David grumbled as he stood, hands in pockets with his scarf wrapped snugly around his neck under the arched entrance to the yard. It was a dull sort of day with a murky grey-white sky and erratic spurts of drizzle which coated everything in a greasy layer of damp. Shrugging his jacket into a more comfortable position, he leaned back against the cold bricks of the wall and sighed. The new livery was supposed to have arrived at quarter past two and it was already almost three o’clock. Opposite him, wrapped up in jumpers up to her eyes, stood Abigail. “I know, I know! Give them five more minutes and then we’ll give them a ring. I’m sure they won’t be too much longer.”
David rolled his eyes and shivered. It was just typical that they had to arrive (or not, as the case might be) on one of the coldest and most inhospitable days of the year. Abigail tutted at him and pulled her fleece in tighter. “What is it now?” David shrugged. “Nothing…I just…”
“Nothing really. I just…well… I don’t like her.”
Now it was Abigail’s turn to roll her eyes. “Oh for goodness sake, you’ve only met her the once! Don’t be so judgemental!” “Yeah, I know, but there’s just something about her…”
A week before, on a similarly cold and miserable day, a new face had arrived on the yard…
“Hello and welcome to EAE! I’m Abigail as you know and you must be Miss Paterson.”
The girl nodded stiffly and took in her surroundings with a look of slight distaste on her face.
“Sorry about the mess – all this frost has been causing problems and everyone keeps slipping! Anyway, I’ll show you around before we both freeze.”
The newcomer nodded again and followed her into the office and tackroom before they made their way back onto the main yard. “…as you can see, we have a large selection of stabling. These ones are quite modern but we have some more traditionally designed ones at the other side if you’d like to…David! Will you keep that animal under control!?”
The girl stared as a chunky grey horse shot past her at a gallop, reins flying behind him and an exhausted looking man in a suit following at a sprint.
The stallion bucked and leapt around the yard, his hooves clattering along the cobbles. David chased him round several times until he eventually managed to trap him in his stable. The girl, who still hadn’t spoken, surveyed the scene with passive interest as Abigail lectured her at length about the fantastic quality of the hinges on all the doors.
She raised her eyebrows in surprise at the squeals and yelps coming from the neighbouring stable and couldn’t conceal a smile when David leapt out, threw the bridle onto the hook at the side and stood, panting, in front of the door. It sounded like he’d barely managed to escape with his life as he muttered something that sounded suspiciously like ‘I’ll bite you next time’.
“David! What happened? Tam’s not usually like that!” Abigail said with a meaningful glare.
“Eh? What are you on about? He’s always like this!”
Abigail sighed and rolled her eyes at him.
“No he isn’t…he, like the rest of our horses, is completely bombproof!”
David finally got the message and nodded hastily. “Er…yeah, so he is. Heh, this was totally out of character for him” he said, reaching over the door to give him a pat, retracting his arm quickly when the stallion bared his teeth at him.
“You don’t have to pretend. I’m perfectly capable of dealing with difficult horses you know!”
David blinked in surprise and Abigail looked embarrassed as the new girl snapped at them. “I’m sorry Miss Paterson, I just assumed that this place wouldn’t be good enough for you, what with your…er…history.” “Oh for goodness sake, call me Jenny!” she cried irritably. “I’m not that posh. Anyway, this place seems fine, so I’ll bring him round next week once we’ve sorted out all the details.” She gave them both a quick nod and left the yard without so much as a second glance…
“That’s them now!” said Abigail, rubbing her hands together to keep warm. Sure enough, a large, expensive looking horsebox was approaching from the main road. She waved and pointed them down towards her house at the far end of the yard. They always unloaded horses at the back, just in case there was an escape attempt. As she pottered over, rehearsing her greeting, David retreated to the office. He needed a cuppa. Five minutes and a teabag later, a small crowd had gathered by the box - eager to see the new horse. Jenny didn’t seem so keen, and frowned when David arrived. As the daughter of a rich local hotelier, she had always had ‘the best’, whether it be toys or clothes or indeed, horses. Her first pony had been a two time winner at POYS and her second, a purebred Eriskay with very good bloodlines. So it came as some surprise when, out of all the well bred eventers she could have bought for her 18th birthday, she returned from a horse-hunting trip in Ireland with a very green and scruffy looking three year old in tow. As she scowled and rushed around the box, David introduced himself to Jenny’s boyfriend, who was standing by looking slightly lost.
“Something tells me you’re not a horse person” He laughed. “No, that’s ‘her’ thing, though she’s determined to get me on a horse one of these days. I just get dragged along to hold things and tell her how good she looks in jodhpurs!” David chuckled and held out a hand which he shook enthusiastically.
“Baz. Unfortunately short for…”
“Sebastian! Can you give me a hand please!?”
He laughed and looked at David. “See what I mean? I’m coming Jen, what’s the problem?”
“The leadrope knot, it’s too tight, can you give it a go?” After a minute or two of frustration, the knot eventually unravelled normally and Jenny brought out the horse.
He slipped on his way down and reared but Jenny didn’t seem fazed at all, even with almost 17hh of Irish Sporthorse looming over her.
“Mitchell! Calm down, it’s ok…o…k…you’re alright, come on”
At the sound of her soothing voice, the gelding snorted and returned all four of his legs to the ground, ears pricked apologetically.
She smiled and gave him a pat before turning to the slightly stunned audience.
Satisfied that he wasn’t going to spook again, the small group of spectators closed in to say hello and stroke his gleaming coat. “Oh he’s beautiful!” “What’s his name?” “How old is he?” Jenny gave him a pat and grinned. “Dancing With Shadows, to give him his full title. I call him Mitchell though.” “Does he bite?” asked one of the kids, gawping at him from several feet below. Jenny laughed and shook her head. “He used to, when I first got him but he’s over that now, although he has the odd relapse every now and again!”
David and Abigail exchanged glances. “Oh I think we know what that’s like!” “So, what are you intending to do with him? Compete? Hack?” asked Lisa, running her fingers through his glossy raven mane. “Oh compete, definitely! I backed him just after I bought him with my…hmm…‘ex’ trainer and I’ve been working on his jumping and flatwork ever since. He’s six now and I’d like to take him to his first proper event this year.” She turned to look up at him and Mitchell looked back at her with his big expressive brown eyes, whickering softly. David looked on, bemused. It was like she was a completely different person – as far removed from the sharp and tetchy individual that had greeted them seven days before as was possible to be. “Right, where’ll I put him now?” Abigail stepped forward and stroked his nose. “Oh he is rather lovely isn’t he? We’ve got a stable set up for him over there, come on” David leaned against the horsebox, shaking his head as the three of them made their way to the main yard, chatting animatedly about horses and stabling.
Later that day, once he’d settled in a bit, Jenny brought him into the school to give him some exercise.
Once he’d been lunged and warmed up, she fetched his tack and started schooling.
David, Baz and Abigail watched from the fence as Jenny put the bay though his paces, oohing and ahhing at all the relevant moments. “He’s a nice one isn’t he?” said Baz, proudly. “Oh yes, without a doubt” replied Abigail. “If she ever wants to sell him, look no further!” He chuckled. “Oh I don’t think that’s ever going to be an option. She loves that horse to bits and would rather starve herself than let him do the same!”
“Hmmm, that reminds me, why did she leave her last yard?” asked David. “I looked it up on the internet – it was huge, with all the mod cons and loads of really talented trainers – a competition yard! Surely that would have been perfect for an aspiring eventer?”
Baz pondered for a moment as Jenny cantered past. “Well you see, Jen doesn’t like people who treat her differently because she has money. To begin with, everything was great – everyone got on and Mitchell was coming on leaps and bounds. Then, after almost three years of keeping him there, we discovered that they’d been charging her almost double the normal livery and training fees just because she could afford it. We confronted them about it but they denied the whole thing and started spreading nasty rumours so in the end we just packed up and left.” Abigail was shocked and shook her head angrily. “Some people…I mean that’s just common theft!” David nodded. Now he knew why she’d been so cross with them to begin with.
“Baz? Could you put some jumps up please?” Jenny called out to him from the middle of the school. “He hasn’t jumped in a week or two so I’d like to refresh his memory” “No rest for the wicked eh?” he said with a wink, as he vaulted over the fence and made his way into the middle. “Right, ok, how big?”
“Oh not big at all, full block should do it. Thanks, I don’t know what I’d do without you!”
Once the jump was up and Baz was safely out of the way, Jenny brought Mitchell around. His ears shot forwards and he shortened his stride, taking off at the perfect point and clearing it with ease.
Gradually, more jumps were put up and he flew over them.
Finally, after one final canter, Jenny brought him back to a walk and halted him in the middle of the school. She dismounted and untacked him, draping the saddle and bridle carefully over the fence and retrieved his headcollar from the fencepost she’d left it on when she came in. She ruffled his forelock and gently adjusted the noseband so that it sat perfectly on his noble face. She got the feeling that this place would be permanent.