WRITTEN BY JO STYLES
I didn’t want anything to do with my daughter’s pony but fate appeared to intend otherwise…
“All this horse stuff is supposed to be between you and your father. I don’t know a pony from a cow.”
My daughter stood mid-lounge waving her mobile about. Her dad had just called from his business trip to help solve the problem. Katie was off on a trip very soon too, only with her school. That’s why her big scary pony needed an equine nanny.
A woman who used the same stables had offered to help out but she’d fallen ill.
“I’m telling you because Dad’s asked somebody from work to fill in now. I didn’t even get a chance to argue. M-u-u-u-m, could you check on her and make sure she’s doing everything right while I’m away?”
How can I do that if I haven’t a clue what I’m doing?
“I’ll make some notes.” Katie stomped towards her room. Halfway through the soap I sat watching, she returned clutching a sheaf of paper.
“Here – I’ve explained everything I can. Chester’s wearing a rug until the weather warms up. It can’t be falling off or be buckled up wrong. He still spends all day outside and is only stabled at night. Unless it rains too much – you know he doesn’t like that.”
The only thing I knew for certain about Chester was that he cost more than a small car to run
Katie flapped her pages. “Take a look.” She shoved my homework into my lap. “You have to remember all of this.” She just about stamped her foot. “It’s Chester, Mum. I don’t want to leave him at all.”
I suspected I wasn’t her first choice for this job, but a lot of her horsey friends were off on her trip as well.
“All right – it’s OK,” I soothed. “I’ll do it. You’ll only be in France for a week. Your pony will be fine.”
“Hello. Nice to see you!”
I really didn’t expect him to reply when I reached the stables on the following Monday. No, we didn’t own a talking horse. A woman popped her head round the side of the stable door. She gave a friendly smile.
I’d had a word with my husband by now. Darren had assured me our new horse nanny was qualified.
I’d just dropped Katie off at school. Her trip to France had started before the sun had even bothered to get out of bed. I’d hoisted her bag across to a waiting coach as she rattled on about her precious hobby horse.
“I’m really going to miss him,” she said plaintively as her case was taken from me by the driver and loaded up.
“Well, I’m going to miss you.” I buried her in a hug. In response she wriggled.
“Mum, you’re embarrassing me.”
“Just keep an eye on Chester. Please.”
I suspected my lip curled at that, her last farewell as she’d climbed on board the bus with all her friends. Now in the stable yard, my lip curled again as I warily peered over the door at the massive ginger lump inside.
Chester’s rug lay straight at least. Green and looking a lot like canvas, for all I knew he might be wearing somebody’s discarded tent.
“You must be Lauren?” Our horse-sitter was a woman about my age. “You know a lot about horses then, do you?”
“Yes, loads.” She unbolted the stable door and led Chester out. He clattered across the yard.
I heard Katie in my head pleading with me, Mum, check everything. I pulled out some of her paperwork out of my pocket and studied one of her detailed diagrams.
Yes, that strap on his rug looks OK… and so does that one. Nothing’s flapping loose except his big wiry tail. I followed the duo down a muddy track, checking his silly get-up all the way.
When Lauren reached a gate, she opened it and led Chester through. Off he trotted to go to join his pals. With the gate closed again, Lauren smiled at me.
“Can you give me a hand mucking out, since you’re here? If you do, I won’t be late for work. I’d do it tonight but I might be pushed for time then – I’m off to visit my mum.”
Since she’d offered her services for free I really didn’t feel I could refuse.
Wearing my office attire, I spent half an hour shovelling up poop. I dumped it in a wheelbarrow. I dragged a bale of straw all the way across from a shed, with Lauren’s help. I rubbed at my aching back as she spread the bale across the stable floor.
When I did at long last arrive at work that morning, I’m sure I smelled funny. Mrs Keen kept glancing at me with an odd look on her face. Mr Grimes kept sniffing and Janice in accounts wrinkled her nose in the canteen at lunchtime, leaned in and whispered. “Is there a whiff in here?”
“Yes, I noticed it too,” I agreed. Either I was paranoid or I’d stood in something.
I promised myself I’d give the stable a miss that evening and simply give Lauren a glowing report. She knows what she’s doing, Katie. Ponies are in her blood. Only then my mobile rang.
“Oh hi, Darren. How’s Switzerland?”
He’d rung to check that Katie had got away OK. Only then he gave me some terrible news.
“I forgot to give Lauren your mobile number, so she called me. She can’t deal with Chester tonight – she’s had a family emergency. It’s nothing serious, but she won’t be back until tomorrow.
The thing is, you’ll have to bring Chester in. She said his stable’s all ready.
You might have gathered by now I’m not a pony fan. Ignore him, I used to tell myself, he’s just a passing phase Katie’s going through. Like collecting stuffed frogs and ballet lessons, he’ll fade away some day soon. When he didn’t, Darren unhelpfully kept trying to involve me.
“Oh very funny,” I told him on the phone. “I’m not going anywhere near that animal. I’ll ask somebody at the yard to fetch him in.”
“Blast!” As I drove up to the yard that evening, a troop of riders clomped out. “There goes the help I needed.”
If Katie had been at home she’d have ridden out too, her dad trailing behind her on his bike. He always took charge of our one-horse cavalry. When they returned home they’d talk about the ride and make plans where they’d head next time.
Now, outside the stables, I parked on the verge. Finding the yard empty, I had only two choices. I could either wait for the riders’ return, or I could venture out into Chester’s field… alone.
I glanced at my watch. If I wait, I could be here for hours. How hard can this be?
How do you even catch a horse?
Logic suggested I might need a lure. I discovered a cache of carrots in a stable in the yard. It was set aside for saddles, bridles and big bins of what looked like porridge.
I carted a couple of carrots and a rope down towards the field. I started to tremble at the gate; my fear of Katie’s big lummox not helping at all.
“Chester!” I yelled, as if calling a cat in for the night. “I have carrots!” I waved two.
He stood at the far end of the field ignoring me. I very bravely climbed the gate then walked through the rough grass, the stalks slapping at my office slacks. His head turned, then he started to move my way, first at a walk then a trot. Busy charging back towards safety I didn’t see what gear he ended up in.
I climbed the gate at speed, almost squealing as I landed. I stood panting and shaking then as he thundered to a halt.
I hate you!
I waved my carrots at him. “Do you know why? Do you? A year ago, I had a daughter who spent loads of time with me. Now I hardly see her because of… you!”
I don’t think I realised the depth of my feelings until I said those words out loud. I did miss Katie, my own little hobby.
“I can’t go on like this,” I told her beloved pony before I turned and stormed off. I’d changed my mind about handling him alone; I’d wait for the riders to come back.
It was dawning on me what I had to do. I had no choice unless I wanted to accept that Katie would ride away into the sunset and never be seen again.
“Hello – you’re ringing early.”
The next day after the shambles of the night before, when I’d waited to beg all those horsey types to round up her pony, my daughter yawned over the phone as if she hadn’t slept.
“I wanted to make sure Lauren’s looking after Chester the way she’s supposed to.”
“She is. She’s great. I came over this morning to see her while she had the time.” This is all about balance and control in the saddle, I told myself from my brand new perch as I talked. I wasn’t moving, just hanging on for grim death to a stable door. “Katie, it’s all fine. There’s no need to worry.”
As usual she chatted on about horsey things, those in France this time.
“Have fun over there,” I told her at the end of our call. “Bonjour. I mean, au revoir. Love you.” I rang off and slipped my phone back into my pocket.
“You didn’t tell her?” Lauren stood close by in case I needed help.
“I’ll tell her when she gets home. I’ll know the basics by then. Good horsey.” I reached forward and patted the handlebars of the bike Lauren had loaned me to practise on. I couldn’t use Darren’s, not with its high crossbar.
I’d never mastered cycling since my parents used to ferry me around by car. This morning before work, I’d decided on a refresher course. Over his stable door, Chester watched my efforts.
When Katie returned, I planned to take turns with Darren escorting her down the country lanes when she rode out. Ignoring her hobby hadn’t worked. There is a certain point where you have to… get on board, isn’t there? I mean, you don’t have to become some kind of expert, do you? All you really need to do is find a way to include yourself.
I wobbled, hunting for balance as I pedalled. “Come on bike, gee up…”
“Trot on, you mean,” laughed Lauren.
“Is that what they say? Trot on then, bike.” Trot on and carry me back into my daughter’s life.
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