Real life

Real life

26 August 2017

9:00 AM

26 August 2017

9:00 AM

Darcy is high-maintenance, so I decided to leave her in the posh livery yard, with its luxuriant shavings beds and 24-hour butler service.

Being the great-granddaughter of Nijinsky, she expects to be accommodated in style and is apt to become disconsolate if left in a field for longer than a few hours. However Gracie, the skewbald hunter pony, was plumb disgusted with the five-star competition stables.

As soon as they came down off the lorry, she looked at the pin neat surroundings, the gleaming dressage horses prancing around the arena, and emitted a little snort of disdain.

‘Pah!’ I could have sworn she said.

The next afternoon, I arrived at the yard to find the owner wanting to update me. Darcy, she said, had settled beautifully. But the pony had been neighing non-stop in the paddock all morning, and running around her box neighing after lunch.

A few days later, the dreaded word ‘weaving’ was used when reporting her antics.

‘Oh dear,’ I said apologetically, for yard owners deplore weaving — whereby a horse sways impatiently from side to side — almost as much as they deplore wind-sucking and crib-biting.

These habits are often thought to be infectious but even if you consider that an old wives’ tale, bad behaviour does seem to spread like wildfire down a stable block.


The next day I arrived to find Gracie jumping around whinnying while all the other horses — once calm and happy — jumped around and whinnied back to her.

There was no doubt about it. Gracie was fomenting dissent.

She was possibly even more disgusted than me at the ‘No Horse-riding’ signs posted around the village. She took no consolation in the very nice gallop track around the grounds that Darcy enjoyed, but then the thoroughbred considers a 20-minute leg stretch fully sufficient for her requirements. Then it’s time for a snooze before luncheon, served promptly.

Gracie is semi-feral, hates routine, and likes to roam. She is used to hacking across country for hours, leaping over logs and bombing along sand tracks.

As things were, we would go round the gallops a few times then sneak out the side gate past the No Horse-riding signs and into the woods, where she perked up a bit, but the best hacking was blocked off by the A3.

She became more and more agitated. ‘She’s jumping round the box like a maniac,’ complained the owner. ‘I’m sorry. She just feels that…’

But how to explain to an international dressage rider that your pony has made it quite clear to you that she isn’t happy being waited on hand and foot for £620 a month and wants to tear around, uphill and down dale.

‘I’ll squeam and squeam and squeam ’til I’m sick!’ she told me one day, as I put her back in her stable. As if to ram the point home, she opened her mouth and let out a contemptuous burp.

Horses have a one-way digestive system and are unable to belch or vomit, which gives you some idea how defiant this pony can be when she wants to make a point.

And so, in the end, I decided to move her to be with my murderous retired hunter Tara, in a huge field in the next village where there is unlimited hacking across miles of sandy heath land.

They’d been turned out together before, years ago, and I hoped they might recognise each other. To save on transport costs, I rode her from the livery yard to the field, about five miles away.

We had to cross the A3 at a treacherous roundabout, but with the help of a friend stopping the traffic we managed fine. The route took us over a disused airfield where kids on motorbikes were screaming up and down the former runway.

On the stubble of a crop field beside the bikes, Gracie flicked her head in the air and attempted to race them, thoroughly enjoying herself. The kids waved at us as we galloped past. Gripping the reins in one hand, I waved back. ‘You’re right,’ I shouted to her through the wind. ‘This is more like it!’

Of course she will miss Darcy, who she still considers her baby because they were turned out together when the thoroughbred was just a yearling.

But when we got to the field, the old dragon, Tara, mooched out of her shelter where she spends most of her time snoozing now she is over 30 years old. When I set Gracie loose, Tara thundered over, teeth blazing, and gave her a look as if to say ‘you stay over there and we’ll get on just fine’.

A few hours later, they were grazing side by side. A few days later, I found them standing together in the shelter during a storm.

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