Authors: Stacy Gregg
Storm and the
For my dad, thanks for buying me a pony
Anyone who knows anything about horses will tell you that there is no such thing as a white horse. A horse is never called ‘white’. They are always referred to as grey.
Roberto Nunez shook his head and smiled at this. How silly these rules were!
He knew that horses could not be white. Yet how else could he describe the mares that were galloping towards him? These mares were as pure white as the snow that topped the distant mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema. They were as white as the stone walls that ran around the stables here at El Caballo Danza Magnifico.
Roberto Nunez’s purebred Lipizzaner mares were as white as any animal in nature could possibly be. Their colour appeared all the more startling because it was in
stark contrast with the coal-black foals that ran alongside them at their feet.
Although Lipizzaner horses are famous for being white, their foals are always born pitch-black. Gradually, as the foals grow up, their colour will change. As they mature, the Lipizzaners’ dark coat will begin to prick here and there with tiny white hairs so that by the time the foals have grown into yearlings they have become steel-grey. At the age of three Lipizzaners are almost grown-up, and their coats have become even lighter, with dapples beginning to show through the dark steel on their hindquarters. In this way, their coats will keep fading until finally, at around the age of twelve, their dapples will have washed away and the Lipizzaner will be utterly and completely snow-white just like their mothers and fathers before them.
This was the way with the Lipizzaner. Roberto Nunez knew the breed well. At his
, his grand estate here in southern Spain, he bred Andalusians and Lipizzaners, along with the highly strung, elegant, chestnut Anglo-Arabs that made up his internationally renowned troupe of performing horses known as El Caballo Danza Magnifico.
The mares that were galloping towards him now, driven carefully by his men, were part of his breeding
herd. They had been grazing for the day out on the dry rocky hillsides that surrounded his horse stud. Nunez liked to let the mares and their young foals roam free as much as possible. It toughened them up. It gave them spirit. But always he kept a close eye on his horses. Now, as night fell, he was bringing them home.
There were about two dozen mares in this herd, all ghostly pale, with the bloom of their grey dapples fading on their rumps. Their manes and tails were hogged off—cropped short, in the style that the Spanish always kept their breeding herds. It was funny, Nunez thought, how his mares were the ones who had their hair cropped short while the stallions, the male horses of the herd, were allowed to keep their long and silky manes.
Even without their manes, these mares were great beauties. To anyone else, they would have appeared almost identical, and yet Nunez could tell them apart at a glance. He simply looked at their faces and knew them instantly, in the same way that you and I might know a friend’s face if we saw her in a crowded street.
For instance, one mare might have a Roman nose, a noble trait often seen in the Lipizzaner, while another mare would possess the dished face of the Arabian bloodlines that had also influenced this mighty breed. Some mares
had the typical Lipizzaner characteristic of perfect almond-shaped eyes. Others were blessed with a smattering of the dainty freckles known as ‘flea-bites’ flecked on their cheeks.
These were Roberto Nunez’s very best mares and they had been bred with the very best of El Caballo Danza Magnifico’s stallions.
Roberto Nunez smiled now as he caught sight of one of his favourite mares, Margarita, with her pretty coal-dark eyes and her features so delicate she looked as if she might have been carved out of marble. At Margarita’s feet was a jet-black foal. The foal was all legs, gangly and awkward, and only a few weeks old. And yet already Roberto Nunez could see the signs of greatness in him that came from being sired by one of the finest stallions in Spain.
“You see him, Marius?” Nunez said to the stallion beneath him. The great grey horse shifted about restlessly at the sound of his master’s voice, and Nunez reached down and gave him a firm pat on his arched, glossy neck. “That is your son,” he said proudly.
The progeny of Marius held the key to the future of El Caballo Danza Magnifico. Roberto Nunez knew it. And this foal was not the only one. He had discovered that there was another son of his mighty stallion, born far away from Spain—in New Zealand, of all places!
His head instructor, Francoise D’arth, had received a letter from a girl called Isadora Brown. The letter said that a foal had been born to her mare Blaze and that Marius was the father! Nunez could not believe it when he heard the news. But one look at the photos of the colt that the girl enclosed removed any doubts. He was clearly the progeny of Marius, as strong and handsome as his famous sire. And with the beautiful Anglo-Arab mare Blaze as his dam, the colt would be intelligent too.
The colt’s name was Nightstorm—although in her letter the girl referred to him by his nickname. She called him Storm.
The thunder of hooves shook Roberto Nunez back to reality as the mares and foals rushed past just in front of him, heading in through the wrought-iron gates that led into the vast courtyard of El Caballo stables. As the herd ran past, Nunez searched again for Margarita and her foal and then laughed out loud as he caught a glimpse of the black colt in full flight, giving a high-spirited buck as he raced through the gates.
“You see, Marius?” Nunez murmured to the stallion.
“Your son. He is coming home…”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Issie Brown was having serious second thoughts about taking Storm away from Winterflood Farm.
“I don’t know about this, Tom,” she said, gazing uncertainly at her colt standing in his stall. “Are you sure he’s ready?”
“Absolutely,” Tom Avery said. “The journey will be no big deal. This is an important stage in his training.”
“It’s just that he’s still so little.” Issie’s voice was quivering. “He’s only just been weaned two weeks ago and he’s never been away from the farm before—”
“Issie, he’ll be fine,” Avery said firmly.
“Honestly, Isadora!” Avery couldn’t keep the exasperation out of his voice. “With the fuss you’re making you’d swear we were taking Storm halfway around the world instead of ten minutes down the road. For Pete’s sake! We’re only driving to the pony club grounds! It’s hardly a long trip, is it? Trust me, he’s ready!”
Issie sighed. “You’re right, Tom. I’m being silly.”
She had to face the fact that Storm wasn’t her baby any more. The colt was so grown-up he was already as tall as his dam, Blaze. He shared his mother’s delicate Anglo-Arabian features too, although his big-boned, powerful
physique and presence owed more to his sire, Marius.
Storm was six months old now. Had it really been that long since the stormy night when the foal was born? Issie remembered it so clearly, fighting the rain to get Blaze inside, sheltering in the stable as the lightning flashes lit up the pitch-black sky. The thunderstorm that had marked the colt’s sudden arrival into the world had given him his name—Nightstorm. Issie had delivered him all by herself, and from the moment she saw the wee foal lying damp and newborn on the straw of the stable floor she had fallen in love with him.
The only living creature that loved Storm as much as Issie did was the foal’s mother, Blaze. They were so alike, Blaze and her son. Even though Storm was a bay and his mother was a chestnut, the colt’s broad white blaze that ran down his velvety nose made him look just like his mum. He was beautiful like her too, with those enormous eyes full of wonder, fringed with eyelashes that were so long they didn’t even look real.
With his fluffy dark mane and doe eyes, Storm was as cute as a baby kitten. If Issie had been left to her own devices, she would have spoilt him rotten with cuddles and treats. But Avery knew better than to let her do that. Her pony-club instructor had made it clear right from the start
that horses weren’t pets to be mollycoddled and fussed over.
“That foal is going to grow into a big, strong horse one day, bigger and stronger than you are,” he told her firmly. “So don’t even think about teaching it some tricks that you might think are cute right now, but will turn dangerous later on when that colt gets older. You are training a horse to respect you right from the start.”