I pulled up at the yard and heard the familiar tapping sound of a metal pipe hitting a radiator. I looked around and spotted my horse Painter booting the gate to announce to his servants, namely me, that he was ready to come in for his tea. It’s like his version of the Queen ringing a hand bell to call for her maid, only a lot more heavy-handed. In his youth he was rougher still and used to actually stand on the metal struts or lean on the gate with his chest in an attempt to break it. Many a time his front feet have slipped through the rungs and he had to be extracted with threats of the Fire Brigade being called if he didn’t co-operate. Needless to say we always managed to get him out just in time before the emergency services had to come to his rescue. However he is now in his dotage and has calmed down a lot. Rather than all that pushing and shoving, he has toned down his actions into a mellow gentle tap with his unshod hooves. If it didn’t still sound like a torture treatment, the whole thing could be quite musical, as he has good rhythm for an old boy. As I looked across to the field I could see that he was using one hoof then the other in determined fashion, making a noise like Fred Astaire in the old movies. But the main point was that he was on his own.
Let me explain — anyone with an older horse will understand my problem. At 27, with a wonky ear, a bad leg and Cushing’s, his field companions are not unkind to him but know he is bottom of the pile. He can’t get past them at the gate and I have to try to sweep them away on his behalf which can be tricky at times. So, seizing my chance for an easy gate manoeuvre, I crept along the track to the field, head down, willing him to shut up. I deliberately didn’t make eye contact and kept as low as possible, hoping to go in for a swift in and out without any of the others noticing. But despite his great age there are no flies on Painter and he doesn’t miss a trick. With his X-ray vision, he saw me and started banging even louder. By the time I was nearly there he was playing a full symphony with his hooves. Then to my irritation he started whinnying and I realised it was a lost cause.
Sure enough, the herd came flying over the hill. The Welsh leader Ifor at the head, followed by five other beauties, all with no intention of letting Painter out first.
“Now look what you’ve gone and done. You could have slipped out unnoticed and come in first, but oh no, you had to cause all that fuss,” I chided him as I waited for the others to be led out. He wasn’t bothered at all by my frustration, just focusing instead on the contents of my pockets. In fact, you could say he didn’t even notice. He had got what he set out to achieve. He’d tapped for attention and been let out and there was no one bothered about the order of things other than me. We eventually headed along to the stable where the servant had miraculously prepared a bucket of delicious food, a net full of hay and a clean bed for the night.
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As I thought about it later, it made me laugh out loud. Here I am, at 57-years-old, still shuffling along in the mud, hoping and praying that my horse will do what I want it to. You’d think I would have learned by now. Some horses are biddable and want to work for you. Others, like Painter, don’t really care as long as they get what they want. He knows the routine and lines up at the gate, earlier and earlier, ready to come in. He has two different methods of calling for the hired help, his feet and his voice, and he’s happy to use them as much and as loudly as he needs. So to anyone who can sympathise with this, just don’t forget who the servants are at yards and fields around the country. And it’s definitely not the horses!
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