The Callisto Chronicles
“What about that one?” David said, gesturing to a dark bay pony in one of the stables. “Right sort of size, looks like it’s in good condition…”
Abigail frowned. “No, it’s just not quite right; it lacks…something… something special.”
She wandered along the line of boxes, smiling as their inhabitants reached out their velvety muzzles in expectation of mints or a fuss.
She and David were pony-shopping.
Since Tamarind was only suitable for advanced riders and Kestral had turned out to have a bit of a ‘difficult’ streak as well, they really needed a nice laidback horse for novice riders and general hacking. They’d come to the local horse charity as they often had good quality bombproof ponies in need of permanent homes.
“That one? It’s piebald!”
Abigail shook her head.
“He’s lovely but not quite what I’m looking for…ahhh!”
She stopped at the second-last stable and beamed. A beautiful palomino mare peered out, her big brown eyes twinkling in the sunlight and her unusually shaped blaze appearing to glow in the bright rays of the sun.
David nodded. There was just something about the mare that singled her out from the rest of the horses. He reached out to stroke her nose and jumped as a second head emerged from the box and proceeded to lick his fingers. A foal!
“Ah, I see you’ve taken a shine to Cally and Arkas then!”
Mr Darrow - the owner of the yard - laughed and approached the box. “You’ve good taste, I’ll say that much!”
Abigail smiled and ruffled the youngster’s fluffy forelock.
“How old is he?”
Mr Darrow shrugged and gave a wide smile. “No idea – we’re pretty sure he’s over a year old but we’re really not certain.” He nodded towards the mare. “We’re more definite about Callisto though – we managed to get in touch with the vet who was present at her birth so we know that she’s just coming up for eleven years old now.”
Abigail nodded. She was the right sort of age …
“What’s she like? We’re looking for something suitable for beginners so she’d have to be safe.”
Darrow concurred. “Aye, she’s a good horse for the inexperienced but she does have her problems. She’s had a difficult start to life.”
“We got her as a rescue case from an awful riding school that was being shut down. They just didn’t look after any of their horses and most, if not all of them were ruined in some way. For Cally here it really knocked her confidence and we’ve had great trouble getting her settled.” He sighed. “It’s a wee shame – she’s a grand little mare.”
Abigail nodded and patted the mare fondly. “What happened to her?”
Mr Darrow heaved a sigh and leaned against the wall.
“To be honest, we don’t know exactly. All we do know is that when she was younger, about four or five, she was sold to a family as a second pony. She was well loved and treated like a queen. The kids adored her and she was always in the ribbons at the shows.”
He rubbed her muzzle affectionately with his knuckles and she flipped her top lip and extended her tongue, trying to lick him.
“At some point the family had to give her up – I think there was money issues involved and they had to move, but whatever happened they couldn’t afford to keep her so they sold her to a dealer on the agreement that she went to a good home where she’d be looked after. Unfortunately, she ended up at a cheap and nasty yard where she was overworked, underfed and generally mistreated.”
David shook his head sadly. “I hate people who do that, it’s just not right.”
Mr Darrow agreed. “That’s not the half of it…” He closed his eyes as he considered his words.
“The dealer, for whatever reason decided that she wasn’t very saleable and left her in a boggy, marshy field for nearly a year. As you can imagine, it didn’t do her much good and by the time the school bought her, she was in terrible condition.”
“She was also in foal, although the yard didn’t know that at the time. To this day we still don’t know who the sire is.” He paused before continuing. “If we had found her before they got hold of her, things might have worked out better. Anyway, they bought her for a ridiculous sum of money and loaded her straight into the trailer without a vet check or anything”
“Even when it was blatantly obvious that she was pregnant, they worked her anyway. It got to the point where she was being ridden in lessons four or five times a day without decent rest periods or time off.”
He cursed under his breath and punched the wall with his fist. “I’m sorry, but I just cannot stand people who treat them like that. Horses aren’t cars – you can’t just fill them up with petrol and expect them to perform – they need rest and care and interaction with their own kind in order to function.”
He sighed again and watched as Arkas nibbled his dam’s mane.
“When he came along, the yard could only see the financial benefit. They needed more school horses and saw Arkas as a miracle – totally free and trainable to boot.”
He snorted. “However, their idea of training differed from what most people consider it to be. They tried to break him in as a yearling, using horribly harsh bits that no youngster should EVER be forced into wearing. He’ll never be ridden, that’s for sure. He gets very phobic about things in his mouth and goes mad whenever you put something on his back, although he’s alright with rugs.”
David looked shocked. “Why would they do something like that? I mean if you really needed a broken horse, why not sell the foal and buy a schoolmaster? Surely that’s more logical than trying to back a horse that young?”
Darrow nodded. “To be honest I think they relished the idea of doing it all themselves, no matter what the cost.” He rubbed Arkas’ nose gently and continued. “I didn’t trust them at the time when they told me he’d been ridden in a Chifney but you could well believe it when you look in his mouth.”
Abigail shook her head and held Callisto’s head, tears threatening to escape from her eyes. “Sick…stupid people! Why can’t they just leave them alone?”
Darrow nodded. “Who knows? If we knew why they did these things, the world would be a much better place.”
He opened the door and led Callisto out, Arkas following behind her calmly without need of a headcollar.
“We got involved when a dog walker saw one of the staff abusing her out on a hack. He was using the crop almost constantly and she reared, throwing him.”
“When he picked himself back up he just marched over to her and started beating her. You can still see the scars here, look” he pointed to a couple of rough looking areas on her flanks and let out a sigh. “The saddest thing is that the lad who did it got off with only a fine and a warning from the police.”
Abigail looked at him, horrified. “A fine? Is that all?”
“That’s ridiculous” added David angrily. “No wonder there is so much abuse out there – the punishments just aren’t harsh enough!”
Darrow nodded sadly. “Exactly. We’ve had some cases brought in to us that…oh, it just doesn’t bear thinking about.” He smiled weakly and patted Callisto fondly.
“These two however, are some of our success stories. We’ve taken our time with them and haven’t forced them into anything. Cally is great with kids and adults alike and if you didn’t know any better you’d never think that she’d had any difficulties in the past. We’ve had to bit her slightly differently though. Years of having her mouth being hauled at has left her feeling very uneasy about most mouthpeices. We tried her with a hackamore but she just didn’t take to it so we swapped around for a while and she seems most comfortable in a plain snaffle.”
He led her around the yard and trotted them up, beaming like a proud parent eager to show off his children’s achievements.
“They’ve been vetted several times and they’re both sound, although, as mentioned before, we’d rather not let Arkas be broken in as we really don’t think he’d cope with it. He’d make a brilliant companion or show horse though - he’s got a lovely temperament.”
He smiled at them and draped an arm casually over Arkas’ neck.
“What do you think?”
David looked at Abigail.
The decision had already been made.