Authors: Linda Chapman
Loving Spirit, Book Three
THE GRAY HORSE STOOD
in the field, his dark eyes wise, his tail swishing softly to keep away the flies. Near the gate, the other horses jostled, teeth flashing and hooves threatening as they argued over patches of grass and the water trough. The gray horse never got involved in their disputes. He led a small group of quieter horses. When he moved, so did they.
Lifting his head, he snorted with contentment. The early summer grass was lush and green, and the sun was warming his back. Behind the field the mountains of the Peak District rose up, their slopes criss-crossed with gray stone walls and dotted with black-faced sheep. The horse coughed, feeling a tightening sensation deep inside his chest. He paused in his grazing, but then, accepting the discomfort, he lowered his head and started cropping the grass again. He had known far worse pain in his life.
The memories were always there. The man who had fallen off him, coming to his stable, whip in hand. The horse could remember the feel of the whip lashing down on his neck and shoulder, and the man’s anger that he hadn’t understood. The scars had left him unfit for the show ring and so he had gone to another home—a trekking stable where they had made him carry people up the mountains hour after hour, his tack stiff, his stomach empty, his coat thick with mud and grease. The horse remembered his life there too—the tiredness, the hunger, the shouting when he slowed.
It was over now. He looked to the gate, his eyes seeking the slim blonde girl with her soft hands and gentle voice. The girl who had saved him. The horse coughed, feeling the strain in his chest again. Putting his head down, he continued to graze, his eyes never leaving the gate. She wasn’t there yet but he knew she would come…
THE STABLE WAS WARM
, the air close and still. Outside on the busy yard there were sounds of stable doors banging, hooves clattering on concrete, grooms calling to each other. Ellie pushed the body brush over Spirit’s gray coat, cleaning it with every stroke of the curry comb. Her mind emptied as she lost herself in the regular rhythm—
brush and clean, brush and clean…
Back in February, when she had bought Spirit at a horse sale, he’d been thin and scarred, destined to go for meat, but as soon as Ellie saw him, she had felt a connection between them. From the moment she’d looked into his eyes, she’d known she couldn’t leave the sale without him and so she had bought him and walked him back through the bitterly cold wind to High Peak Stables where she lived. He looked like a different horse nowadays: his white mane and tail tangle-free, his once-dirty coat clean. Ellie ran a hand over his side, pleased with thevelvet-soft feel. However, she could feel his ribs bumping too sharply against her fingers. Although Spirit had put on weight after she’d brought him back from the sale, over the last couple of weeks he had gone off his food and was growing thinner again. She frowned, worried, as she looked at his tucked-up stomach. Why wasn’t he eating?
“Should we talk?” she whispered, putting down the grooming tools. When she and Spirit were quiet and still, her mind could connect with his. Sometimes they would communicate with words; sometimes he would send her images and feelings that she would interpret.
At first, Spirit had been the only horse Ellie had been able to communicate with, but then he had shown her how to talk to other horses too. Now, if horses were unhappy or in pain and people didn’t know why, Ellie could find out. No one knew about her ability, only Spirit.
Shutting her eyes, she placed a hand on his shoulder and began to breathe deeply and slowly, clearing her mind, sending out love. Every person and animal in the world had their own energy field. Being able to talk to an animal with her thoughts involved opening herself up and connecting to that energy, waiting for the images and words to come. Every bit of her mind was focused on Spirit. Gradually she felt the familiar sensation as their minds merged. It was as if a door was opening.
A thrill ran through Ellie. Even though she had talked to Spirit many times like this it always felt amazing when he answered.
How are you feeling today?
Opening her eyes, she moved closer to him. Spirit had arthritis and his joints were often stiff. Maybe they were hurting now and she wondered if that was why he hadn’t been eating.
Is your arthritis all right?
Are you sure? You haven’t been eating your food.
I don’t feel hungry.
But you’re losing weight.
Spirit sent her a wave of reassurance in reply. A picture of him as a foal came into her mind. He was cantering around a field. It was one of his early memories and Ellie experienced it now as if she was him. She could feel the sun on her back, the cool grass under her feet. She felt the instinctive urge to gallop and buck in delight. Happiness surged through her and she knew she was feeling what Spirit had felt back then.
She wondered why he was showing her the memory—what he was trying to say.
You were happy then?
Yes. It is how I feel now.
Ellie breathed a sigh of relief. If Spirit didn’t think there was anything wrong that was good enough for her. She rested her head against his neck and changed the subject.
I managed to speak to Gem this morning, Spirit. I wanted to find out why he’s always so tense.
Gem was one of the hunter ponies she rode for her uncle. He was only young, a blue roan pony, and about to start his first season of showing. Ellie loved him like she loved all the ponies on the yard, but she found him quite difficult to ride because he was so anxious and needed constant reassurance. She’d been keen to find out more about him and his past.
What did he tell you?
Ellie began to share Gem’s thoughts with Spirit, showing him the pictures the pony had shared with her earlier that day—the first memories from when Gem had been with his mother in the field and then the day he had been taken away from her. Ellie had lived through the moments with him—as he had walked inquisitively up to the man with the headcollar and then been put into a horsebox with three other foals. There had been noise and confusion, men shouting, the other foals whinnying frantically.
Ellie had felt Gem’s terror as the ramp had clanged shut. He’d been very young to be separated from his mother—only four months old. There had been the smell of diesel fumes from the engine and the fear radiating from the other foals. She had heard his desperate cries for his mother as the horsebox started moving away. He’d never seen his mother again.
Gem had told her he’d been taken to a showing yard where he stayed for a couple of years. There he had been fed and watered, but the grooms were busy. After his attempts at seeking affection—nuzzling, pushing against them, pulling at their clothes—had been met with slaps and sharp words, he became nervous. When he was old enough to be ridden he’d been sold on again, this time coming to High Peak Stables, Ellie’s uncle’s yard in north Derbyshire.
Scared and bewildered, Gem had arrived in the autumn, just eight months ago. He had been broken in and taught to wear a saddle and bridle. Too scared to fight, he had accepted a rider without protest. But Ellie had felt an anxiety deep within him about what would happen next in his life.
, she’d told him, longing to take his nervousness away.
Nothing bad’s going to happen. You’re safe here.
Her uncle was firm and hard with his horses, but he wasn’t cruel to them.
And I’m here to look after you now. I’ll love you, ride you, groom you.
The young pony had sighed and rested his head against her chest as she talked to him. She’d felt his relief wash over her that finally someone was listening.
I think I can make him happier
, Ellie told Spirit.
that he trusts me and I know why he’s nervous. I’ll try to help more.
She felt Spirit’s warm breath on her hands and felt his pleasure.
Ellie put her arms around his neck.
, she told him.
Thank you for showing me how to talk to other horses. I want to help as many as I can
Spirit snorted softly and Ellie felt love well up inside her. The bond between them was so strong. She couldn’t imagine how her life would be now if she hadn’t bought him that day at the sale.
Rubbing his forehead, she reluctantly stepped back, letting their thoughts separate again. She could stay talking to him for hours, but there was too much to do on the yard.
“I’d better go.” She gave him a last hug. “I’ll see you later.”
Picking up the grooming kit, Ellie left the stable, her heart light. She stopped to greet the black gelding in the next stable along. He was a valuable show hack called Lucifer. When he had first arrived back in March, he’d been very unhappy on the yard, but eventually Ellie had talked to him and worked out why. After that, she’d been able to help him settle in.
I wonder which horse I’ll talk to next
, Ellie thought as she headed towards the main yard. She’d love to talk to all the horses there, but it was hard to find the time. It wasn’t something that could be rushed. Some horses would talk straight away but with others she would often have to just stand for a long while, waiting until they relaxed and their minds connected with hers. She would happily have given up the hours needed, but now it was May there were shows nearly every Saturday and Sunday, often in the week too, and her uncle had a constant list of jobs for her to do. It was hard enough finding the time just to groom and ride Spirit.
Ellie reached the main yard. Here a large courtyard was enclosed by ten spacious loose boxes. The remaining twenty horses were stabled in two American-style barns. The countryside around the stables was majestic and wild. Somehow the peaks of the north Derbyshire mountains that rose up behind the yard looked bleak and untamed even in the middle of summer with the sun shining. In contrast, the yard was an enclave of order and control. Headcollars were hung neatly from hooks and the yard was perfectly swept. High Peak Stables was one of the top showing yards in the country and her uncle, its owner, Len Carrington, believed in neatness and order at all times.
As Ellie reached the yard, she saw her sixteen-year-old cousin, Joe, leading a chestnut pony with a flaxen mane and tail out of the pony barn. Stuart, the yard manager, was lunging a horse in the small schooling ring by the car park, while Helen and Sasha, the two grooms were cleaning tack in the sun. Luke—Joe’s cousin from the other side of the family, who also worked full-time for Len—was going out on a hack on one of the hunters. Everyone on the yard was always busy. Len had huge amounts of energy himself and would not tolerate any slacking. Anyone found not working could expect a torrent of sharp words. The days started at 7 a.m. or earlier and often didn’t finish until late at night if there was a show on.
It was a completely different life from the one Ellie used to have. She had grown up in New Zealand with her dad, Len’s younger brother, who had been a vet, and her mom who had been a kindergarten teacher. Ellie had been very happy. She and her mom kept horses and ponies, and she used to travel with her dad on his vet rounds. But ten months ago her world had turned upside down when both her parents were killed in a car accident. At first Ellie had lived with her grandmother, but her grandmother was old and in January it was decided that Ellie should move to England to live with Len and Joe. She would never forget her arrival—how she had hated her uncle, hated the oppressive gray skies of the Peak District, hated being torn away from her home. But after she and Joe became friends and she found Spirit, her life had