Abigail’s deafening roar boomed across the yard, waking a woodpigeon from its mid morning doze and sending David into a mild panic.
“I know, I KNOW!”
Jenny and Sophie from Harecroft Farm would be arriving soon with a horse that Abigail had agreed to buy from them. As usual before a new horse arrived, they were woefully unorganised and the yard was a complete mess. Buckets were strewn across the cobbles, the snow still hadn’t been properly swept up and spare headcollars and leadropes were soaking in the resulting melt water. Abigail strode through the slush indomitably, and almost fell when she lost her footing on a patch of ice just outside the tackroom door.
“Will someone please put some grit down! It’s a health and safety nightmare over here! David? Daaaavid!? Where is that bucket of grit? I put it in the tackroom but it isn’t there anymore!”
“It’s still there! Try looking under the numnahs!”
David rolled his eyes when Abigail grumpily charged into the room and, still grumbling about the state of the place, emerged a minute later with a loaded bucket of grit.
“CHILDREN! Gather round please, I’ve got a job for you!”
Izzy and Rosie crept out of the office warily. When Abigail was in a panic, things tended to get shouted at…
“Right! I want this yard swept up and gritted by the time I’ve put Callisto out. If it’s done to my satisfaction there might be a free ride at the end of it…”
The girls beamed and snatched the bucket out of Abigail’s hands before she had time to react. Unperturbed, she continued to race around the yard, stacking buckets and re-tying quick release knots in an attempt to appear industrious. Suddenly the phone rang and she sprinted across the cobbles, narrowly missing a loose headcollar and disappeared into the office. David stopped arranging haynets and eavesdropped.
“EA Equestrian, Abigail speaking. Oh hi Jenny! We were wondering where you’d got to…I …oh, oh I see. Oh that’s awful! Where?...and you say it won’t move at all? Yes, yes I agree…”
David frowned. This didn’t sound positive.
“We’ll have to come and collect you then, I think I know whereabouts you are. No don’t worry, it’s no trouble! Right ok then, keep your phone on, we’ll be with you soon!”
The phone beeped as Abigail ended the call and David lunged wildly for another net so he didn’t look suspicious.
“Change of plan” said Abigail as she stepped out of the office, her expression fixed. “The horsebox has broken down on the back road from Hollowcroft. They hired it and well…it’s died on them, although Jenny did put it down to the huge snowdrifts that they were ploughing through for the last couple of miles.” David nodded. They rarely had gritters that came up this far and the recent snowfall had overwhelmed most forms of transportation.
“So what do we do then?”
She turned to him and grinned. “We go and get them of course! I’ll ride Rhona over there and you can take…er…”
David shook his head and smiled. “I’m not taking Tam, before you say it. I’d end up headfirst in a snowdrift with him! I’ll walk behind you. After all, someone has to take the shovels!”
Suddenly, Lisa arrived, leading a very fresh looking Kerry.
“What’s happened? I know that look Abigail!”
David explained the situation and she beamed. “Oh this is perfect! I’ve been meaning to do this for AGES!” She trailed off and after tying Kerry to the wall, disappeared into the car park, muttering something about long enough reins…
Ten minutes later, David, Abigail and Rhona were at the top of the hill behind the yard, taking in the view.
“It really does look lovely out there doesn’t it? You’d never think snow could cause so many problems when you see it like this.”
David nodded. “It certainly does look photogenic, I…arrrgh!”
He leapt out of the way just in time to avoid a large chestnut blur passing him at speed. “Kerry? I…oh!”
“Yeeehaaaaaa!” Lisa bellowed, flicking the reins at Kerry and urging him on.
“Skijoring!” Abigail breathed. “In all my days…she’s got guts, that’s all I’m saying!”
The snow was deep and the gelding struggled to navigate his way through some of it but where it was firm he almost flew.
“Well, she seems to be enjoying herself! Lets get a move on….BE CAREFUL LISA!” she boomed, inadvertantly deafening her colleague. David stepped back, hoping that his hearing would return to him eventually.
Twenty minutes later they reached the stranded travellers who were in a much worse state than originally anticipated.
“…I hope they get here soon, it’s freezing out here! Oh wait, I think I see them! Wait…is she…on skis?!”
“Hi guys, Abi and David’ll be along in a minute. I’d love to stay and chat but Kerry is enjoying this a bit too much and I…weeeeugh!” She grinned apologetically as Kerry took off with her and cantered into the distance.
Sophie shook her head incredulously. “Mad, completely mad…Oh, here’s the rest of them – hello everyone!” She squeaked when she saw David and Jenny rolled her eyes at her.
Abigail waved and David raised a spade in greeting. “Need a hand?”
Jenny laughed and nodded. “Just a bit! I’m Jenny by the way and this is Sophie, we spoke on the phone.” Abigail smiled and shook hands with both of them. “Sophie? That name seems familiar – did you leave a message on our site’s email or something?” asked David, his brow furrowed in thought. Sophie giggled and nodded.
“Right, lets see if we can get you out of here then!” Abigail said loudly, relieving David of the chance to change the subject. “David, you give Jenny a hand – see if you can’t shift some of this snow. I’m going to have a look at the horse and see if he's alright.”
He nodded and handed her a spade. “It’s going to take some time – it’s a lot deeper than I thought it would be…”
Leaving them to it, Abigail and Sophie trudged through the snow to the back of the horsebox, Sophie looking a little put out.
“Do you want me to bring him out?” Sophie asked. “Only I really don’t think we’re going to be able to get this thing running again and it would be good for him to stretch his legs.” Abigail nodded. “I quite agree, let’s unload him.”
It took them a few minutes to lower the ramp as the hinges had frozen in place and proved difficult to open, but eventually he was ready to go…
“Hey, stop it!” David groaned as yet another snowball bounced off his shoulder. “Isn’t there enough snow here? I’m trying to get this…weuargh!” He slipped and lost his balance, waving his arms frantically to try and stay standing but it was not to be. He was going down…
“Here he is!”
Abigail smiled appreciatively. It was cold and wet and miserable and he was in a new country, but the gelding looked positively delighted to be here.
“Abigail, meet Tully” said Sophie, stroking his velvety nose gently. “Eight years old and he’s never put a foot out of place. I think he’ll really like it here. He loves his hacking and he’s fantastic with kids.”
Abigail smiled. “I bet he’s a popular chap – he’s got such a lovely face.”
A few minutes later it was decided that the horsebox was a non starter and that it would be best to head back to the yard on foot and ask the local farmer if he could help tow it out the next day. Lisa (who had finally managed to stop Kerry) had agreed to lead Rhona back with him to the yard. This was helpful for two reasons: One, it meant Abigail didn’t have to lead her and two: Rhona’s average speed was around 5mph which would prove an active deterrent for Kerry in case he felt like bolting again.
David resisted the urge to enact his revenge and shove Jenny in a snowdrift, for the simple reason that he’d have ended up in one himself when Abigail found out.
As they plodded into the main yard, brushing lumps of melting snow off their clothes, Izzy and Rosie rushed over, practically bubbling over with excitement.
“We gritted the yard for you Abigail!”
“Yeah! AND! We brought Cally and Arkas and Kestral and Axel in…and…and…Ooooooh, he’s GORGEOUS! Can I ride him first?!”
“No! I want first go!”
“You had first go LAST time!”
“Well you’ve done a smashing job and I think you both deserve a free ride…and…” she paused for dramatic effect. “…and…a half price hack for next week. What do you think?”
Izzy grinned. “Thanks Abi!”
“Oooh, who’s this?!” Sophie gasped.
David smiled and pointed each foal out. “That’s Arkas – he’s Callisto’s colt, that’s Bambi – we don’t know where he came from – we found him in the woods – long story– and this… Well, this is Axel.”
“Axel? Unusual name for a foal…where’d that come from?”
David squirmed. It was such an embarrassing admission to make. “Well, I…”
“Oh spit it out David! It’s not that bad!” Abigail said, a wry smile on her face.
With Jenny and Sophie looking interestedly on, he finally spoke.
“Oh alright then! ” He shuffled his feet and muttered something incoherent. “What was that David?” Abigail probed. “What film?”
“He’s named after the lead character in Beverly Hills Cop, ok?”
Jenny stifled a laugh and Sophie chuckled.
“It wasn’t intentional! I’d watched it on TV the night before and then Lisa asked what we were going to call ‘foaly’ and it just popped into my head and well…it stuck.”
Everyone laughed this time and Axel stretched his neck out as much as he could and tried to nibble Sophie’s fingers.
A loud snort and a low nicker from the next stable alerted them to the presence of the resident Lusitano. David laughed. “Now you get to meet foalie senior – Tamarind!
Jenny rushed over and gave him a fuss. “Oh he’s beautiful, I can see where Axel gets his good looks from!” David rolled his eyes. “Great. More praise – his head is going to explode one of these days, it’s that big”
“Awww! Don’t say that!” said Sophie, joining Jenny by the Lusi’s stable. “Don’t you listen to him Tam, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”
Tamarind had a fan club.
The next day, they decided to try Tully out under saddle. He didn’t seem to be put out by his long journey and greeted everyone with a lively nicker and a maneful of haylage.
“Daft horse” said Abigail. “Let’s get him groomed then.”
As ever, Izzy and Rosie volunteered and within minutes, Tully was immaculate.
After they had stabled him the night before, David had gone back to the horsebox with Sophie for his tack and other effects. He had a personalised saddlecloth and a rather nice bridle with multicoloured reins which set off his fleabitten coat beautifully.
True to form, Izzy had managed to wrangle her way into getting the first ride.
Jenny and Sophie had been offered free rides as well. Abigail had let them stay with her free of charge and wouldn’t hear of them paying for anything. “You brought him all the way up here – you owe me nothing!”
Sophie chose Callisto, on the basis that she looked so much like her own horse Custard that she was bound to like her.
Jenny had requested Tamarind but swiftly reconsidered when David showed her the Accident Book – nine out of ten pages of which had ‘Tam again’ scrawled across it. Abigail recommended Rhona for her quiet nature and comfortable paces, and also to show off the new treeless saddle and the fact that she could be ridden completely bitless.
The sun had come out by the time they reached the arena, and it hardly felt like winter anymore.
“Right, once you’ve warmed them up, start off with some bending I think – then we can move on to trotting poles”
Tully shone. He stepped over the poles as easy as pie and trotted over the raised poles without stumbling once.
“Wow Abigail! He’s so comfy! I can’t feel his strides at all!”
“Good! He's got lovely paces. Ok then, what about a jump? Anyone up for that?”
There was unanimous support for this, so she put up a small cross and stood well back to let everyone have a go.
Sophie and Callisto popped over it fine and Jenny and Rhona practically flew.
“Whoops! I forgot to warn you about that – she really does enjoy her jumping!”
“So I see!” laughed Jenny as she got totally left behind by the Highland’s massive leap.
Tully pricked his ears on the approach and shortened his stride, taking off in the optimum position and clearing it beautifully.
They had a few canters and another couple of jumps before finishing off.
“Oh that was great fun” Jenny said, ruffling Rhona’s mane affectionately.
“Any chance of taking Callisto back with us? We’ll have room in the box!” Sophie joked. “Haha, I’m afraid not!” laughed Abigail. “I think you’d have half the village children out to complain!”
“Pity, she and Custard would make a good couple”
Jenny and Sophie stayed for another couple of days as the horsebox was still out of order and the mechanic needed more time to work on it. They didn’t mind much - seeing the sights, buying souvenir pencils from the gift shop in the village and hacking out every day was a perfect little home from home. Abigail appreciated the help around the yard too, especially after discovering a kindred spirit in Jenny when it came to getting things done.
Tully slotted into the yard routine perfectly and proved himself to be a very happy hacker – refusing to spook at scary hedgemonsters and the fearsome pheasants that ran out in front of him on the road.
“So what do we think then?” said David one evening, as they all relaxed in the office with a cup of tea. “A good investment?”
“Totally and utterly perfect.”