Sunday, 1 May 2011

20. The Newbies

The Newbies

“Uh huh…right, yes. So you’ll be here in how long? That’s brilliant, thanks. Ok, see you then, byeee!”

Abigail ended the call and placed the phone back on the table. In only a matter of minutes she’d be welcoming the latest members of the herd to the yard. With Kestral out of action until she had her foal and Tamarind only suitable for seriously advanced riders, they were severely underhorsed. After making enquiries at several yards and even travelling long distance to a well known sale, they had finally found two that were just right. One, a big piebald cob known as Banksy would be perfect for intermediate and beginner riders alike. He was still young, only five, but completely bombproof and just the sort of horse they had been looking for. The other, Rhona, was an older mare, just past her prime, but as laidback as they come and perfect for beginners. Both had come from a trekking centre a few miles away which had a reputation for improving confidence and skills.
Abigail smiled and glanced at the trophy cabinet at the other side of the room. Rhona had allegedly been champion Highland mare at the Royal Highland Show in her youth, and was a regular prize-winner at local shows and events; a trait that she hoped they'd be able to continue.
Ten minutes later she heard the familiar sound of tyres on gravel. The horsebox had arrived. She had barely risen from her seat when David walked in.

“We’re just bringing them out, want to come and help?”

“Need you ask?”

David smiled and the two of them made their way to the unloading area behind the main part of the yard. Abigail took the cob and David the Highland, and after a couple of chaotic minutes when Banksy got his foot tangled in the haynet and Rhona spotted a half empty feed bucket by the fence, they managed to get them into the main yard.

Finally able to see them in the light, Abigail looked over her new charges. “Oh they are lovely aren’t they?” David nodded. They looked like good, dependable mounts – exactly what they were lacking.

A few days later, once they had settled into their new routine, Abigail brought them out ready for their first lesson.

“Right Iz, are you ok getting on by yourself or do you need a leggie?”

“I’m fine with the block thanks Abigail”

Rhona was proving to be more problematic than they had anticipated. The trekking centre had used a treeless saddle with her as ordinary saddles gave her back pain, but they weren’t willing to sell it with her as they needed it for another horse and they were expensive to replace. Her reins had snapped as well so they had to make do with two leadropes tied together. Luckily, Lisa had volunteered to ride her bareback in her first few lessons until they could get a new one.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright like that?”

“Yes Abi, I’m fine. Don’t worry! I ride Kerry like this in the school all the time!”

“Alright, just as long as you’re sure…”

Once they were both on and sorted, they headed out to the arena, Banksy’s ears pricked in anticipation. They walked into the middle and rechecked their girths, and in Izzy’s case, stirrups.

“Right then!” boomed Abigail. “Forwards to working walk!”

Izzy beamed. Banksy was much more responsive than the other horses that she had ridden and he was fast becoming her new favourite.

After a brief warm-up, Abigail laid out some trotting poles. “Let’s see what they make of them!”
Rhona was up first. She took short choppy strides on the approach and Lisa held on tightly to the mane to keep her balance. She was a little 'dead to the leg' after years of beginners kicking her but she could tell that she had been well schooled in the past.

“Not bad, not bad, could be better though! You need to keep up the impulsion! Ok Izzy, bring Banksy up now.”

The gelding proved to be a natural. Taking large, even strides, he trotted over the poles with ease.

“Good, good! Ok you two, have a trot at the top end on both reins for a minute while I change these poles…” She heaved some of the blocks over and set up some raised poles before signalling to Lisa to bring Rhona over them.

The mare sped up and tried to canter, tipping Lisa off balance and almost knocking over the poles. “Oh dear, that didn’t go very well now did it?” said Abigail, shaking her head. “Bring her over again. She’s probably not used to this sort of thing, she was a trekkie after all I suppose” The second time round she popped over them properly and Lisa gave her a well deserved pat. “Oh well done! I knew you could do it! Right Izzy, your turn.”

Yet again Banksy came into his own, lifting his feet right up and hopping over each pole. The girl leaned over and gave him a hug. “Good lad!” She turned to Abigail, eyes twinkling gleefully. “Can we jump? Pleeeeeease?”
Abigail rolled her eyes. “Oh alright then, but nothing too big. I don’t know how much jumping he’s done… Oh hi David!” David stepped into the arena and jogged over to the instructor. “I wanted to see how they get on in the school. I hope I’m not in the way!”
“Oh don’t worry, you’re fine. Right Iz, take it away!”

The girl clicked her tongue and closed her legs around the horse’s sides, urging him forward towards the fence. He pricked his ears as he got within a few strides, quickened his pace and then…

…slammed on the brakes and stopped.
Izzy managed to cling on and regain her seat but the cob clearly wasn’t going anywhere.

“Hmmm” said Abigail thoughtfully. “They told me that he had definitely jumped before. Maybe it’s just too big. David? Could you go and put the jump down a bit and stand next to it when Banksy jumps, just in case?”

The groom nodded, lowered it to a full block cross and stood well back. This time, Izzy was more prepared. She circled past the jump and gave Banksy plenty of time to see it and take off. He almost ran out, but spotted David and kept on the right line, popping over it with perhaps less style than they would have liked.

As soon as he landed, he took off at a mad canter, throwing in a quick buck and a fart before going back to a sedate trot and getting into line behind Rhona.

Everybody laughed and Izzy gave him another pat, wrapping her arms around his great muscular neck.

“That'll do! It was a jump after all! Right, Lisa your turn if you want to try it. I’m not expecting her to fly over this so just concentrate on keeping her going. Don’t let her stop!”

She really needn’t have worried for no sooner had Lisa had pointed her at the fence, Rhona burst into canter, automatically shortened her stride and took off, basculing like a puissance showjumper and touching down as softly as a landing bird.

Abigail was stunned. “But, but, she’s so old! They said she could pop the odd log out on a hack but I didn’t think she could actually jump!”

Lisa was just as flabbergasted and had to stop for a couple of minutes to get over it. “I’ve jumped Kerry bareback loads of times but he just canters over it and never really puts much effort in but Rhona…wow. Not what I was expecting at all!”
Izzy looked a tad put out. She loved to jump and it now looked like her new favourite horse wasn’t quite as keen as this one. She would have to book another lesson with Rhona the next time she fancied doing some jumping practice…

A few minutes later, after a canter on both reins, Abigail, at Lisa’s request, set up a bounce combination.

Rhona flew over them again and even Banksy managed to leap over without any problems.

They both had another canter and as it was nearing the end, they really went for it. Izzy kicked Banksy into a couple of strides of gallop up the long side, but a stern look from Abigail slowed them back to a lope.

Rhona followed on behind at her own pace. When there were no jumps around, she really didn’t see the point in going particularly fast.

“Right, I think we’ll end there for the day.” said Abigail. “Give them a long rein and do a couple of circuits then bring them into the middle to finish off.”

“You both did incredibly well today and I’m very happy with how you’ve handled these two, especially seeing as they have completely different experience levels.”

“Now” she said, an impish grin on her face. “Seeing as one of you decided to be a little rebellious towards the end…” She nodded towards Izzy, who pretended that nothing had happened. “…I think you need to do some exercises!” The groaning that followed told her that neither was particularly happy about this.

“Ok!” she rubbed her hands together and motioned to David to hold Rhona. "'Around The World’ please, both ways.” Lisa groaned. She hadn’t done this since she was about twelve and was now woefully inflexible.

“Come on Lisa, you can do it!” said David, grinning roguishly. Lisa glared at him and turned to face the other way. Oh he was going to pay for that…

When she had finally got back in the right position (several seconds after the much more flexible Izzy) she looked to Abigail beseechingly. “Can we get off now? Please? I don't think my legs can take any more!”
Abigail laughed and nodded. “Off you get then. I’ll give you a hand with the tack”

They walked back to the yard quietly. Izzy tied up Banksy and untacked him, while Lisa led the Highland into a spare stable and took off her girth and numnah.

Yes, thought Abigail. She had picked well.

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