The diary of the home-made livery yard: stowaway children and facing up to my favourite leaving

  • What have I been up to, lately? Well, mostly stealing other people’s horses and dabbling in a touch of child trafficking. That is the short version. The long version is as follows.

    The lovely Friesian mare that I ride, Hilde, was in need of some emergency physio. Lynn, Hilde’s owner, had a lesson booked with our trainer, John Chubb, the following day, not knowing at the time of booking that poor Hilde was going to flake out on us. As a result, there was a training session going begging, so I keenly popped Chunky on the lorry to take him off for a posh dressage lesson.

    I am very lucky to have occasional use of a little 3.5 tonne lorry. Not having a trailer license (yes, I really am that young!) this little lorry has given me the independence to travel horses that I did not have before. Most of the time, it is nice to have company and a bit of an entourage on an outing. But, equally, I find it quite thrilling taking Chunky out, just him and me, on the road, off on an adventure together.

    My older children were at school and I left the tiniest one at home with my husband. So, Chunky and I set off for John’s unaccompanied while livery, Emily, wished us luck and waved us off.

    John’s yard has a gate at the top of the lane that you have to open, drive through and close behind you. I parked up, got out, opened the gate and turned around to see a child stood at the back of the lorry. On closer inspection, this was actually Emily’s child, her eldest boy, Fin. A faint feeling of panic ran through me as, with it being Emily’s lorry I had borrowed, I wondered if they had followed me to tell me I had driven the 14 miles from my yard to Holsworthy with the lorry ramp down or something awful. I couldn’t see a car anywhere, so I asked Fin: “Are you here with mum?”
    “No,” he replied. “I came in the lorry.”

    I stared blankly at the lorry for several seconds as I tried to compute what I had just been told. A brief conversation with a very sheepish child, who was rather worried that he might be in a lot of trouble, revealed that Fin had hopped in the back of the lorry at my yard, in the part where the tack is stored. He assumed I was just moving the lorry somewhere on the yard to park it and it might be fun to hitch a ride.

    Chunky schooling at home

    Fin started to worry when he realised we were in the layby to get onto the A39 but, thankfully, he had a sausage roll in his pocket to entertain himself and, with a full tummy, he settled down for the journey to Holsworthy, Scotland or even the moon, for all he knew.

    After consoling myself that, no, Fin probably hadn’t heard my uninhibited karaoke to Radio 1’s chart hits on the drive, I was just so pleased the child was okay. On every other occasion, I have always and without fail locked the internal tack room at the back of the lorry before setting off. For some reason, that day I didn’t. Had I done so, I possibly would not have gained my stowaway in the first place. But the thought of a child opening the door while travelling at speed makes me feel a bit queasy.

    Coming to the conclusion that this child was now my responsibility for the next couple of hours, I messaged his mother, Emily, informing her that I had aided and abetted an illegal immigrant in crossing the Cornish/Devon border and that he would be safely returned in the afternoon.

    I am also a mother of three, so I knew how to deal with the situation flawlessly and promptly handed the boy an electronic device to entertain him during my lesson and promised him a bag of sweets on the way home.

    Both of us giggling in disbelief, we went down to my lesson. John raised his concerns that if I was evidently kidnapping random children at whim, where were my ‘real’ children? And were they okay? John politely declined my offer of a quick cash sale for the child, so it was necessary for me to drive Fin back to my yard after the lesson. I laughed when Fin moved to return to his previous spot in the back of the lorry.

    “Do come in the front with me this time and put a seat belt on,” I pleaded.

    Needless to say, I now check once, twice and once again for erroneous items in all parts of the lorry!

    Chunky after his one-day event win

    Anyone who has read my blog before will know that I have a shameless yard favourite.

    Jo Bunker brought me her newly acquired four-year-old Shire x cob gelding three years ago and asked me to ride him. ‘Chunky’ proceeded to steal my heart with his laidback nature and hunger to work and be trained. He kicks the door when I walk past his stable, not because he wants food, attention or turning out, but because he wants to know what we are doing today and when we are going to get on with it? He is as bombproof as a horse can get and (being too young for an automatic trailer license but old enough to have three kids and an awful lot of responsibilities) at my age that is exactly what I need and like. I always say, if I had to take a horse into war or battle, Chunky would be the one I chose.

    A year ago, Jo bought a beautiful parcel of land close by, securing a future for her horses after she retires from work and enabling her to live her dream of having her own horses (and chickens, and ducks, and goats and God knows what else is coming soon) on her own land. Jo and her husband, Adam, worked insanely hard over the past year, whilst working full-time, to transform the land from a bare field into an idyllic pony paradise. I was so pleased for Jo and Adam and shared in their bitter-sweet excitement when they finally handed in their official notice to move Chunky and Indie to their brand new yard.

    Post-Chunky’s first novice test and prelim win

    As moving day approached and Chunky’s departure became more imminent, it was dawning on me just how big a part of my life Jo’s horse had become. I am not a ridiculously emotional person, but I am even tearing up now, just thinking about it. I knew that, despite the best laid plans and intentions, once Chunky moved we would not be able to continue our ridden relationship together in quite the same way. Both Jo and I are really busy business owners and we simply cannot create extra hours in the day. This culminated in an afternoon of yard work with silent tears streaming down my face and me wracking my brains, trying to think of a solution that wasn’t completely selfish. I wouldn’t want to profess that Jo has a favourite of her three horses, but everyone knows that Chunky is incredibly, hugely special to her, too.

    I had some thoughts and an idea, but first I had to get round the husband. I didn’t intend to use the waterworks as a manipulative emotional tool, but I’d been crying all afternoon, so I just continued to do so as I said to Jerome: “I need to ask you something, and rather than just saying ‘no’ outright, please can we think of a way to make it work?”

    The only solid idea I had come up with was asking Jo to loan Chunky to me, to buy me some more time with him. She would never in a million years sell him and I couldn’t think of any other options.

    Jerome vetoed this and thought Jo wouldn’t go for the idea as it seemed too final and permanent, as if she would be losing Chunky. Then Jerome came up with the great idea of proposing a share.

    Indie and Chunky leaving for Jo’s

    I was delighted (anything would have done for me) but then had to set about the very difficult and delicate task of asking Jo to share her pride and joy with me. The hardest part for me was that I knew Jo would say yes if she possibly felt that she could. Jo has done so much for me over the years and has supported Chunky and I wholeheartedly. It felt like such a cruel and selfish thing to ask for, but I never would have forgiven myself if I had to watch Chunky walk away for good without trying.

    Jo, being Jo, she said yes! She is the most generous lady I know: “Here, have half of one of the things I hold dearest in my heart!”

    So, I now officially share Chunky with Jo. I have completely ruined her lifelong dream and stolen her horse from underneath her. She is delighted, I am sure. Chunky now splits his time between our two yards and we think of it as a boarding school arrangement. He comes to mine for a ‘term’ to work, learn and go on adventures, then goes home to Jo’s for holidays, R&R and getting spoilt by his mum.

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    The share has already done wonders for my ambition and motivation. With Jo’s support, in the past month, we have won our first arena one-day event, jumped some clear rounds (a massive feat for a slightly clumsy pony!), won a prelim dressage class and scored 68% in Chunky’s first unaffiliated novice test.

    Chunky is currently enjoying his first holiday at his mum’s. I can’t wait to go and pick him up and bring him back to school. There is no rush, though, because now we have the gift of time.

    Katy x

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