I’m not much of a gardener, which is just as well, as sometimes I think our garden is less of a lawn and more of a restaurant for the local wildlife. They often pop in to give the grass a helpful trim.
I was chatting recently to someone who lived in our house from just after the war to the 1970s. He had some lovely stories. He said he often played host to a herd of red deer. One of them, older and savvier than the rest, used to come right up to the house, stand on her hind legs (no pun intended) and place her front feet high on the wall — all the better to eat his climbing roses. Cursing and shouting had no effect and one day in exasperation he threw his slippers at her out of the window. She retreated a few yards, waited a moment then came straight back, bold as brass.
The deer can just jump in and out, so it’s hard to control them, but we have wild ponies too. In theory these ponies are secured behind strategically placed fences to keep them away from roads and houses, but in practice they sometimes escape onto the wrong bits of hill.
When this happens the few of us who live here have learnt to be very anal about shutting our gates to keep them out.
A herd of 10 wild ponies is a lot heavier on the ground than the same number of deer but of course to them, our luscious grass has the appeal of a nice bowl of strawberries and cream compared to their own rough grazing, so they employ guerrilla tactics to try and catch us out.
One night I had to go out late in the evening to collect my youngest from her school play. I was pushed for time and took the calculated risk of leaving the driveway gate open for the short time I would be away.
Nearly two miles up the road I passed a lone chestnut mare at the roadside. I really think she must have clocked my car, and thought: “Ha! If I set off now at a brisk trot, I just have time to make it back to Julie’s before she does.”
We got home, I let the dogs out and sure enough, they quickly identified the intruder. My daughter and I headed out in the dark to escort her off the premises, but with one torch between us and pitted against a clever, nippy little pony we stood no chance.
After about 20 minutes of fruitless running up and down and much hilarity as she whipped round us for the umpteenth time, we called it a night. She took herself into a fenced off bit of our little wood, so I shut her in and left her.
Next morning she was standing at a respectful distance from the gate with her ears pricked, awaiting my next move. Just in case she understood what a bucket was, I put a few nuts in one and shook it hopefully. She was definitely interested and picked her way daintily towards me. I headed optimistically up the drive. She followed shyly nearly all the way, the picture of innocence, then at the last moment with an arrogant “fooled you” toss of her mane, she cut away back into the garden and plunged her head down into the grass. 1-0 to the pony.
Clearly up against a superior equine intellect I had to up my game. I worked out a Machiavellian strategy to entice her out using my own ponies as bait and she was finally outwitted. As this involved me sprinting up 100 yards of a 1:3 bank to turn her back, I then had to have a bit of a lie down.
Of course throughout the whole episode, the pony-mad bit of my brain was thinking that with her lovely little head and extravagant movement, how nicely she would tidy up.