After his rapid and highly effective escape from the new field, Hotpot decided he needed to find his own kind. Frantic calls to the neighbourhood friends and farms came up with the same theory, although it was fundamentally flawed: “he’ll seek out other sheep, don’t you worry, he’ll turn up”. But of course Hotpot wasn’t like other sheep. By the time they had finished ’phoning round, it had grown too dark too suddenly to go out searching sheep. Daisy and Lucy waited until the next morning to start the pursuit in earnest, crossing field after field seeking sheep. By lunchtime there had been a couple of sightings, but despite visiting three local flocks there was no sign of Hotpot. His lumbering form, heavy with a fleece that had been unsheared for years, was simply absent from fields and roads. Despite the idea that a sheep would want to be with other sheep Hotpot was nowhere to be found. And then came the brilliant idea.
“What if we take the Grey Horse out and lead him up the lane? Maybe the sheep will recognise him and follow him back with us”. Lucy sighed and looked patiently at her daughter’s excited eyes, eyes so innocent to the ways of sheep. “He’s a sheep darling he will try to find other sheep”. “Are you sure? He has been brought up with sheep and horses and when we got him he was only with a pony and no sheep.” Daisy had a point. It might be worth a try.
Hotpot meanwhile had no intention of hanging out with a bunch of sheep, exposed in a field and with nothing to do but stare at one another and chew and wait for some random dog to give chase. His flight across the field and the fight with the fence had left him very tired, especially since he had had so much exercise earlier in the day. He had reached the woods without stopping and had found a small stream to cool his tired ankles in and to sip at, once his heavy fleeced breathing had settled down. From his seclusion he had heard the noise and calling and watched the anxious pacing about amidst the chatter and fuss, wondering what he should do next. Hotpot was very good at being alone but he did wonder where he could find some like-minded companion, another horse would do fine. So he wandered deeper into the wood in search of a snack and to ponder how to find a new nearby equine to befriend. He was sure that Max was now a very long way away.
The next morning Hotpot spent ambling through the woods, ignoring the rabbits, stamping at the occasional fox and sunbathing for a while next to a pond which he found very restful and calming. Having thoroughly grazed the grass at the pond’s edge, midafternoon found him deep asleep on the edge of the wood, next to a ploughed field halfheartedly fenced with rusting barbed wire. He was dreaming of his friend Max and of the horses whose sounds and scents used to fill his world. He was aware of those sounds and their loudness especially, clip clopping, whinnying and peoples voices. Those sounds were coming to him from beyond his dream though and he woke with a start scaring off a large family of flies who had been dancing across his fleece. The sounds were real, there was the patterned bang of hooves rattling on tarmac and there was a whinnying cry, high and anxious, and very familiar to Hotpot.
The idea of leading the horse had been sound enough but putting the plan into practise turned out the be harder than expected. And besides there was no inconsiderable risk involved. For almost a week the Grey Horse had been confined to his box to let his tender front hooves heal, he was frantic to be with others of his kind and had a damaged knee that could turn out to be irreparable. They had put a bridle on him to make him safer to lead and when they threw open the stable door, he flew out of the box spinning on the end of the rein. Aware of all the reasons not to take this horse out for a walk, they tried to steady him and get him pointed in the right direction to lead him up the drive to the lane. This was all extremely exciting for the Grey Horse of course, but it was also a source of amazement and fascination. Gradually his curiousity kicked in and his great black eyes stared wide and slightly less wild, as he passed through the new scenes in this strange and horseless world. By the time they reached the lane Lucy could hold the rein a little more loosely, and they were walking all three together in a gentle 4/4 rhythm with only the occasional clattering of leaps and skips.
The Grey Horse was starting to feel a little better, out of his stable and with the late winter sunshine warming his back. He felt less alone walking on the lane because he had the people by his side, and his feet didn’t hurt quite so much. Even the knee, maybe not so fatally injured after all, was feeling better so much so that he barely limped at all. He let out a loud cry, head up high a scream of a whinny to see if anyone equine was there. There was no reply but still the Grey Horse marched along ears swivelling, inquisitive and excited, breath heavy and blowing his nose as he went.
In his sunny warm patch on the edge of the wood, Hotpot heard the screaming cry and let out the loudest bleat he could manage, which unfortunately wasn’t very loud. The Grey Horse was too preoccupied and snorty to hear it and didn’t answer, but the Lucy and Daisy leading him along the lane heard Hotpot’s response. “He’s in the woods, he’s here!” They could hardly believe it.“What about going with other sheep, what about seeking sheep out?” “How can he still be in the woods?”. Daisy said “it doesn’t matter, he’s here, he’s close and not lost or dead”.
This was a good point so they took the Grey Horse back to his stable and settled him in for the night. Before bedtime Lucy heard him whinnying again, lonely and sad, but intermittent, lessening as the night drew down.
When Lucy came in the morning to feed him the horse was staring down across the paddock at the sheep. And she followed his gaze. “So you’re calming down!” Staring up though the frosted mist was that large and grubby looking sheep, dingy and fuzzy against the crisp morning light haloed around him. Stamping his foot as Lucy fetched hay and fresh water, Hotpot approached staring all the while at the long grey face reaching out, whinnying softly across the stable door in welcome. The Grey Horse nodded a couple of times and the sheep raised his warty ears in shared remembrance of another life.