Sunday, 1 May 2011

29. Spot Check

‘Come on Kestral, trrrot on!’ David murmured softly to the chestnut mare that he was lungeing around the track. Since Axel had been weaned a few months before, he had been spending time with Kestral and preparing her for a return to ridden work in the spring. At the moment she was still quite unfit so he wasn’t doing very much with her. A bit of lungeing here, some ridden work there; overall she was only schooled a couple of times a week but it had so far paid off rather well. The newly completed indoor arena was a godsend – no more trudging through churned up sand and mud just to send a horse round on a circle.

Clicking softly, he brought her over the raised trotting poles and then back to a nice long striding walk.

‘Good girl, well done.’ said David proudly, rubbing her nose with his knuckles and folding up the lunge line as he did so.

‘Hello! You must be David.’ said a voice from the other side of the school. ‘Abigail said you’d probably be in here’ David looked up to see an unfamiliar person enter the arena leading a very handsome grey horse.

‘Oh hello, you must be err…’ He tried desperately to recall the name of the woman who Abigail had told him would be keeping her young TB here, but as ever, his mind failed him and he simply went blank.

‘Lindsey’ she said with a smile. ‘And this is Harper. Abigail’s going to give him a quick workout before I head home – he’s full of beans at the moment!’
David nodded a greeting. ‘Sorry to keep you waiting – Kes hasn’t done this much activity since last year!’

Lindsey laughed. ‘Well she’s looking good to me!’

They chatted for a couple of minutes until Abigail appeared and shooed him out of the school. ‘Get a move on David – Kestral won’t rug herself up you know!’

David grinned and gave her a mock salute before heading back to the main yard, Kestral in tow. He shivered in the cold November air and fumbled with the buckles on the mare’s rug.
Gloves. That’s what he needed. A good pair of warm gloves – they never went wrong and they were usually pretty cheap. An excellent idea for a birthday present, he thought to himself. Not that anyone had remembered of course.
He fetched Tam’s tack, still mentally grumbling to himself and placed the saddle over the door, bridle in hand. He didn’t notice the dog until he nearly tripped over it, standing as it was, right in his way.

It was a nice looking dog with big friendly eyes and as he bent down to give her a pat; she wagged her tail appreciatively and looked up at him with a somewhat soppy expression.

Hello! I haven’t seen you around here before. I wonder who you belong to?’

He ruffled her spotty fur affectionately and turned to resume tacking up Tam.

‘Hey! Get out of here you daft dog - d’you have a death wish? Tam’ll trample you, come on, get out!’

David gently pushed the Dalmatian back outside and shut the door. The dog merely sniffed the new obstacle and resumed her tail wagging. By the time David was ready to mount, the dog had assumed a sentry position beside the door, watching his every move with great interest.

‘Come ON Tam, stop messing about!’ David cried exasperatedly, trying to get on whilst attempting to stop the curious stallion from pawing excitedly at the dog. ‘She’s not going to eat you, now come on! We’re already going to be late.’

Tamarind was in need of some schooling, (when was he not!?) so he’d arranged to split the arena with Abigail for an hour while they worked the horses. His slot should have begun a few minutes earlier so he nudged the stallion into a trot and headed for the indoor, the dog following on behind them…

‘Oh he’s got a lovely trot hasn’t he?’ said Abigail. ‘Nice big strides’
Lindsey laughed. ‘Oh yes! He’s all legs and neck at the moment. I thought it was just going to be a youngster thing but his sire and dam were both pretty gangly themselves so I suspect he’ll be like this for ever. Still, he’s a good ride – at least he will be once he’s had a bit of extra training.’

Abigail gave the gelding a pat and brought him back to walk, halting him beside the track. ‘He’s looking good!’ added Marian from on board Terry. ‘Does he feel as tall as he looks?’

Abigail grinned. ‘Mmmhmm! Ah, here’s David. What took you so long? Did Tamarind kick you again?’

David chuckled. ‘For a change, no! He was distracted by this dog and I –'

‘That’s nice. What was that you were saying about Harper’s sire Lindsey? Anyone I might have heard of? I used to breed TBs you know.’

David scowled. He never got a word in edgeways when Abigail started on her history of breeding and competing on her own stock.

He warmed Tam up in silence, trying to ignore the women discussing matters in which he clearly wasn't meant to be part of. Eventually they finished up and he popped over a couple of jumps before he followed suit.
The dog was still waiting for him beside the gate as he walked Tam out, tail wagging as if she had no control over it. He rolled his eyes at her and headed back to the main yard, keeping a good hold on the stallion’s reins. Although he could see her, knowing Tam, he’d still manage to get a fright by looking away for a moment and then spotting her again, as if for the first time.

David untacked quickly and practically threw the bridle onto its peg. He was really running behind in his routine. He should have swept the yard when he arrived that morning, but he’d been in such a hurry with other things that it had completely slipped his mind.

'Happy birthday to me' he thought to himself as he fetched the brush from the equipment shed and started work on the mud and hay strewn cobbles. ‘Some way to celebrate. Hey, wait a minute, get off!’

The dog growled playfully and shook her head, mouth partially obscured by the mass of brush bristles that now covered her nose.

David pulled it off her and resumed brushing, only to find himself interrupted a moment later by a follow-up attack.

‘Och, come ON dog! Can’t you go and annoy someone else? I’ve got work to do!’

The dog stopped what she was doing and paused in her tail shaking. She looked oddly put out and tilted her head to one side in an appealing manner. David rolled his eyes and ruffled her ears fondly.

‘Fine then, you can stick around, just don’t get in the way.’

The dog barked, once and plonked her backside down on the cobbles, her tail mimicking the brush as it swept all traces of muck and hay out from under her. David shook his head, a vague smile on his face and continued work. With his unwanted assistant now occupied elsewhere, the tidying was finished quicker than expected and he disappeared off to fetch Tam’s feed. Somewhat unsurprisingly, he was followed out to the feed room and back again, the Dalmatian haunting his footsteps like a second shadow.

The ravenous stallion now satiated, David could now go off and get himself a well earned cup of tea. He might even be able to spare a biscuit for the dog if Lisa hadn't scoffed them all between 'diets'.

'Come on then dog, let's have a break.'

No sooner had the words left his mouth than he realised that they were no longer alone.

'David? You couldn't stick Harper back in his box for me could you? I'm going to show Lindsey some of my old stud papers and so on back at the house.'

David sighed and shrugged defeatedly. 'Yeah, why not. I was only going to have a five minute tea-break anyway...'

'Excellent! Well he's all yours! Oh and if you could muck him out too that would be great. Byeee!'

'Hey wait a minute!' he cried after her, waving an arm frantically. 'What about this dog? Who does she belong to?'

He received no response, for Abigail was already halfway across the yard; her mind lost in a world of bloodlines and racing results. David sighed and rubbed Harper's nose fondly. 'Ah well, I'll find out eventually I suppose. Come on lad, let's get you home.'

Pulling gently on the gelding's leadrope, he set off for the stableblock, all the while feeling the presence of his new canine companion oddly comforting. The mucking out didn’t take too long thanks to the combination of good rubber matting, bedding and a very large wheelbarrow. He discovered a large hole in the lining of Harper’s turnout rug so quickly swapped it for a cosy fleece one which he could wear underneath it until they had it fixed.

As he worked, the dog watched him, her eyes following his every movement like a hawk.

It was a short trip to the muck heap, placed as it was behind the feed shed next to Abigail’s garden. Over the years the manure had yielded excellent results in the vegetable patch and any green fingered client who fancied some for their plot only had to help themselves. Returning the wheelbarrow was now his only task before he could disappear off into the office for that much needed cuppa, so he dumped it in the storage cupboard, pausing only to say hello to Nikolai who was tacking Chego up for some schooling.

'Afternoon, how're you getting on?'

Nikolai looked up from buckling up the girth. 'Hello. Yes, yes, not bad. I'm just taking him out for some work or perhaps a hack.'

'He's doing rather well isn't he? You'd never know he'd never been ridden in this style before he came here!'


David smiled inwardly. Nikolai was the dictionary definition of the 'strong and silent' type. He stood aside as the Criollo was led out and nodded a goodbye.

'Nice dog.' muttered Nikolai.

'Yeah, she is isn't she? You wouldn't happen to know who she belonged to would you?'

The big Russian simply shrugged and walked off, leading the gelding beside him.

At last it was time for tea! David felt his spirits lift at the prospect and there was a spring in his step as he slung a makeshift collar and lead around the dog’s neck and headed off in the direction of the kettle, saying hello to Marian as he passed. The dog had behaved herself thus far but she’d been getting a little too energetic en route back from the muck heap so he thought he’d better act on the safe side just in case. Besides, Abigail would probably accuse him of some health and safety violation if he didn’t, cheerfully ignoring the fact that all the other dogs were free to run around, providing they kept out from under the horses’ feet.

‘Oh what a lovely dog! Is she yours?’

David shook his head. ‘Sadly not, I don’t know who she belongs to, she just er…kept following me…’

‘Well someone’s bound to claim her I’m sure. Smart looking dog like that doesn’t just go missing!’ she said, picking a few strands of hay out of Terry’s mane.

‘Yeah, yeah I suppose you’re right.’

‘I’m sure if you check the paper tomorrow morning someone’ll have reported her. Oh hi Abigail!’

‘Afternoon! Oooh hello again!’

Abigail smiled and gave the dog a fuss, ruffling the smooth and spotted fur gently.

‘Oh, noticed her finally then?’ David said dryly. ‘I’ve been trying to ask you about her all day!’

‘What are you on about? Ask what?’

‘Well who she belongs to of course! When a dog randomly appears on the yard with no collar, no name and no owner in sight, don’t you get just a little suspicious?’

‘Well yes I would do of course…if I didn’t know who she belonged to in the first place.’

David frowned. ‘Will you be getting to the point sometime soon or do you delight in confusing me?’

Abigail rolled her eyes at him. ‘Didn’t you read the letter on my desk? I made sure it was placed quite obviously beside the laptop.’

‘No! I haven’t been in the office all day – you keep finding things for me to do!’

The yard manager laughed. ‘Well no wonder you don’t know! Hold on, I’ll go and get it for you.’

Thankful that Marian looked just as confused as he did, David leaned against the wall and waited for Abigail’s return.

‘Ah, here we go! Some doctor chap – he wouldn’t leave a name - left it here with the dog earlier. I asked him if he’d like to stay for a cup of tea but he said something about having to attend to an obstinate husky so I left him to it. I’ll read it out shall I?’

Dear David,

Happy Birthday!
Everyone here at THS thought you could do with a special something to keep you company on these cold, crisp, early
winter mornings and to always be on your side when Abigail can't find something in the office…

Abigail frowned as she read that part out and raised an eyebrow before continuing.

…and the Lusi’s acting up. Anyway, we found Lily and though she’d do the trick rather nicely.
Hope you’re well etc etc,
The Doctor and everyone at THS

David gawped.


Abigail nodded and he looked at Lily, Abigail’s words finally starting to sink in. Up until now he’d not really expected anything for a birthday present, let alone something as substantial as a dog!

‘Wha? But, I, I wasn’t expecting anything like this, I really don’t know what to say.’

‘She’s just over a year old.’ added Abigail. ‘And I expect her to be on her best behaviour on the yard. If I see so much as a spot out of place I’ll just have to confiscate her!’

David chuckled and knelt down to address his new companion.

‘Lily eh?’ The dog blinked at him and stuck her tongue out, tail still wagging merrily behind her. ‘Well, this was unexpected.’

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