

“There’yar buddy, all done. We’ll get ya inside and mix you up some dinner, ok?” She scratched his long, knotty forelock and untied his lead before letting down the tail ramp. This was a habit from the years she’d owned Boss. When Boss had come to her, he’d had a habit of running backwards madly out of the float and hitting his head on the roof. If he was tied up, it only made matters worse, as he often struggled against the rope too. Having to go to-and-from events mostly alone, Ebony had realised quickly that she was unable to undo the float’s tail bars, undo the lead, and avoid being trampled at the same time. It had taken weeks and weeks of patient training, but now Boss stood quietly in the float – whether tied or not – until Ebony gave him the command to “Back Up”. She intended to keep up this routine with all her horses.

The big black animal trundled clumsily backward down the ramp and stood at the end sniffing the air. He shook heartily and looked around. It was the most energetic thing Ebony had seen him do so far. “Good boy” she murmured patting him on the neck. A pair of headlights appeared in the driveway, and began winding down the track as Ebony recognised her Mum’s old station wagon.

“Hi Sweety – I hoped you’d be home! Did you get the goats? How was school? Did you have a good day? Goodness - he’s skinny? Whose horse is he?” Dale Tyler Busted around her daughter in a fug of patchouli, ylang ylang and wooden beads. Even the horse eyed her with interest. She wore a long green sari-style sarong, and her medusa hair was piled in an erupting volcano on top of her head. Her arms jangled with wooden beads and bracelet’s.

“Yes, yes, good. Yes, yes, and mine.” Ebony laughed. She was used to her mother’s flamboyance and habit of asking several questions without taking a breath. It was her infectious energy which made her such a hit with the day-care kids.
“Oh look at him” Dale breathed, closing her eyes. She breathed in deeply and nodded slowly. “Oh yeah, Eb, he’s an ‘old soul’. A very old soul. He’s been here before, yeah.”
Ebony smiled. “Well he’s not gonna be around much longer if I don’t hurry up and get some food into him, hey buddy? Can you help me get him settled, Mum? I kinda wasn’t planning on bringing a horse home with me today!” she laughed.

Inside the barn, the light was dim, but the atmosphere was quiet and warm. Ebony loved it. The building was a two story barn, corrugated iron outside, but lined inside. It was a temporary fixture: Erected to house the owner-builder while they built the permanent home, but it suited Ebony perfectly. Down stairs contained 4 stalls, a laundry, feed and tack room, and a small area with a couch, coffee table, and a few odd chairs. Upstairs was where Ebony lived. It was small: Just a kitchenette, ensuite, and a large room, which was used as the all purpose lounge room, bedroom, and everything else! The corrugated iron meant that sometimes when the weather was bad, the sound of the rain was deafening! It had taken her a few sleepless winter nights to get used to the noise. But she loved being close to the horses, and having them downstairs meant she could keep a close eye on them. They also kept it amazingly warm; Ebony found she hardly needed any extra heating!

There was a scrabbling sound as a mass of rust-coloured fur buffeted down the stairs. "Hi Spud!" cooed Ebony as she smoothed the little mongrel's wirey hair back from his big watery eyes. Ebony had named him 'Spud' because he was short, round, and always covered in dirt. Spud curled his brushy tail in welcome, and trotted expectantly over to Dale, hoping for bickies.

Boston flipped his head impatiently. “Sorry Boss, let’s get you out” Ebony soothed. As it was a hot Australian summer, many riders decided to reverse their stabling routine, stabling the horses during the heat of the day, then letting them out to graze in the cool of the night. Ebony straightened Boston’s white cotton combo so that it laid evenly over his back, clipped a dark green lead to his leather halter, and lead him outside. He jogged bouncily at her side, flirting his hooves and puffing excitedly. “Hang on, hang on,” she laughed, fumbling with the chain around the gate. Boston stood patiently while she undid his halter, then trotted merrily off into the darkness toward the creek. Ebony tossed a flake of lucerne hay into the feed bin and checked the water trough, knowing that after a cursory lap of the field to check all was in order, Boston would come to the gate for his hay.

Back in the barn Ebony flipped on the electric jug in the downstairs lounge room, and picked two mugs from a shelf under the coffee table.
“Cuppa, Mum?” she called, looking around.
“Yes!” came the reply, as Dale’s head popped up above one of the stall dividers. She held a rake and had straw in her hair. “Have you got camomile?”
“Of course!” laughed Ebony, “I only keep in here for you!” She poured the hot water over the tea bags, and returned the milk from her own tea – plain old Tetley – to the little bar fridge that hummed cheerfully in the corner.

Ebony took the two cups into the stall where she found the black horse munching a mouthful of lucerne hungrily. Dale had tied him loosely in the stall and was spreading a thick layer of straw around his feet.
“Oh, Mum – thankyou! You didn’t have to…”
Dale waved her protests away and took her mug from Ebony. “I like him, Eb, he’s a sweetie. I gave him some Rescue Remedy to ease his trauma and I’ve been breathing into his nostrils to calm him.”
Ebony looked sideways at the horse stuffing his face, noting that he looked neither traumatised nor anxious, but she refrained from pointing it out. “…um…cool. So what do you think I should call him?”
“Oh! I thought his name was Buddy! That’s what you called him when you were talking to him before – I just thought that was his name.” said Dale.
“Oh. Well. Ok, that’ll do then. It sticks, I guess” laughed Ebony. It was then that she caught sight of the horse’s near side eye. “Oh look! He’s got a blue eye – how did I miss that before? Oh well I suppose it’s dark, and his forelock is kinda long… I can’t believe I didn’t notice! I hope he isn’t blind!” She sidled up and moved her hand silently in front of Buddy’s blue eye, it blinked rapidly and he turned to sniff her hand quizzically. “No, I don’t think he is, but I might get Phil in to check. I hope you don’t have too many more surprises up your sleeve, mate!” she laughed.