“What do you mean?” Hotpot stopped chewing for a moment to consider what he meant but he couldn’t remember.
“She’s the one who knows” said Hotpot staring out of the field shelter at the gate where a middle-aged woman was fiddling with the latch. “And the others, the one she calls William and those others that feed us sometimes.” The Grey Horse pondered this for a little while, impressed with Hotpot’s ovine cleverness.
“Will she tell us what happened?” but Hotpot had dozed off and couldn’t really remember how it had all begun. The Grey Horse swapped his resting hind foot and gave his head a little shake. It didn’t matter.
But there was a day he remembered, a day when he had arrived here hobbling with pain and very lonely. And then he remembered the day that Hotpot arrived and all the other wonderful days they had shared.
1. The Grey Horse
Straightening up with a long sigh, the vet patted the dapple grey horse’s neck and turned to her. “That knee’s no reason at all to put this horse down. And he’s a good solid sort. Aren’t you fella?” with another pat that was almost affectionate. “The thing is” he said, “trainers are under such pressure and this lad’s cost his owners more than a fair share, so you can see their point really. No good having a racehorse that can’t race, no matter how well bred he is.” He continued stroking the now dozing horse’s long soft nose. “Give it rest, six months or so, and you should see an improvement. He’s only four remember, so time’s on his side. Why not give it a try and see how it goes?”
“But what about the feet?” she said her hand patting too quick and anxious the long soft nose. The horse’s feet were an agony, blinding burning pain matched only by the dreadful pain of his damaged knee. His mind was turning, turning, turning. As she patted his nose the horse gave a start and backed away from the nervous fidgeting. The very morning she’d unloaded this equine wreck from the lorry he had managed to get both front feet stuck in the sheep netting running along the fence. He had torn off the shoes and shredded his heels in his frantic efforts to get free so that he could continue hobbling about the field to scream his lonely distress. Bert sighed again: “the farrier’s done a great job cleaning them up and they should heal within a few days. The bigger problem is keeping this horse calm in the box. The pacing won’t do him any real harm but he’s very distressed”.Lucy removed the headcollar and together they turned to close the stable door. The horse, wild eyed and anxious once more as he watched them move away, resumed his awkward uneven pacing around the box. “It’s a good idea, getting a companion, a pony or a sheep or something. He’s come out of a yard with thirty odd horses, with lots going on and plenty of companions. It’s bound to take time to adjust.” She just stared. Blank. Collapsed. Baffled.
Bert was changing out of his overalls, wiping his hands, filling in paperwork as Lucy stood staring at the miserable beast marching his pathetic stagger around and around the stable. What had she done, how could she ever have thought that this would work? How could this beautiful creature possibly be better off here, away from the world he had known. And how could she possibly juggle her life to fit him into it. The vet slammed the car boot shut and gave another sigh. “Look” he said, “it’s up to you to decide if you want to do this or not but at least you’ll be giving him a chance. It’s this or …” She stared back and looked over at the horse, who was watching the woods across the field for some sign of rescue. None was coming, so he resumed his previous work. “You’re right of course” she said bleakly.
As the vet pulled away Lucy felt slightly more hopeful: there was something that she could do to help calm the new horse down. Something positive, yes, but not something she could do now alone. Better to go and get Daisy from school and discuss it with her. Together they would work out what to do for the best for the horse. Perhaps he might calm down and things would get a bit better, and she would be able to work out what should happen next. On the way home from school her daughter, marginally less sulky than usual for a Friday afternoon said: “but what are you going to call him?” “His name is Jevington Grey, but that’s too long” her mother replied “in the racing yard they just called him the Grey Horse, but that isn’t really a name. And anyway we don’t know if a companion will help. We think he’s completely frantic at being alone, but maybe he’s just frantic? That knee might not come right. We don’t know if a pony or a sheep will help, and I am really not sure that I can juggle everything on my own.” Her daughter rolled her eyes waiting for the drama to recede a little, saying “of course we can make it work. I’m here at the weekends and holidays to help. The lads on the farm will help when you’re travelling. The days are getting longer. It will work if you want it to.” This last said with a sudden softness, with such niaive trust and sincerity, that she could hardly ignore it. So she said “let’s wait until the six months is up before we worry about giving him a name. Right now he’s just the Grey Horse and he’s got to stand in the stable for a week and he needs a friend”.
That evening following a quick conversation with the racing yard, things were looking a little brighter. There was no spare pony, but there was the last of the trainer’s aging spring lambs that might be suitable. Spring lambs from five years ago, but perhaps an aging wether would be the solution to the problem.