Thursday dawned grey, cold and drizzly. We are creatures of comfort, Sturuss and I, so we just turned over and went back to sleep (well, mentally anyway!) and waited for something better. Today is Friday, then, which bounced in completely unannounced with bright sunshine, blue skies, golden autumn feelings and though chilly in the shade, no wind to speak of (though a cold bise came up later on).
The pony I fetched from his munching grounds has altered completely in the last couple of weeks. His sleek and shining copper coat has turned into windswept winter fluff and the long blonde mane and tail are caked with mud after a thorough roll in the mud. In his old age he has started to wear a smart burgundy raincoat and he did make a funny picture as he pricked his ears to see what was up this time, the jaws never ceasing to chew the few stalks of grass still sticking out of his mouth.
Fortunately, our grooming yard is in full sun most of the day, so he was able to doze quietly as I patiently brushed and untangled, rubbed and dabbed and got him ready for a ride. These days and after an injury a year ago which he wasn’t expected to survive, it almost takes longer to dress him than to actually go for a hack – he wears hoof shoes all round and long boots on his front legs for extra support, with fetlock boots on his back legs now that his gait has shifted a little… Still, no matter, the main thing is to get out and see something different for a change (though with a double building site going on around the stables, boredom is the last thing that comes to mind – good for bombproofing ponies, by the way, with all the noise, machines and strange things happening!).
We set out along the main road, with the odd lorry and bus passing us, although Sturuss is far more interested in what is on the other side of the hedge to the garden restaurant that specialises in Cordon bleu, but he knows that we’ll turn off shortly and pass the house with a couple of large dogs in a run. This doesn’t worry him, either, he’s used to dogs and as long as they aren’t on a chain and run out barking, it’s not a problem, he would hate to step on one and would much rather greet them with a friendly nuzzle, doggie-style. He puffs a little going up the hill, since his back legs get a little stiff after lying in his stable all night and it takes a moment for his circulation to get going properly, but once we’re at the top, he enjoys the breeze in his mane and is keen to see what’s going on today: a couple of other horses are several fields away, but he calls to them anyway, you never know, they might have some news! Are those two cows still in the same little bit of field as last week? No, the farmer is doing something with his tractor on that patch, it seems a bit smelly… Sturuss’ step picks up a bit as he notices some people with a push chair moving along at a distance – humans all have sugar in their pockets for him, don’t they?!
Our path takes us along a pretty little stream that gurgles along, edged with hazelnut bushes, elder bushes and all kinds of low willow trees and other undergrowth. I notice someone has been and harvested the nuts and berries, no waste, then. Suddenly a grey heron flies out between some branches, not 6 feet away from us, but Sturuss doesn’t bat an eyelid, to my surprise. It must be quite a struggle for such a heavy bird to take off without getting a run up and he flaps quite heavily for a moment before he is properly aloft and away. Probably off to the village to rob someone’s pond of a few dainty goldfish…
As we continue along the way, we come to a crossroads. Turning right will take us up through woods and will probably be hard work for Sturuss. Straight on is pretty but again, a long way for an old pony. So we head left along a small lane that leads slightly uphill again, but any hard breathing is put on hold when we notice that the tiny field to our left, tucked between a farm and some outbuildings, not only holds a pretty mixed herd of cows and calves, but also a rather baleful looking bull, ring in nose, watching us uncertainly. Although I can hear the blip-blip of the electric fencing, it is rather uncomfortable to know there are only a few strands of thin wire and plastic between us, and we hurry on a little, looking ahead so as not to antagonise. Hm, now I’m not sure where we are, I’d like to turn left again and head back to the tracks we’re more familiar with, but from this lane, there doesn’t seem to be a connecting path. Well, never mind, we’ll head straight on until we find one, passing some teenage calves who look appalled, as if they have never seen a horse before, and moving aside to let the occasional tractor, moped or lorry pass on its way to the gravel pit or sawmill nearby. Sturuss doesn’t like the sawmill and minces down the road towards it, considering whether to throw an alarmed fit and whip round to dash back to safety or whether the presence of a couple of humans might not make it all worthwhile… he stumbles a little because he’s not looking where he’s going, but we do pass without incident. Thank goodness they’ve moved those water barrels he shied at last time! I do not fancy going splat on the tarmac in front of everyone!
More horses to the right – he knows they’re there, he’s seen them in passing a number of times, so we’re back in familiar territory, and suddenly, instead of a tired, plodding pony, I have a power machine whose rear end pushes forward with impulsion and of course, keenness to get home and find some food… but he stops dead again as we come to the shooting stand. We have approached this stand many times from the other side but never from this, and he halts, alarmed at the sight of all those numbers staring back at him. There’s also a luscious green field on the other side of us that he would dearly like all to himself, but it’s time we got back… and the woods are shading the path, making it really rather chilly. So on we go, back into the sun, back through the fields, passing crackling dry maize fields that haven’t been cut, yet, and low green sugarbeet plants waiting to be dug up, back along the road and past some traffic and there we are, in the yard.
Head-rubbing can’t wait and the builder of the stable surely designed the walls so that they have convenient strips of wood that are ideal to scratch your face on, sweaty from the bridle leather? It takes another age to get all the boots and shoes off again, and treats have to wait until everything is put away tidily, which is asking a lot of an old man used to being spoilt. Finally, Sturuss follows me back into his yard, where hay is waiting and the entertainment program provided by the builders is at its pinnacle for the day: three lorries having their materials unloaded by cranes and men crawling all over roofs, plenty to see while ruminating over apples and hay.
With a big sigh, the equine monument gently crumples and for a few hilarious moments, wriggles away the sweaty patches on his back where the saddle and girths were, managing, despite advanced age, to roll all the way over and back again, with all four hooves waving in the air – but the relief is palpable! One last, thorough shake, and then just an afternoon’s gentle snoozing ahead… bliss.