“Why am I putting so much effort into somebody else’s horse?” I asked Jack and Sally as we leaned over the gate, idly watching the horses. Jack’s horse, Buddy, was lying nearby, lazily flicking flies with his tail as it was a particularly hot day.
“Because that’s what you always do!” answered Jack with perfect insight into my character.
“What do you mean?” I asked, haughtily. My ego was annoyed by the fact that she was totally right.
“Well you always feel responsible for every horse you loan and end up doing too much. You can’t help it, it’s in your nature.” she said matter-of-factly
“You’re right,” I sighed, “but at least the others were easier horses!”
“Well why is that wrong anyway?” asked Sally “It’s a free horse and you’ll be learning loads from her so it sounds like a pretty good deal to me!”
“I’d love a free horse,” said Jack “but not one like Poppy! I honestly don’t know how you dare ride her!”
“I don’t know either I must be mad.” I grimaced.
Just at that moment, Poppy, who had been quietly grazing, decided something was terrifying so she squealed, leaped into the air and galloped off madly, holding her tail high like an Arab and snorting like an absolute nutter. This set all the other horses off, except for Buddy and Malcolm who couldn’t be bothered to move.
I wished I had a Buddy or a Malcolm!
“Oh my God she’s so fast look at her go!” exclaimed Sally laughing. I wasn’t laughing I was feeling nauseous thinking “Christ I hope she doesn’t do that with me sitting on her!”
“Where is her owner?” asked Sally.
“Oh, she’s so busy she doesn’t have time for horses.” I replied. “I actually saw her last night and found out more about Poppy.”
Poppy’s owner turned out to be a very interesting woman who had spent her youth on a ranch, in America, learning how to drive cattle with cowboys on large open planes. She fell in love, got married, came back to England and forgot about horses until her daughter started asking for a pony so an uncle bought Poppy for her to “grow into”.
Poppy was too big so the daughter lost interest and decided that she preferred ballet instead hence the need for someone to help.
“Well I think it’s a brilliant opportunity and you should make the most of it!” said Sally enthusiastically. “Come on let’s ride while there’s nobody else around!”
It was a strangely quiet day due to the fact a local horse show was on, so most of the yard had gone to either compete or watch. Needless to say, we were all hoping that horrible Louise would come last in everything she had entered, but Sally was the only one honest enough to say it out loud!
Poppy came trotting over, more relaxed now that she’d had a good run, and I felt quite elated to see her coming to me. However as soon as I attempted to put the headcollar on she did her usual thing of blowing large globs of snot on me and trotting away again.
“Ha! She’s such a turd!” laughed Sally.
My heart dropped as I realised that once again, I was going to have to follow her around for ages, with no real idea of how to encourage her to stop. Poppy trotted round the edge of the field and I had to admit she had a lovely flowing action. I stopped to admire her paces and Poppy stopped. So I walked towards her and off she went again but this time much slower. I stopped and she stopped. I walked and she walked. I took a deep breath and relaxed and she walked slower.
“Whoa,” I said, in a long, low voice as I stopped walking. And can you believe it? She stopped and stood as still as a statue!
“Good girl!” I said, quietly walking over to her. “Whoa” I said again and she didn’t move.
“Would you like to go out for a walk with Malcy?” I asked her and I’m sure she understood because her ears pricked up and she happily let me put her headcollar on.
Poppy sashayed towards Malcy like a catwalk model, flapping her eyelashes at him.
“Take cover!” I called out to Sally.
“Oh my God, I should have brought an umbrella!” laughed Sally as Poppy jetted a gallon of smelly, steaming wee in Malcy’s direction.
“Oh yuk that stinks! I’m glad she’s not in love with Buddy!” laughed Jack. “Quick let’s get to the yard before we’re all covered in it!”
Luckily the ponies had been moved into another field so there was no need for Sally’s mad gyrations and party blowers, and the walk from the field to the yard took moments instead of half the morning.
This time I tied Poppy to the bar, next to Buddy, to groom instead of going in the stable. She still pranced around a fair bit but there was definitely an improvement. She didn’t appear to be as stressed as previous times, her behaviour seemed more like a habit.
“Do you think it’s because she’s young?” asked Jack.
“I don’t know! Her owner doesn’t know how old she is.” I replied.
“She looks young though doesn’t she?” said Jack, stepping back to have a good look.
“I suppose she does, yes!” I stood back to look. Poppy lurched sideways and crushed my grooming kit box. Brushes scattered all over the floor.
“Oh for God’s sake!” I said, gathering everything up quickly and narrowly avoiding getting stood on myself.
Finally, we were all ready to go and we were all wearing exactly the same, pink high- viz tabards which looked ridiculous but we found it really amusing!
“Louise wouldn’t be seen dead wearing this stuff!” said Sally.
“No, she’d just be found dead because drivers couldn’t see her but at least she’d be looking stylish in the ambulance!” Jack smirked.
We went a different way out of the yard this time, down a farm track, past a beautiful white mansion and along the side of a sheep field. It was sunny, the sky was blue and the birds were chirruping away happily - perfect!
After crossing a terrifying A-road, we ended up in a very pretty village and Poppy suddenly remembered she was in love with Malcy. She reversed her big bottom into him, lifted up her tail and wee-d all over Sally’s leg! It was dripping wet.
“Oh my God I am so sorry!” I was mortified. Luckily, Sally had a tremendous sense of humour because she just laughed her head off!
“It’s fine, I get worse from the kids at work!” she said, prodding Poppy’s bum with a stick to move her away.
Every few steps Poppy would reverse and spray wee at poor Malcy (who didn’t understand what the hell was going on) until she had no wee left but she still kept trying to swing her bottom into him. I’d never in my life experienced this sort of behaviour from a horse and it was so exhausting to deal with - and embarrassing as there were people walking along the street watching us. Finally, she became more manageable and walked forwards instead of backwards. I flattered myself that it must be my riding skills until I realised she was just being distracted by the competition that was going on around us.
The village was beautifully decorated with bunting and floral arrangements everywhere. Banners proclaimed “Village in Bloom Flower Festival” and the whole neighbourhood was out admiring all the displays.
“Oh my God! Malcy no!” shouted Sally, suddenly.
I looked round to see Malcolm with a mouth full of roses and a not-too-pleased looking woman with a watering can in her hand, muttering her displeasure.
“Sorry!” said Sally as we hurriedly walked past.
“Oops!” I laughed
“Malcy will you stop it!” exclaimed Sally again.
I looked round to see her yanking at the reins attempting to get Malcy’s head out of a flower bed on the side of the road where the children, who’d created it, were posing for a photo with the local newspaper photographer. Malcy couldn’t care less and walked right into the middle of the display - which was a clever floral sea-side picture - crushing everything under his enormous hooves while the children shrieked and scattered in all directions.
"Malcy will you get off!" shouted Sally, red faced with embarrassment.
Unfortunately, Malcy, who was like a small tank, merrily ignored all of Sally's attempts to control him and thrust his head down to eat so suddenly and strongly that it pulled Sally over his head and she tumbled to the floor, completely destroying what was left of the children’s entry for the competition.
“Oh my God!” said Jack, biting her hand to stop herself from screaming with laughter.
After a moment of shocked silence, the children began to cry and fond parents began telling Sally off in a very restrained and polite way that only very middle-class people are capable of doing. This was too much for Jack who began shaking with the biggest belly-laughter, so much so that she lost her balance and bizarrely managed to fall off sideways into somebody else’s display - a beautiful rainbow of flowers with the word “WELCOME” spelled out in fragrant Dianthus Pinks. Buddy copied Malcy and began to snatch mouthfuls of flowers, as if he’d been starved of food for years, until all that was left was “OME”.
“I’m so sorry!” I said to the Lord Mayor who was there to judge the competition. He was standing with his mouth open, dumb-struck and clearly not amused. Nobody was amused except us and I don’t know how I managed to keep it together but luckily, I did. Sally grabbed Malcy and Jack grabbed Buddy and somehow, we manged to get out of the village flower fiasco before collapsing with laughter by the wall of the Fish and Chip shop, around the corner and out of sight of everyone.
“I can’t believe what just happened!” I said, crying with laughter!
“Poppy was the only well-behaved horse!” said Sally, also crying with laughter.
“I can’t believe I fell off! How did that happen? My shoulder is killing me!” said Jack, rubbing her shoulder.
“Let’s get chips I think we need some!” said Sally and she ran into the shop.
They were really delicious chips but unfortunately, Poppy snaffled up most of mine quicker than a Labrador.
“Why can’t you eat flowers like a normal horse?” I asked her, pulling the paper bag out of her silly mouth.
We clattered back to the yard, still laughing, and had the great pleasure of seeing a red-faced (yet still immaculately presented) Louise unloading her horse, chuntering loudly about how “It was fixed! Nobody stood a chance!”
“Oh, did you not do well? That’s a shame!” Sally cocked her head to one side, comically feigning pity.
Louise ranted on about how the judge only gave prizes to people he knew and it was disgusting. When we were out of ear-shot, the three of us laughed like a coven of witches and we led our horses back to the field to turn them loose.
When I took Poppy’s headcollar off I expected her to zoom away like she usually did. However, for the first time since I’d been riding her, she put her nose on my cheek and stood for a moment before turning to walk calmly away. It made me feel very warm inside and I realised she was worth more effort so I made the decision to call up the wonderful riding instructor from my old yard, to get some help….