THE BLACK HORSE IN THE LEAD
© Kym Eitel
Winner 2010 ABPA Australian Bush Poetry Championship, Bundaberg, Queensland.
This poem is based on a spine tingling story told to me by Cobb & Co coach driver, Steve Ralph, from the Australian Teamsters Hall of Fame near the Glass House Mountains in Queensland. In 1988, on a coach journey from Melbourne to Longreach, his team of horses was struggling to pull a heavily loaded coach up a long, steep hill, when suddenly, Steve saw a black horse appear at the front of the team - a mysterious apparition that disappeared as quickly as it appeared. He knows the story is hard to believe, yet he swears it to be true.
The crunching squeals of stage coach wheels
on rocks and gravel road,
the ‘hya’ and ‘whoa’, the stop and go,
the groan of heavy load.
Eight horses strained with leathers stained
from mouth-foam, mud and sweat.
Through lightning’s roar, the driver swore
at road ruts, deep and wet.
Two Cleveland Bays, two dappled greys,
two mares of brumby breed
then out in front, the leaders grunt -
two chestnuts take the lead.
White knuckled grips and prayers on lips,
exhausting, dripping heat.
Tired ladies sighed and cursed the ride
while children gripped the seat.
No time for rest up Gunther’s Crest,
the road a greasy state,
hooves slipped and slid, wheels turned but skid,
the coach held too much weight.
Exhausted bays and weary greys,
no energy or speed,
mares gasp and heave, legs lurch and weave,
tired chestnuts in the lead.
The stinging whip lashed neck and hip,
to push the horses on.
Their force and strength on harness length
was weak - their power gone.
The hill was steep, the ruts were deep,
the coach wheels ground to halt.
Slow backwards slide, eyes terrified,
but then, a sudden jolt …
Two startled Bays, two stirred up greys,
mares flighty now indeed,
the chestnuts stared - their workload shared -
a black horse took the lead.
As thunder crashed and lightning flashed,
a stallion black as night
let forth a scream and led the team.
He powered forth with fight.
A ghost of black, a phantom hack,
put shoulder to the plate.
The spectre marched, his thick neck arched,
and hauled the coach back straight.
The bays and greys, with eyes ablaze,
and brumby mares took heed.
The chestnuts strained with muscles veined -
the black horse pulled the lead.
They reached the rise ‘neath stormy skies,
flanks heaved and nostrils flared.
The driver thrilled, though goose bumps chilled,
the passengers were scared.
The stallion screamed, his coal coat gleamed,
he tossed his mane and reared.
Then just as quick as lightning flick,
the black horse disappeared.
The black was gone, though eight pushed on,
their strength re-energised.
A spirit horse? A magic force?
A legend highly prized.
Two prancing Bays, two dancing greys,
two mares of mountain breed,
two chestnuts race, but save a space
for the black horse in the lead.