If I’d known I would be hunted down like a criminal, I would have run away from Atterley Hall the moment I heard that horrible screaming, but this was the first day of my new life, and I wasn’t giving up now.
As the wintery sunlight broke through the early morning mist over the parkland, I took a deep breath, charged through the archway into the stable yard, and had to jump back from the sweating body of a huge, black stallion, rearing up and thrashing the air with his hooves.
With an angry shriek, the horse began a furious dance, swinging his body from side to side and trying to shake off a terrified groom clinging to his lead rope. The small, grizzled-haired man was strongly built with thickset shoulders and huge fists, but he was no match for the angry beast. Pulled off his feet, his boots sliding on wet cobbles, he punched the stallion’s neck, making him wilder than ever. Bellowing with rage, the beast gave a violent twist of his spine, flung the terrified man into the air, and I watched in horror as he landed on the yard with a sickening thud.
Then the stallion trotted towards the groom’s body, about to bring his enormous weight smashing down on his tormentor, and desperate to stop him, I yelled, ‘Thunder, don’t!’
At the sound of my voice, the horse seemed frozen in time. His head was thrust back, his mane rippling with a life of its own. His heavy body hung motionless in the air. He was balanced on his hind legs, the muscles in his haunches rippling under the skin. For one terrified moment, I thought he would topple backwards. But with a tremendous effort, he heaved his body forward, his hooves clattered harmlessly on the yard, and the man scrambled to safety.
It took a moment for me to realise the stallion was trotting towards me, with a few strides of his long, powerful legs he’d be on top of me, and I feared I’d be trampled. But at the last moment, he sidestepped delicately and came to a bouncing halt, his chest towering above me.
In the sharp morning air, I felt the heat of his silky body. His breath formed white clouds around his muzzle, wetting my face. Then with a swift movement, he dipped his head in a playful manner, stared at me with huge, liquid eyes, and nipped me on the shoulder. He had not forgotten me!