Part One. Arrival.
So being a great expert on horsemanship (after sharing my life with a palomino called Apollo for a whole 3 years) I decided I would very much like to learn to carriage drive. I had been out in a pony and trap with an old boy called Sid who was on the same stable yard at least 3 times. I had held the reins. I had also sat in old carriages at a country house museum in Devon, and felt bitten by the bug. I pretty much thought, how hard can it be?
Trotting along country lanes. Be better for my poor back, surely. No need to wear a hard hat. We could stop at the village green pub for a quiet drink on Sunday lunchtime, or a lazy summer’s evening. Civilised. Distinguished. Elegant. I could wear a flowery hat and smile lots.
I thought I’d get a Shetland pony to start with. Closer to the ground. Easy to get in and out of the carriage. Easy peasy. Why ever not?
Along came Alberta. About 33” high. 3 years old. Almost jet black with glorious ginger ends to her mane, which was full and shiny. A little white star. She belonged to a chap called, you’ve probably guessed it, Bert. For £50 she came with headcollar, a set of wheels and a few bits that might weld together to make a carriage. Bargain. Not a registered Shetland with papers and all that complicated stuff. But a Shetland just the same. Yes, she was young, so plenty of time to try long reining. I had read the books.
Bringing her back from her field one day she stood quietly tied up while I was wandering about trying to see if the new, stiff, unyielding set of glossy black patent leather harness -with even shinier brass fittings – (costing over twice as much as she did) would actually fit her. Also, to be honest, trying to work out which part went where. I thought it would be obvious but…..
Hilary the vets wife walked past and casually said
“when is she due?”
“her foal, when is it due?”
oh she’s not pregnant…she’s just good do-er.
“don’t be daft I can see it moving”.
The next day my own vets visit confirmed that she was, indeed, pregnant. Maybe in 2 months. The harness went back in the bag. I had a crash course in foaling, waxing up, anatomy, signs, symptoms, what to expect. Feeding for 2, oh and worrying. Lots of worrying. The sire was apparently a young 14.1 cob (no it can’t be him -he’s way too young and too tall I was told.) Would the foal be too big? What if she got hurt? Worry, worry, worry.
Alby, as she was now known, grew round and glossy and more perfect that ever. She had the most amazing trot full of attitude and bounce. Her coat was so shiny you could almost see your reflection it it………my feed and supplement bill shot sky high!
Meantime another little Shetland called Pippa, who had been kept in the same field as Alby and the cob, gave birth to a dark grey foal. They called him Smokey. I jokingly said- if mines a boy I’ll call him The Bandit and we can have Smokey and The Bandit! We can have a driving pair (not that I ever get in front of myself at all). Sadly Pippa’s owners had not taken any notice of my warnings about a possible pregnancy, and had continued to ride her hard. Her stable was filthy. Smokey was born weak, dying at a few days old of blood poisoning. I spent a long while with Pippa and Smokey, sitting in the field with them, willing him to make it. I seemed more devastated than her owners when Smokey died. (later I also managed to get Pippa to come and share my life. She cost £60 – including some carriage bits and harness. She stayed with me until she was 42. But that’s another story)
My anxiety grew. I was now convinced the foal would die, either before he was born, or sometime soon after. Not to mention what might happen to Alby, who was, after all, very young and very small. Hubby and I spent many a happy hour driving backwards and forwards, and forwards and backwards, from home to stables. There followed many late night sits, false alarms and sleepless nights. The stable yard owner got us out of bed one night (when we had actually gone to bed) at 3 in the morning. It’s definitely coming tonight. It wasn’t.
Alby then managed, all by herself, on the one night my alarm didn’t go off, to produce a gangly miraculous foal. Although he was tall, he could still drink and did not seem to have done her any harm as he was born. He was beautiful in that peculiar way that only mixed bred foals can be.
I was heard muttering that of course I would not be keeping him.
Friends nodded wisely, said very little, smiling quietly behind my back.
Hubby adopted a resigned air.
The Bandit (there was no option of ever calling him anything else by now) had arrived.
(to be continued)