AN: This is more my area than my first story, but the plot is far from sorted and I don't know if the full story will ever get on here, so I thought I'd put this up

The characters, Alex and the horses, belong to a story I started planning back in January. This is a one-shot of sorts that I didn't know would fit into the main plot.

Contains scenes of a violent or disturbing nature (as seen through a young girl's eyes) in the form of Animal abuse. You have been warned!

I was in a dark mood, my horse fiction is not normally like this! =) - Let me know if you think the rating should be changed

She saw the white sclera of the appaloosa's eyes, the terrorized tossing of his proud head and could almost see the frantic pulse beating through his jugular as his sides pumped in and out almost twice per second. Alex's mind went back years, memories turning to black and white as the buckskin painted mare, Desi, pawed the ground beneath her.

The stallion she remembered as a young girl was a stunning true black Mustang. She remembered Soul's long creamy mane whipping back at her as he cantered towards the round pen. It had been only a year or so before she'd gotten Tatters and the chocolate coated Shetland had borne a heavy saddle like a saint. They stopped, in the same place she stood now, and Alex's child eyes could see the equally frantic heartbeats of the black stallion in the same round pen.

The men in shades of grey closed in on him, trying to corral him towards the other captured mustangs. He had none of it and his neck snaked out, ears pinned back and teeth bared as he kicked and lashed out with all four limbs.

A man threw a rope which caught around his neck and quickly two others grabbed the end as it pulled high and tight right behind the tensed jaw. The stallion's squeal was fury and power.

He lunged, narrowly missing another wrangler reaching for a fallen rope and bolted. The three men on the rope were torn off the ground. One hung on and was dragged through the stamped dirt, one had the skin of his palms burned raw as he fell forward and the last flew through the air, breaking his nose on the hitching post in the centre of the pen.

The hoof beats became uneven, faster as his ears pivoted forward and his nostrils flared. The muscles under his sweat slick coat bunched and then propelled. He sprung high into the air, neck straining down and legs clutched high as he cleared the thick wooden rail on the fence and landed the other side.

Alex remembered gasping in horror, the sound wrenched from her otherwise frozen form as she took in the heaving sides and trembling legs of the black mustang.

He had stopped just after landing, thick, dark liquid dripping from his right nostril and then, with a final tremble through his entire body, he collapsed on his side, sending dust into the air like a cocoon.

The man that had been dragged got up, still the other side of the fence, and choked on the dirt.

The man bleeding from his nose made violent gestures to the others so that two men made their way to the horse. One had his hands wrapped in his red bandana.

The horse's sides did not move, his ears did not twitch at the approach of his horrifying captors. The wild herd in the background rushed madly around the larger pen becoming a sea of russet, greys and sorrels.

Alex felt her own tears spill down her rounded child-like face as she knew, without a shadow of a doubt, what had happened to the stallion. The stress, the adrenaline and the anger had pushed his body too far. His pulse wasn't able to carry blood around fast enough, even heightened as it was and the leap for freedom had finished him.

His heart had given out in his will to be free.

Alex didn't want to be there anymore. She had never witnessed anything like it, despite riding this way from home many times before. Still, there was something she was compelled to do.

The men left him there, heading into the large shack next to the pens and Alex made a move. She cantered Soul out of the rocky outcrop and across the open, barren plane to the head of the proud horse.

There was not a white mark on him and steam still rose from his ebony coat in the aftermath of his fight. It was blood that had dripped from his nose and it was already drying in the heat against the silken muzzle. The eyes were agonising and horrifying at once. Open and glassy with no hint of the fire his blood sang with.

Now here, she didn't want to do it, but she knew she would regret not. She reached for the rope which had barely slackened and tugged hard at it. She felt bile rise up her throat as the horse's head moved against the dirt in time with her pulls.

Finally slack enough, she shut her eyes and removed it over his head with one yank. The dead thud told her his head had fallen back still again.

She had managed to avoid touching him so far, and so it was with shaking hands that she pulled off the bandana over her golden hair and used it as a barrier to close his eyes to the world.

Young as she had been, Alex was certain this horse had never been touched by a person, and she did not plan to spoil that for him.

She flung the rope as far as her shaking limbs would allow and hurried back to a ground tied Soul.

She leapt on and with a last glance at the fallen creature, she turned him for home as fast as his short legs would carry him.

Alex felt like the world was getting farther and farther away until the colours of the parched plane returned and she became aware that the horse below her was not an ivory maned, chocolate Shetland, but a refined buckskin paint standing over fifteen hands off the ground.

The scene before her was relatively the same, with one, stark difference.

The horse with rolling eyes, powerful hooves and a pounding heart was not black, but spotted all over.

Alex knew all too well that this horse's heart could not withstand much more adrenaline or a jump for freedom.

This time, she had no intentions of sitting and watching it happen.

She clicked her tongue at Desi, who responded instantly, leaping to canter hindquarters first. They traced the path Alex remembered in black and white as a wrangler uncoiled his rope and began to swing it.

Alex leant forward and grabbed the cord that she'd pinched from Chip's saddle that morning. She tossed it out as precisely as she could, having to draw in Desi's long canter to be accurate enough.

It snagged on the wrangler's wrist and Alex drew her end back to the saddle, wrapping it around the horn. Desi slid to a stop, dust flying around her and her head flung in the air as she instinctively drew back against the weight as though she was bulldogging.

The man's rope dropped to the ground and he was wrenched backward into the dirt by his arm. His comrades laughed, before it occurred to them that someone had done it.

They were off their game, though, and the stallion had shot around them for the other side of the round pen where he took a minute to breathe, ears flicking everywhere in wary curiosity.

"Who the hell are you?"

Alex, now stood beside Desi who she had ground tied, was pulling the rope loose and tugging it up, so that it let go of the man on his back.

"It doesn't matter. It may interest you to know that years ago I saw something that started the same as this. Three men were injured and a horse's heart gave out because of the stress you put it under trying to break his spirit. These mustangs are protected. What you're doing by rounding them up is illegal!"

The man on his back got up and looked at her, frowning. The crumpled lines of his face enhanced the long, offset nose.

"The black stallion that died after jumping," Alex said softer. "He got you, didn't he? You're the guy who went head first into the hitching post."

The other wrangler's laughed again.

Alex turned to them with cold eyes. "That happened when they put one rope on him, and you were going to try again? Did you go to school? Do you know what the definition of insanity is?"

"Crazed of your head?" a burly man with a wide Stetson and old chaps asked.

"You must have been the teacher's pet," Alex told him lightly. "It's doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. If I were you, I'd let the horse go."

"You think you can tell us what to do?" this man was skinny and small with piggy eyes and a crooked smirk.

Alex looked him up and down, "If you think you're going to gang up on a lonely girl, riding her first pony, you're wrong. I can't take all of you out, but I can get away from here without a scar and report you for abuse."

Alex found herself in a stare down with the man she remembered as much younger before his nose took a turn for the worse – literally.

"Open the gate," he muttered, clearly reluctant.


"Just the stallion," he clarified, eyes daring Alex to argue. "We'll round him up again when little miss righteous is back home."

Alex raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything. It seemed to disappoint the men who opened the gate slowly. She hurried back to Desi and climbed into the saddle. She sponged her fingers down the reins subtly so that the mare worked herself up.

The mustang would be gone in seconds when he decided on it, so she had to be ready.

The appaloosa took barely a second before charging the gate with his tail high. Desi reared up and bolted after him at instruction.

The men's furious yells fell away with distance as they realised what she was doing. Alex smirked and steadied the paint mare, hoping to keep up with the mustang but not push him to exhaustion.

She kept him moving; eventually both horses so blown out that they were walking through the trails on the other side of Alex's home ranch, far from the wrangler's set up. The appaloosa seemed to realise she was not hunting him but still sped up when Desi took easier paths in the trails that moved her closer.

Finally, high up the mountain, with a split path farther along and back down the other side, Alex turned for home, leaving the stallion to his freedom. She just hoped she'd driven him far enough that the wranglers had no hope of finding him. He'd go farther, she presumed, to join a new herd since his mares were still penned, so that would keep him safe.

First thing was first, Alex decided, feeling the fatigue seep through her body, that she had to tell her dad what was going on.

AN: Here's a bit of background (now that I won't spoil anything): Alex is the daughter of a ranch owner in the Alp mountain range. They take in guests and during the vacation they introduce them to alternate methods of bonding and riding with horses through the various trails. She is nineteen but was only ten (or there abouts) when she saw the black stallion.

Desi is a Mustang, paint and Arabian mixed blood horse. she is a Tobiano cream buckskin (not dun, coz she doesn't have dorsal stripe) paint with faint dun barring on her knees and hocks with a brown and white striped tail (I like drawing it that way).

Soul is a Chocolate bay standard shetland with a dominant silver dapple gene. It means his Mane and tail are white/silvery and his legs are slightly silvered rather than black.