Martin Menzell was getting old. Martin was of the generation from the era before the war when horse power was the major means of farming production..before tractors became more efficient and the horse era was brought to a sudden and inglorious end..who could have foreseen that the development of those brutal machines of war, would make for the development of the tractor to become the machine for farming that would completely, in such a short space of time, sideline the draught-horse as the work-horse of agriculture. Gone in an instant was all those allied trades and skills that supported and surrounded the horse industry for uncounted millenia…all the experts in breeding, breaking and training horses in so many communities..gone also were the farriers, blacksmiths, saddlers and harness makers and repairers…and the conversations at store and hotel moved from muscle and hoof to the mechanics of this or that machinery.
An era of companionship in leisure and labour between horse and man, that had stood for uncountable millennia had passed.
Martin Menzell watched with concerned eye this passing of an era..He first had an inkling of it when old Glastonbury retired and on-sold one of the first cumbersome tractors that came to the district..a great lump of a thing called ; “A Lanz Bulldog”…sure, it could pull its weight on the plough and then some, but it was a beast of a thing to get started and the noise , and the smell and the fuel it needed was filthy and most distressingly..it scared the horses!….But when old man Glastonbury retired, young Rosenswietz made a lunge to buy that tractor quick-smart that demonstrated an eagerness for this new age of machine driven farming that gave warning to Martin Menzell that here was a thing whose moment had come..and it was coming to stay.
Martin was worried.
Martin loved his horses.
But Martin was getting old.
There were still several horses that he kept as personal companions that connected him to a passed age. He had relinquished the running of the farm several years before to his two daughters, his only children for he had no son…after his wife passed away.. The daughters too had an affinity for horses, but in a more “sport-horse” capacity…that is, they worked and trained them for equestrian competition like dressage or Hacking events…an occupation that Martin scorned as frivolous and undignified for serious horse breeding and working.
Martin kept his skills and observing eye to himself regarding what HE thought would make for a good breed of horse…and on that matter, he had his eye on a mare of his own that he had for some time considered good brood stock for a likely stallion. Many times he could be seen leaning over the rails of the mare’s yard watching her movements closely…Her stepping movements. The muscular frame of her body..strength of the forequarter and hindquarter…the swing in her trot or canter..that shimmer of her coat…but most of all was this instinct for the whole picture of the mare..an instinct cultivated over so many years of handling, breaking and grooming of those beasts..yes…he was thinking..there is a good brood mare…and he knew just the right stallion he would want to mate her with.
Another old friend from the days of serious horse farming, Charlie Kruger had just the stallion Martin had in mind…Charlie had paid a tidy sum for him back in the day and was charging more than Martin could afford for a mare servicing..but that was then…Similar health problems coming with ageing were troubling Charlie Kruger now and Martin heard that Charlie’s stallion ; “Nobleman” would soon be put up for sale.. Martin approached his old friend and made him an offer that Charlie accepted with the rider that any foal could not be signed off on a breed certificate as a progeny of “Nobleman”, as the mare had no breeding papers….and the pair of horses were left in a yard to “go about their business” once the mare came on season.
The mating was successful and in due course, fortune came forward and a colt was born.. and what a fine colt he was…and once weaned, the colt’s body and frame started to really develop into a fine figure of a future stallion…and he named this stallion ; “Ctesephon”, pronounced ; Tesephon..after the ancient capital of Persia…yes…he thought..a noble name for a noble beast…A dark Bay coloured horse with black lower legs without blotch nor blemish…and just a splotch of white on its forehead..a beautiful beast.
Martin knew he no longer had the physical strength to break the stallion, so when Ctesephon was two years old, he called in a local young man that he knew was up to the job… Gary Sommer…and under Martin’s tutelage and Gary’s skilled nerve, they gradually brought Ctesephon under the control of bridle, bit and saddle without breaking that glorious strut, trot and canter of the beast…he truly was a magnificent animal..and once he was good enough for Martin to lunge, they would go to the Round Yard and Martin would put Ctesephon through his paces, developing his frame and balancing his movements, so that when he trotted or cantered, it was with an unfaltering stride and with his head in perfect symmetry to his pushing steps…Martin would never tire of admiring that marvellous beast and he felt more than a little proud that his breeding judgement was proven so sound with this fine example of equine purity..
Martin held the lunge rope and put Ctesephon into a fast trot, holding him in the frame so he could study the stride and pitch of the body..
He was as a butterfly in a flock of moths. He bounced on his hooves with all the grace of a prancing pony, circling, lifting, dipping, feinting. He floated in the air at times with what seemed all four hooves off the ground and Martin found he could time Ctesephon’s strides with a snap of his fingers…Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap!…and the horse’s muscles flexed and pumped out shimmering waves of his coat with a combination of controlled speed and controlled step like some boxing greats.
“He’s like a Panther with a pretty face.” Said Gary as he watched from the rails….Yes..Martin agreed he’s almost like a big cat stalking around the yard…beautiful.
Martin would spend hours training and grooming his steed over many months..
But Martin was getting old.
One day, one of the daughters found Martin laying on the couch in his “Granny flat” in a frozen immovable state…he had suffered a stroke…and for a long time, he was at death’s door…then came the struggle in convalescence and then in rehabilitation, for Martin had lost much of his capacity to move around or speak and even to comprehend what was being spoken to him..so it was a good nine months before he could ask or be told of events down on the property.
When Martin did finally get the chance to lucidly put words together, it was to ask of Ctesephon..
“Fine..He’s fine..” said his eldest daughter, Fiona…” He’s down the back paddock fattening up on the new growth grass there..he’s just fine..”
Fiona was the more authoritative of Martin’s two daughters…it was she who managed the property once Martin relinquished it to his daughters…and it was Fiona who changed the business model from an agricultural system to primarily an equestrian centre with indoor arena, where the more affluent of the district would congregate and take lessons or agist their horses…the younger daughter, Kaylene, was more of the party animal type and though she too was keen on the equestrian side , she had little to do with the management of the business and followed..albeit insubordinately…her older sister’s instructions.
“Is he being worked? “ Martin mumbled out…There was a pause before Fiona answered.
“ He’s ….resting..” she cautiously replied.
“Better get young Gary to keep working him…it won’t be good to leave off with the training at this young age..”
Fiona stopped folding some items she had brought there for Martin and sat gingerly on the edge of the bed…she clasped her hands together on her lap and spoke..
“Gary doesn’t come to the farm anymore….I had to let him go.”
“Why?…he’s a strapping young lad..I’d think he’d be quite useful to do the heavy lifting there on the farm.”
Fiona averted her eyes and replied..
“That’s the problem…he was a bit too much of the “strapping young lad” at least as far as Kaylene was concerned….He’s too much of a distraction for her and the other girls working there..”
“What girls..they’re all grown women!” Martin exclaimed. “Kay’ must be..oh, twenty eight by now..that’s a grown woman in my book..your mother was younger when we married…mind you, I was much older than her..but she had you two by the time she was twenty five!…would’ve had more but for Kaylene’s difficult pregnancy!”
“ That was then, dad…now, thirty is the new twenty..and Kay’ still acts like a young teenager..Look ( and Fiona stood up from the bed and with hands on her hips, she confronted her father with her explanation )….if you are so convinced that Kaylene is the grown woman I’ll tell you about her.. I was walking past the feed room a while back and I heard a noise from inside and while the door was shut, I could see through that hole where the old lock was ..and there was Kaylene flat-strap on her back on the lucerne bales with her ankles up by her ears and with Gary giving her a lot of what YOUR generation so crudely calls ‘ ‘ow’s yer father’ …so there’s your “grown woman”..
“Oh…” Martin mumbled..” Did you confront her about it ?”
“I did..and I said that I saw what she and Gary were up to in the feed room…but the only reply I got was a casual..”Did you dear?”…and with a slap of her riding crop on her jodhpurs, she walked away..Well, I told Gary I didn’t need him there any more and I paid him off”.
“The cheeky little sprite!” and Martin chuckled “ Oh well..your mother and I were no better behaved when we were young….I remember one time after a local dance….”
“I don’t want to know!” Fiona quickly and sharply interjected..and she gathered her purse and things to go..
“Well, you better think of getting him back to do some work on Ctesephon..because I won’t be back on line for quite a while and you can’t let a stallion stand idle…they’re troublesome…like young strapping lads..” and he gave Fiona a wink on her parting.
It was several weeks before Martin could get back to his home on the property and then only move about the granny-flat with the help of a walking frame or a stick on some days…His speech had almost completely restored, but his left side leg and arm were only partially useful..but he still insisted on doing for himself as much as possible…the only fly in the ointment at this juncture was his concern for Ctesephon and the lack of training he was getting…he decided to ring Gary himself and get him to come over.
“ Oh..hello, Martin” Gary answered the phone “How you getting on?…You home yet?”
“Yeah, I’m home and I’m still ratshit!…can only get around with this bloody frame… or a stick…it’s shithouse…say..how about you coming over an’ helping me?”
“What for…changing the nappy?” and he laughed.
“Don’t be a smart-arse, young whipper-snapper…I’m talking about Ctesephon…he needs working.”
“Don’t you know I’m banned…?”
“That’s your fault…don’t you know not to take your honey where you make your money?…and anyway..I’m unbanning you..I need your help with Ctesephon.”
“Why..the girls can manage him now..can’t they?”
“NO they can’t!” Martin yelled into the phone “I saw him drag Fiona about the yard just yesterday..he’s too much of a handful for her.”
“Hrumph!” Gary grunted..” I suppose he’s still pissed off with them”…There was a silence from Martin’s end of the line and a cold fear came over him.
“What do you mean ;’pissed off’ ?” He asked…Gary twigged that he hadn’t been told…and while he regretted ever giving hint, it was too late now to avoid the issue…Martin would find out soon anyway.
“ They had him gelded”…there was a silence..so he continued..” about six months ago…didn’t they tell you?”….Gary could hear his own breathing…” They didn’t know if you were going to survive..and he was too much for any of the women to handle…and one day he broke out of his yard and there was all sorts of havoc…Fiona had to call me over to get him back into a yard…she was shitting herself he would get into the mare’s paddock”…there was silence on the line..then it went dead.
That night when he sat to dinner with Fiona, half way through his meal, Martin carefully put his knife and fork down and sat up straight in his chair…never one to beat about the bush he straight up asked his daughter..
“When did you think you would tell me about gelding Ctesephon?”…Fiona stopped eating and with cutlery in hand paused while she cogitated on her answer.
“Soon…very soon…..Look…I had no choice…I suppose you got the news from Gary?”
“Yeah…I got the news from Gary…said you couldn’t handle him”. Martin spoke sarcastically…Fiona placed her cutlery on the table..
“You heard of the break-out then..I was at wits end how to manage him”
“And THAT’S the crux of it all…YOU couldn’t “manage” the stallion…like YOU couldn’t “manage” Gary with Kaylene..so you bent both situations to YOUR will…your control..you gelded both situations.” Martin wiped his lips and flung the napkin to the table.
“That’s right!” Fiona, now angry also..shouted ..” I couldn’t manage him…NONE of us women could..he was too fierce…too strong…the vet had to tranquilise him with a gun just to get near him!”
“What did you expect..He was a solid built stallion..NOT some poncy, prancing pony…You should’ve called Gary in…HE could manage him”
“ Oh yes!..’get Gary’…’Get Martin’….’Get the men in to help the girls manage a situation’…I COULD manage it…just NOT in the way YOU would let me…”…Fiona shouted across the table…Martin pshawwed the comment..Fiona continued ” Yes..and while we’re at it, perhaps YOU can tell me what else I am supposed to do with a stallion that no-one except your ‘darlin’ Gary’ could ride..a stallion no-one would want the foal from seeing as it has no breeding history save a stallion from some MATE of yours and bloody “Stumpy the mare”…” all this with Fiona stabbing her finger in the air and making inverted comma signs with her hands..
“He was a bloody perfect breed…you could see it in his frame, his stride, his movement, his muscle structure…a beautiful boy ..you don’t need any PAPERS to tell you that.”
“Yes…he’s a beautiful boy alright..a stunner…but not worth a red-cent as far as people in the industry go…There is no-one in this era that has use for an idle stallion that has no breeding heritage and no re-sale value save for a school horse..anybody with the amount of cash needed and willing to pay the big-bickies for a bred horse in this game will want their bloodline papers to show breeding that goes back to William The Conqueror!!…It’s all show-pony now, Dad..There’s no horse-drawn ploughs any more…there’s no milk-oh wagons plodding the streets either…and no-one has a sulky or cart that needs a horse in harness…”…and here Fiona softened her voice…” . . . and seriously..we didn’t know if you were even going to survive the stroke…or if you did you’d perhaps be a vegetable…I had to make a decision and that breakout made it for me.”
“ That’s the trouble, isn’t it…that’s EXACTLY the trouble…there’s no use even for such a beautiful example of a beast of nature just to admire…a perfect specimen…save for what can be got from it…if it can’t be “managed”, it can’t be of any value…it’s no wonder they can’t even sing a decent song anymore”…and Martin got up and left the table and hobbled with his walking frame back to his flat.
It was the early hours of the very next morning, with the wind bustling the branches and leaves of the low trees about the property, that Martin opened the door of his flat and with a long bag slung over his shoulder and his weakened body being supported by a walking frame, Martin made his way cautiously to the horse yard where Ctesephon was held…upon arrival at the rails, he pulled out some cut carrots from his coat pocket..and motioning toward Ctesephon, he called him to the rails..
Ctesephon recognised his master and also saw the carrots and he came to the rails..
“Ah, yes…can’t resist a carrot, eh, “Tessi”…Martin crooned…”My goodness, you’re still a fine looking boy..if one can call you a “boy” any more…they called men who had their balls cut off ; ‘Castrati’ back in the days when they did such things to humans…what am I to call you?..hmm…my beautiful fellow…my beautiful boy…yes…you’re still my beautiful boy..”and dropping several carrots onto the ground in front of him, so that the gelded stallion bent his head to pick at the reward..Martin caressingly stroked Ctesephon’s face…and then, lifting the long bag there that he had prepared before he came down to the yard, Martin unzipped the end and reaching his arm into the bag to cradle the trigger of the twelve-gauge shotgun loaded with a solid-slug 12-bore shell, he lifted bag and all so as not to alarm the horse to point it to the correct place on the gelded stallion’s head..and with a final “Goodbye old mate”….he pulled the trigger..