Episode 15

My time loaning Poppy should have been coming to an end. Originally, the owner had vaguely mentioned finding her a permanent situation somewhere else because Poppy was only signed up for temporary livery at the yard. However, she decided that she was very pleased with how I had been getting on with Poppy and changed her mind about moving her or finding someone else.

As I had just bought Poppy a new bridle, this was welcome news but at the same time, I still felt out of my depth and I was acutely aware that there wasn’t much of a bond between us.

I was ruminating over these facts during my lesson, instead of focusing on riding, and before I knew it, Poppy had begun to wander aimlessly about.

“Would you mind explaining why you are drifting across the school about to crash into me?” asked Elise, snapping me out of my thoughts and bringing me back to the present moment. As usual, Elise was dressed in her smart tweeds and breeches along with a silk headscarf so she looked a lot like the Queen.

“Oh heck! Sorry I wasn’t paying attention!” I exclaimed as Poppy walked straight over to Elise and stopped, which was her way of saying “I’m listening to her not you!”.

“May I ask what you were paying attention to instead?” asked Elise, bemused.

“I was just thinking about Monty,” I sighed. Monty was a small, black cob I had loaned and Elise had given me lessons with him. “I had such a great bond with him, instantly, and I just don’t really feel that sort of connection with Poppy.”

“Good heavens Grace this isn’t a romantic film!” exclaimed Elise, briskly “It can take over a year to form a bond sometimes, especially with a mare!”

“Really?” I replied, surprised.

“Yes! Even more so if she’s had a history of being bullied, which I suspect she has.” Elise continued, with her hands on her hips. “Nobody has patience these days, people seem to expect an instant rapport with their horses and to be feeling this, that and the other. Nonsense! You have to earn the relationship by demonstrating that you are worth listening to, especially with a mare and definitely with a stallion.”

“That makes sense,” I conceded. “Am I being an idiot doing all of this with a horse that I don’t own? Having lessons and buying a bridle?”

“Not at all!” replied Elise, sharply. “There are so many positives! You have full use of a young, athletic horse. You could do a bit of jumping and dressage and learn things that we couldn’t do with Monty. You’ll become a much better rider so when the time comes that you’re able to buy your own horse, you’ll have more options. Now stop being ridiculous and let’s get on with the lesson!”

I loved Elise. She always helped to bring me back to earth feeling more knowledgeable and better about things. I was so stuck in my expectations of how I believed it should be, that I wasn’t able to be open-minded enough to allow it to be what it was.

“Now look, isn’t she walking nicely now? This is how you will get that bond you’re wanting,” continued Elise “and if you want to work on getting to know her, spend more time grooming, massaging and just walking with her. There’s a lot to be said for in-hand work.”

The lesson was great. Elise was initially very sceptical about the bitless bridle and had asked to begin the session in the old bridle. We did walking, changes of direction and halting. Then Elise asked me to dismount and put the bitless bridle on.

Once again, Poppy let out a loud sigh and instantly relaxed.

“Well! Now that is very interesting indeed!” said Elise with great surprise. “I have to admit I wasn’t expecting such a noticeable reaction.”

Elise continued the lesson and was very impressed with how Poppy went in her new bridle, to the point where she asked if she could try it on her own, giant horse. I was amazed and pleased because Elise had always been very traditional.

“Right let’s work on that bond with a few poles. Off you get and run the stirrups up!” called Elise. Excited, I immediately jumped off.

“Dismount correctly please in my lessons! We’ll have no bad habits we are not in the middle of a musical chairs game!” Elise was a stickler for doing things safely and correctly which of course is only sensible. But I was so interested to find out what we were about to do next that I just hurled myself off.

Elise marched over to a pile of poles and began arranging them in various patterns around the school.

“Ok now the aim of this is to walk over the middle of the poles together, with you walking level with her shoulder. Look at it as an analogy for life – you’re facing obstacles and going over them together. This will increase her respect for you not just as a leader but as a partner too and she will grow to trust you and then she will be happy to do more for you when you’re in the saddle. Also, it’s a good way of strengthening her core muscles and helping her control her feet. She’s still a bit clumsy.”

This was true, Poppy was a bit clumsy and occasionally seemed to trip up over her own feet.

Together, Poppy and I walked around the school going over the poles. At first, Poppy clonked her feet on most of them but very quickly she learned to pick her feet up and learned how to pace herself to go over several poles all in a line without hitting any.

“You need to look ahead as soon as you’ve gone over a pole!” called Elise, from where she was standing in the middle of the school. “You’re not together, you’re drifting again! Get focused!”

I pulled my mind back to where I was and really concentrated on where I wanted Poppy to go.

“Well done! Much better! Remember if it’s sloppy when you’re walking it’ll be impossible to do it ridden!” said Elise as she walked around changing the poles, raising the heights of some with a few handy bricks.

We walked around the course again and it was really fun and I could tell that Poppy was enjoying it too especially as I was more grounded and focused.

“Right, that’s enough for today! Didn’t you both do well? Keep practicing and stop worrying about bonding, it will happen eventually so long as you keep up with in-hand work!” Elise said cheerily.

I led Poppy back to her stable feeling happier and gave her a haynet while we waited for the dentist to arrive. According to the owner, Poppy disliked dentists so I was a bit apprehensive but I was hopeful that the great time we’d just had would transfer to her dental experience. Green-Haired Alex (as everyone called her) had kindly made me a chamomile and valerian feed to help relax Poppy, which she happily ate.

“Goodness me, Brenda they’ve not seen the dentist in nearly two years so you really must go and get them!” came the unmistakable, commanding voice of Morag from outside.

“Looking forward to this! Not!” smirked Jack as she walked in with Buddy. “I’m not running after those buggers again, I’m too old for that rubbish!” Buddy waited at the bar while Jack came over to chat.

“How is it that he will stand wherever you put him and you don’t even have to tie him?” I asked, feeling slightly envious of how easy it was to do things with Buddy.

“I don’t know, he’s always been like that! He’s lazy!” laughed Jack. Buddy was literally standing quietly, not tied to anything and he wasn’t wandering off. It fascinated me.

“We need a bucket of grass-nuts quickly please!” called Morag as she marched into the barn, huffing and puffing. “Honestly, that woman will be the death of us all. Why is she never prepared for these events?”

“I’ve got loads,” said Jack, generously and she went to her stable to get some. Buddy still didn’t move.

“I don’t really feel confident to go and get them myself!” said Brenda coming into the barn, looking worried.

“Brenda! If you shake the bucket at them they will be fine.” said Morag, clearly exasperated. “Alex did you make the magic food again?” Alex was just walking in with giant Jenny.

“Yes it’s in their stables!”

“Excellent! Right come on Jack we’ll help Brenda catch the two monkeys.” said forthright Morag. Jack raised her eyebrows and sighed but resigned herself to her fate and walked off with Morag and Brenda. And Buddy still stood quietly at the bar!

“How is that possible?!” I exclaimed.

“He’s Buddha!” laughed Alex.

My mouth dropped open as the most enormous man I’d ever seen, suddenly walked into the barn.

“Hello! Hello!” he greeted in a very cheery way. “Who’s first? Oh you can be first! I love chestnuts!” he said striding over to Pippa. “What’s your name little horsey?”

The dentist had arrived. He was a giant of a man! He must have been at least 6foot 5, very broad and had an aura of Baloo from the Jungle Book!

“Hello!” I said, “This is Poppy, she’s new to me and apparently she’s not keen on dentists so I’m a bit worried about how she might behave.”

“No need to worry!” said the dentist, letting himself into Poppy’s stable.

“Now then aren’t you a little cutie?” he exclaimed, grabbing her nose with his giant hand and wobbling it around. He was so massive that Poppy looked like a pony next to him. “What a lovely shmutsky face you’ve got!” he said, smothering her face with kisses. Amazingly, Poppy clearly liked it as she blew on him softly.

“Ahhh friends already! Let’s have a raspberry!” The dentist blew several raspberries on Poppy’s cheeks and if she could have laughed she would have done. I’d never seen anything like it, he was like a children’s entertainer and Poppy was like a little kid, loving the attention.

“Right let’s have a look at your head and neck first,” Dave, the dentist, checked her lymph nodes for any swellings and then checked her bite. “Lovely lovely! Now we’ll have some more kisses!” He gave Poppy a few more kisses and then effortlessly put the weird contraption into her mouth that equine dentists use to keep horses’ mouths open.

[In case you’ve not seen one before, they look like something you’d expect to see in a medieval torture museum! It’s a leather headcollar with a great big metal thing that goes in the horse’s mouth with a mechanism that allows it to stay open so the dentist can work easily.]

Poppy was so relaxed and unconcerned, it was incredible.

“Ahh she’s only a bibbly baby!” said Dave, peering into her mouth with the light of a headtorch.

“Is she really? My riding instructor said that too but I was told she was 10!”

“10?” laughed Dave, looking round at me and blinding me with his torch. “Not this horse! Have a look. Now these corner incisors are just in full wear and all the lowers have open infundibula. So I would definitely say this horse has only just turned 5 very recently. Happy birthday to you Popple Wopple!” Of course, none of that made any sense to me so Dave kindly showed me what to look at.

“When I do Buddy, you’ll see what an older set of teeth looks like.” he said.

So it was official. Poppy was a baby, oh my God!

“I think it’s great!” said Dave enthusiastically, filing her teeth down with a giant rasp that made an awful sound. “It means you’ve got lots and lots of years to have lovely shmutsky kisses!” he gave Poppy more kisses. He was so lovely with her and she looked so happy it made me feel quite emotional – as usual.

“Shmutsky kisses!” I laughed, he was such a crazy guy. I was half expecting him to give her a balloon animal and a candy floss when he’d finished. But instead he opened a large, Tupperware container and gave her a few chunks of water melon.

“They love water melon and it’s a nice treat after a filing,” said Dave washing all his equipment off in a bucket of water. I’d never seen a horse eat water melon but he was right, Poppy absolutely loved it!

“Right who’s next? Jack’s not back so we’ll do Jenny next. Come and have a look at her elderly teeth!” Dave marched over to Jenny’s stable and got her in a head-lock, smothered her face with kisses and then blew raspberries on her nose. Jenny loved it!

It was very interesting to see the differences in an older horse’s teeth and Dave, although totally crazy, was good at explaining what it all meant. He was such a giant of a man that even Jenny – who was enormous – looked small next to him.

Apparently, Dave had miniature Shetlands, as garden pets. I couldn’t imagine how he managed to do their teeth. He must have had to stand them on a table or something!?

A barrage of crashing and banging accompanied by several swear words heralded the arrival of the two annoying Fell ponies.

“Ah trouble’s arrived!” laughed the dentist. “Brenda, pop them in their stables while I finish the well-behaved horses!”

Brenda, Morag and Jack managed between them to get the two menaces into their stables.

“Bloody hell,” muttered Jack, wiping the sweat off her brow as she walked over to Buddy who still hadn’t moved. He was happily eating his haynet and not bothered about anything going on around him. “Honestly those ponies are a couple of ba….”

“The loooong aaand winding road da daaa da daaa…” sang Veronica, loudly, as she walked in. She was wearing a very expensive looking, traditional Japanese kimono and wellies.

I laughed, I couldn’t help it.

“Ahh the darling dentist is hither!” she said and waltzed off to her stable to get a headcollar. “I shan’t be long!” she called out as she wandered off to get her poor unfortunate horse.

“She is so mad!” I said.

“Yes!” said everyone, in unison.

“She’s certifiable,” said Morag, shaking her head.

I suppose we were all so occupied watching the dentist that we didn’t notice the scuffle, the crash and the shriek from Veronica until she came back into the stable barn crying.

She hurled herself onto a pile of hay sobbing dramatically.

“Here we go again!” sighed Jack, as if she’d seen it all before. “Take me away before I kill someone!”

“Oh for goodness sake, Veronica, pull yourself together woman!” snapped Morag. “What are you crying about this time?”

“The little black pony has run away!” Veronica gulped, dabbing the tears from her splodgy eyes with a lace handkerchief. “I opened the wrong stable and he bolted!”

Veronica kept her hay in the empty stable next to the Fells which were the only 3 outdoor stables.

“Oh no!” wailed Brenda as she dashed out into the yard.

“Well he won’t get far, he’ll only be back at the gate I’m sure. Veronica do stop crying!” said Morag as she strode out after Brenda.

It wasn’t long before Brenda and Morag ran back into the barn, their faces lined and drawn with horror……

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