Chapter 8 – The Corral.
As the sun got higher in the sky, the drill call sounded, which meant that the infantry and artillery practiced their disciplined work as a unit until 11:00 am and then performed a drill ride around the parade ground in front of the corral on the horses. I sat on the rails of the corral fencing and watched the men work, enjoying the complex patterns of the drill ride and the perfectly disciplined movements of the horses, before long the bugle sounded again, I was told when I asked it was the stable call which came twice a day at 11:30am and 4:30pm, which meant meticulous grooming and checking of all the horses and riding any not in the drill. I was asked to work in two dark bay horses that both had different problems and was happy to oblige and get more recognition from the soldiers and of course, the Colonel himself.
The first was a thoroughbred gelding, around 16hh but built of pure muscle. He was heavy on my hands and chomped non stop on the bit, so I worked him in figures of eights doing lots of different transitions with him to make him softer on my hands and work through the back, before asking for some harder movements. He responded by backing into my leg and coming off my hands, which was at least a slight improvement but now I had to get him off my leg.
All the while I could feel myself being watched by the Colonel and the other soldiers; I tried my best to keep my concentration as the heat of the morning grew. Once I finished the first horse he was taken to be cooled down and I was handed the second horse, he was smaller than the first at maybe 15.2hh but his presence was much more demanding. He was a stallion and had a fire in his eyes that belonged on the racetrack. I mounted up and immediately he jittered about and wouldn't go in a straight line, he had only just been broken and was obviously displeased at having to carry a human. He jogged and tossed his head, frothing at the mouth within a few minutes of entering the corral, I sat up and made him trot around and around the arena as the heat built up in the midday sun.
We trotted constantly until my legs were aching and my hands felt like they were made of stone, but as the time wore on he became calmer and calmer until eventually I could loosen my reins off, by the end of the session I was trotting him around on the end of the buckle and the soldiers had gathered in their break to watch. Once I was satisfied he had no more energy left, I dropped my reins and patted his neck and asked him to keep trotting. We got to the far corner and I sat deep and asked for a lope and before you knew it he was cantering around the ring with no reins, I had to urge him on to keep him going.
I stopped him using my seat whilst I rested my hands on my legs and dismounted, patting his dripping neck. No time for cooling off the correct way when there were a dozen other horses and riders waiting.
I got many 'well done' and 'very good' comments from passing soldiers as I left the corral and handed the horse to one who was waiting to take him and rub him down. Once the soldier had walked away the Colonel came over.
"You've impressed most all my soldiers Miss Chase, that's a hard thing to do around here."
I blushed at his praise. "Thank you sir, I'm not doing anything fancy."
"I think that's the exact reason why they are so impressed, because you aren't doing anything, the horses just seem to respond to you."
I looked down at my feet feeling myself get embarrassed. "Thank you sir."
"If I may ask," he paused and waited until I looked up before continuing, "I'd like you to give my soldiers a demonstration on horse training with your little black mustang. Show them how you work with horses, my soldiers are good men and fine riders, but not many would ride a horse without holding the reins, none when they had never ridden the horse before."
"Of course sir," I brightened up, "when would you like me to do it?"
He looked up at the sky and spoke. "Tomorrow, I'll inform the soldiers at lunch today, which is now."
I looked up at the sky and was surprised; time had flown so quickly whilst working those horses and watching the men work others. I thanked him and we walked to the dining hall together as the bugle sounded to let the soldiers know that they had an hour break.
Time flew quickly by, I ate lunch at the Colonel's table with him and the Lieutenant, whom I learnt was called Henry, then worked three more army horses whilst the soldiers were on the afternoon Fatigue Call, as the day was drawing to a close I spent some time with Bailey, waiting for him to allow me to stroke him and seeing what his boundaries where with me, before long dinner was being served.
After dinner and evening role call, which I was told would take place every evening 5 minutes before sundown. I went and brought Jesse out in the cool evening air; I took him to the corral and let him off. He rejoiced, rearing and bucking across the open space before coming to me in the middle of the arena. I sat down and he rested his head on my shoulder before sinking down onto his knees and finally laying down with me. I patted his thick neck and lay back into his chest, pulling his head into my lap. I lay there for what seemed forever, stroking his black face and watching the stars. My head was still reeling from these last few days and I hadn't yet had a chance to really just sit down and think about it.
As I lay there with Jesse his ears flicked up, though he didn't move. I sat up to see the Colonel approaching with his hands behind his back as always. He stopped in front of me and smiled. He came down onto on knee and asked if he may stroke Jesse, I nodded and he took his glove off before stroking the length of Jesse's face as he dozed in my lap.
"I know I have already said it once, but I have never seen anything like this before in all my years with horses."
"You've been on a different side of it to me, the strict classical side of horsemanship, no lesser than my side, but very different when compared with each other."
He nodded without taking his eyes off Jesse. "I'm sure this is the horse that sired that mustang, every movement, every look the same. I'll never forget those determined and wild eyes, your horse shares them."
"It would be incredible if it was, to think that the sire of such a horse would allow this to be done to him."
"With the right touch, any horse will allow it; they just have to want it I guess. The horses in the military don't get a choice in that matter, they have to obey or they are auctioned or even, a crime which I was almost guilty of myself, shot. Because of the fear that at any one time a war could break out or we are needed, we don't have the time to work with the horses apart from our own personal horses and even that is limited. They have to be broken and trained up fast, ready to serve their country, most horses never even see the battlefield and stay to fight on campaigns or other missions."
"It's a shame to see it that way, but none of the horses are unhappy with how they are treated, they accept it just as you accept you have to do it this way."
He looked up at me and smiled slightly. "I look forward to your demonstration tomorrow Miss Chase, until then, I bid you good night, last call is at 9pm every evening, but do not worry about tonight, I have already seen you, lights out is at 10pm." He kissed my hand and stroked Jesse one last time before getting up and walking away into the darkness. I watched him go and puzzled, there was much more to that man than he let on. He wasn't always the iron spurred rider who could break any horse (well, any horse but one) people talked about in stories.
I lay there a little while longer as Jesse drooled onto my legs, which made me laugh to myself. Could this horse really have been the sire of the horse that could not be broken?
My eyes started to feel heavy eventually as the days work took its toll on me, I got up and Jesse rolled onto his feet, he followed me and I picked his halter up off the fence, but didn't bother to put it on him. We walked side by side to his stall where Sampson was sleeping with his head between his knees. He pricked his ears as Jesse entered by didn't look up or open his eyes, I stroked his shoulder and ran my hand through his hogged mane as I had seen the Colonel do and he heaved a big sigh. I then turned to Jesse and kissed him on the nose and hugged him, tangling my hands in his mane and closing my eyes. I breathed in and felt the whole world disappear whilst we were together, I pulled myself away and went to my quarters.
The Colonel's bunk was dark, so was everyone else's, apart from the sentries I must be the only one awake. I opened my door quietly and lit two candles, keeping the light dim as I washed and dressed for bed. As I climbed in I wrapped my hand in my blanket just as I did Jesse's mane and fell into an uncomfortable sleep in the heat.