Autumn sunshine slants in the background and a handsome old horse in the autumn of his years, leaves wreathed in his mane, basks in the afternoon warmth. He’s content in his retirement and quite relieved he no longer has to shoulder the burden of his human carer, since he passed on the batten to an immigrant worker with younger legs and clearer windpipes. He is quietly smug; his rations have increased, all his needs are catered to and he’s looking forward to having that lippy young Spaniard out of the way for a while so he and his old field-mate can doze and chew the metaphorical fat in peace.
He was a bit surprised to see “she who must be obeyed” wearing jodphurs and riding boots and carrying that saddle thingy again. Early in the year when the grass was just coming through, she’d disappeared for a few days and when she returned she was sitting down and had wheels. It was pretty obvious the wheels were no use on the muddy hillside and after a while she started to hop about with sticks to keep her upright, but still, it was the man that had to bring all the food and do all the housekeeping for a long time.
She must have got stronger by the time the sun was waning in the sky again, because she got the saddle out and persuaded the little Spaniard to carry her about a bit and the man rode a strange, headless skeleton horse with wheels. Then one day, after they’d been fed, she tripped backwards on the leg that still wasn’t straight and strong and when she got up her face and clothes were red all over.
The old horse was worried, because SWMBO disappeared again; he blamed the new boy for being careless and tripping her up, but nobody was really sure what had happened, and as the newbie couldn’t see very well on that side he claimed to know nada.
Of course she came home again, but he could hardly recognise her puffy, purple face or tell what she was trying to say. The saddle didn’t reappear again for another long spell, until yesterday. She’d got back to bringing the food regularly and walking up and down the hill carrying that fork that moves the garden fertiliser which it’s a horse’s main job to produce, so she must have been feeling the need to get out and about.
Mostly when she calls the horses outside of mealtimes, they look forward to helping dispose of all the problem windfalls which need clearing up and the little Spaniard was a bit taken aback when, having done his bit to chew through a few, she brought out an ominous looking heap of leather and straps and his fancy red saddlecloth and asked him, “How do you fancy a bit of work? Look, I’ve brought out your saddle!”
The boy wonder, whose grasp of English is occasionally tenuous, still seemed to be confusing the concept of apple and saddle, because he looked quite enthusiastic, but, once he realised what was afoot and opened his mouth to protest, she slipped on a smart new bridle and he found the bit between his teeth.
The man had to bring a box for her to stand on, but eventually she scrambled into the saddle with its fleecy, woolly cover and all four of them, the Spaniard, the skeleton, the man and the woman wearing the horrible hat rode off into the sunshine and Aly, the old horse went off to tell his pal, the Pie, they had the place to themselves for a while and they ought to make the most of it.
Far too soon the Pie heard hoofbeats and whinnied to welcome them back. The man on the skeleton was puffing his way up the hill, way behind the other two, who were a bit sweaty but looked pretty pleased with themselves by the time they reached home. In fact Señor Speedy was uncharacteristically meek and affectionate, obviously chastened by a bout of hard work.
SWMBO must have been especially euphoric because she let the worker walk down into the garden and munch on the lawn. Aly could hear his sharp little teeth tearing up the rare blades of grass and shouted out an offer to help as he wanted some too.
But the apprentice still needed to have all the straps undone and the boots and bits and saddle taken off, so he was led back into his loose-box-size corral and treated like the little prince he likes to think he is. Meanwhile the old horse and his pal stood at the fence as the shadows lengthened; they had perfected a look which mixed longing and pathos and knew that both the man and the woman would be sure to share out any treats between the active workers and the retired.
As of course they did…..