Halloween Short Story: Dressage by Moonlight

Kate is excited to bring her new horse home. But after some late night escapades, she begins to wonder what’s in his past… Read on for more.

By Kerrie Garvey

As Kate’s eyes opened and her consciousness slowly returned, she barely held back an involuntary squeak of excitement as she remembered that today was the big day – the day her new horse would be arriving at the barn! She couldn’t contain a grin as she pulled on her barn boots. Even though she was in her thirties, she felt like a teenager today. She stepped outside into the crisp clear morning air. There was a cool undertone to the sunlight streaming through the leaves that were beginning to shift from green to yellow, orange, and red. Fall was finally in the air after months of hot sticky weather. As she climbed up into her aging red pickup truck she nicknamed Henry, she thought to herself what a perfect day it was for her new partner to arrive.

Ten minutes later, she pulled into the barn parking lot, a place that was so familiar and had brought her such joy for so many years. She sighed to herself thinking about her last horse, Prophet, who had sadly passed away a few months ago. They had shared seven perfect years together and some days it didn’t feel real that he was gone. She shook off her melancholy, sure that Prophet would have wanted her to find another partner to love. Change was always hard, but she also knew the complete sense of rightness that having a deep connection with a horse brought her. And today would be the first day of building that connection with her new horse, Rocky.

Kate had found Rocky’s ad posted online a few weeks ago and something about his photos just spoke to her. She had scrolled through what felt like hundreds of ads with equally nice looking horses, but those hadn’t sparked any excitement in her. For a while she thought maybe she just needed more time after losing Prophet. But, after seeing Rocky’s ad, Kate had immediately sent a message to his owner inquiring about his asking price so she didn’t get her hopes up on a horse that was out of her meager budget. To her shock, he was priced much lower than she expected and was actually under her budget. When did that ever happen? Even with the shipping fee to bring him to her barn in Vermont from several hours north in Canada, she may even be able to afford to get him a decent used saddle.

The next day, she drove up to meet Rocky with her friend Monica in tow, both for company and also to be the voice of reason if Rocky wasn’t a good fit for her or if there were some red flags. She was not at all surprised that he was exactly what she had been looking for in a horse – a gorgeous black 16 hand Cheval Canadian gelding with a long flowing mane and tail and the most friendly and inquisitive personality. She was surprised that Rocky’s owner, Jake, was willing to sell such a nice horse. When she asked why he was being sold, Jake just said that Rocky belonged to his daughter and that his daughter didn’t ride anymore.

Kate’s thoughts turned to imagining the two of them, cantering across a field while warm hues of the foliage flashed by, leaves crunching under Rocky’s hooves. She smiled to herself as she walked into the barn. One of her friends was in the barn, cleaning the first stall in the aisle. Cindy looked up and smiled at Kate, “Big day, huh?” Kate grinned at her and replied “Yes! They should be here in about half an hour!”

While she waited, Kate rechecked Rocky’s new stall, making sure he had enough shavings and hay, rehanging his salt lick in a place with easier access, and making sure his water buckets were topped off. She headed back outside to eagerly await Rocky’s arrival. She paced around the driveway for the next five minutes, lifting her head every time she heard the crunch of tires approaching on the gravel road to the barn. Finally, she saw a large truck pulling a trailer round the corner. He was finally here!

As the driver parked and got down from the truck, she tried to keep her composure even though the little kid in her was leaping into the air and vibrating with excitement. She exchanged some polite words with the driver, and he assured her that Rocky had loaded up great and traveled like a gentleman the whole way. As he lowered the ramp and went to back him out, Kate’s breath caught. He was even more handsome than she remembered when she went to try him a few weeks ago. The driver handed her his lead rope, and she couldn’t stop grinning as she led him down to the indoor arena so that he could stretch his legs after the long trip. Her other barn friends, Laura, Anna, Sabrina, Kelly, and Mindy, met her down at the gate. It seems Rocky already had his own fan club at the barn. Kate beamed as she led him past her friends. She closed the gate to the indoor arena and unclipped his lead. To her surprise, he didn’t run off bucking like most horses who had just had a long trailer ride would. Instead, he stayed by her side and gently lipped her jacket. Kate felt her heart mending just a little bit with the touch of his warm lips on her sleeve.

The next week passed in a blur. Rocky settled in to his new home like a professional and Kate spent time getting to know him and getting his new tack fit. She spent every evening after work with him for at least an hour or two. Kate also spent a lot of her working time daydreaming about him, finding it hard to focus on her reports when she had a gorgeous new horse to spoil.

However, just over a week after he had arrived, the owner of the barn, Paige, sent her a message letting Kate know that Rocky had somehow gotten out of his stall the previous night. He had managed to open the large sliding door to the barn and got into the hay field across the street. Paige had found him standing in his stall munching hay when she came down from her apartment over the barn that morning with his stall door wide open. She followed the muddy hoofprints out of the barn to see where he had gone. The funny thing, Paige had said, was that his tracks showed that he had clearly trotted in twenty meter circles in the field before returning to the barn on his own. Paige also hadn’t heard anything from her apartment above the barn. Kate thought that was pretty strange and assumed that someone had forgotten to latch his door after checking his hay or water the night before. She made a mental note to double check his door latch before leaving the barn every night and remind Paige to do the same. Rocky wasn’t hurt and he was back safe in the barn, so that was the important thing.

The next week, Kate and Rocky started their riding partnership. Rocky’s previous owner had told her that he hadn’t been worked in a few months because his daughter stopped riding, so she was careful not to overdo things while he was getting back into shape. And, Kate mused to herself, she was also definitely working on her own fitness since she had only ridden a few times since Prophet passed away a few months back. Kate felt such joy even just sitting on Rocky’s back. There really was a feeling of contentment and just being at home when you sit on the back of your horse, a feeling indescribable to those who haven’t had the same experience. As she and Rocky walked down the dirt road next to the barn accompanied by her friend Courtney and her black gelding Coal, a cold breeze blew through the trees, shaking loose some of the colorful leaves from the trees bordering the road and raining them down on the horses. She smiled. It felt like an autumn wonderland. That thought reminded her that Halloween would be here in only another two weeks, and she realized that it was past time to get started on Rocky’s costume for the barn’s annual Halloween party. How would you go about making a full knight’s costume for a horse without any sewing ability, she wondered. The answer is usually bailing twine and duct tape, so she would grab a few handfuls of bailing twine on her way home that afternoon. Preoccupied with thoughts of horse Halloween costumes, she forgot to double check Rocky’s door latch before she headed out for the night.

The following morning, she received another text from Paige. Once again, Rocky had gotten out of his stall and made strangely perfect figures in the hay field across the street. He had then returned to his stall before Paige got downstairs from her apartment that morning.

Kate alternated between spending time riding and hanging out with Rocky and working on his Halloween costume for the next few days when she wasn’t at work. She was gathering up the costume to take with her to work so she could swing by the barn afterwards to try it on him when she got yet another text from Paige. Rocky had done it again! It was the exact same thing as the previous times, including the strangely regular twenty meter circles in the field and finding him standing happily in his stall in the morning with the door wide open. This time Kate was absolutely sure she had checked the latch on his door before leaving the night before, and she knew that Paige had checked it again before going to bed. She decided it may be time to contact his old owner to see if he had any suggestions for keeping Rocky contained.

Kate gave Rocky’s previous owner a call when she got home that evening after a mostly successful costume fitting. Rocky looked amazing in his somewhat unevenly hemmed knight’s regalia. As the phone rang, Kate was halfway thinking about what type of Halloween treat she would make for the upcoming spooky barn party when Rocky’s old owner, Jake, picked up. Kate started the call by letting Jake know that she absolutely loved Rocky and that he was doing great in his new home. Jake seemed happy to hear that Rocky was doing well. When Kate began telling Jake about Rocky’s late night escapades, Jake became very quiet. Thinking that Jake was interpreting her questions as complaints, she quickly reiterated that she was very happy with Rocky and that he shouldn’t worry about it. Jake’s voice was quiet and a little shaky as he slowly replied “Honestly, I’m not sure how he keeps getting out. He never did that when he lived here.” Jake’s voice cracked on the last syllable. The uncomfortable silence stretched on, and Kate didn’t know what to say in response.

Eventually, Jake continued “what I can tell you is that my daughter, Lillith or Lil as I called her, would work late a lot.” He paused again, taking a deep breath. “And she would come and take Rocky out on clear nights when the moon was out. They would ride out in the field, practicing dressage by the moonlight.” He took another deep breath and let it out shakily. “Rocky always loved those night rides. They both did.” Kate was confused at this point. If Lillith loved riding so much, why did she stop? Jake let out another haggard breath. “Lil was killed in a car accident three months ago. I.. I just couldn’t keep Rocky here after a while. Every night when the moon was shining, I would see him, standing in his stall staring at the door where Lil would come in the barn, waiting for her to come take him for their moonlit ride. I thought a change of scenery and a new person to love him would help him too. It sounds like he still remembers my sweet Lil.” Jake’s voice broke at that point, and Kate could feel tears start to slip down her own cheeks.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Kate choked out. She tried to assure Jake that she would take great care of Rocky for the rest of his life, for him and for Lil. She was sniffing back tears as she and Jake said their goodbyes.

A few days later, the moon was shining bright. The fall wind had left a bite in the air as she finished up at the barn earlier that day. Even though it was late, Kate couldn’t sleep. She had been thinking about poor Lil, Jake, and Rocky since he told her what had happened. She pulled on a heavy sweatshirt and her barn boots over her pajamas, grabbing her keys as she headed out the door. She drove to the barn in the quiet of the night, listening to the truck’s tires crunch on the fallen leaves along the empty country roads. When she pulled into the parking lot, she took a few minutes to just sit quietly and collect herself. She was just about to reach for the door handle of her truck when she saw Rocky walking calmly out the door of the barn. The door that she hadn’t realized had been open when she pulled in. Kate sat mesmerized as he walked across the street into the field. He began walking in circles and even doing some leg yields completely by himself. Kate was torn between staring in wondering and wanting to go catch him to make sure nothing bad happened to him. She had just decided to go get him when he picked up a perfect trot and began making twenty meter circles and changing direction like they did when they were doing a dressage lesson. She sat in her truck, her mouth hanging open, watching Rocky go through an entire normal schooling ride completely by himself for at least half an hour. Every once in a while, she could have sworn she saw the moon glint off of an ethereal figure on his back. Maybe he wasn’t completely alone after all…