Saturday, 8 October 2011

35. Bareback To Square One

(In case anyone's wondering, it's pronounced 'Mah-ree' ;))

Mhairi and Fergus

‘ what are you planning on doing today then? Got another Olympic training regime to get through?’

Though Mhairi laughed as she slung Fergus’ reins over his head, her friend Kelly’s expression remained unchanged. It was well known on the yard that she was totally dedicated to her riding and often appeared to spend more time working on her position than actually enjoying herself.

Jazz and Kelly

‘No, nothing like that. I need to improve my lateral work, that’s all...’ she said, stroking Jazz’s nose thoughtfully.

‘You need to have some fun more like – when was the last time you went out on a hack?’

Kelly shrugged and stepped up onto the makeshift mounting block. ‘I don’t know, last year maybe? I don’t like hacking, there’s too many distractions and things.‘

Stefani, Mhairi and Kelly

Mhairi shook her head sadly. ‘What are you like?! Honestly, imagine not liking hacking.’

‘Well you said yourself you don’t like schooling, so we’re even!’

‘I said I don’t mind schooling, I only hate it when we’re going round in circles all day cos’ let’s face it, that’s just dull.’

Mhairi and Kelly

‘To each their own I suppose.’ replied Kelly as she adjusted her stirrups. ‘What are you going to do today then?’

Mhairi grinned and Kelly groaned. ‘Oh please, don’t tell me...’


After ten minutes of walk, trot and canter, and once she was absolutely certain there were no staff members watching; Mhairi dismounted.

‘This is a really bad idea Mhairi, Abigail’ll give you such a telling off if she finds out!’

Kelly and Mhairi

‘Ah, but she won't find out, will she? Oh come on, it’s not like I’ll be jumping him or anything, I’m not that stupid!’

Kelly and Mhairi

‘See? He’s fine! Fergie’s a good lad, he won’t do anything unless I ask him to.’

Kelly and Mhairi

‘...that’s what I’m afraid of...’


Minutes passed slowly, and Mhairi and Fergus settled into a sedate walk as they watched Kelly ride Jazz up and down the arena, turning and bending down the track with well rehearsed precision.

‘How’s the lateral work going then? That was a really nice shoulder-in you had going there, I didn’t know Jazz had it in her!’


Kelly nodded, a slight smile forming on her face. ‘People underestimate her because she’s so fast, once she knows what you’re asking her to do she’s really responsive and she’s brilliant with leg aids thanks to her gymkhana experience. If only I could bring her head down a bit, she carries it really high all the time...’

Mhairi and Kelly

A few cantered circles later, the complaints began...


‘You shouldn’t do that you know; it’s really dangerous!’

‘Yeah, yeah, get back on your circle or whatever, everything’s fine!’

‘I’m just saying, it’s not a good idea to do that at any time, even when you do have a saddle on!’

‘I know that but come on, this is Fergus we’re talking about, he’s so bombproof you could put him in a warzone and he’d probably just stand there and graze!’

‘Totally not the point though, horses are unpredictable animals, he could spook or trip or well, anything could go wrong!’

Some people think that everything happens for a reason, that fate has laid out an unchanging course of events for everyone in life, but sometimes, things just happen. Poor judgement might have something to do with it too...


Paddy was in a bad mood. It had been raining the night before and his turnout rug had leaked, leaving him with cold and soggy withers when he was brought in and tacked up earlier in the day. Normally he was positively angelic under saddle and only growled and kicked if you came at him with a curry comb but this afternoon he really wasn’t feeling the need to be amongst other horses.

Sally, his rider, was fully aware of this and for the most part kept a safe distance from the other two when she entered the arena. It was only when she tried to bypass them on the track that his true feelings towards them became known...



The normally unflappable Fergus shrieked and leaped back in shock, Mhairi clinging onto his mane like someone possessed.

‘Steady boy, steady boy, steeeadddyyy!’


Her words were lost on him as he turned in mid air, anxious to escape the threat of sharp, unshod feet.


Mhairi clung on as best she could but eventually gravity took over and she tumbled to the ground in a heap as her mount trotted off.



‘I know I shouldn’t say it...’ said Kelly, ‘...but I really did tell you so! Are you all right?’

Kelly and Mhairi

Her friend grinned and picked herself up off the ground, brushing sand from her hoodie and jodhpurs. ‘I’ve done worse!’ She strode over to the wall and fetched her horse who was standing sheepishly as though waiting for her.

Kelly and Mhairi

‘’Anything could go wrong’ – oh you had to go and jinx it for me didn’t you?!’

‘Jinxing had nothing to do with it’ said a rather haughty voice from behind them.


‘It was your own fault for being so stupid. I’ll be having a talk with Abigail later on about this, mark my words. Children shouldn’t be allowed to ride unsupervised.’

And with that, she turned Paddy away and trotted off to the other side of the arena.

Children?! Who does she think she is? She’s only a couple of years older than us!’

‘She’s got a point though Mhar, you could have really hurt yourself...’

Kelly and Jazz

‘Yeah, well she didn’t have to be so hoity-toity about it though did she? Still, I suppose you’re both right, I shouldn’t have done it...with witnesses.’

Fergus and Mhairi


Sunday, 1 May 2011

34. Two Degrees of Seperation

The auction was surprisingly quiet given the circumstances. Over thirty horses and ponies of varying degrees of quality had been seized from a highly unsuitable owner a few months before by a horse charity and now, after a bit of rehabilitation, the best were being put up for sale and adoption.

David and Nikolai wandered through the building, tutting at the state of some of the ponies and lauding the condition of others. They hadn’t intended to go inside but when they passed a sign that read ‘Cobs and Ponies for saleCHEAP-’ they just couldn’t resist.

They probably wouldn’t buy anything anyway, they were only looking after all.

As they passed by one pen, Nikolai nodded towards the back. ‘What about that one? The little bay-and-white. I like his face.’

David squinted. From what he could see of the horse under all that hair and fluff, he did indeed look like a nice kind of animal. Perhaps even riding school material... ‘Hmmm, ok, let’s have a look at him then. Come on lad, c’mere!’ He clicked his tongue and held out a hand to the gelding, who, after giving the proffered digits a good sniff, padded over to the fence, followed closely by a heavily feathered liver chestnut skewbald.

David nodded approvingly as he cast his gaze across the horse. He lacked condition but otherwise appeared to have good conformation and he really couldn't fault him for looks. Nikolai seemed to think the same and after a moment's pondering, he went off to find the seller to ask all the usual questions. He came back a few minutes later with a headcollar and leadrope which he put on the cob without any trouble. The majority of the other horses had already moved off to the other end of the pen where one of the auction staff had put down some haylage for them. Only the cob they were interested in and the chestnut skewbald remained up at this end. 'According to Mr Murphy over there' he said, scratching the gelding's nose absently. 'his name is 'Pirate'. He is about twelve years old -although this cannot be confirmed- but one thing we do know is that he is partially blind in one eye.' David frowned. 'Argh, that's a pain, I was hoping he'd be completely sound.' Nikolai shook his head. 'The vets have already looked at him and say that it isn't a serious issue - they think he has had it for a very long time and has learned how to cope with it.' 'Can he be ridden though? That's the question.' 'Apparently so. From what they can guess of his history he's well used to tack and has been ridden by one of the people here.' 'What do you think? Should we chance it?' 'I will take him outside and put him through his paces first, then we can decide.' 'Good idea.' As he turned Pirate round to leave the pen, the other cob let out a shrill whinny and threw his head up, Pirate echoing him as he walked off in the opposite direction. 'Hey, hey, calm down lad, calm down!' David said soothingly, patting the gelding's neck softly. 'It's ok, he's not going anywhere!' 'Here' said Nikolai, tossing over a length of soft white rope from the depths of his coat pockets. 'I think he might be quite dangerous if he isn't restrained. Mr Murphy told me that they are never seperated and that he might not know what to do with himself when they are. His name is Simba by the way.' 'Cheers, I'll get a halter made up before you leave, hold on...' Sure enough, as soon as Pirate was out of eyeshot, Simba exploded.

'Steeeady lad, steady!' He bucked and reared, leapt and plunged his way around the small pen, sending ponies skittering to the corners of the other end in fright.

Although still young, he was very strong and after only a couple of minutes he'd managed to wrestle the rope from David's hands. Squealing like a pig, he took off at a canter, spinning on the spot and neighing his head off as he tried frantically to find his friend. Finally he stopped and stood, trembling in the middle, looking completely and utterly lost. David walked over to him slowly, hands out as through approaching someone with a hostage and gently picked up the rope. Now that he'd expended all that energy and fear, he was much more approachable, yet he still seemed worried. He was a very nice example of a cob though, David thought. Green yes, but he had potential... A sharp sounding whinny from the other side of the building announced the return of Pirate and Nikolai, and Simba's ears shot upwards in delight. 'So? How was he?' Nikolai nodded, the traces of a rare smile picking at the corners of his mouth. 'Good, very good. He needs more food and training but he is a very nice little horse. Very nice.' He gave him a pat and let his hold on the leadrope lessen slightly. 'He has a little attitude on him - tried to bite me once - but I rode him around for a minute bareback and he didn't put a...ah...hand wrong?' David smiled. He sounded perfect. There was just one thing... 'Well, he sounds exactly what we're looking for but there's a problem.' Nikolai raised a quizzical eyebrow as he took both halters off the cobs.. 'Yes?' David jabbed a thumb in the direction of Simba. 'We'll need to take him as well. Classic seperation anxiety - if we don't take him too he'll go mad without having his friend around.' The Russian nodded and stood back a little so he could assess the heavier cob's build. 'He's not had much training that I can see but we've dealt with worse -' Roscoe' -and once he's learned that it's ok to be away from Pirate for at least some of the time I think he'd make a really nice riding horse.' Nikolai nodded again and folded his arms. 'So. Prices?' 'Let's go and speak to that Mr Murphy then. I hope you're good at haggling - I can't even talk Aiden into selling me something that he and I both KNOW is only worth a fiver...' As the two men bartered with the seller nearby, Pirate lipped at the ground for leftover wisps of hay while Simba nuzzled into his friend's shoulder. Now that their future was secure, the cobs were calm once more.

33. Breaking and Entering


‘She’s back! She’s back, come on everyone, let’s go and see!’

A cacophony of children’s voices alerted David to the yard owner’s return. Since the unfortunate death of one of the old yard donkeys earlier in the year – Spud - Abigail had been pining for something donkey-shaped and was delighted when she found an advert in the village tack shop for an ex RDA mount that matched that description perfectly. The yard was just north of Cairbre so it was a good thirty mile round trip there and back again, but, as Abigail said, distance was no object.

‘Alright kids, come on now, clear off. Let them unload first, then you can all come up and say hello!’


‘Go on! I think there’s still half a dozen haynets to be filled – go on!

David shooed the kids off with a grin before approaching the horsebox where Lisa had already started a conversation with Abigail.

‘So, what’s she like then? As you expected?’
‘Oh yes, definitely. RDA ponies always have the best natures and this little thing is just adorable. The kids’ll love her.’ She unclipped her seatbelt and opened the door. ‘Oh hi David, you couldn’t get the ramp down for me could you?’

‘Yeah, sure, no problem. Lisa, fancy giving me a hand?’

The ramp was a little awkward to open, even with two people and David made a mental note to spare some time later on to oil the hinges.

Finally, after a bit of elbow grease the ramp dropped down with a soft thud and they stood back to catch their breath.

‘Oooh, she’s so sweet!’ Lisa exclaimed as she peered round the side. ‘What a lovely colour!’

David nodded. From what they could see of her at least.

‘Come on then, let’s get her out.’ She was a small looking donkey, only about 12 hands but she stood quietly as he untied her leadrope and started to back her out. ‘What’s her name by the way?’
‘Lyra’ said Abigail from somewhere behind him. ‘Her breeder was a big Philip Pullman fan apparently,’

David smiled. He 'd liked those books but hadn't read them in a while; perhaps now was the time to excavate them from their dusty shelf and have another go.

‘That’s it, easy girl, steady now...’

Lyra walked out quietly as if she did this kind of thing all the time and stood, quite happily at the bottom of the ramp, her large sail-like ears taking in her surroundings.

He ruffled her spiky forelock affectionately and looked up questioningly at Abigail. 'Where do you want her?'

She furrowed her brow in thought for a moment before her face broke into a smile. 'Turn her out in the indoor for a while so she can stretch her legs. She'll be living out with the ponies but I'd like to take it gradually so we can avoid the Lady Situation again.'

David sniggered to himself. Whenever a new horse or pony was introduced to Lady the welshie, they usually ended up banished to one end of the field or came in the next morning with large chunks of mane missing. She really was an evil little pony. Deceptively adorable but definitely evil.

'I also promised Fiona that she could be the first to ride her so once she's had a little run around and a roll, we'll get her tacked up and see what she's really like.'

'Righto, I won't be long!'

As he'd suspected, Lyra trotted around nonplussed when he let her off the leadrein and he breathed a sigh of relief. It was so nice to be able to rely on a nice quiet animal for a change. He glanced at his watch while he looped the rope over the fence and frowned. Lindsey had asked him earlier on if he could do some loading work with Harper as he'd been getting very nervous around it in the weeks leading up to the big show in October and only barely managed to get in and out in one piece.

Harper was a lovely lad but very dim. He had been known to spook at his own shadow and while David knew he didn't mean it, he often used his size to his advantage and when he didn't want to go somewhere, unless you had superhuman strength, there was no way you were going to win the resulting tug of war. Still, he reasoned, he was getting better. Nikolai had done some bombproofing work with him while he was sorting out Roscoe and he seemed to have made significant improvements since the last time they tried to get him in the box.

His confidence renewed, he strode boldly towards the livery block where his student would be waiting for him. He'd spend ten, maybe twenty minutes with him in the box, put him back in his stable and then, if he had time, tack up Tam and go out for a hack before he lost the light. Yes, that sounded like a plan.


Almost forty minutes had passed since his rather naive estimation of how long it would take to get Harper inside and he was still no further forward.

'Oh come ooooon Harp, it's not scary, just go in!'

The gelding took a single faltering step forwards, ears twitching in all directions before flinching backwards once more. David sighed. He really didn't have a clue what was scaring him - he'd been inside numerous horseboxes during his life and this was probably one of the nicer ones.

'See you?' He looked at his watch and frowned. 'You and your shenanigans have cost me a hack - a hack I was really rather looking forward to.'

Harper stared back at him, eyes wide and innocent and David shook his head wistfully. Why did he always get lumbered with the difficult ones? Ah yes, because he was good at making them un-difficult, that was right.

'Come on then lad, let's try again, just one more step...and...whoaa!'

He nearly lost his balance and fell as the young gelding took a spook at nothing and reared right up, narrowly missing the roof.

'Steeeady lad, steaaady!'

As he finally dropped back down to earth, David realised with horror that the clip of his leadrope had snapped open, releasing all restraints on Harper.

No sooner had he spotted this than the gelding shot off, clearly wanting to put as much distance between himself and the horsebox as was physically possible.

'Argh, no! Come back! Harper! Harper?!'

He grabbed the leadrope off the ground and ran after him, praying that he hadn't got himself into any more trouble. Luckily for him, upon rounding the corner he discovered his unruly charge standing quietly next to Lisa, the noseband of Harper's headcollar in one hand and a freshly opened packet of polos in the other.

'Oh hi David, lost something?'

'Heh, y'think?'

'What were you doing with him to make him run off like that? I've never seen him so scared!'

David shrugged, clipped the leadrope back on and gently steered him back round the corner. 'I was just trying to get him in the horsebox but he just kept spooking. I don't know what's putting him off either.'

Lisa rolled her eyes at him and stroked the grey's shoulder gently. 'Well let me have a go, I'll show you how it's done!' She took the leadrope from him and led Harper towards the trailer, talking to him quietly all the way as though addressing a child.

'Awww Harper! Was David being mean to you and trying to make you go inside that big nasty trailer?'

'Hey, I wasn't being-'

'Yeeees, I know, he's terrible isn't he?'

'What are you on about, I'm-'

'Come on then, be brave - I know you can do it!'

And with that, Harper walked inside.

David groaned.


Now that he was in, Harper seemed to have completely forgotten about whatever it was that was putting him off earlier and munched on his haynet animatedly.

'Ok, good boy, now backup, baaaackup, good lad.'

Lisa backed him out, turned him round, put him in the other stall and even managed to get him to walk backwards up the ramp and down again, all the while David stood, openmouthed outside.

'How? I...just...wha?'

Lisa grinned and patted him on the shoulder cheerily.

'It's just practice!'

'But I've been at it for ages!'

'Yeah, but did you have these?'

She waggled the by now half empty packet of mints and David tutted. How obvious could you be?

'Heh, how long did you say you'd been doing this for?'

David frowned and looked at his watch. 'Oh about an hour or so now?'

Lisa gigglesnorted and leapt aside swiftly as David aimed the end of the leadrope at the back of her legs playfully.



Ten minutes later Harper was happily back inside his loosebox with a fresh haynet and a big bucket of feed (with the remainder of the polos as what David took to be another bribe) and everyone else had gathered round the indoor school to see Lyra ridden for the first time at the yard.

As Abigail had predicted, everyone fell in love with her instantly and it wasn't long before the yard owner was being pestered with requests to get her on loan and for lessons.

'Come on now kids, give her some room, don't overwhelm her!'

Abigail's booming voice cut across the children's chatter like a knife and the crowd gradually dispersed.

'Alright Fi, take her for a little walk and trot and we'll go from there, ok?'

'What's she like?'

'Really good' Fi replied, smiling as she nudged her into canter at the corner. 'She's listening to me all the time!'

She nodded towards one of the jumps which had been left standing after the earlier lesson and looked to Abigail hopefully.

'Oh go on then! I don't know if she's been trained to jump but err...'

'...apparently she has, well done! I think that'll do her for now - walk around for a bit to cool her off then untack and put her in that spare stable next to Giovanni - I need to get her a turnout rug before she can live out so she'll have to stay inside for a little while. Oh and David, are you still here?'


'Could you go out and bring in Tully, Banksy, Cally and hmmm....Maisie? I need them for the three o'clock and I need to sort out a few things so...?'

David shrugged and nodded. 'Yeah, no problem, I'll just go and get the headcollars...'

Ah well. No rest for the wicked.