‘She’s back! She’s back, come on everyone, let’s go and see!’
A cacophony of children’s voices alerted David to the yard owner’s return. Since the unfortunate death of one of the old yard donkeys earlier in the year – Spud - Abigail had been pining for something donkey-shaped and was delighted when she found an advert in the village tack shop for an ex RDA mount that matched that description perfectly. The yard was just north of Cairbre so it was a good thirty mile round trip there and back again, but, as Abigail said, distance was no object.
‘Alright kids, come on now, clear off. Let them unload first, then you can all come up and say hello!’
‘Go on! I think there’s still half a dozen haynets to be filled – go on!’
David shooed the kids off with a grin before approaching the horsebox where Lisa had already started a conversation with Abigail.
‘So, what’s she like then? As you expected?’
‘Oh yes, definitely. RDA ponies always have the best natures and this little thing is just adorable. The kids’ll love her.’ She unclipped her seatbelt and opened the door. ‘Oh hi David, you couldn’t get the ramp down for me could you?’
‘Yeah, sure, no problem. Lisa, fancy giving me a hand?’
The ramp was a little awkward to open, even with two people and David made a mental note to spare some time later on to oil the hinges.
Finally, after a bit of elbow grease the ramp dropped down with a soft thud and they stood back to catch their breath.
‘Oooh, she’s so sweet!’ Lisa exclaimed as she peered round the side. ‘What a lovely colour!’
David nodded. From what they could see of her at least.
‘Come on then, let’s get her out.’ She was a small looking donkey, only about 12 hands but she stood quietly as he untied her leadrope and started to back her out. ‘What’s her name by the way?’
‘Lyra’ said Abigail from somewhere behind him. ‘Her breeder was a big Philip Pullman fan apparently,’
David smiled. He 'd liked those books but hadn't read them in a while; perhaps now was the time to excavate them from their dusty shelf and have another go.
‘That’s it, easy girl, steady now...’
Lyra walked out quietly as if she did this kind of thing all the time and stood, quite happily at the bottom of the ramp, her large sail-like ears taking in her surroundings.
He ruffled her spiky forelock affectionately and looked up questioningly at Abigail. 'Where do you want her?'
She furrowed her brow in thought for a moment before her face broke into a smile. 'Turn her out in the indoor for a while so she can stretch her legs. She'll be living out with the ponies but I'd like to take it gradually so we can avoid the Lady Situation again.'
David sniggered to himself. Whenever a new horse or pony was introduced to Lady the welshie, they usually ended up banished to one end of the field or came in the next morning with large chunks of mane missing. She really was an evil little pony. Deceptively adorable but definitely evil.
'I also promised Fiona that she could be the first to ride her so once she's had a little run around and a roll, we'll get her tacked up and see what she's really like.'
'Righto, I won't be long!'
As he'd suspected, Lyra trotted around nonplussed when he let her off the leadrein and he breathed a sigh of relief. It was so nice to be able to rely on a nice quiet animal for a change. He glanced at his watch while he looped the rope over the fence and frowned. Lindsey had asked him earlier on if he could do some loading work with Harper as he'd been getting very nervous around it in the weeks leading up to the big show in October and only barely managed to get in and out in one piece.
Harper was a lovely lad but very dim. He had been known to spook at his own shadow and while David knew he didn't mean it, he often used his size to his advantage and when he didn't want to go somewhere, unless you had superhuman strength, there was no way you were going to win the resulting tug of war. Still, he reasoned, he was getting better. Nikolai had done some bombproofing work with him while he was sorting out Roscoe and he seemed to have made significant improvements since the last time they tried to get him in the box.
His confidence renewed, he strode boldly towards the livery block where his student would be waiting for him. He'd spend ten, maybe twenty minutes with him in the box, put him back in his stable and then, if he had time, tack up Tam and go out for a hack before he lost the light. Yes, that sounded like a plan.
Almost forty minutes had passed since his rather naive estimation of how long it would take to get Harper inside and he was still no further forward.
'Oh come ooooon Harp, it's not scary, just go in!'
The gelding took a single faltering step forwards, ears twitching in all directions before flinching backwards once more. David sighed. He really didn't have a clue what was scaring him - he'd been inside numerous horseboxes during his life and this was probably one of the nicer ones.
'See you?' He looked at his watch and frowned. 'You and your shenanigans have cost me a hack - a hack I was really rather looking forward to.'
Harper stared back at him, eyes wide and innocent and David shook his head wistfully. Why did he always get lumbered with the difficult ones? Ah yes, because he was good at making them un-difficult, that was right.
'Come on then lad, let's try again, just one more step...and...whoaa!'
He nearly lost his balance and fell as the young gelding took a spook at nothing and reared right up, narrowly missing the roof.
'Steeeady lad, steaaady!'
As he finally dropped back down to earth, David realised with horror that the clip of his leadrope had snapped open, releasing all restraints on Harper.
No sooner had he spotted this than the gelding shot off, clearly wanting to put as much distance between himself and the horsebox as was physically possible.
'Argh, no! Come back! Harper! Harper?!'
He grabbed the leadrope off the ground and ran after him, praying that he hadn't got himself into any more trouble. Luckily for him, upon rounding the corner he discovered his unruly charge standing quietly next to Lisa, the noseband of Harper's headcollar in one hand and a freshly opened packet of polos in the other.
'Oh hi David, lost something?'
'What were you doing with him to make him run off like that? I've never seen him so scared!'
David shrugged, clipped the leadrope back on and gently steered him back round the corner. 'I was just trying to get him in the horsebox but he just kept spooking. I don't know what's putting him off either.'
Lisa rolled her eyes at him and stroked the grey's shoulder gently. 'Well let me have a go, I'll show you how it's done!' She took the leadrope from him and led Harper towards the trailer, talking to him quietly all the way as though addressing a child.
'Awww Harper! Was David being mean to you and trying to make you go inside that big nasty trailer?'
'Hey, I wasn't being-'
'Yeeees, I know, he's terrible isn't he?'
'What are you on about, I'm-'
'Come on then, be brave - I know you can do it!'
And with that, Harper walked inside.
Now that he was in, Harper seemed to have completely forgotten about whatever it was that was putting him off earlier and munched on his haynet animatedly.
'Ok, good boy, now backup, baaaackup, good lad.'
Lisa backed him out, turned him round, put him in the other stall and even managed to get him to walk backwards up the ramp and down again, all the while David stood, openmouthed outside.
Lisa grinned and patted him on the shoulder cheerily.
'It's just practice!'
'But I've been at it for ages!'
'Yeah, but did you have these?'
She waggled the by now half empty packet of mints and David tutted. How obvious could you be?
'Heh, how long did you say you'd been doing this for?'
David frowned and looked at his watch. 'Oh about an hour or so now?'
Lisa gigglesnorted and leapt aside swiftly as David aimed the end of the leadrope at the back of her legs playfully.
Ten minutes later Harper was happily back inside his loosebox with a fresh haynet and a big bucket of feed (with the remainder of the polos as what David took to be another bribe) and everyone else had gathered round the indoor school to see Lyra ridden for the first time at the yard.
As Abigail had predicted, everyone fell in love with her instantly and it wasn't long before the yard owner was being pestered with requests to get her on loan and for lessons.
'Come on now kids, give her some room, don't overwhelm her!'
Abigail's booming voice cut across the children's chatter like a knife and the crowd gradually dispersed.
'Alright Fi, take her for a little walk and trot and we'll go from there, ok?'
'What's she like?'
'Really good' Fi replied, smiling as she nudged her into canter at the corner. 'She's listening to me all the time!'
She nodded towards one of the jumps which had been left standing after the earlier lesson and looked to Abigail hopefully.
'Oh go on then! I don't know if she's been trained to jump but err...'
'...apparently she has, well done! I think that'll do her for now - walk around for a bit to cool her off then untack and put her in that spare stable next to Giovanni - I need to get her a turnout rug before she can live out so she'll have to stay inside for a little while. Oh and David, are you still here?'
'Could you go out and bring in Tully, Banksy, Cally and hmmm....Maisie? I need them for the three o'clock and I need to sort out a few things so...?'
David shrugged and nodded. 'Yeah, no problem, I'll just go and get the headcollars...'
Ah well. No rest for the wicked.