‘Look at what I’ve got,’ Amy’s mum came into the kitchen waving a large white envelope.
‘What is it?’ Amy asked, glancing up from her bowl of cereals to watch her Mum, tearing open the envelope. Normally envelopes weren’t anything of interest to her, they were usually grown up things like bills.
‘It’s the sales catalogue for the Clifden sales,’ Amy’s Mum got the envelope open and tipped a large booklet onto the kitchen worksurface.
Amy looked away, out of the kitchen window to where yet more rain was battering against the window. She had hoped her Mum would forget about wanting to buy her a pony. It was the last thing she wanted. Why couldn’t she get her a normal pet, like a dog or a cat? Ponies were just so big, and scary looking. She couldn’t imagine wanting to go out in the rain, riding, like the girl who they’d spoken too out on the road, Cait. She was tough, wrapped in her rain gear, letting the rain trickle down the back of her neck while she rode her pony.
Amy shuddered at the thought. She was not that kind of girl. She preferred being with her friends, watching movies on their computers while they messed around with their hair and makeup. Definitely not the kind of girl who spent hours outdoors slogging through mud and mess.
‘Great,’ Amy said, pushing her cereal bowl away. She wasn’t hungry any longer.
‘Let’s have a look at this,’ Amy’s Mum came and sat beside her at the table, the booklet open in her hands. There was a smear of pink paint across the back of her hand from where she had been painting earlier.
‘Oh, so many ponies,’ Amy’s Mum flicked through the pages. ‘I wonder which ones will suit you. We need one that is quiet, gentle, beautiful.’
Amy watched the pages flick by, looking at the details of the ponies. There on the pages were the details of hundreds of ponies.
‘See,’ her Mum said, pointing a finger at one of the pages, ‘It shows how old the pony is, how high it is.’ She ran her finger down the listings, ‘See here, this is the pony’s parents. Dam, that’s the mother. Sire, that’s the father.’ She sounded pleased that she knew all of the technical stuff about the ponies.
Amy glanced at the booklet. It looked like a horrible complicated school text book to her. She couldn’t imagine how on earth anyone could make any sense of it.
‘I’m going to my room,’ she said, hoping her Mum would forget about the sale. Forget she had ever mentioned buying a pony.
Unfortunately, she didn’t. The sales catalogue stayed on the kitchen worksurface day after day. Amy longed to throw it in the bin, but she daren’t. Her Mum even began to count the days down until the sale.
‘Will Dad be back to come to the sale?’ Amy asked. Perhaps if he were there her Mum wouldn’t buy a pony. Perhaps she was just doing this as one of her crazes. Like moving out to the wilds of Connemara.
‘I don’t think so,’ her voice was short and snappy like it was when Amy distracted her when she was painting. ‘I’m not sure when he’ll get chance to be home.’
Amy nodded, there was no point in even asking her Mum what was going on with her and Dad. She just fobbed Amy off with something, or changed the subject. Amy wished they’d never moved out into the countryside, that they’d stayed in the town and that her Dad would come back. She hated him working away.
‘I’m so excited,’ Amy’s Mum sang dancing around the kitchen on the morning of the sale. She waved the sales catalogue in front of Amy, ‘Pony day today. Are you excited?’
Amy just smiled. There was no point in telling her Mum she didn’t want to go. That she didn’t want a pony. She never listened anyway.
Amy shrugged her arms into the sleeves of her warmest jacket and crossed her fingers in her pockets. Perhaps there wouldn’t be any ponies her Mum liked. Perhaps they’d be too expensive. Perhaps she’d get distracted by the art galleries in the town and forget to go to the sale.
‘I’ve a list here of which are the best sires of ponies,’ Amy’s Mum folded a piece of paper into her handbag. She’d spent hours on the telephone talking to someone she knew who apparently knew something about pony breeding.
Amy sighed. This was her Mum’s dream, not hers. She couldn’t imagine anything she less wanted than a pony. Why couldn’t her mum buy one for herself instead of living her dream through Amy?
It was cold when they made their way from the house to the car. Amy pulled her hat down over her ears and pulled her scarf up around her chin, hoping she’d work enough clothes to keep warm for the day.
‘It’s so beautiful here,’ Amy’s mum spent most of the journey from the coast to Clifden admiring the scenery. Amy hated it. She hated the wild bleak hillsides and the black forbidding lakes. She missed the pavements and the crowded houses of the city. And of course the shops. There was nothing here. Even in Clifden there was only tourist shops selling tweed outfits and woolly jumpers and bits of green marble. No nice clothes shops like there was in Galway where she had loved wandering around with her friends.
Clifden was very crowded. The road leading up to the town was packed with cars and lorries and trailers. People, all warmly wrapped up in big jackets and hats hurried towards the town. Some people led ponies, mares with foals trotting beside them.
‘That one looks a bit frisky,’ Amy’s mum had to brake hard when a wild looking pony reared up in the middle of the road, nearly pulling its handler over.
Amy felt sick. Would she have to deal with a pony doing that? She couldn’t imagine anything more frightening.
‘Look at the lovely foals,’ Amy’s Mum said, once the road was clear and they could drive on again.
‘Ahhh,’ Amy relaxed for the first time that day. The foals were beautiful, all legs and fuzzy tails, trotting beside their mothers as if they had springs in their hooves.
They found a place to park in between two lorries on the side of the road. One of the lorrys had a pony inside who was cross at being left there. The container rocked from side to side and they could hear his angry whinnies.
‘Hungry?’ Amy’s Mum asked, as they locked the car and shivered in the cold wind.
Amy nodded. Hopefully if they walked up into the town her Mum would get distracted and they wouldn’t get to the sale until too late. She was hungry though, the delicious smell of chips and burgers wafted down the street, overlaid with the smell of horse manure and mud.
Once they had eaten chips, from plastic containers in the breeze created like a funnel in the side street in the town, Amy’s mum remembered the reason they were there.
‘Come on,’ she said, taking Amy’s arm. ‘Let’s go and find you a pony.’
They walked through the crowded streets. At either side vendors were selling everything from leather bridles to stacks of dvds.
‘Are you excited?’ Amy’s mum asked as they turned off the road into the sales yard.
Amy shook her head. What she was feeling wasn’t excitement, but pure terror and a deep rooted dread at what lay ahead.
The sales yard was crowded. Under a high tin roof were pens filled with ponies of every shape and size.
‘Ah, Shetlands,’ Amy’s Mum hurried towards one of the metal railed pens and put her hand out to stroke one of the diminutive ponies. Amy put a hand gingerly on the pony’s neck, feeling the warmth of its body through the soft fur.
‘There’s everything here,’ Amy’s mum turned around to look, gazing wistfully at the pens. There were big ponies, a lot of grey ones, their faces intelligent, dark eyes calmly looking at their surroundings. Mares with foals were in other pens, standing patiently while their foals stood wide eyed beside them. Outside the area where the pens were, ponies were being led around outside, some ridden up and down a gap between the stalls and spectators. People stood to watch as another man flapped his arms at a pony being led by someone, to make it trot.
‘Look at that beauty,’ Amy’s mum grabbed her hand and began to lead her through the pens to the outside yard.
Amy followed her Mum, moving past the bulk of farmers, skirting around ponies until they were outside where the area was filled with ponies being led around and ridden.
Amy almost bumped into her Mum as she stopped so abruptly when she reached the pony she liked the look of.
Amy stood back, letting her mum stroke the pony she liked. He looked enormous and very cross.
‘What’s his sale number?’ Amy’s Mum asked the man holding the pony.
‘Ninety Two,’ the man replied, passing Amy’s mum a leaflet with details about the pony’s sire.
‘Oh he’s very well bred,’ Amy’s mum showed off her new found knowledge.
‘Doing really well,’ the man put a hand on his pony proudly. ‘Jumping a set of fences, hacking out on the road.’
‘Can my daughter try him?’ Amy’s Mum said, pulling Amy forward.
‘Mum,’ Amy pleaded in terror, ‘I can’t ride. I don’t know what to do.’ The thought of getting up on the pony in the middle of all this chaos and noise was terrifying to her.
‘Ah you’ll soon learn,’ the man said, ‘This is a great pony for you.’
With that he took Amy’s waist with a huge arm and flung her high into the air, she landed with a thump on the pony’s hard saddle.
‘What does it feel like up there?’ Amy’s mum grinned at her, patting the pony’s long grey neck.
Amy couldn’t speak, she was so afraid.
‘Lovely isn’t he?’ the man handed her the pony’s reins. They felt stiff and awkward in Amy’s hands, she didn’t know what to do with her legs or her hands.
With a deft movement he shoved her feet into the stirrups, ‘Sit up there,’ he said prodding Amy in the tummy so that she sat up. She wanted to cling to the pony’s neck rather than sit up tall where she felt so high up.
Before she had chance to say anything the man began to lead her up the yard in between the ponies and people. Amy wanted to cry she was so afraid, but she daren’t because of everyone looking at her.
The movement of the pony felt strange beneath her. She felt very unsafe.
At the top of the yard the man turned the pony, Amy grabbed a handful of his mane to try to balance herself. Then they were back beside her Mum. Amy scrambled off the pony, delighted to have her trembling legs back on solid ground.
‘He’s perfect, you look great on him,’ Amy’s mum showed her a photograph she’d taken on her phone, Amy clinging to the pony her face white. She looked anything but great.
‘He’s the one for us,’ Amy’s Mum said, leading the way across the sales yard.
‘Mum I don’t like him,’ Amy said, desperately, but her Mum wasn’t listening, she was too busy hurrying through the crowds of people into the auction ring where the ponies were being sold.
‘Up here,’ Amy’s Mum said as they scrambled up the steep steps which led to the seats around the edge of the auction ring. She found them seats in the circular seating area overlooking the auction ring. Below them ponies were led into the ring while the auctioneer, a large, red-faced man, spoke so quickly Amy couldn’t tell what he was saying. When he stopped his stream of noise he banged a wooden hammer down onto the desk in front of him. ‘Sold.’
‘This is him,’ Amy’s mum whispered as the pony Amy had ridden was led into the sales ring. ‘I’m going to bid for him.’ Her voice hissed in Amy’s ear, high with excitement.
The auctioneer began to talk, the words tripping off his tongue like machinegun fire. Amy had the vague idea he was talking about the pony, his parents and what the pony had done. He started the bidding. Amy’s mum stuck her hand in the air. Amy felt all the eyes in the room turn to look at them. Another lady was bidding as well as two elderly men. Finally though the auctioneer banged his hammer down.
‘Sold to the lady in green,’ he nodded in Amy’s mum’s direction.
‘We’ve got a pony,’ Amy’s mum got to her feet. Amy followed her, her own legs trembling still with riding the pony. She could feel her mum’s hand trembling with excitement as they went to the sales office to pay for the pony and then outside to find the man who had owned him.
‘What are you going to call him?’ he said handing the reins to Amy.
‘Erm,’ was all that Amy could think of to say.
‘Can you deliver him?’ Amy’s mum asked.
Amy stood holding the pony’s reins while the adults arranged to deliver the pony home. He felt so big and powerful beside her, his feet shuffled, his shoulder bumped against her. She wanted to let him go and run away and cry. What had her mum done? She didn’t want this pony. She couldn’t ride. She wanted to go home. Go back to the city where she was safe.
‘Oh what fun,’ her Mum said, as they began the drive home. ‘Aren’t you so lucky? Your own pony.’
Amy really didn’t think so. She couldn’t think of anything worse.
She sat in the passenger seat, still shivering with fright and cold as they drove home.
She’d wanted to curl up beside the fire when they got home, hope that the man delivering the pony wouldn’t be able to find the house. But her mum had other ideas.
‘We need to check the fencing,’ she said as soon as the car stopped on the driveway.
Instead of going indoors as she had wanted Amy found herself wandering around the paddock at the back of the house with her mother, who finally declared the paddock safe. Amy wondered how on earth she could possibly know when she’d never had a pony.
They had just finished walking around the long wet grass when the jeep and trailer arrived. The man quickly undid the ramp and led out the pony. He walked up the drive, his hooves dancing, ears pricked sharply as he looked around himself.
‘I’ll put him into the field for you,’ the man told them leading the pony in through the gate and letting him go.
‘There,’ he said, slamming the gate shut and watching the pony gallop away. ‘You’ve got yourself a pony.’