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Black Onyx: Sheoaks Equestrian School, #2

Black Onyx: Sheoaks Equestrian School, #2

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Black Onyx: Sheoaks Equestrian School, #2

133 Seiten
1 Stunde
Oct 22, 2020


Tristan took one last look at the horses being prepared for filming and the actors in woollen uniforms emerging from the vans. It wasn't hard to imagine a real war-time recruitment situation. Even less hard was imagining Onyx as one of the horses about to be shipped off to war.


Sheoaks Equestrian School has turned into a film set. It should be an exciting time for Monika, Spike, Hattie and Tristan. Instead, the glamour of the movies is dulled by the actions of the movie's horse master, Katy Wild. Well-educated horses that are easily trained are needed for films, and Sheoaks' riding school horses would be perfect. When Katy takes a particular interest in Black Onyx, Tristan knows she wants to buy him for the World War I film. Why wouldn't she when Australian stockhorses were thought to be descended from Walers, the Australian war horses? What can Tristan do to keep Onyx at Sheoaks?

Oct 22, 2020

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Black Onyx - P. J. Harvey



‘Aren’t holidays great?’ Tristan leaned his bicycle against Mrs Cooper’s garage as the others waited for him. ‘No school for two weeks! And Terry Taylor’s at Sheoaks Equestrian School.’

Spike nodded vigorously, her spiky chocolate-coloured hair flinging around her head as she did. ‘Terry Taylor and his crew. A whole movie set at our riding school.’

‘It’s not our riding school, Spike.’ Monika pointed to the peeling sign that was attached to the front of the garage. ‘Sheoaks is Mrs Cooper’s.’

‘But without us helping out looking after the horses, she wouldn’t be able to keep going. She said that last summer holidays.’

‘She did,’ said Hattie. ‘That’s because we’re brilliant working pupils.’

‘Humble, too,’ said Tristan seriously.

‘Yeah, right.’ Spike hitched her bag up on her shoulder. ‘Let’s get rid of our things and go and have a look.’

They left their bags and coats in the small annexe attached to Mrs Cooper’s house, and ran down the path to the stables. At the gate, they slowed to a walk, not wanting to scare the horses staring at them from the paddocks set around the school.

‘Hello, Duke,’ said Spike, rubbing the nose of a dark bay thoroughbred. ‘How’s retirement going?’

‘He’s happy as anything,’ said Tristan. ‘Look, he’s got fat.’

‘Not fat, just fatter than he was.’ Spike held her hand out to another horse in the paddock but Benjie pulled back and wouldn’t let her touch him. ‘Isn’t it strange to see the old riding school horses so close to the stables when they’re usually in the Big Paddock?’

‘Strange, but good.’ Monika went to the fence as well and stroked the neck of a flea-bitten grey with a short, wiry mane. ‘Hello, famous movie horse.’

‘I watched the last bushranger film Dust was in, you know.’ Tristan put his hand out for Dust to sniff. ‘He was really good.’

Spike laughed. ‘The bushranger or Dust?’

‘Dust! Well, the bushranger actor was good, too, but Dust stole the show. Sorry, Industrial Espionage, so they called him in the credits. He had to do this thing when he saw a snake and reared up then pounded the dirt.’ Tristan did an imitation of a horse pawing at the dirt with one hoof. ‘Then there was this scene where he had to jump over a log and race down the hill.’ Tristan rubbed the broad expanse between the old horse’s eyes. ‘He was amazing.’

‘He’s still amazing,’ said Monika with a grin. ‘For an old horse with a sway back.’

‘Well, yeah, but he was really amazing back then.’

Spike looked across the paddocks to where there were people streaming from vans and cars. ‘What do you think the movie horses will be like?’

‘I’m not sure but isn’t that them?’ Hattie pointed to where a line of horse floats was coming, pulling off the road and bumping across the grounds.

‘Yes!’ Tristan started walking really fast towards them. ‘Let’s go and watch from the teaching arena.’

The four of them hurried across the practice yard in front of the stables, over the bridge that crossed the drain, and through the centre riding paddock to the arena. There, they climbed up on the far railing and sat to watch.

Four horse trucks moved slowly across the top end of Sheoaks Equestrian School where a line of wavering sheoaks swayed lightly in the breeze. They travelled through the dip where the creek wound away and pulled up into the Big Paddock. They parked alongside the vans and people climbed out, leaving the horses inside the floats while they talked among themselves.

‘Hurry up,’ said Hattie. ‘Get the horses out.’

‘Mrs Cooper said the horses had to come from New South Wales.’ Monika shifted to be more comfortable on the hard, wooden rail. ‘That’s about a two-hour drive. They’ll want to get them out soon.’

‘See where they’ve set up corrals?’ Tristan pointed. ‘Jack said there was a team here during the week getting everything ready.’

‘They’ve brought their own feed and everything.’

‘So they should,’ said Spike. ‘Mrs Cooper can’t be feeding all those extra horses as well.’

‘Remember she’s getting paid for Terry Taylor hiring the paddocks,’ said Tristan. ‘It’s saved the school from closing down.’

‘For now,’ said Monika grimly. ‘If the drought doesn’t break, it’s still in trouble.’

Automatically, they looked to the sky but it was a clear blue, perfect autumn weather. ‘No rain,’ said Spike.

‘Not today,’ said Hattie. ‘Oh, look!’

At last the floats were opening up. Tail gates went down on all of them, and rugged horses stepped elegantly backwards until they reached the ground. Most of them wore hoods, so only their tails were on show.

‘It’s hard to see what they look like,’ said Tristan crossly.

‘We’ll see them in action over the next few weeks while we’re on holidays.’

‘Especially when there’s not much to do during the week.’ Hattie jiggled up and down. ‘There are no lessons on except for the weekend.’

‘Except for us?’ Monika’s eyebrows twisted. ‘Mrs Cooper said we could ride, didn’t she?’

‘Only in here.’ Tristan jerked his head back towards the arena. ‘The rest of the paddocks are out of bound for ages.’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ said Spike. ‘We can cope for…how long are they here again?’

‘Terry Taylor’s paid Mrs Cooper for three months use of the school.’ Monika shrugged. ‘By next holidays, we should be okay to ride all over the place again.’

Tristan nodded. ‘We’ll have plenty of entertainment in the meantime. See?’

Across the paddock, sixteen horses were getting used to their new abode. Some had dropped their heads to the ground straight away and were nibbling at what remained of the grass while their handlers chatted among themselves. Two horses with black tails were not as settled, throwing their heads up and dancing around each other while their handlers moved with them. A small woman stepped forward, her long ginger hair caught back in a ponytail, and directed the handlers of the high-spirited horses to take them away into the paddock. She watched, hands on hips and tapping one foot, as they walked away.

‘I reckon she’s the boss of the horses,’ said Tristan.

‘Just like I’m the boss of you today.’

They turned at the voice to see Jack standing on the sand behind them, his Dalmatian, Scotch, waiting patiently at this side.

‘We were just looking,’ said Tristan.

‘Of course you were.’ Jack strained to see past them. ‘It’s all very interesting but we have lessons so you’d better get going and prepare your horses.’

Hattie and Spike were the first off the rail, followed more timidly by Monika and Tristan. Jack fell in beside them as they headed back to the stables. ‘We’re expecting a lot of pupils today,’ he said. ‘Because we’re not having week day lessons, some adults are coming this weekend instead. All your horses are booked from nine o’clock.’ They reached the stables and Jack checked his watch. ‘I’ll put Ironstone’s day rug on and then I’ll be back.’

Tristan waited until Jack had crossed the practice circle to the grey Warmblood’s paddock then threw his hands up. ‘We might be able to still ride this afternoon but the horses will be exhausted!’

Monika took a headstall from the hook outside Paddy’s stall and shrugged. ‘Don’t forget, Tristan, that there’ll be no one here during the week. We could probably ride all day if we want to after the weekend.’

Tristan’s face brightened. ‘Hey yeah!’ He leaned over Onyx’s stall door. ‘Did you hear that, boy?’

Onyx walked to the door and put his head over to nuzzle Tristan before turning to watch Ironstone trotting towards Jack. Tristan rubbed the horse’s ears, marvelling at the deep blue-black colour of Onyx’s coat.

Within twenty minutes, the working pupils had their horses ready for lessons. Monika already had Paddy Whitesocks outside, the horse casually leaning his nose on her shoulder. His brown and white coat gleamed in the sunshine. Monika had spent a long time brushing his mane and it lay lush and long on his neck.

Shamilah was refusing to stand still. Spike was still doing up her girth and the Arab mare threw her head up and down in protest. ‘She’ll be better if you bring her out,’ called Monika.

‘Is that a trick you learned from looking after her?’ asked Spike.

‘It’s about the only one I did learn.’

Spike led the dancing mare into the sunshine where she snorted and stood still beside the placid Paddy. ‘Now you’re quiet,’ muttered Spike as she fixed the saddle properly.

Onyx was next, following Tristan calmly.

‘Look out!’

Tristan glanced behind him, and quickly ran Onyx forward out of the way of Hattie and Lily. Lily was barrelling out of the laneway, her reins looped over her neck. Hattie panted after her.

‘She got away,’ she said as she grabbed the white pony’s reins.

‘You need to hold on to her properly,’ said Spike as Lily spun around, nearly knocking into Shamilah.

‘I know, I know.’ Hattie held the pony tighter. ‘Got her now.’

‘Just in time.’ Spike pointed to the gate. ‘Here they come.’

The nine o’clock pupils were all regulars. As they mounted their horses, they chatted noisily to the working pupils. ‘Have you seen the set yet?’ ‘How many horses do they have?’ ‘Is Zak Murphy here yet?’

‘Yes,’ said Spike. ‘16. And

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