When I was very young I loved two things passionately, my father and horses. Now, I had one, I reasoned, I merely needed the other and my life was complete.
But getting life fufillment seemed tricky. I nagged and pleaded and cried until I got headaches and snot ran down my face. I rolled on the floor begging to be allowed get my own horse. I ran about pretending I was a horse a lot of the time, I built jumps out the back of the house and made our dogs jump endlessly back and forth over them, while I did the commentry.
'Yes and it's Harvey Smith to take the cup! Oh my, is that a victory sign?'
I begged, I pleaded, I howled, yet curiously my mother remained unmoved. To each entreat she said no, but my father however, well, he was of softer disposition and my ten year old self sensed he would be the weakest link.
Like a lioness singling out the one wounded wildebeast I turned all my attention to him. I stalked him, following him about the house, my eyes red-rimmed, my hands clasped in front of me, whenever the poor man opened a door or sat down with the paper he was beset with...'Daddy please Dad, Oh please, I'll do anything, I'll polish yer shoes guvnor, make tea in the morning, pleeeeeeese. I'll never ask you for anything again ever, never ever not even pocket money, I won't...' I would pop up at his shoulder in the shed when he was trying to fix machinery, 'Daddy, have you thought about it? Have you, it wouldn't be any bother...' I would follow him down the village when he went to buy oil.'Dad, have you see the back of the farmer's Journal today? Look LOOK, there are ponies for sale and some of them are only...'
I was relentless.
Eventually, for the sake of his sanity, he relented, after all-he declared over a frosty silence before lunch- did we not already have a hunter? (far too big and downright mean for any of us to ride, well my eldest sister could, but she wasn't into horses-anyway, she was out on grass) What difference-he asked of my mother who was viciously hurling potato after potato into a pot of water-did it really make? He had ridden himself at my tender age(he said). A pony could have the smaller stable, it would teach me responsibility, and I would have to look after it myself.
'You always give in to that one.' My mother raged, 'I've already said she can't have it and now you're telling her she can!'
I-eavesdropping in the back hall-vowed to poison my mother that very day.
'Well,' my darling father said, 'what about a loan of one? Frank Doyle was just telling me the other day he's looking for a spot of grazing for that little palomino of his.'
Palomino! I immediately thought of all my much read Flicka and Silver Brumby books. Ohhheeeeeeeee.
There was no reply from my mother, just the bashing about of pots and pans. I held my breath for so long I thought I would pass out. Then...
'Alright!' She said making it sound like a curse, 'just for a loan, see how she get's on with it.'
Yes! I skipped silently out of the hall lest my mother smell pleasure in the air and descend on me like a griffon on carrion. I would-I informed one of the collies magnanimously- hold off on the poisoning.
And so, the following Saturday, a blue hi-ace pulled into the yard pulling a horse box behind it. The hunter-who had been grazing contentedly in the meadow trotted up to the gate to see what all the fuss was about and snickered. That snicker was answered by a high-pitched whinney.
Little did I know I would grow to detest that whinny.
He was beautiful, 13 hand 2, soft pale gold, with four socks and a blaze. His mane was flaxon, his eyes deepest brown. Eeeeee. I was smitten the moment he danced down the ramp.
My father handed me the rope of his head collar. 'Here you go girl, he's yours for the next four months, if you get on well with this fellah sure we'll see about-'
My mother cleared her throat angrily.
'Well, take him on up to the box there' my father said quickly. 'Let him settle.'
Oh he settled all right. After the first day he had my measure, and he knew that I was
A) not as clever as him.
B) half afraid of him
C) easy to trick.
The next day he threw me off four or five times. Always at speed. We'd be cantering along the headland and he'd stop dead in his tracks and put his head down. The first two times he did this I thought it was because something had startled him, the last three, I knew it was to torment me.
He liked to roll in the filthiest muckiest spot he could find, and being pale gold that meant hours of grooming. Which he would then undo by rolling again as soon as my back was turned.
He liked to stand patiently in the middle of the meadow until I was almost close enough to catch him, then-at the last possible second- he would turn and trot off-never gallop-with his head held high and whinny to himself with delight.
He liked to open the top latch of the stable door and wander down to the feed room and help himself to whatever he liked. He discovered he could make the kick slide flip over if he kicked it at just the right level.
He liked to bite if you did up the saddle too suddenly, and he was as accurate at kicking as a circus knife thrower.
After two weeks of being flung to the ground, trod on, bitten, exhausted from grooming and made to look a fool I decided I hated him.
Unfortunately I had no choice, my mother was keenly watching for sign that I was flagging, if I really did ever want a pony of my own I had to play along. That fucking pony had me over a barrel-and he knew it- the snickering bollocks.
So I devised ways of spending time with him that suited us both. I discovered he, like most ponies, liked chocolate, if he didn't bite during grooming he got a square of Cadburys, I began to take early morning rides with him, carrying a backpack. I would ride about a mile from the house, then get off and take my book from my back pack. I would read, while the pony stood cropping grass for an hour or so. Then we would head back to the house at a leisurely pace. This arrangement suited us both, we knew where we stood with each other and for a while a sort of truce held.
Until they day my stupid cousins arrived.
'I must say,' my mother wittered on to my aunt 'I didn't think she'd stick it out. Annie Doyle told me that pony could be a bit of a brute, but Cat and it seem to get along famously.'
My aunt threw back her head and said, 'Well being horse woman runs in the family, did I tell you Gavin's been taking lessons?'
'Oh?' My mother poured more tea.
'OH yes, he's quite good you know.'
'Cat,' my mother said, arching her eyebrow at me, 'Do you think Gavin could take a little spin on the pony after lunch?"
I smiled wanly at my aunt. Gavin was my older cousin by one year, a brute of a boy who I despised. He teased me mercilessly, called me names and gave me chinese burns on my arms. From where I sat on the counter top I could see him through the kitchen hatch, his index finger so far up his nose he had to be scratching his brain.
'Of course.' I said sweetly, I'll saddle him up.'
As I left the kitchen I heard my mother's useless stage whisper.
'Animals, you see, bring out the best in everyone.'