‘Are you ready to get on him?’ Cait asked after they had brushed Storm all over and done his mane and tail.
Amy stood back to admire their handywork. The grey pony did look handsome now he was brushed. His mane was long and hung down his shoulders and his tail looked magnificent now all of the tangles had been teased out. Cait had shown Amy how to tease the knots out with her fingers. Amy had been nervous of being beside the pony, so close to those back legs, but she had reassured Amy that he wouldn’t do anything and that the reason he had kicked at her before was probably because she had been too ginger with the brush and had tickled him.
All the same she wasn’t sure she really wanted to get on him.
Cait had shown Amy how to put the saddle on properly, making sure it went on in the right place and that she put it on forwards of his withers and then slid it back so none of his hairs were rumpled under the numnah. Next she had shown her how to tighten the girth, gently so that it didn’t make him feel uncomfortable.
‘Oh he’s naughty,’ Cait laughed struggling to pull up the girth straps. ‘He’s blown himself out so I can’t tighten this.
Amy watched, wondering if she would ever be the girl who laughed at the naughty things her pony did rather than being afraid of them.
She stood to one side and watched as Cait, red-faced from the effort finally got the girth fastened.
‘Next we do this,’ Cait told her, lifting Storm’s front leg and pulling it out forwards before doing the same with the other one. ‘This is to make sure he’d not uncomfortable. It’s really important to do all of that before you get on him. If he is going to carry you he needs to be able to do it without something hurting him.’
Amy nodded, that made sense.
‘Let me show you how to put the bridle on,’ Cait said, taking hold of what looked to Amy like an utter tangle of leather straps and shining buckles. ‘See, this is the top, the headpiece.’ She shook out the leather tangle, holding it up so the shining silver bit was at the bottom. ‘This is the browband,’ Cait fingered a shorter piece of curved leather. ‘It goes here,’ she showed Amy, running her fingers over Storm’s forehead.
Amy nodded again, not sure she would ever be able to remember all of the information Cait was giving her.
Cait stood to one side of Storm’s head, slid the reins over his neck. ‘This way they aren’t going to get trodden on, and we can keep hold of Storm if we need to,’ she explained.
Then as if by magic she held the leather straps and a moment later had it on Storm. Amy couldn’t get over how he had opened his mouth to take the silver bit.
‘Do you want a go?’ Cait pulled the bridle off over Storm’s ears giving Amy no choice but to do as she said.
Gingerly she took hold of the headpiece, it seemed so complicated. She stood, as Cait had said, facing the same direction as Storm.
‘Hold the bridle in front of his face, put your hand around his face and hold his nose, then take the bridle, slip the bit into his mouth and ease the headpiece over his ears.’
‘But how do I get him to open his mouth?’ Amy could see where the various bits of the bridle were to go but his mouth remained resolutely closed.
‘Slip your thumb into the corner of his mouth,’ Cait said quietly as if she were imparting a great secret to Amy.
Amy did as she instructed and as if by magic Storm opened his mouth. She managed, somehow to coordinate the bit going into his mouth and pulling the headpiece over his ears.
‘That’s it,’ Cait said, showing Amy how to buckle the noseband and the throatlash. ‘Simple isn’t it?’ Amy smiled, she wasn’t sure it was simple, but at least she had managed it.
‘You need to be able to get the width of your hand here,’ Cait said, slipping her palm in between the thin piece of leather that went over the wide part of Storm’s head. ‘That way it won’t be too tight and make him uncomfortable.’
‘Come on, let’s get you on. ’ Cait pulled the reins over Storm’s head and led him out of the stable.
Amy felt her stomach sink. It was fun being around Storm with Cait there, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to ride.
Storm followed Cait into the field. Amy glanced towards the house, wishing she were heading indoors. She could see the shape of her mum in her studio, but she didn’t look up, as always she was engrossed in the painting she was doing. She wouldn’t even think about Amy until she got hungry at whatever time that was. Amy had got used to making herself lunch while her mum worked.
Cait pulled the stirrups down. ‘I’ll hold him while you get on. We’d better check his girth.’ Cait quickly tightened the straps. She held Storm’s reins while Amy got on. She remembered what she had been taught at the riding school. Storm stood quietly and it was surprisingly easy to get on.
‘There. How does that feel,’ Cait stood back, grinning with delight at seeing Amy on Storm.
‘Yes, good.’ Amy said, through lips that felt dry and sandpapery. Actually it felt anything but good, but Cait looked so pleased to see her on Storm it seemed unkind to say anything different.
On board the pony everything seemed different. It felt so high, he felt powerful beneath her and she could feel his muscles, tense beneath her as the pony took a few strides away from the stables.
‘Just ride him round the edge of the field,’Cait advised, leaning against the stable wall.
Amy nudged the pony gently with her heels, not wanting to do anything too rough. Storm walked another few strides. She nudged again and on he went. Halfway across the field the pony stopped. He put his ears back and Amy could hear his tail swishing.
‘Give him another kick,’ Cait advised.
Amy did as she was told, and the pony put his head down, she could feel the muscles of his back tense, as if she were sitting on s see-saw and then she felt his back legs come up behind him as he bucked. She had seen enough ponies do it at the riding stables to know what had happened. She was flung forwards and then in one movement Storm shot around and trotted back to Cait.
‘Oh dear,’ laughed Cait, taking hold of the bridle. ‘At least you didn’t fall off. I’d say you’ll be a good rider.’ She began to stroke the pony’s neck. ‘Do you want me to ride him a bit?’
Amy nodded, scrambling thankfully out of the saddle. It was a relief when he feet touched the floor.
In an easy movement Cait got on the pony and rode him away across the field. He got to the same place as he had with Amy and then did exactly the same, digging his toes in and refusing to move forwards. ‘Get on with it,’ Cait laughed, digging her heels into his side.
Storm swished his tail and bucked his hind legs into the air, but then he went forwards.
The same thing happened a few strides further on, but Cait refused to let him misbehave and kept urging him forwards until he gave up and began to walk around the field. ‘You just need to be very firm with him.’ Cait said, sliding out of the saddle and patting his neck.
‘Try again, he will get easier,’ she promised.
Amy got back on. She rode away again. As they reached the spot where he had stopped before the pony faltered. Amy nudged him with her heels and he went on. ‘Brilliant,’ she heard Cait call. She began to relax. Perhaps she could ride him.
A short way further on he stopped again. Amy kicked him on. Storm took two strides forwards and then did an enormous buck that flung her out of the saddle. She glimpsed the saddle, his grey neck and then she hit the grass with a thud. She scrambled up to see Storm galloping around the field, the stirrups and reins flying.
A moment later, without a pause, he leapt over the field wall into the next field.
‘Wow, he can really jump,’ Amy heard Cait say.
The two girls stood beside the wall watching in horror as Storm galloped around the field leaving huge black holes in the turf.
‘We’d better get him caught as soon as we can, he’s making a right mess of the field.’ Cait’s voice sounded tense. She understood how precious grass was in Connemara and how cross the farmer would be when he saw the holes and skid marks Storm was making in his field.
Cait climbed over the wall and helped Amy do the same. They set off walking across the field. Storm, had run to the far end and was now grazing, the reins tangled on the ground beside him. ‘At least he can’t get out of here onto the road.’ Cait said, glancing around the field. At the far end, there was a gate into the farm yard which was closed.
As she looked the farmer appeared at the gate, leaning on it, his expression angry. ‘We’re so sorry,’ Cait called as soon as they were in earshot.
‘So you should be,’ the farmer called back. ‘Look at the state of my field.’
Amy could feel her cheeks burning and hot tears beginning to spill down them.
‘I fell off,’ she sniffed.
‘Ah, it happens,’ he said, ruffling her hair. ‘We’ll get him caught in a minute. No real harm done. I’ve got to roll the field anyway in a day or two, that will get rid of the holes.’
Amy nodded, tearfully.
‘Hang on, I’ll open the gate into the yard, we’ll trap him in there,’
A moment later he returned and hauled open the field gate. ‘Right girls you drive him in this direction. He’s not going to let you catch him. I’ll give you a hand.
Together they walked across the field.
‘Spread out,’ the farmer said. They did as they were told, keeping in line, but with a gap between them. The three of them walked across the field. Storm, still full of mischief was determined not to have anything to do with them and galloped back across the field and through the open gate.
‘Perfect,’ the farmer said, breaking into a run to shut the gate. ‘We’ve got him now.’
Cait and Amy ran alongside him.
‘Thank you so much.’ Cait puffed as the farmer slammed the gate shut.
‘Pony will be trapped in the yard now, he won’t take much catching,’ the farmer said, shaking his head at how naughty Storm had been.
‘Sorry,’ Amy said,her voice still tearful.
‘Don’t worry,’ the farmer said. ‘Just you remember how nice I was if my cows break into your garden.’
Amy nodded, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. That was how things worked in the countryside. Everyone helped one another.
Storm was standing in the covered yard. He eyed them as they walked towards him, his eyes glittering with mischief. He circled the yard, his head over the high rails of the yard.
‘He won’t get out of there in a hurry,’ the farmer grinned, opening the gate to let Cait and Amy into the yard.
Storm as if he realised he was trapped came straight towards the girls and began to sniff at their pockets looking for treats.
‘Thank goodness he hasn’t broken his bridle,’ Cait said, ‘Or hurt himself.’ She stood to one side to look at him.
Amy nodded quietly. She hated the pony. He was horrible. Her hip ached where she had hit the ground. The last thing she wanted to do was to ever get on him again. Perhaps now her mum would see sense and they could get rid of the pony. He was too naughty. Impossible to ride and now he had jumped out and damaged a field he would have to go away, let someone else have him.
‘I’ll ride him back down the road.’ Cait said, leading Storm out of the yard. ‘Will you walk beside us?’
Amy nodded. She was happy to do that, anything as long as she didn’t have to get back on Storm again.
Cait got on Storm. He looked cross to Amy. She was sure he had been delighted when she had fallen off. He knew, she realised that Cait was a better rider and that she would make him behave.
‘Right lets get this monster home.’ Cait rode Storm out of the yard.
‘Thank you so much.’ Cait said as they passed the farmer.
He nodded and made a thumbs up sign.
Amy smiled as they passed him and saw him look back at his field with a rueful expression. She must remember to tell her mum just how angry he had been despite how nice he had seemed.
Storm was calm now as they walked along the road. Amy on the grass beside Storm. ‘He feels tired now,’ Cait grinned. ‘After his run around.’
‘I’m going to put you back up on him when we get back, the last thing you should do when you’ve had a fall is not get on again.’
‘But I’m a bit sore,’ Amy protested.
‘All the more reason to get on.’ Cait told her. ‘I’ll lead you around the field, he won’t do anything, I promise.’
Amy couldn’t think of a way out of riding again and when they got back to the field Cait got off and helped Amy get on.
She could feel her legs trembling beneath her as she sat in the saddle. Her fingers felt damp and slippery on the reins, she was glad Cait had hold of him.
They did a slow circuit of the field, Amy sitting on the saddle but Cait steering Storm around the edge. He didn’t do anything wrong and Cait chattered all of the time, so by the time they got back to the stable Amy had finally relaxed and didn’t even notice, until she got off that Cait had let go of Storm and that she had ridden him on her own.
‘I’d better go,’ Cait said, after they had taken Storm into the stable and taken off his bridle and saddle.
Cait hurried away, leaving Amy to stand in the field and look at the pony she was so afraid of.
Feeling very sorry for herself she walked towards the house. As she rounded the corner of the house to the door a familiar car stood in the driveway. Her dad’s.