So many country people a step ahead of the game...
I was out for a ride very early on Tuesday morning this week and passed under a tree that was positively groaning with big red apples. There are so many vestiges of old orchards near where I live, remnants of the once-thriving cider industry here in East Devon. Being conveniently up on horseback, I reached up and picked one, which was completely delicious.
So on the way home from my ride, I grabbed another, to take into work and eat for lunch (along with a whole lot of other less healthy stuff, obviously). This time, I felt a sharp jab in my finger. Ow! I had upset a lazy late September wasp, who took his revenge by stinging me through my riding glove.
This all served to remind me that the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness can often arrive with something of a sting in its tale.
Yes, the harvest moon is full, the orchards are studded with fruit and it is a beautiful time of year. But so many country people I know are already a step ahead, worrying what this winter will bring. As surely as the swallows disappearing south to Africa, another sign of the season must be the fact that not one but two people this week have tried to persuade me to take one of their horses on loan over the winter. Word has got out that I haven't yet replaced my dearly departed old friend Charlie, who died this spring, and am riding a truly delightful horse for a friend of mine once a week instead.
After some thought, I've decided to steer clear of getting a new horse full-time for myself. Purely due to the terrible memories I have of last year's epic ten-month winter, in which it barely let up raining for the whole grisly season.
You haven't really known the meaning of the word miserable until you've gone out to catch three horses in a bucketing downpour in December, tripped over and fallen in knee-deep mud in the dark.
In fact, these shudder-inducing recollections have spurred me on to make a concerted effort to move on one of our current horses, rather than adding to the collection. Dear little Bobby, our 12.2 grey Welsh pony, came to us last year and hasn't put a foot wrong since. The plan was to move William up from his grouchy little 11hand Dartmoor onto the much sweeter-natured (and more talented) Bobby. At which stage, I fondly imagined, Will, who is eight, would then go on to win pretty much everything in his path, given Bobby's indisputably huge jump and enthusiastic attitude.
It hasn't worked out like that though. Instead, over the summer William has formed a ridiculously close child-pony bond with bad-tempered little Ebony, despite the fact that she takes a bite out of his bottom every time he picks her feet out. He refuses to ride Bobby and the poor pony has languished with no regular rider all year. Various go-for-it teenage girls have taken Bobby out and had immense fun on him.
But essentially I have been paying for, feeding and mucking out a pony all year that my own son has sat on no more than half a dozen times, mostly complaining at top volume: "Can I get off now, mum?"
There is no doubt that Will is happier pottering along on his own elderly pony and I can't see him getting to grips with a faster, bigger steed any time soon. It hasn't bothered me till now, but with the nights closing in and the air turning chill, I'm less than keen to take an extra mouth through the winter. So now I too am in the uncomfortable position of trying to shift a horse at just the wrong time of year. So, if you will excuse the shamelessly advertorial, please do get in touch (becky.sheaves@western morningnews.co.uk) if you'd like to offer a loving home to a cracking little eight-year-old pony, good at everything from hunting to showjumping. Not to mention getting mints out of your pocket while you are not looking.
Funnily enough, I researched Bobby's breeding when coming to advertise him and found out that his close relatives are owned by lovely Alison, who is married to our columnist Anton Coaker.
Talk about small world – and of course I have had a pop at persuading Alison to take Bobby on. She seemed to think she had enough ponies of her own, thanks very much, but hey, it was worth a try.
If we do end up having a gloriously dry, mild winter, of course, I will be kicking myself next year for letting him go. Crystal ball, anyone?