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The pony trap

Outdoor Living

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

Dark thoughts pressed in as I strode through the woods. What had James called me? And for what reason, other than that our viewpoint differed over some matter of trivial importance? Oaf.
A horse, of the Connemara type but thickset, appeared as if from nowhere, emerging from the trees to pick its way through the line of low brambles that edged the old forest, stepping daintily as if to avoid the thorns. I gave a cold stare and the animal nodded emphatically in return, and made a series of purring huffs that caused me to wait as it approached. It stopped two paces off, stretched its long neck forward and snuffed at my coat.
Horses, I have learned, and especially strange ones, can be as unpredictable as any man, and inclined to bite, to rear, to plunge and to kick, doing much the same in play as out of malice.
I looked this one over. The thick winter coat was pale grey, almost buff, and roughly tousled from one end to the other. The heavy mane, half matted, hung in off-white cords, while a wisp of forelock fell forward over the broad forehead, reaching almost as far as the strangely blue eyes.
When the thick lips pulled back it was to reveal an impressive and rather alarming set of teeth, the sight of which caused me to take an instinctive step back and thrust my hands into the safety of my pockets.
The horse, finding room on the path, stepped quickly up to my level, shook its entire length vigorously, then pawed the stones with iron clad hooves.
I felt it was time to go and backed away slowly.
The horse followed. When I stopped he nuzzled my pockets, evidently hoping for an apple or a biscuit. As I had neither I hoped a friendly gesture might satisfy him, and lightly scratched his nose and then behind his ears, at which he pressed his head gently yet firmly against my chest and held it there.
“Look,” I said, “this is all very well, but I’m on my walk and really can’t stay more than a moment. So, if you don’t mind…” I took a step forward.
So did the horse. When I moved to the side he stood across my path, head up and ears forward. This was no good. I had to show the beast who was boss.
I gave him a rough shove on the shoulder, as if a tonne of equine determination could really be moved with such puny effort. The horse took this well. It was obviously an optimistic animal and thought me a good companion, despite the deep frown on my countenance. With a clever and remarkably swift manoeuvre he brought his rear end around behind me to prevent any retreat, while the head end stopped me progressing or stepping to one side. I was all but encircled.
I placed my hand on his withers and the head nodded vigorously, the hooves clattered on the stones, and the tail switched in anticipation.
‘You want me to get on, is that it?’ As I increased my weight on the animals hulking shoulder he stood very still and gave the lightest nudge with his head.
There was no way I was climbing aboard a horse I knew nothing about, especially one with no saddle or bridle. He might seem placid and well behaved, but as far as I knew might be a demon horse in disguise, with nothing less than my ultimate demise in mind.
I could just see him, once I was up there with no means of control, charging off through the trees to leave me swinging by the neck from a cleft in a low branch in the manner of Absalom. Who would be Joab and lance my chest, and which ten men would eagerly share responsibility for my death? Ten? I could think of 20 ready and willing, and one in particular.
I gave the horse a slap. He took it well and stepped aside graciously, but bade me follow, walking a few paces before turning and gesturing with his head. Intrigued, I did follow. We walked a good half mile, the horse in front and I behind, until we came to a wooden gate. The horse nudged it with his nose and looked at me enquiringly.
So that was it. He had somehow found his way into this wood and wanted to go home. The gate, chained and padlocked, formed an impenetrable barrier, and anyway, I couldn’t just let the horse go where it wanted.
It would ruck up someone’s garden or eat their azaleas, and I should be the one responsible and have to spend my Saturday afternoon levelling the lawn and my pocket money on replacement plants.
I went back the way we had come, leaving the disappointed horse a silhouette against the skyline, and with a mental note to make peace with my antagonist before the day was out. Spring, more than any, must be the season of goodwill.

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