‘This is the one I was thinking of for you,’ said the lady I might feasibly call my mother-in-law, in spirit at least.
We were standing in her stable yard in a dingley dell corner of the south of England which is frozen in time. After driving down a winding track between well-tended paddocks, we found her as we always do, dressed in western-style clothing, tending to her animals in her own little world, far from the madding crowd.
The builder boyfriend’s long-lost mother is a consummate horsewoman. I say long-lost because she ran away when he was a boy, leaving him with his father who brought him up alone. He always says he doesn’t mind because he was too young to remember her. Later they were reunited. He can appreciate her for how she is, a free spirit. Also, he knows he is a chip off the old block, unable to be quite tied down. I have had to remember this each time I have watched him walk off into the sunset and leave me, albeit temporarily.
Long wavy greying hair, dark eyes, determined jaw. You wouldn’t cross her. But I always find her good company. She is someone you can be with knowing that what you see and hear is absolutely what you get.
She is happier with animals than with people, but who can argue? And she has this uncanny eye for a horse. She found my thoroughbred Darcy in a yearling sale. We had gone down to take her out to lunch and the little filly nuzzled me over a stable door. Horses choose you. You can’t do anything about it. Darcy had a quiet, self-assured energy even aged one-and-a-half and when she pushed me with her nose I looked across at the BB, who was talking to his mum, and said: ‘Oh dear.’
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked. But his mother knew. ‘Oh yes. She’s something special.’ She got out her papers, which revealed her to be closely related to racing royalty. Darcy held herself that way, no doubt about it, right from the start. It was as if she knew her father had won the Arc ridden by Frankie Dettori, and that her blood line was just a few horses from Nijinsky, and then of course Northern Dancer. I can’t explain it but she had an air of nobility, even with the baby fluff still on her tummy.
And so began the task of raising baby, as we called her then, backing her and bringing her on. She now rides like every inch of 17 hands — amazing to me because in the early days we carried her on to a lorry when she wouldn’t load.
I had these silly dreams to start with. I rode her in training on the track as a four-year-old but that was not to be. After she strained a tendon I pulled her out, ending my fledgling jockey career and those daft dreams of riding my own horse to victory in a race, any race, even a charity one. Nice to have dreams, and I will always treasure the memory of those early mornings on the misty all-weather circuit, the sound of her breath thumping in my ears as she flew me around. And she is strong again now. She relishes her weekly jumping lesson, and lights up when she sees a set of poles being laid out.
But in her everyday life she needs a friend. She loved Gracie so.
When we lost the pony, leaving Darcy alone in her field, we contacted the BB’s mother to see if she could find her a companion. She said she had something new in her yard that might suit if we wanted to come and visit.
And so it was that I stood in that yard again, wondering who was to choose me, seeing no obvious prospect, when the mother-in-law opened a door to reveal a pony so small it couldn’t quite get its head over the door to nuzzle me as Darcy had done.
I looked at the pony doubtfully. A Welsh cob, section B or C. ‘She’ll make 13.2 at least.’ She was dun in colour: yellowy, with flashes of gold, and a silver mane. Most un-usual, I had to admit.
I stood in the box on my own with her for a while, petting her but getting no particular feel, and then I turned to open the door and leave. A second later I was nearly swept off my feet. It was the most curious sensation, like being rugby tackled from behind. I turned round and the little golden pony was standing on three legs. I realised that she had hooked one front hoof around my legs to pull me back inside.
‘We’ll take her,’ I said.