After the landowner told us to be out in three weeks, then admitted we had three months to move our horses under the terms of our lease, the search began.
We set about putting my house on the market and looking for a place with a few acres, but it was soon clear we were not going to find anything in budget.
With the clock ticking on our notice period at the farm we’ve been renting, we had to look for livery for the horses. The timing could hardly be worse. Vacancies don’t tend to come up as winter approaches.
But I always find the Good Lord provides when your back is against the wall. Sure enough, I found places for my two horses at a nearby stable yard and the builder boyfriend came across a field to rent for his cobs.
Maybe now we could try to look forward to a fresh start, leaving behind the hassle of constantly having to withstand the shoot boys. Was it just me, or were we starting to fall apart under the strain?
A few harsh words here and there, a joke about me being a pain in the arse which sounded more serious than it ought to…
‘You know what?’ the BB said one morning, as we argued over something irrelevant. ‘You’ve got a hell of a lot of opinions.’
‘Me?’ I exclaimed. ‘You sound like a black cab driver. I’m worn out listening to you. You never stop.’
It’s true. He doesn’t voice his opinions so much as sustain a monologue that only pauses for a few hours when he sleeps. Normally I don’t mind, but lately I’m too close to the edge.
Since deciding they want our land to link their woods and the other fields on the estate they’ve got shooting agreements on, the shoot have made it abundantly clear that if we don’t get out before the start of the season, on 1 October, they will help us along.
When they held their annual barbecue the other Sunday, some of the rougher members wound down the windows of their souped-up motors and shouted at us as they screeched past our fields on their way up to the big house. One smashed his truck into a fence on the way back down, breaking a post in half.
This sort of thing relentlessly for more than a year would put the strongest of couples under strain. It was a relief to be offered places for my thoroughbred and her little companion pony from October.
But we have to be ready for guns going off any day now, because we don’t exactly know the shooting dates.
When we asked for them, the landowner provided a list that isn’t quite accurate. The opening meet, according to the list texted to us, is a Friday, and I know that cannot be right. They only shoot on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Perhaps the shoot boys want a bit of extra sport by catching us unawares and making our horses run round in a panic.
We were shovelling wood chippings on to the drive to make an all-weather turnout area at the front, in case the guns start firing over the back before we can move, when we noticed them taking machinery into the field opposite where they’ve got stalking chairs.
A cement mixer on a flatbed truck, a pipe, several massive sheets of ply, scaffolding poles… they transported it all down to a large ditch bordering the grazing fields beyond a nearby livery yard. A digger that had been in action for hours down there was driven back out as the men got to work.
‘What the hell are they doing?’ I asked the builder b. ‘They’re building a bridge,’ he said.
A customer of the livery yard came by on her horse later that day and lingered by our gate, looking like she wanted to talk.
Everyone knows we are the only people who have had the audacity to stand up to the shoot. Usually that means people avoid us, in case the shoot see them associating with us. But when others feel the wrath of the shoot, they often stop by.
It seems the shoot have now signed agreements with all the landowners to shoot in or around all the horse fields. If the horse owners don’t like it, they can get out.
The implication is, the landowners are confident that if the current tenants cannot be relied upon to do the wrong thing and let guns near their horses, they can easily find more horse owners who will.
And so the strain mounts until it has become almost unbearable. ‘I’m ready to go,’ said the BB, as we walked the spaniels one evening. Ready to go from here, or ready to go from us?
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