The Horse Whisperer
August 2008 – thirteen years old.
Ant stared at the hoof prints stamped into the soggy earth.
At the centre of the ring, Tim and Mrs Holt struggled with their newest acquisition. A large, cloudy stallion with a long white tall that refused to be bridled. He was the biggest horse Ant had ever seen, and watching Tim and his tiny mother attempt to wrestle with him made Ant’s stomach churn.
Tim jerked back as the horse reared, kicking it’s legs and spraying thick dollops of mud everywhere.
‘Just get out of here Tim,’ Mrs Holt snapped, pulling on the reigns as the horse pulled away from Tim again. ‘You’re working him up!’
Tim scowled and threw down the reigns, glaring at the anxious horse as if it was purposefully trying to make his day harder. He shook his head and trudged for the fence where Ant stood.
The horse reared again, tossed its head, and yanked free from Mrs Holt’s grasp. She cried out as the horse charged.
Ant’s eyes went wide, his heart stopping, lodging in his chest as the horse ran toward Tim’s unprotected back.
Tim glanced back and then, absurdly, stopped, turning to face the charging horse straight on. Ant’s heart lurched.
It was so typically Tim. So reckless and headless of the calmest way out of the situation.
Ant threw open the gate, his feet slipping in the mud as he reached out to grasp at Tim’s arm. Blood rushed in his ears along with the sound of heavy hoof prints. The kind that could crush bone with one steady stomp.
His fingers closed around Tim’s arm and he yanked, pulling his startled friend through the gate and slamming it shut.
Tim went sprawling, thrown off balance by Ant’s hurry. Ant, too, slipped in the mud, but fell forward onto the gate he had just shut. Toward the furious, approaching horse.
Air blew into his face and he found himself staring up at the grey stallion.
The horse stomped it’s hoof, pawing the ground as it tossed its head, apparently unimpressed by Ant blocking his path.
Ant’s heart hammered in his chest, and he took a slow, deep breath, exhaling steadily. He unclenched his hands from the fence and, with an almost painful caution, reached up to rest his hands on either side of the horse’s shoulders.
‘What’re you doing!’ hissed Tim from behind him.
‘Shhh, easy now,’ said Ant, brushing his hands down the course, dusty coat. ‘He just doesn’t understand. It can be scary coming way out here, can’t it? There’s a lot of things you’re not sure of.’
The horse snorted, but—to Ant’s surprise—didn’t pull away. He turned his head, staring at Ant through one big brown eye.
‘I know,’ said Ant. ‘You can rage all you like. We’ll still be here.’
Mrs Holt eased up alongside the the stallion, eyebrows raised in surprise as Ant murmured to the horse.
‘Well, I think that’ll do for a day,’ she said, running a fond hand over the flank of the horse. ‘Why don’t you put him in his stable, Ant?’
‘Well you might as well get better acquainted, seeing as you’ll be working together.’
‘What’re you talking about Ma?’ asked Tim, pushing himself out of the mud to lean on the fence.
The stallion snorted, tossing his head as Tim came too close for comfort. Tim scowled at it.
‘I mean,’ said Mrs Holt, shifting so that she was blocking Tim from the horse’s line of sight. ‘That I think Ant should be our new stable hand. If he’s up for it, of course.’
‘You…you want me to help? Really?’
‘You have a calm temperament. You always have. And if you can calm Tim out of one of his moods, I have no doubt you’ll work wonders on the horses.’
A flutter of excitement stirred in Ant’s chest.
‘He’s only thirteen,’ said Tim, a sulky tone coming into his voice.
‘He can handle it,’ said Mrs Holt. ‘Can’t you Ant? Of course, you’d get paid.’
Delight lit up Ant’s face and he nodded. ‘Sure,’ he said, and he turned to Tim in excitement. ‘And if I’m working here, we’ll get to hang out more without Mum getting mad!’
The irritation left Tim’s features, the creases in his brow smoothing out as he considered this. ‘I suppose that’d be alright.’
Ant beamed and looked up into the face of the still restless stallion. ‘What do you think? Can I do it?’
The horse shifted, tossed it’s head, and then huffed into Ant’s face. Soft and billowing. Like a dog snuffling around your clothes in greeting. Ant laughed.
‘That’ll do for me,’ he said.