Summary: Direct from the usually silent partners.
Word Count: 2000
Cochise stood in the barn and wondered. It wasn’t the easiest job in the world being a regular Bonanza horse, especially for him. For, rather like his owner’s bedroom, Cochise changed. Oh, not just stalls, although that did happen, too, but he changed pattern regularly.
Most of the time, he was black and white, with a solid black tail and an attractive white snip on the right side of his neck. But worryingly, on several of the stock long-shots, he was decidedly grey and white, and in later series, he had a white tail and a different pattern of patches!
It was a worry. Cochise eyed his stable mates. It wasn’t fair; they didn’t change appearance all the time. Chubb was always big and black; Sport always had 4 white stockings and a blaze and Buck…
Well, Buck was totally scatty. Cochise had heard the Giggly Sisters say he should be lobotomized, whatever that meant. Certainly, every day Hoss came into the barn and gave him a dose of industrial strength tranquilizer.
The other thing that really worried Cochise was this business of his gender. He was a gelding – he knew that for a fact. Any eagle-eyed viewer could see that clearly at the beginning of Marie My Love. So why had Ben referred to him as a mare? He wasn’t the only one. A whole legion of fanfic writers did the same thing.
Cooch shook his neck in a worried sort of way and ducked his head, just to check in case things had changed during the last commercial break. Things on the Ponderosa had a habit of doing that, he’d noticed. Like the bunkhouse, for example. Sometimes it was next to the kitchen, sometimes at the right hand side of the house and, on other occasions it simply wasn’t there at all. No wonder the Cartwrights were reluctant to go in there! Of course, when they did, disaster was sure to follow. There was that time in Showdown when Adam had got a nasty crack across the head in the bunkhouse… But at least one thing was as it should be. Cochise sighed in relief: yes, he was definitely a gelding!
It was getting late, but Cochise was still wide-awake. Must have been that extra cup of coffee he’d shared with Joe. Nice Jamaican Blue Mountain blend. Pity the boy still insisted on adding two sugars, though; it kind of drowned out the taste.
In his stall, Sport pawed nervously at the ground. Not because he was wired up on caffeine, but because he was basically rather jittery. Some people thought he wore a martingale, but that wasn’t right, he thought. A breastplate, yes, but not a martingale. Sport tossed his head temperamentally and wondered how people knew his name. He’d watched all first six series closely and couldn’t recall a single instance of Adam calling him anything. Nor had Joe, that time he’d ridden the chestnut during The Crucible. Sport looked across at Cochise and gave a rather contemptuous flick of his mane. As Joe was clearly the best rider in the family, Sport thought that they made a splendid pair. After all, he was a much more fitting mount that that little painted pony.
Cochise ignored this look, content in the knowledge that Joe would never desert him. After all, they were perfectly suited, both being just a tad smaller than the others. And what other horse in the show was the right height to allow Joe to do his famous swing mount? No, the director knew how much the viewers enjoyed that athletic display and there was no way he’d allow that to change! He knew which side his bread was buttered on.
Meanwhile, Buck snoozed happily in his stall. He sometimes felt rather hard done by, for Ben could perhaps best be described as a reluctant rider. He certainly didn’t appreciate when Buck forgot that he was supposed to be standing still and wandered off while the patriarch of the Ponderosa was mounting. Of course, Buck had his share of worries too. There was that time he’d had an ill-advised permanent wave which hadn’t really worked. The evidence was there for everyone to see in The Gift. Ben had been so embarrassed by that little mistake that he’d eventually left poor Buck in the middle of the Arizona desert until it grew back in straight.
However, there was one thing that set Buck apart from the other horses on the Ponderosa and that was his unique bridle, embellished with several shiny medallions. It went particularly well with the silver conches on Ben’s waistcoat and they made a splendid pair. Inevitably, there was a downside to this particular bridle. In the first place, it was an absolute devil to get on, especially when combined with Buck’s flyaway forelock, which often was so uncontrollable it had to be tucked firmly under his browband. In the second place, it took ages to polish and ranch hands had been known to dash into the bunkhouse just before it disappeared in order to escape this tedious chore.
In the other stall, Chubb was having a little lie down. He had to do this fairly frequently, as his back and legs were frequently killing him. First of all there was the weight of the Western saddle, then Hoss came and sat on him! Hoss’ riding had improved from the opening series, where he had flapped his arms around like a chicken, but he was no lightweight to carry.
It was a pity that he was only ridden by Hoss, he thought. But in fanfic, he was assured that he was ridden double regularly, and he was quite grateful that this didn’t happen in actuality. But then, he consoled himself, it was usually dinky Little Joe who was being carried and Sport had managed to carry both Joe and Adam without suffering any ill effects in MBK.
That was something else that worried Cochise. In MBK, when he had been brought back to the ranch he’d been jolly pleased to see Adam. Pity it wasn’t Joe, but then, Joe might have been annoyed that he’d panicked and run away. But then, after stroking him soothingly, Adam had tied him to the hitching rail and gone away with that strange Irish girl with the petted mouth. Yet later, he had been nowhere in sight when the shootout began. Who had put him away? Cochise couldn’t remember, and it was something that gave him nightmares.
When morning came, and Joe came into the barn carrying the harness for the wagon horses, Cochise snorted in surprise. For, suddenly, the matched pair of blue roan wagon horses had miraculously appeared. They hadn’t been in the barn the previous night, he was sure. Worried again, he had another quick check, and was relieved that he was still a gelding and did still have a black tail!
Where did all these spare horses come from, and where did they go in between times? Did they go to the same place as the bunkhouses? Were the horses all doped up to the eyeballs so that they didn’t panic when appearing and disappearing? And where did all those horses come from in Prime of Life? Why were there always so many horses in the corral when it was in shot, and where did they go when it wasn’t in shot? Was the Ponderosa in the middle of a temporal vortex similar to the Bermuda Triangle?
Of course, the Cartwrights seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time horse breaking, usually endangering life and limb. Or rather the stuntman’s life and limbs. In fact, Joe was so fond of this activity that in The Hayburner he toddled off to the neighbors and kindly broke in some horses for them, before riding to victory in a race. Of course, the winning margin might have been bigger if Joe’s sticky-out ears hadn’t provided so much wind-resistance. Cochise sniggered softly as he remembered how Joe’s pants had split during one particularly violent fall from a horse, revealing the white flag of surrender! Or had that been his stunt double?
Looking around the barn, Cochise wondered where the wagon, the buckboard, the buggy and even the surrey went when they weren’t being used. He looked carefully around, but there was no trace of any of the vehicles. Of course, they did take up quite a bit of room, so perhaps Ben had commissioned a disappearing carriage house to save space.
The barn was a large and cavernous building, which had played a pivotal role in the dramatic denouements of The Deadly Ones, Escape to the Ponderosa and The Friendship. Occasionally, a neighboring barn was used, but this was generally only if a tragic death was about to take place, such as in The Truckee Strip. Of course, the barn served equally well as a setting for lighter moments, such as the bunny hotel of Ponderosa Explosion and the alternative sleeping accommodation for Joe and Ben in Maestro Hoss. Cochise had always wondered exactly why Joe had woken up entangled in the bridle, but the youngest Cartwright had remained tantalizingly tight-lipped about that. Strangely enough, for such a large building, there were remarkably few horses stabled there.
A silent, stressed looking ranch hand came into the barn and began to saddle them up. Soon, they were ready for action. Sport checked that he was indeed wearing a breastplate and not a martingale, and was delighted to see it was so. He put his ears back and nipped at the hand tightening the cinch. “See here, Cochise,” he said, in a bossy tone. “Don’t you go around trying to tell everyone about the life we lead. We’ll just keep it to ourselves.”
“What do you mean?” Cochise asked, offended. As if he would tell anyone about his doubts and worries.
“You’re always gabbing,” Chubb put in. He was standing with one hind leg resting, in preparation for Hoss mounting. “All that neighing, and all that champing at the bit! Don’t think we don’t know what you’re trying to do!”
“I can’t help it,” Cochise returned. “I have a very delicate mouth and the bit makes me drool something rotten. If I don’t champ, I get sore.”
“We’ve heard it all before,” sighed Buck, who was feeling quite laid back now. The tranquilizer was kicking in. He looked down at his legs curiously. “Is it just me,” he asked, “or do my legs go all bandy when I’m on this stuff?” For once, the other three horses remained silent. Buck was a kindly creature, if a bit dozy, but his legs did have an alarming tendency to go in four completely different directions.
All things considered, Cochise thought, they had a pretty decent life on the Ponderosa. He was just rather glad that the alarming-looking horse Joe had bought in The Gift had never arrived. It had clearly escaped from the circus, with its albino eyes and predilection for rearing as if hearing distant music. Not that Cochise had anything against circuses, per say. He just hadn’t forgotten all the fuss with that elephant in Old Sheba.
It was just as well that there wasn’t a mirror in the barn, for Cochise would have most alarmed to see that the white snip on the right-hand side of his neck had completely vanished and his tail had turned white overnight. Joe looked a bit concerned, but continuity assured him no one would ever notice.