‘Hmmm, it’s still not quite right…’
Abigail muttered to herself as she tweaked the position of yet another item of furniture. Since coming back from the big show down south, she had taken it upon herself to redecorate the office to make it look more organised and professional. (or at least move things around to confuse the regulars) The saddle racks had been moved to the tackroom next door, along with most of the bridle pegs as it was becoming difficult to keep track of where each horse’s tack was kept.
Finally, she decided that she’d had enough and retired to her desk with a big plate of pastries, a mug of tea and a magazine.
‘Er, hello there!’
Abigail looked up from her paper and smiled. The man standing before her was dressed in, what to her eyes at least, was a rather odd combination of fashions but what he obviously thought was suitably rakish and interesting. He had longish wavy black hair and sounded unmistakeably Irish.
‘Good morning! I’m Abigail – what can I do for you? Would you like to book a lesson or hack?’
The man smiled back a slightly awkward grin and sat down opposite her.
‘Well, you see…the thing is right, I’ve – no, wait, I’d better give you the full story. Right, you know Kenny McLaggan?’
Abigail gave him a blank look and he continued as if he hadn’t seen it.
‘Aye, well me and Kenny go way back – way back. We went to school together and were best pals from the age of nine, well, until I went out with his sister and we had a bit of a fight but we sorted that out when –‘
By this time Abigail had adopted her smile and nod technique – a method she usually reserved for dealing with small and annoying children.
‘…so we just sat on it until the zookeepers arrived. Heh, I think I went just a little bit off topic there, now where was I?’
‘Sorry?’ Abigail finally returned to the conversation after zoning out for the most part and wondering why this strange man was telling her his life story over her lunchtime magazine.
The man grinned roguishly and shrugged.
‘Your guess is as good as mine! Anyway, the gist of it is that Kenny does a lot of travellin’ you see and he often comes back with loads of interesting stuff for me shop, you know? Ha! That reminds me! I didn’t introduce myself – I’m Aidan, Aidan Lynch from ‘The Midden’.’
‘The what?!’ gaped Abigail, spluttering incoherently and almost managing to spill her tea.
‘The Midden! I just bought the old antique shop in t’village from that elderly man with the limp.’
‘Aye, that’s the one. He said he’d had enough of heaving boxes and bits of clock about at his age so he decided to sell up before he tripped up, so he told me!’
‘…and the Midden?’
‘Well that’s the name o’course! I sell antiques, collectables, bits and pieces and everything in between.’
‘So it’s a junk shop then?’
Aidan flashed that smile again and waved a hand in a somewhat vague manner.
‘Junk is such a negative term – I prefer ‘undervalued valubles’
Abigail smiled to herself. She often watched the daytime antiques programmes and had a fondness for the treasures that for years the contestants had thought were worthless suddenly fetching skyhigh prices at auction.
‘Well I’ll have to come along and find a bargain there at some point!’
He laughed and leaned forward until his elbows rested on his knees.
‘In that case you’ll be waiting a while – I haven’t even got it redecorated yet. I’ve been putting it off until this other situation gets sorted out.’
He paused for a moment before ploughing back into his original story.
‘So anyway, Kenny was in South America this time and he brought back all the usual tourist tat – hats, local crafts – you know the sort of thing – but anyway, he comes up to me the other day and he says ‘Aiden, we’ve been friends for a long time’ and I says ‘yeah, we have Kenny’ and he says ‘I know that, so I’d like you to have this’ and he hands me this bridle and I’m like ‘oh, thanks a lot there Kenny, I’ll put it on me wall’ but he goes ‘naw, t’horse is in the field’ and I’m like ‘what?!’
He raised an eyebrow and tilted his head to one side.
‘Now I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, if you pardon the expression, but there was something a bit fishy going on so I looked into it as Kenny never buys stock. Well, unless he wants to make soup or something but you can buy that in little cubes from t’supermarket…’
‘Turns out someone asked him to bring over some horses for them and then decided not to buy them all once they’d got here. Poor Kenny doesn’t have a clue so he’s been trying to sell the blasted things on all month. Now I know nothing about horses meself, and I wasn’t wanting to keep him to begin with but to tell you the truth, he’s grown on me now so I think I will keep him after all.’
He stood up, beaming and made for the door, then seemed to reconsider and sat down again.
‘I’ve done it again, sorry about that. I was going to ask you about keeping him here – what is it you call it again where someone else looks after your horse for you? Kidney?’
‘Yeah, that! Anyway, I’ve got him in the back garden at the moment but he’s eaten pretty much everything now so I’d like to get him somewhere more horse friendly as soon as possible.’
Abigail sipped her tea and formulated her next words carefully.
‘Owning a horse is a big commitment Mr Lynch. It’s not like having a pet fish or something – you don’t just give it some food and attention every now and again and everything will be alright.’
‘Nonsense! Back home, one of me neighbours had an ancient old mare – lived to be 46 you know! – and all they ever did was throw her a bit of hay in t’winter and got the blacksmith to look at her feet every now and again.’
‘Be that as it may, but there’s a lot more time and money involved than most people think. Now, I don’t have a problem keeping him here, just so long as you know what you’re letting yourself in for. What’s his name by the way?’
‘Manchego, of course, yes, right…wait…after the cheese!?’
‘Aye, he came with a very long and complicated Spanish name – too many ‘y’s – unpronounceable! So I thought, what the heck, he’s a Spanish horse, he can be a Spanish cheese!’
‘Is he up to date with all his vaccs?’ Abigail asked, trying hard not to imagine a horse shaped cheese as she went through the correct procedure for dealing with imported horses.
‘Hmm, not too sure about that, I’ll have to ask Kenny’
‘Well I’m sure John - our vet will be able to take a look at him anyway.’
‘Grand!’ he said, clapping his hands together. ‘Well I’d better be off - I have to see a man about a cabinet in twenty minutes but I hope to be hearing from you soon!’
He scribbled a phone number into the accident book on the desk, smiled and left the room with a spring in his step.
‘What an odd man’
David nodded as he stuck his head round the door and made his way over to the desk.
‘I know, I was just outside and heard some of it. You don’t think this horse is carrying anything do you?’
The yard owner closed her eyes and shook her head.
‘You know David, I haven’t a clue. I’m now thoroughly confused.’
Several days passed by with no contact from Aidan. Abigail phoned the number he’d left her multiple times but only reached his answer machine, where the pre-recorded message rambled on for several long minutes.
Finally, she decided to go into the village herself and see if she could find him. It took a while, but she eventually tracked him down, rummaging around in one of the charity shops; his arms full of bits and pieces that he hoped to sell on.
‘Good morning’ said Abigail sharply. ‘I tried to contact you but your phone kept going to that machine thing’
Aidan looked blankly at her.
‘Eh? Do I…er…know you at all?’
Abigail rolled her eyes inwardly. The man had the memory of a goldfish.
‘Yes! You came to me looking for somewhere to keep your horses a couple of days ago!’
His face brightened and he attempted to shake her hand in apology whilst balancing several pieces of china in one arm.
‘Ah yes, I remember now – Aileen wasn’t it?’
‘Right you are, yes. I’ll just pay for these and then I’ll introduce you, hold on.’
The volunteer at the till looked just as bemused as Abigail when he dumped the lot on the counter and fumbled around in his many pockets for his wallet, which he finally discovered tucked inside his waistcoat. Thanking the woman profusely, he stuffed his purchases into a rucksack, gave her a friendly, if perhaps slightly terrifying wave and left the shop with Abigail following on behind, wondering just who on earth she was dealing with.
‘I’ll just chuck these in t’shop, then we can go and see ole’ cheesy!’
Sure enough, a few hundred yards down the street, he dropped the rucksack in front of one of the shop doors, unlocked it and nudged the bag inside with his foot. He held the door open for Abigail and grinned.
‘After you. You can get there from round the corner but this way’s just as quick.’
As she stepped over the threshold and flicked the light switch, he spoke again. ‘Err, don’t mind the mess – I haven’t had a chance to unpack anything yet…’
Abigail gawped. ‘Mess’ didn’t quite cover it. The floor was littered with boxes and crates full of books and interesting looking objects, save for a narrow path which exposed the well worn floorboards. The dingy old wallpaper was peeling in places and the whole place reeked of decay and neglect.
‘Aye’ he said, noting her look of distain. ‘Mr Farnon had let it go a bit…well, ‘nuff said really. C’mon, t’horse is out this way.’
Doing her best to remain dignified, Abigail stepped lightly around the broken furniture that almost blocked the back door and kept her mouth shut. They walked through the rest of the ground floor in silence - Abigail quite relieved that she hadn’t brought David with her – he’d have had heart failure at such disorganisation!
Finally the back door opened and they stepped out into a fairly large garden – mostly grass but with a small cluster of trees at the back.
‘CHEESY! C’MON CHEGO, THERE’S A NICE LADY HERE TO SEE YOU!’
Aidan’s deafening bellow seemed to echo around the street and a small flock of sparrows perching on the roof took off in fright. Just when she thought the entire trip had been a lost cause, a shape appeared from behind one of the aging apple trees at the back. Somehow she had been expecting a thin, undernourished, plain looking creature – certainly nothing like this!
Aidan grinned at her surprised reaction and ruffled the gelding’s mane.
‘Nice ain’t he?’
‘Nice? Oh no, he’s beautiful!’ she whispered, reaching out to stroke his nose. ‘A Criollo unless I’m very much mistaken.’
‘Aye, I knew it started with a ‘C’. So, will you be able to take him? I don’t think he understands much English yet and I don’t speak any Spanish except ‘hola’ and I doubt he’d like me saying hello to him all the time. I don’t ride either, but I suppose now is as good a time as any to learn, eh?’
‘Well’ said Abigail, slowly. ‘I’ll have to get John to take a look at him and make sure he’s not carrying anything that might affect our horses but once he’s been given the all clear just give us a buzz and we’ll come and pick him up! You can arrange a lesson whenever you like too but first things first.’
‘Grand! What’cha think of that, eh lad?’ he said, patting the gelding’s neck affectionately. ‘Lots of food, a warm bed – the world’s your oyster mate!’
Sure enough, Chego passed the vetting with flying colours and was OKed to come to the yard. A pick-up time was arranged and Abigail, David and Nikolai piled into the old, creaking horsebox and drove into Hollowcroft. Aidan was waiting for them outside his boarded up shop, holding Manchego with a homemade halter that looked suspiciously like washing lines.
The Criollo flattened his ears at the sight of the vehicle and took a few steps back, shaking his head up and down fearfully.
‘Morning!’ Aidan grinned, cheerfully ignoring the horse’s spook. ‘I’ve got him here for you and all his tack’s in a trunk in the shop’
He gestured to the door, through which could just be seen an old faded leather chest, out of which some pieces of braided rope protruded.
‘Wow!’ said David ‘That’s some colour! You told me he was loudly marked, but I wasn’t expecting this!’
Nikolai nodded approvingly and stepped forward to take the rope. Chego flinched back and snaked his head before rearing right up in his face. Nikolai withdrew his hand and frowned.
‘Hmm, he’s not liking you at all is he?’ Aidan said brightly. ‘Anyone else fancy a go?’
David pulled a face. It was unusual for a horse not to like Nikolai – normally his reassuring air of calm was enough to gain their trust. Still, he thought to himself, he was used to Tam – how bad could it be?
As he nursed his toothmarked hand a few minutes later he was reminded of just how much the Lusitano was mellowing with age. He scowled at Aidan who was still chuckling at the way he had fallen over when Chego decided to bite.
‘Wait I know!’ Abigail said, clicking her fingers. ‘It’s the horsebox he doesn’t like, look!’ She pointed at him and it suddenly became clear. They had all just got out and expected him to load normally. ‘ He must have had a really horrible journey to get here with all the travelling. I mean think about it, he's unlikely to have been put in a horsebox beforehand and coupled with a long voyage at sea, it’s no wonder he’s scared of it!’
Aidan nodded. ‘So what do we do then? I can’t keep him here!’
Nikolai, who had remained silent until this moment, spoke.
‘I think I have an idea, hold on a moment please.’
He disappeared into the horsebox and returned a few minutes later, riding a familiar horse.
‘I brought Jac in case the new horse wanted company on the journey and I brought his tack with me too just in case. It is not too far to walk to the yard – an hour at the most. I could lead him along or you could walk with me.’
Abigail wasn’t impressed. In her mind there were far too many things that could go wrong and she much preferred the idea of persuading the horse to get inside the box but, unfortunately for her she was outvoted.
‘Very well then’ she said, somewhat huffily. ‘I’ll take the lorry back to the yard then shall I? Oh and keep your phones on – the last thing I want is for something to happen and I don’t know where you are!’
The journey was only really a couple of miles and as the roads were quiet, there was very little traffic to worry them. Chego spooked at a heron taking off at the loch side and again when an impatient van driver beeped his horn as they crossed the road but all in all, he coped remarkably well.
Once back at the yard, Nikolai put both horses in the outdoor arena to cool off while David and Aidan had a well deserved sit down and a cup of tea. The Criollo barely showed any exertion and cropped calmly at the haynet that Abigail had just brought him.
A week passed by quickly and Manchego coped with the change of location much quicker than expected and was soon accepted into the gelding herd in the field. Because of this, Abigail felt that the time was right for him to be tried out under saddle. Obviously Aidan wasn’t quite ready for it yet and as Nikolai was the only one with experience of more ‘western’ style riding, he was the first choice.
They waited outside for the last of the morning lessons to finish.
Lewis was riding Lady, one of the yard's latest residents. Abigail had picked her up at a bargain price on the way home from the big show and couldn't be happier with her. At just under 13hh she was the perfect height for the younger riders, who, up until recently, had been having to share Tully and Rhona. She was only seven and had been shown since she was a youngster with some very good results! The only downside, and the reason she'd been sold so cheaply, was her personality. Bright eyed and innocent she might look, but get on her wrong side and she was the most marish mare in the world! She got incredibly nippy when she was in season and wouldn't hesitate to lash out when someone invaded her personal space. Luckily, her good traits outnumbered the bad and David was sure that with a bit of additional schooling, they could persuade her to behave a little better. Well...hopefully.
She had been sold without tack so she was wearing a mismatch of other ponies' stuff until they went into the village and bought her a new set.
'Ok Lewis, just take her for a wee trot to cool her down before we finish. Very good position today Lara - you and Archie get on well don't you?'
'Thanks! Yeah, I used to share him with Ailie until I went to Uni and she took him on full time.' She smiled and waved to her friend on the other side of the fence. 'Now that I'm back home, she said I can come up and ride him whenever I like, as long as I help muck out and stuff.'
'Awww, that's really nice to hear. Right, off you get everyone, I think we're holding up the next lot.'
Nikolai shook his head. 'It is ok, take your time. I can wait.'
'Ok then, if you insist. Lewis, give Lady a wee kick on please, you need to watch your distances as she will...'
Luckily for the almost full accident book, Lewis had what was known as a 'sticky bum' and he clung on tightly and managed to stay seated as the little mare pistoned out her hind legs at the bemused looking Chego.
'Oh well sat! We'll make an eventer of you yet! Just stay there Niko please, I'll make sure Lady keeps as far away as possible until Lewis gets off.'
Once Archie and Lady had been safely returned to their stables and untacked, Nikolai prepared to get on. He had never ridden in this style of tack before but he knew vaguely what he was doing. As ever he had ignored Abigail bemoaning his lack of hard hat and mounted.
To begin with, he just walked around, changing direction after every second circuit until he had warmed up a little, then he moved up into trot.
'How does he feel?' called Abigail from the fence. ' Comfy?'
Nikolai shot her a rare grin and nodded. As they rounded the corner, Chego flew into a long striding lope almost effortlessly.
'That will do for now I think' he said, bringing him back down into a walk and halting him on the centre line. 'I don't want to overdo it today.'
He got off and swiftly untacked him, leaving David to explain the lesson timetable to Aidan who looked very impressed.
'You have a good horse, you know?' said the Russian,patting the gelding's mottled neck. 'I think he was probably used with cattle, he has very good responses.'
'Cattle? You mean like a cowboy's horse?'
'Yah, something like that.'
'Here' said Aidan, rummaging around in one of his many pockets and eventually locating a small camera. ' You couldn't take a photo could you? I'd like to put it on my wall in the shop. Well, whenever it's finished that is!'
David smiled and stepped back a couple of feet to make sure that the photo was composed properly.
'Ok, say cheese!'