“Brrrr” Abigail rubbed her hands together in a vain attempt to warm them up as she made her way from the office to the stables. Although glorious sunshine was pouring from the sky, it was decidedly deceptive. There had been a hard frost that morning and she’d already been out with a kettle of boiling water to melt the ice on the water trough in the Donkey paddock. It was as if summer had quickly skipped ahead to winter, bypassing autumn altogether.
“Ah, Rosie, there you are” she said, smiling at the girl’s apparent resistance to the cold. “You’re on Kestral today.”
Rosie beamed. Although Callisto was her favourite, she loved riding Kestral almost as much. “Are we going on a hack?” Abigail shook her head. “No, it’s a bit chilly for that today – you’ll be doing some jumping I think.”
The girl punched the air excitedly. She loved jumping almost as much as Abigail had at her age, and that was saying something. “If it warms up then you can go out with Lisa but don’t quote me on that!”
She called out to David, who was in the process of tacking up Kestral in the stable next door.
“David? Is she ready yet?”
“No, not yet. Hold still Kes, oh come on!”
“No, everything’s fine!”
Almost as soon as he had spoken, Kestral squealed and Abigail heard a painful sounding crack and some choice cursing from David.
“What’s happened then?” she said, taking a step towards the door.
“Nothing! She just kicked me that’s all” came a hurt sounding voice from the stable.
“She kicked you? Whatever were you doing?”
“I was doing up her girth and she just kept going for my fingers and trying to kick – hold on, I’ll bring her out.”
“Well that’s very unlike her” Abigail remarked, casting a worried look over the mare. “Is her saddle damaged at all?”
David shook his head. “I already checked. Twice.”
“Hmmm” She pondered for a moment before coming to a decision. “Right, try and do it up again and I’ll see what’s going on.”
David nodded and gently started to buckle the girth but Kestral was having none of it. Ducking and diving about the place she snatched at David’s fingers with her teeth and jumped around skittishly.
“Woah girl, wooooah!”
Abigail grabbed her noseband and brought her back to earth, stroking her nose soothingly. “Well something is most definitely not right David. She never acts up like this!”
David looked at his feet shiftily. “Well, she does actually.”
“The last couple of weeks I'e noticed that she’s been getting a bit bolshy. She doesn’t like anyone touching her back and gets quite aggressive when you try to tack her up. At first I thought it was maybe just a bad week – it did rain every day remember and we know she hates the rain but now I’m beginning to think there’s something else in it.” Rosie approached gingerly and patted the mare fondly.
“Right” Abigail sighed. “Looks like you won’t be riding her after all Rosie. Go and get Todd’s tack out and I’ll help you catch him in a minute”
“David, untack her and put her back in her box – I’ll go and phone the vet, we need to get this sorted out”
“Come on girl” he said softly, giving her a reassuring pat. “Let’s get you back inside” He took the unbuckled saddle from her back and draped it over the door before taking her bridle off and leaving her to her haynet.
He had just come back from the tack room when he heard hoofbeats on the cobbles. It was Lisa and Kerry.
“Oh hi David! Up to much?”
“Ha, not now anyway. Abigail’s phoning Dr Lowe – we think there’s something wrong with Kestral.”
“Oh no!” she wheeled round to look at the mare who was silently munching on her haylage. “Will she be ok?”
“Yeah, I’m sure she will be, it’s probably just…hey!”
He yelped in surprise as something bumped into his leg. “What the?! Who’s this then?”
A small, scruffy looking dog gazed up at him, wagging its stumpy tail happily.
“Ah” said Lisa “That would be Bob. Say hello Bob!”
Bob leapt up and licked David’s hand, almost overbalancing in excitement.
“Daft dog…is he yours?”
She nodded. “ I’d always wanted a dog so I went to that rescue centre in Cairbre and fell in love with him. He’d been abandoned, poor thing.”
“Anyway” she said finally, giving Bob a pat. “I’ll need to get Kerry sorted now or we won’t have enough time for a hack!”
Ten minutes later, everyone was ready to go. Spurred on by a recent Road Safety course, both Lisa and Rosie were kitted out in their hi-viz gear and as the weather had improved slightly, they were now going for a short hack through the fields, coming back to the school for a few jumps before they finished off.
Once the sound of hoofsteps had died down, David brought Tamarind out and tied him up outside. His stable was a mess (as usual) but it would only take a couple of minutes to sort out.
“I’ve just phoned” said Abigail, patting Tamarind on the nose absentmindedly. “He says he’ll be along as quick as he can.”
“Righto, I’ll probably only be five minutes here anyway”
“Ok, I’ll leave you to it then”
While David struggled with mountains of shavings and goodness knows what else, Tam had more pressing concerns. He edged along as far as his leadrope would allow him and nuzzled gently at Kestral’s nose, whickering quietly. Something was different about her…
Shortly afterwards Abigail reappeared at the door. “He’s here, I’ll just go and see him in”
“That was well timed, I’ve just finished. Come on monster, back in you go...”
After a typically gruff ‘hello’, Dr Lowe got to work and gave Kestral a thorough check-up, including blood work which he would analyse when he got back to the surgery.
“Trot her up for me please” he said without emotion. “Just once both ways should do.”
He stroked his chin thoughtfully for a couple of minutes before taking the horse from David and leading her back into her stable.
“Hmmm, it’s exactly as I suspected. Of course I’ll have to confirm it with the blood test but I’m pretty certain I have made the correct diagnosis…”
He frowned. “I am rather disappointed that you didn’t inform me earlier though – so many things can go wrong with these things if they aren’t monitored you know…”
“What on earth are you talking about?” said David who was immediately shushed by Abigail. “I think what David is trying to say is well…” she paused and smiled sheepishly. “Well…what are you saying?”
Dr Lowe looked at them incredulously. “You mean you don’t KNOW? My, my, I thought it would be perfectly obvious, especially with a stallion as, dare I say it, roguish as this one on the premises.” He stroked the Lusitano’s nose affectionately, looking at Abigail whose face had drained of colour.
Finally, after what seemed like an age, she spoke; her voice hoarse. “You don’t mean…?”
“Indeed I do!” Lowe chuckled. He hadn’t had this much fun in ages.
“Your mare is in foal, and fairly far along too.”
“Well, I…I…” Abigail was speechless.