Sunday, 1 May 2011

23. Archipelago

Beep, beep, beep.

Abigail gestured wildly as the horsebox reversed slowly into the back yard. Making sure there was enough space to unload, she held out her hand - palm raised and the driver cut the engine. “Thanks John!” she smiled and the elderly farmer chuckled. “This is getting fair regular in’t it? She should get her own effin’ transport – A’m no even getting’ paid for this!” The red haired girl in the passenger seat grinned and hugged him as she opened the door to get out. “Yeah I love you too grandpa, I’ll see you later!” John rolled his eyes theatrically and looked at his watch before picking up the local paper and turning to the sport pages.

“So, what’s on the cards today then Ailie?” queried Abigail as they started to unload the horse. “Another schooling session or some hacking? It’s a nice day for it if you do.” The girl nodded. “Schooling again please. There’s loads of good places to hack at home; we’ve got the Hollowwood right on our doorstep but nowhere decent to do anything else. We don’t even have much of a field anymore since the planning permission thing for the houses came through.” She frowned. “What do they need more for anyway? There’s loads in the village!” A loud snort reverberated in the horsebox and Ailie smiled. “Alright Archie, we’re coming for you, don’t get grumpy!” The yard manager chuckled as they walked the gelding down the ramp, his feet clattering on the uneven surface. “Just take him into the school and I’ll get his saddle for you, ok?”

For the past fortnight, Ailie had brought her horse to the yard for some riding tuition from Abigail. She was a very keen rider and longed to compete Archie in cross country and endurance rides, yet the lack of schooling since her instructor friend had moved away had left them both a little worse for wear. Since it was only a ten minute drive from the village, Archie needed only a little bit of warming up before he was ridden. Ailie led him into the school and walked him around for a couple of minutes to stretch his legs before she tacked him up.

David arrived a minute or two later with his saddle, which he draped over the fence. “Hello again – Abi’ll be back in a minute or two, she just popped into the office to make your grandpa a cup of tea. Here, I’ll give you a hand with that”

“Oh no, don’t bother, I’m fine.” she replied, already starting to unbuckle the rug. “He’s dead quiet, so he’ll just stand there without anyone holding him” To illustrate the point she let go of the straps and held up her hands, leaving Archie standing perfectly happily, resting one hind foot.

David nodded. “Fair enough, but at least let me put the rug out the way?” “Oh go on then!” laughed Ailie, starting to undo his headcollar.

“I’ll do the rest in a minute once Abigail gets ba- Oh, here she is now!”

“Sorry about that, I thought your grandpa looked a bit cold so I brought him a cuppa. Er, David? Could you go and bring Jac, Tully and Banksy in for me? Oh and Kerry too if he's out – you know how he hates being on his own.” He nodded and smiled a goodbye to Ailie before heading out of the school. “Have fun!” “Oh he is a lovely chap isn’t he?” said Abigail, running her fingers through the gelding’s gloriously scruffy mane. “I’ve always had a thing for coloured cobs – I really ought to get some more for the school – one is definetly not enough!” Ailie laughed. “Oh I’m with you on that! You can’t beat a good bit of cobbyness.”

A couple of minutes later and Archie was tacked. Abigail spent most of the time stroking his warm, velvety nose while Ailie dealt with the saddle.

“Right, just warm him up and have a trot and canter on both reins and I’ll put some poles and a jump up for you”

“Ok, sounds good to me! Come on Archie!”

The lesson passed quickly, with Abigail spouting forth advice from her showjumping days of old. “…and just remember never to look down. I did that once in a jumpoff and ended up being the ‘off’ rather than the ‘jump’! As I always say – ‘never look at the floor unless you want to end up there yourself!’.”

Ailie chuckled. It was nice to have an instructor who both knew what she was talking about and how to have a good laugh. When the first jump was put up, Archie pricked his ears immediately and bolted towards it with Ailie clinging on for dear life.

He cleared it easily but needed a little calming down before Abigail raised the jump.

“When was the last time he jumped?”

“Almost a month ago – like I said, we don’t really have anywhere decent to school anymore.”

“Hmmm, yes I see. Well bring him round again but in trot this time! I think we need to work on keeping him calm – he seems to see jumping as something he can just bomb at and hope he clears it.”

“Yeah, he doesn’t like taking them slowly does he?!”

This time he fought with Ailie as she struggled to keep him steady, resulting in a knocked pole and bad landing. “Right, bring him back to trot and do some twenty metre circles up at A. He needs to be listening to you at all times. I’ll just put these poles out of the way…”

"Oh very nice, but I noticed that you tend to hunch up and go all wooden when you feel nervous. Hmmm how can we fix that...aha! Stirrups away please!"

Ailie groaned. She hated working without stirrups.

After a few minutes of quietly trotting around the school in circles and serpentines, Abigail finally let her take her stirrups back , set up some raised poles and motioned to Ailie to trot over them. "Hopefully this'll teach him to stop rushing whenever he sees some poles"

Once satisfied that Archie was in a much calmer frame of mind, Abigail finally let them jump again. This time round the gelding was much more responsive and shortened his stride when Ailie asked him to do so.

“Oh MUCH better!” cried Abigail. “Now, give him a pat and bring him round again – see how much he’s concentrating now?”

It was clear after just a couple of jumps that he was listening now and Ailie looked like she couldn’t be happier. “This is brilliant! He hasn’t jumped like this since Amy left – I just wish I didn’t have to keep bringing him backwards and forwards all the time.” She brought the cob back to walk and gave him a long rein as they walked around the track to cool off.

“Well you could keep him here if it was any easier for you. We’ve got a couple of free stables and plenty of field space for him.” Ailie gawped. “Are you serious? That would be brilliant but…oh, I don’t think I could afford it. I’ve got him stabled at the moment as there’s no real turnout where I am but to be honest I think he’d be much happier out.” Abigail frowned and pondered for a moment as she replaced the blocks and poles back in their normal place by the fence. “Well…” she said finally “How would you feel about working livery? We always need good reliable horses for lessons and hacks and Archie would be perfect. That way he’d earn his keep and you’d only pay for the essentials and turnout.”

Ailie pulled a face. “But wouldn’t he get kinda…ruined? No offence, your horses are all brilliant - I just don’t want him getting hauled at by little kids all day.” Abigail nodded. “I understand but never fear – we wouldn’t stick just anyone on him – only the regulars we know and trust and we’d always consult you beforehand.” Ailie nodded slowly and swung herself out of the saddle, running up the stirrups as she thought of her next words. "If I did agree to it, how would I know he'd settle? He hasn't been out with other horses for months and I wouldn't want him getting bullied."

Abigail nodded. "That's a fair question...and one that can be answered quite quickly, hold on - David! Is that you?!" "Yeah!" said a voice from beyond the fence at the other side of the school.

"I couldn't get Jac - he was caprioling in my face again so I had to leave him out"

"No matter, I'll be hacking him out after this anyway so I'll bring him in myself. Anyway, could you bring the other two in here please? We might have a new livery and I want to see how they'd all get on."


"Tully and Banksy are nice and quiet so there shouldn't be any problems...hopefully." Ailie laughed. "You don't sound so sure but I'll take your word on it." She gave her faithful mount a pat and untacked him just as David jogged into the school, half dragged by a large piebald and much less pushy grey. "Here we are then. Do you want them all turned loose?"

"Er, yeah, I think that would be the best option. None of them are shod so if they kick they shouldn't cause too much damage." Ailie picked up the tack and Abigail the rug and the three of them left the school, David holding all the leadropes. To begin with, Banksy paid the new horse no notice and stood quietly next to Tully, who looked close to dozing off.

Suddenly, as if on some unspoken signal he shot forward and nipped at Archie's quarters, sending him off into a wild canter.

Ailie gasped as Archie bucked in his face, sending clods of dirt and sand flying.

David patted her reassuringly on the shoulder. "Don't worry, they're just establishing the pecking order. He's not going to eat him...well, not much anyway."

Tully, who had been staying out of it, ended up right in the middle as he tried to trot through the middle of the arena right when Archie and Banksy started chasing each other.

He let out a shrill and high pitched squeal and bit Banksy on the neck before trotting off to the watching humans for a fuss. After another few minutes of this, everything suddenly stopped. Banksy came to a halt in the middle and both he and Archie flicked their ears forward, finally satisfied that neither was a threat. Tully snuck back to the group and started to groom Archie, who nuzzled back affectionally.

"Well..." said Ailie, slightly bemused by the whole event. "That was...interesting."

"So do you think you'll be keeping him here then?"

She smiled and nodded. "Well, Archie seems to like it and that's always the most important thing!"

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