It was a surprisingly mild day for the time of year and Lisa had seized the rare opportunity to have a rain-free hack. Deciding that the castle field was too muddy and the moor still too bleak, she and Kerry headed for the small area of woodland behind the donkey paddock. The leaves had been turning the last few weeks and the sight of so many orange and yellow leaves, when mounted on a bright chestnut horse, made her feel as though she was in a furnace. (Albeit a soggy, damp and very slightly squelchy one)
After several long trots through the carpet of rust coloured leaves they made it to the clearing, just in time for a good canter. Touching her heels to him, Lisa clicked her tongue and Kerry took off, mane and tail streaming in the breeze.
Suddenly, and without warning, Kerry skidded to an unsteady stop, legs going one way, Lisa threatening to go another.
“Whoa boy, what is it?!”
He skittered around for a second, ears twitching anxiously and snorting fearfully, his breath turning to mist as he inhaled and exhaled quickly. Lisa clung onto his mane as he reared in fright, spotting a dark shape bolting out of the undergrowth in front of them. What was it, she wondered, a deer?
Suddenly, Kerry hesitated and dropped back down to earth as he realised with a start what it was. Lisa dismounted and gave him a reassuring pat as she approached the creature.
“A foal!” she breathed, hardly daring to believe what her eyes were telling her. “But how did you get here?”
The only foal at the yard was Arkas, and as he was more than a year old now, he didn’t even really count. She stroked the colt’s velvety nose as she tried to work out where he could have come from. There were no other stables in the area, unless you counted the ones up at the ‘big house’, but they were purely decorative now as there hadn’t been horses there since the war. Wherever he had come from, Lisa knew he wasn’t safe alone in the woods. She took her mobile out of her pocket and dialled the office.
“Hi, Abigail? Yeah, it’s me…no, no, there’s no problem, we’re fine, it’s just well…I’ve found something you might want to take a look at…”
Ten minutes later Abigail arrived on a hastily tacked Kestral.
“It’s just typical isn’t it?” she said as she dismounted. “Poor Sue was just about to get on for her hack when you phoned and I had no spare horses, so that’s another free lesson we owe her!” She smiled when she saw the foal.
“Oh he’s beautiful isn’t he? I wonder where on earth he came from! I know the McGann’s up the road had a foal recently but that one was piebald – I saw it myself when I went over there to drop off that old stone sink I found in the back garden”
Lisa nodded. The McGanns were very keen on gardening and when Abigail had mentioned the grotty old sink to them in the village, they had jumped at the opportunity of nabbing a good and more importantly, free planter for the front garden. Making low clicking sounds under her breath, Abigail stepped towards the foal and gently fastened up the headcollar, pushing Kerry’s inquisitive nose out of the way. Now that he was sure it wasn’t going to eat him, he seemed very interested to know exactly what it was.
“Hmmm” Abigail pondered the situation for a moment. “I’ve got an idea. Lisa, you take Kestral back to the yard and I’ll take Kerry back with our little friend. With any luck we’ll be back in time for Sue to have a bit of a hack, at least to the castle and back anyway.”
Lisa nodded. As much as she loved her own horse, she had always liked riding Kestral and it would make a nice change – even if it was only for a few minutes. As the foal nibbled at Abigail’s sleeve, she got on and trotted out of the clearing, Abigail following suit a minute or so later. She looked down at him, smiling absentmindedly.
The foal had an enormous length of stride for one so young and she wondered how a horse of such quality had magically appeared in their little bit of woodland.
A dark thought stole over her mind as she was reminded of the events of the week before. What if he was stolen? He seemed friendly and docile enough for someone to take – indeed, they were taking him somewhere now and he hadn’t put up a fight. She glanced at him again and a smile broke. No, he couldn’t have been stolen – anyone with a foal like this would keep him safe from thieves, she was certain.
Finally, Kerry’s muffled footsteps turned to loud clops as they arrived on the cobbled surface of the yard.
Lisa and Kestral had arrived only minutes before and she could see that David was being filled in on all the details.
“…and then Abigail arrived and we, oh hi Abi!”
“I’ll just go and tie Kestral up shall I? Sue’s already gone home I’m afraid.”
“No, untack her, give her a quick groom and stick her out in the field. We’ll need a stable for this little one and Tamarind’s whining has been giving me a headache.”
Lisa stifled a grin and led Kestral away. Although he was sure he wasn’t showing it, Tamarind pined for the company of his mare whenever he went out to the field on his own.
“So where do you think he came from then?” David asked, scrutinising the colt. “I certainly don’t recognise him, you?”
Abigail shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine! I’ll phone the vet and see if he can take a look at him this afternoon. You never know, he might know the owners”
David smiled and took the leadrope from her. “Here’s hoping!”
The day passed slowly and it seemed that every lesson and hack was delayed for several minutes as the clients jostled for the best spot to view the new arrival.
“Rosie McPherson! Get down from there at once!” Abigail barked. “You know it’s not safe!”
The girl simply shrugged and with a broad grin on her face, said “Can I have him?” Abigail rolled her eyes and steered her towards her mount for the day. “Never mind that, you’re on Rocky today and I want you to work on your position a bit more, you’ve been slouching in your last few lessons!”
Rocky, although a bombproof and gentle little pony, was a lot more forward going than the permanently laidback Callisto and would be much more of a challenge.
Eventually, Dr Lowe the vet arrived and examined the colt.
“Well, he’s not one of mine, I can tell you that for a start” he said in his characteristically gruff voice. “I’ve been present at the births of most of the livestock in the area and I can say with definition that this wasn’t one of them.” He allowed himself a rare smile and shrugged. “He’s a nice little chap though and seems to be in good health considering where he’s been. I will put a notice up in the surgery to say that he’s safe…whoever he is”
“Well that’s a relief” said Lisa, after Dr Lowe had left. “I was beginning to panic there – I thought he might know who he belonged to!”
She knew it was a terrible thing to say – there might be a distraught owner out looking for him right at that moment but for once she didn’t care. The little leggy foal had her well and truly smitten.
Abigail smiled and ruffled the colt’s forelock fondly. “No, it looks like we’re stuck with him, for now at least. He’ll need a name of course…”
“Bambi” said Lisa, suddenly. “Bambi?” David raised an eyebrow. “Oh come on!” She scowled at him and rubbed the colt’s nose gently. “It suits him, I mean look at those legs! Besides, I honestly thought he was a deer at first – they’re one of the few things that Kerry will spook at.”
“Well, Bambi it is then” laughed Abigail, chuckling at David’s horror-struck expression. He wasn’t a big fan of soppy films, Bambi being one of them. (She suspected that it was because they made him cry but she never dared to air this view.)
“Care to put him out in the field with Arkas? It would do them both good to have a playmate; Arkas has been getting a little ‘bitey’ recently with all the kids feeding him things at lunchtime and I'm sure our little 'deer' would like a friend his own age”
Lisa grinned and led out the colt, his long, spindly legs dancing through the shavings of the box and out onto the yard. She had always wanted to breed a foal but having a gelding had made this slightly impossible. Bambi was just adorable and she hoped that no one would ever come to claim him.