‘Happy Birthday to meeeeee, happy birthday to ME!’
Rosie McPherson’s loud squeals echoed around the yard, and David winced. It was as if Abigail had been giving her shouting lessons in her spare time.
‘Come on David!’ she cried, grabbing his arm and tugging on it like a dog with a particularly favourite stick. ‘Join IN!’
He looked up appealingly at her mother Andrea and Abigail who were standing in front of Kestral’s stable.
Do I HAVE to?
Abigail gave him a curt nod and Andrea smiled apologetically.
‘Er..happy birthday to…you?’
‘Nooo, that’s rubbish, you need to SING!’
His eyebrows knitted together at the sound of barely controlled laughter coming from Abigail.
‘Nah, I’m not very good at singing, I think I’ll leave that to the professionals…’
‘But but but…I want you to sing!’
Rosie’s face was now the picture of innocence, as cherubic and benign as it was possible to look on your eagerly anticipated ninth birthday.
David cleared his throat and looked around warily. The yard was fairly quiet and most of the regulars were out on a hack with Lisa but that still left Abigail, Rosie and her mum and Nikolai, who was in the office, sorting something.
He stole another glance at Abigail, who nodded encouragingly at him, a smile clearly not far away.
He took a deep breath and ploughed into the full song, eyes shut tightly to avoid seeing how badly his singing was affecting the crowd. He could sing, but certainly not when under pressure and the resulting drone – which ended on a somewhat shaky staccato - made him sound stone deaf.
Abigail and Andrea clapped, the former throwing in a very slightly sarcastic wolf whistle as David opened his eyes. ‘Don’t say anything.’ he muttered, scowling at her as his ears turned scarlet and the women chuckled. ‘Not a single thing…’
‘Come on Rosie’ said Andrea, struggling to contain her giggles. ‘Let’s get you ready for this hack of yours. Can you show me where the tack room is? I haven’t seen all the new tack yet’
Before she followed her daughter into the doorway, she shot a meaningful glance at Abigail, who nodded back, trying to keep the stable door shut as the stable occupant pushed against it.
‘Right, we’re safe for at least five minutes – I’ve already asked Nikolai to provide a distraction if she tries to come back outside.’
‘Oh? Anything in particular?’
‘Juggling flaming likits. It’ll set the smoke alarms off most likely, but there’s a fire extinguisher in there somewhere if needed’
‘Haha, good plan. Have you got the grooming kit handy?’
‘Yes, it’s in the stable. We’d better make it quick all the same, knowing Rosie she’ll find some way to escape. Here, you get the brushes and I’ll get him out…I…oh, Rosie! There you are!’ she stepped back slightly and shut the door, wincing at the sound of a Davidsized object hitting the floor with a muffled thump.
‘What are you doing out here? I thought you were showing your mum Callisto’s new bridle?’
‘Yeah, but Niko could show her that, I want to see Kes and Axel!’
She peered around the yard owner and frowned.
‘Why is their door shut? Are they ok?’
Abigail nodded and ushered her back towards the tack room, waving her arms at her in the manner of a timid person trying to see off a large and rather hungry tiger.
‘Yes, yes, they’re absolutely fine – no problems here! Away you go, back to the tack room please!’
Once satisfied that the yard was free of unwanted children, she unlocked the door and let David out.
'Sorry about that David, I panicked.'
David's response wasn't easy to hear, but he didn't sound particularly thrilled. He picked a strand of haylage out of his hair and shrugged. 'What now?'
Abigail patted the pony fondly and ruffled his mane. 'Now we get the best birthday present ever, ready for delivery!'
Four weeks before, Andrea had approached them for advice on a first pony for Rosie and they'd been only too happy to oblige. Together, they'd managed to find Rhu, a 14 year old Welsh cross schoolmaster who'd taught his previous owner's children how to ride. Although he was getting on in years and his average speed was a fairly lethargic medium trot, he still had plenty of life left in him. He'd been collected a few days before and it had been a tricky business to keep Rosie out of the loop as she came round after school most days to help out.
David suddenly wheeled around, grabbed Tam's headcollar and rushed into his stable, leaving Abigail looking slightly concerned.
'If Rosie comes back...' he said, wrestling with the stallion to put the halter over his head, 'then we'll need a distraction, and who better than the most easily distracted horse in history!' As if to prove his point, Tam reared and leapt out of the door, mane and tail whirling around him like he was in a hurricane with David clinging onto the leadrope for dear life.
'Come on, get down you daft horse. The blackbird isn't going to eat you, now get...down!'
The Lusitano snorted and slobbered all over his jacket by way of a response. David pulled a face and wiped the resulting goo onto Tam's shoulder. 'See how you like it...'
By the time he had settled down and stopped staring, wide eyed at the solitary bird on the roof, Abigail had already brought the gelding out. He was a tiny little thing but completely unflappable and a total gentleman to boot - exactly the sort of pony they'd been looking for.
'Good boy Rhu, there's a good lad' Abigail said softly, stroking the gelding's nose. 'Let's get your rug off then'
Before she had even managed to tie him up, they were interuppted once again...
'David? Where's Cally? I thought I was going to ride her for my hack but Niko said that I'm not and mum said that I'm getting someone else but no one will tell me who!'
David bit his lip. He was rubbish at trying to act innocent when he knew full well what was going on, so it was time to take drastic action. Using sleight of hand, (a trick he'd learned from Nikolai) he produced an extra strong mint from his pocket and slipped it into Tam's mouth. He wasn't allowed treats any more as his biting habit only increased when he realised he could get food out of it, so the presence of extreme mintyness took him by surprise and he squealed. Loudly.
Rosie jumped back in shock and David grinned inwardly. Tamarind's idiocy came in handy sometimes.
'Ummm...I'm going to go and look for her in the paddock ok?'
'Fine by me!' David said, giving her what he took to be a cheery smile. Rosie nodded and backed off slowly. She could have sworn that Tamarind only had four legs the last time she'd seen him...
'Phew, finally!' Abigail laughed as she started to take Rhu's rug off. 'I thought we'd never get rid of her - good thinking there!'
David grinned and gave his horse a pat. Tamarind was generally useless when it came to moments of crisis but he proved his worth every now and again.
'Ok, I think we're ready now.' said Abigail 'Let's go and find her'
Five minutes later they tracked her down in the office, where she and her mum were having a conversation about the cuddly horse that Rosie had been given by her grandparents.
'...and she's called Fizz and she's a Shetland pony, did you know that mum?'
Andrea glanced up when David and Abigail entered the room and nodded at her. She smiled. 'No, no I didn't. Now then, you've probably been wondering when you're going to get your main present...soo...'
She produced a large white box tied with ribbon and handed it to Rosie, who beamed.
'A bridle?' But who does it belong to?'
Andrea smiled. 'You! Come on, let's find a place to put it'
Rosie followed her out of the door, a bemused expression on her face. David and Abigail chuckled to themselves when they heard the squeal of delight from the yard a moment later, followed swiftly by 'I HAVE A PONY?!'
By the time she had been filled in on his name, breeding and personality, Rosie was speechless.
'Do you want to groom and tack him up for a lesson?' Abigail asked softly. 'You can put that new bridle of yours to good use!'
The girl needed little encouragement and within moments she had already found a body brush.
Abigail fetched his saddle from the tackroom, where it had been disguised in one of the many boxes that littered the floor for several days, and Rosie tacked him up. David handed her a hat and her mum gave her a legup.
Abigail checked her girth and stirrups were in order then they made their way to the arena - Rosie still looking a little lost for words. Marian and Baz (who had both been briefed on the Rosie'sgettingaponybutdon'tsayanythingorAbigailWILLkillyou situation) were already in there, having a schooling session themselves. Jenny had finally persuaded her boyfriend to give riding a try and to her delight and his surprise, he was a natural and had already moved up into the intermediate class, a mere four weeks after first having a lesson.
'Ok, now we aren't going to do anything drastic today as you two will need to get to know each other' Abigail said, patting Rhu's fluffy head gently. 'Just a bit of walking and trotting and possibly a canter, ok?'
Rosie nodded and asked Rhu to walk on, her face breaking into a smile as the realisation that he was her's finally hit her. After a circuit, she nudged him into a trot and overtook Tully and Callisto on the track.
'Congrats!' said Baz, smiling at her. 'Oh, he's a nice little thing isn't he?' Marian remarked. 'I used to ride a little mare just like him when I was your age.' Rosie beamed and kicked him on towards the raised poles that Abigail had just laid out.
Rhu plodded on until he ran out of impulsion...
...right before the first pole.
Andrea frowned but Rosie laughed, clearly relishing the challenge. The second attempt went much better and they cleared the poles easily and at a good speed.
They finished off with a small jump which Rhu popped over with very little effort.
'So' David said as he held Rhu while Rosie dismounted. 'Do you like your present then?'
He needn't have asked, as she flung her tiny arms around the gelding's neck almost as soon as her feet touched the ground.
'This is the best birthday EVER!'