Barry, the big chestnut with the white blaze, stared back at Pete with a look of defiance. Pete, intimidated by neither the horse’s glare nor the sheer size of his subject, crowded closer to the rippling shoulder muscles and knelt down. He ran his hand down the smooth red leg until he was touching the gleaming hoof. There it was! He could see a stray bit of rusty metal sticking out at the bottom. He grasped it with his pliers and yanked.
The metal shard came out much easier than expected; Pete smashed his head so hard against Barry’s underside that his lights dimmed a moment. It was a relief there weren’t little ears around as usual to hear the cuss word that escaped.
Barry, on the other hand, hadn’t felt a thing. Being big, sturdy and made of pine sometimes had its advantages.
Oh it had its downfalls, too, to be sure. Even though he was kept safely in Pete’s large barn during the off-season, English winters were cold and the low temperatures were rough on his century-old wooden frame. Technically, Barry was the oldest horse on the roundabout. After all, he had been completed earlier than any of the others. Perhaps that made him the wisest, too.
Pete’s great-granddad Will, a young man of 20, had been part of the team of original builders of the carousel, back in 1909. It was one of the oldest and cheeriest roundabouts in one of the oldest and cheeriest fairgrounds in all of England.
The circular machine itself was over eight meters in diameter. The top had been shaped and painted to look like a circus tent roof, complete with striped canvas and a miniature golden horse which adorned the apex like a Christmas tree star. The steps, flooring and inside rails of the platform were made of beautiful dark wood; over the years, Pete’s great-granddad, granddad, dad, and Pete had faithfully kept it clean and polished. During the fair season the strings of golden lights, flashy mirrors, and lilting mechanical organ music helped draw in passersby. But the real stars of the ride were the horses.
Barry was one of eleven (well, twelve, if you included the zebra). Each horse had been painstakingly designed, cut, and put together piece by piece. The bodies were hollow; the head and legs were solid and attached separately. A sturdy metal pole fit vertically through each of them, and the figures were staggered around the circle - five in the inner row and seven in the outer row.
Other than the draft horse, Barry was the largest of the group. With his burnished red coat, white blaze and four white stockings, he painted an impressive picture. He was known as a stander, having all four feet on the platform.
In front of him was prancer Sophie, a shiny black horse with a silver sparkle in her eyes. She was set in action with her two back legs on the floor, front legs curved down as she reared, as if she was going to dash off to the stars and back. Her saddle and bridle were bright blue with tiny white embroidered flowers.
Ahead of her was the flashy Arabian. He was breathtaking, with a precisely dished nose, large round eyes and flaring red nostrils. The purple beading, golden tassels and arabesque painted saddle were the finishing touches on his romance side - one could almost imagine a Bedouin rider appearing out of nowhere and both being whisked away by a sandstorm.
The next horse in the circle was another stander, Rowan, a plodding sorrel dragging a farm plow behind him. The plow had been modified to remove the sharp edges and make a small seat. A single hoof was barely raised above the platform, as if it was all the effort he could give. Rowan had plowed ten thousand acres of wheat in the same circle, year after year, and he was tired.
The African zebra was ahead of Rowan, her shiny copper name plate reading “Mstari.” She was small, as zebras tend to be, but had a feisty look to her. The English fairground had no vast waving plains of tall red oat grass to hide among, but that was okay - with her natural black and white stripes and stubbly mane, any prowling leopards would be sure to lose her in the blur of whirling lights and mirrors.
Next was Cobalt, the blue roan with the stormy eyes, the flyaway mane and the tail flagging behind as he ran. He, like the Arabian, was a jumper with all four feet off the platform. His coat had been the most time consuming to paint, consisting of a million tiny paint flecks - grey and blue and white. Every year, Pete spent at least four hours filling in marks and chips where bits of color had been rubbed off by tiny eager fingers.
Just ahead of Cobalt was Frederick the Second, a brown cob. He was the newest to join the lot. Back in 1941, Frederick the First had been mortally wounded by some shrapnel from a stray German bomb. A few years later, Frederick the Second had been created and installed. Frederick the First had been carted away to the landfill.
Arthur and Agatha were the two dapple grey trotters, situated side-by-side. They were best suited for couples, who could sit astride each and hold hands at the same time. It was a favourite tradition of the local teen girls to ride them on every visit to the fair with their sweethearts.
The massive Clydesdale (obviously named Clyde) could squeeze two average-sized people on his back. The smart wagon harness, with gleaming silver bells and real leather straps with silver buckles, added to the attraction. The bright white feathering above each of the four massive hooves was wiped down as often as possible so that no speck of dirt showed.
Next in line was the stocky Fresian war horse from the Middle Ages, protected from enemy arrows and swords by heavy silver barding, and a favorite of all budding knights at the fairground. There was even a leather scabbard, in which gallant riders could safely sheath plastic swords at a King’s or Queen’s insistence. As a prancer, the armored horse was set back on his haunches with both front feet pawing the air.
Completing the circle, and right behind Barry, was Snowflake the rare white Thoroughbred. She was in the jumper position with all four feet off the platform, head stretched out, just a nose away from an imaginary finish line and the winner’s circle.
Pete, still not quite recovered from his recent head injury, leaned against Barry. It was only two days until the fairground opened for the new season, and he still had a lot to do. Bolts to tighten, screws to replace, a bit of oil to brush onto a spring here or there for good measure.
From the childrens’ perspectives, these twelve were just huge, looming, friendly beasts to be ridden for entertainment - one of a dozen different rides and rollercoasters during a day of fun.
From Pete’s perspective, it was different. He knew the proud history behind each inanimate figure, the hundreds of hours of work that had gone into creating them. He knew each bright copper plate printed with each name, he knew where the weak joints were that needed to be protected. He knew which tail needed a touch up, he noticed when new scratch marks appeared, and he knew where the sun would hit each morning to dull the shiny wood.
In another three months, after a busy summer season of daily riding, he would carefully make repairs again before hauling away the twelve figures to store in his barn for the winter.
Pete patted the neck of his old red friend affectionately. “Barry, let’s get back to work.”