Episode Nine

In hindsight, shouting “Yee haa!” at the top of her voice probably wasn’t one of Jack’s better ideas…

The day had started off well. It was sunny, warm and the sky was blue – perfect horse riding weather! When I arrived at the yard, there was no-one around so I took the opportunity to practice some of the ‘homework’ Elise had set.

Step one – get through the dreaded pony field alive.

This was a constant source of irritation that never seemed to improve due to the two feral Fells being completely bored out of their minds. I had forgotten to bring my maracas so I had the bright idea of using fly spray because historically, every horse I’d ever known had always tried to run away from being sprayed with insect repellent.

It worked! Hurrah! The two crazy ponies took one look at the bottle, turned tail and ran for their lives.

Step two – collect Poppy. She was trotting around the field, for no apparent reason, so I resigned myself to accepting that this might take some time. I stood and watched her and presently, after doing a whole circuit of the enormous field, she came trotting over to me and stopped. This was a new and welcome improvement!

“Hello!” I greeted “Would you like to go and do some stuff together?” I asked her.

Poppy breathed deeply and flared her massive nostrils.

“Is that a yes or a no?” I asked and took a step forward. “Whoa,” I said, in a deep voice and Poppy stood still. I took another step and said whoa again and managed to get the head collar on.

“Well that’s getting better isn’t it?” I said and off we went towards the gate.

I almost forgot to pick up the bottle of fly spray that I’d left by the hedge but the sound of cantering pony hooves was a helpful reminder.

The feral ponies had murder in their eyes as they came hurtling towards us. Poppy froze and lifted her head high and snorted.

“For God sake will you bugger off?!” I shouted at them and held up the bottle and sprayed it.

The ponies snorted, spun around and ran off. Not for the first time I wished the livery yard owner would step in and remove the two hooligans. It just seemed so mad to allow two dangerous ponies to cause such a nuisance all the time!

We made it to the yard and it was still silent which was nice, so I groomed, received a few nips (reduced in severity which was good) and tacked up.

Poppy did not easily accept the bit, which had been changed to a snaffle so it was by no means harsh. Still, she would clench her jaw and hold her head up high which made it awkward for me as I am somewhat ‘vertically challenged’ so I had to stand on my grooming kit box to reach!

I sighed and realised I needed to consider trying the bitless bridle I had used on previous loan ponies, but Poppy’s head was so large I was doubtful that it would fit.

Finally, we were ready to get schooling. I say schooling in the loosest sense of the word because obviously I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing but I was determined to do my best for Poppy.

We walked around the school and it was very good to see that she had remembered not to be scared of the hedge. That was a result! We walked and halted, changed directions and walked over a few poles that were lying around, as I chattered to her about rubbish and she seemed to relax into my voice.

It was very gratifying to observe her standing calmly by the mounting block and such a pleasure to not have to hurriedly leap on but get on slowly and correctly.

When I got on board she stood quietly until I asked her to walk. Poppy immediately took off at top speed and my automatic response was to tense up but, in my head, I could hear Elise’s sergeant major voice calling out “Relax!” so I relaxed and loosened the reins and Poppy slowed down.

The feral and non-feral ponies ambled over to watch which was quite amusing as they all stood in a line staring at us with great interest. Poppy had spotted them but luckily, she wasn’t bothered, she just kept walking.

“Do you fancy going for a ride out?” called Jack, leaning over the fence.

“Ooh yes great!” I replied and asked Poppy to halt which she did, very smoothly, and I dismounted. It was only a short session but I felt very pleased.

Jack shooed the ponies away by doing star jumps, “Sally’s onto something with this! Look it works!” laughed Jack before crumpling forwards onto her knees, puffing and panting. “God I’m so unfit!”

I led Poppy back to the yard without a battle, while Jack sped off to get Buddy.

In the stable barn were Sally and two new friendly faces. A young student vet nurse named Jhara and a ‘middle-aged mum’ with long, bright green hair named Alex.

“Hi there!” greeted Alex, I warmed to her immediately. “We’re going to the old Roman fort if I can get this big lump saddled up! Will you stand still please and preferably not on my feet, thank you.” Alex was grooming the biggest horse in the yard, a Clydesdale x cob called Jenny who was like a tank.

Poppy rather liked Jenny because she had such a calm energy about her, so for once Poppy stood without prancing about which was a pleasant change.

“I’ll keep Malcy in his stable until we’re ready so we don’t all get covered in Poppy’s pee!” laughed Sally as she wandered past with the kettle. She disappeared around the corner and I noticed she filled up the kettle from the water trough so I politely declined when she offered everyone a cup of tea.

“Ooh don’t you look pretty?” said Alex standing back to admire the pink ribbon she’d tied in a bow in Jenny’s very thick forelock. “She’s my magical unicorn aren’t you Jenny Wenny Doo Daa! Kisses for mummy!” Alex pressed her cheek up to Jenny’s enormous nose. The horse looked blankly into the distance, half asleep but clearly very contented.

I laughed, Alex was mad but so likable.

“Those bloody ponies!” chuntered Jack, walking in with Buddy “They do my head in! They nearly kicked me!”

“You need to dance!” laughed Alex doing a crazy 70’s style disco dance.

“I did and I bloody fell over and almost died!” exclaimed Jack, rubbing her bruised arm.

Finally, after lots of chatter, we were all ready to go. Jhara, the young student, had a very cute chocolate brown, Welsh Section D pony called Buttons and she was trying out a new tree-less saddle because he didn’t seem to like his usual saddle.

“Right everybody!” said Alex, dramatically, shaking out an ordnance survey map “let’s go and find the old Roman fort!”

“Why are we going to an old fort?" I asked.

“It’s for our Michael’s homework,” Alex replied, “he’s got to research some local history but he’s too lazy to do it himself.”

“He’s not daft is he?” smirked Jack “He knows you’ll do it for him you always do!”

“I know I’m a big softie!” laughed Alex as we all clattered along the track that led to the village.

Alex, who was wearing a high-viz yellow tabard with ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ emblazoned on the back, led the way on giant Jenny with the map propped up against Jenny’s massive neck. Amazingly, it stayed put all the way there.

Presently we arrived at a derelict farmstead that had amazing views over rolling hills and in the distance, through some woods, was the old Roman fort which went by the funny name of Pompocali.

“Hang on let me get some Chickweed!” exclaimed Alex suddenly, hurling herself off her massive horse, stumbling sideways as she landed. “Ooh my knees!”

“Chickweed?” I asked in surprise.

“Yes it’s for my hot flushes! It’s great stuff!” replied Alex as she stuffed handfuls of chickweed into her saddlebags.

“Do you eat it?!” asked Jhara, looking slightly perplexed.

“No I make a tincture. It’s a full moon tonight so it’ll be a good strong batch!” Alex climbed onto a handy wall and heaved herself back up onto Jenny.

“Right!” said Jack, raising her eyebrows.

Off we went again but it wasn’t long before Alex was leaping off her horse again. This time to collect some vervain.

“It’s excellent for cleansing your aura and directing magical energy which I will obviously need to do before making my chickweed tincture.” she said, matter-of-factly.

“Well obviously everybody knows that!” said Jack but her sarcasm was lost on Alex.

Sally and I just grinned, watching Alex was so entertaining.

Finally, we came to a wide stream and all the horses splashed through except Poppy, of course. She took one look at it and said “No!”

“Come on Pops you can do it!” called Alex from the other side of the stream. But Poppy

was having none of it. She reversed up the bank, took a sharp left and walked smugly across the bridge with her head held high as if she was the Queen.

“Well she can’t get her tootsy wootsies wet now can she?!” laughed Alex.

On the other side of the stream was a long, soft surfaced bridle path that wound its way through the woods.

“This is a great place for a canter!” said Jack “Shall we have a little blast?”

“I’ve not cantered with Poppy yet!” I felt a bit uneasy.

“Well now’s your big chance!” said Jack, grinning. “Go on you can do it!

“And the map shows there’s a gate at the end of the path so she can’t go far!” added Alex.

“Ok!” I realised this was as good a time as any to try it but I was a bit apprehensive.

“You go first because Poppy’s definitely the fastest horse,” said Jack and everyone arranged themselves in order of speed.

I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. We set off at a walk, then we went into trot which was extremely fast and then I asked for a canter. Wow! I have never felt such a smooth canter in all my life, it was so breath-taking. Poppy was like a top of the range sports car – if I had to compare her to a car – it was so fast! Her strides were so long and the power and athleticism were unlike any horse I’d ever experienced.

“Yee haaaa!” called out Jack, behind me, and Poppy shifted up a gear but still perfectly smoothly. It felt like we were flying!

I vaguely heard a bit of a commotion happening behind and suddenly realised someone was yelling “Stopppp!”

It was all a blur. I looked round to find that Jhara's pony, Buttons was next to me but with no Jhara and the saddle was almost underneath him. Without thinking, I chased after him which wasn’t too difficult, reached out and caught hold of his reins.

“Whoaaa!” I called out and both horses slowed and then stopped. Thank God for that!

Poppy was surprisingly aware of what needed to be done as without asking, she manoeuvred herself and Buttons around and we headed back down the path.

Jhara was in a crumpled heap on the floor next to a tree not moving. Jack was leaning over her and Sally had hold of her horse, Buddy.

“Oh my God is she dead?” I asked, shocked.

“No but my bloody head is killing me!” said Jhara, crossly.

“Oh thank God for that!” I said. “What happened?”

Unfortunately, when Jack called out “Yee haa!”, Buttons jumped into the air, the new saddle slipped sideways, because the girth wasn’t tight enough, and Jhara flew off head-first into the tree.

Alex hurled herself off Jenny. “I’ll make a cooling compress with some docks!” she said.

“No! Don’t touch her head!” Sally commanded. “I’m a first aider! Don’t move her at all we need to call an ambulance!”

“Ok! I’ll give her some Reiki then!” Alex kneeled down next to Phoebe and put her hands on her back, while Jack rolled her eyes skywards.

“I’ll call for an ambulance!” I said. “Damn I’ve got no signal!”

Nobody had any signal.

“Go to the end of the path and you’ll get to a road!” said Alex. “You should get signal there!”

I turned Poppy and urged her into a gallop. She flew to the end of the path, her feet barely skimming the ground, and it suddenly dawned on me I was galloping, alone, on Poppy for the first time.

Luckily Poppy spotted the gate and slowed down and stopped, thankfully. I didn’t relish the thought of flying over that onto a road.

Still no signal!

“Oh my God!” I said and leaped off, dragging Poppy along the road until we got a signal.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to call the emergency services before but it was quite a stressful experience! Obviously, they need to ask questions but when you’ve got someone with a possible head injury you want to be as quick as possible. It seemed to take an eternity to get to the point where they finally asked the dreaded question…

“Where are you, love?” asked the operator, kindly. And it dawned on me that I didn’t have a clue!

“Erm! Er! Oh damn I’m not actually sure! Where am I? Oh my God!” I stuttered.

“What part of Leeds are you in?” she asked with amazing patience.

“I’m near Thorner! I think? And it’s near a Roman fort!” I said.

“A Roman Fort near Thorner? Ok I’ll just google that.” Said the operator with great presence of mind.

Suddenly I noticed a dog walker ahead so I ran over to him, with Poppy trotting behind me.

“Where am I? What is this place?!” I shouted, like a total mad woman.

The dog walker looked very taken aback as you can imagine.

“Er, I don’t know I’ve not been here before!” answered the man.

“Bloody hell!” I shouted, completely stressed.

“I know we’re near Wetherby road if that’s any use?” he offered, stepping backwards to get away from me.

“Is it Pompocali?” asked the operator.

“Yes! That’s it! Oh my God!” I was so relieved.

“What road are you on because I’ll get the ambulance to meet you?” she asked, once again throwing me into panic as I didn’t have a clue what road I was on.

“I don’t know! It’s the road at the end of the bridle path!” I said, looking around desperately in search of a road sign.

“It would really help to know the name of the road if you could have a look for a sign?” said the operator.

I ran down the road, dragging poor Poppy along with me, and finally found a road sign half hidden in a hedge.

“Ambulance is on its way you wait there!” said the operator and I collapsed on a dry-stone wall, puffing and panting.

Poppy looked quizzically at me, then began to graze on the various weeds by the side of the road.

I realised how amazingly calm she was being under the circumstances, considering I’d ridden her away from the ‘herd’ and was asking her to wait on a road we’d never been on before. Obviously that realisation immediately pinged into Poppy’s brain and she suddenly decided she wanted to go back to the others.

She began dancing around, snorting and prancing, spinning in the middle of the road like a hooligan.

“Stand still!” I commanded with the loudest, deepest voice I could muster and amazingly it worked! More or less. She stopped pratting around and became quieter but she wasn’t overly happy.

Thankfully the ambulance was very quick to arrive and poor Jhara was whisked off to hospital.

“I feel so bad!” said Jack, as we walked home, a lot more sombre than we had set out.

“Why?” asked Sally.

“It’s all my fault for shouting out Yee haa!” poor Jack looked very miserable.

“No point blaming yourself it’s just one of those things,” said Sally pragmatically. “You didn’t do it on purpose to cause an accident!”

Luckily, Buttons was being ridden back by another girl from the yard who’d taxi’d over to help us out.

“Did you ever get to the fort?” asked the girl.

“Bugger! No we didn’t!” exclaimed Alex.

Mercifully, Jhara was absolutely fine she just had mild concussion. A couple of weeks later, when her head was feeling better, we all went to Pompocali for a picnic – with no yeeha’s!

It was a very peculiar place full of enormous, strange mounds and winding paths. Alex collected some herbs and performed a ritual, sprinkling them at the site of the accident to “clear the negative energy” which was actually quite fun and even Jack joined in with great enthusiasm…

© Grace Olson 2020

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