These things tend to hit me hardest in the mornings. For a brief moment, as I wake up, as I hover in the strange, bewildered twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness, I don’t yet remember. For a blissful, fleeting second, everything is ok. Then I’m blindsided as my thoughts catch up with my waking brain and I remember that it’s not ok, and I don’t know whether it’s going to be ok ever again.
I’d called the vet the day after Stratford Hills. Vito and I were double clear in the Intermediate Novice, but he was lame the day afterwards and he had a swelling under his knee. I’d pretended, of course. Pretended to myself that he was just sore because he’d pulled a shoe. Was just a bit bruised, would be fine in a couple of days. But I knew. I knew that something was wrong. I’d busied myself as the vet asked me what had happened. Turned away, filled up my water bottle from the tap, played with the baby. And then, unable to hide it any longer, I’d turned to her and, tears pouring down my cheeks, I’d laid it on the line. “I’m sorry,” I’d said, in a matter of fact tone. “I know I’m crying – I’m crying because I’m terrified. I’m terrified that something is wrong with my Vito, so can we just ignore the fact that I’m crying, and I’ll tell you all I know.” So she had a look and she came back the next day with a scanner and then I took him to Newmarket and all the time, uncertainty reigned and the likely outcome changed with each new investigation. All I could do was wait, and ask. “What do you do for a living?” asked the vet at Rossdales. “I’m a lawyer”, I said, cringing as I spoke. “Thought so,” he said. “You ask so many questions.” I’d apologised; owned up sheepishly to single-handed responsibility for the UK government deficit, the Greek economic crisis, the general plight of human kind world-wide and the now-acute shortage of tissues and shoulders to cry on amongst the vets of Newmarket.
Then I went back home, I opened a bottle of pink wine and one of my friends came round with a box of over-priced chocolate cakes from a slightly pretentious bakery round the corner.
I’ve always been subject to a one-horse rule. I’ve tried, at various times, to flout the rule, to keep my outgrown pony when I got my first horse, to avoid selling my BE100 mare when I’d bought a new six year old. Each time that I’ve tried, I’ve been firmly slapped down. “Sure, you can keep the old one, Viv, nobody’s forcing you to sell it, but then the new one goes. One horse. Only one horse.” I’m ok with the rule. It was enforced first by my father and now by my husband and I see its logic. Now, though, my year was about to change. The summer of maternity leave stretched ahead of me, the summer before I had to return to work, the summer that might have been. I would, I thought glumly, fill my days with baby classes instead of dressage lessons, with playgrounds full of swings and slides instead of XC schooling, with trips to the zoo instead of to events and I’d smile, I’d grin and bear it, and I’d cry late into the night for my poor beautiful horse and the times we’d shared together.
So I did what I do when things get bad, and I rang my husband. “Get another one” he said, immediately. I was silent. He read my silence correctly. “A second one”, he clarified. “So you can still event during the rest of your eventing leave, whilst you wait for Vito to come back, whenever that may be.”
Being, of course, the deferential, subservient type, and not wishing to defy my husband’s commands, I packed up the kids and the husband and we set off to view a horse. When his rider pulled him out of the stable, though, my heart sank. He was the wrong colour; chestnut, not black. He was the wrong stamp; a well-built ISH, not a neat little WB. He had an old-fashioned Roman nose, not a pretty little dished face with pert black ears. He wasn’t Vito. I smiled and asked to see him ridden. After we’d watched him and it was my turn to get on, I wanted to run away, to thank the rider for her time and tell her it had been a mistake, to get in the car and drive home, to give up looking, knowing I’d never find one to match up to Vito. I bit my lip. I swallowed hard. I got on the horse.
The following week, I divested myself of the husband, cut the number of kids by half and headed off to look at a six year old who was doing Novice. As I always do when I ride, I parked the pram in the corner of the arena. The horse spooked. I trotted past again. The horse span round. I came back. The horse leapt up in the air, span round and trotted off. We moved the pram. The horse, terrified by the presence of the pram, but even more terrified by its absence, whipped round on his hocks, deposited me in a heap into an unsuspecting hedge, and set off back to his field mates. I clambered out of the hedge, removed a few stray leaves from my hair and reflected that, along with asking prospective sellers whether their horse was good in traffic or had any allergies, I really also needed to enquire whether or not he was pram-proof.
Later that day, I went to the Billy Stud and tried a nice five year old. “Super” shouted William Funnell in delight, after I popped a small oxer. “You’re a natural! This is fantastic! Oh my goodness, you look amazing with him!” For a brief moment, I felt elated. Me, a natural! Looking amazing on a Billy horse! But even as the pride coursed through me, I realised that something wasn’t quite right. “Him.” William Funnell had said “him”. The horse I was riding was a mare. I turned round. William Funnell had his back to me and was taking a video of his stable jockey, who’d fished my screaming baby out of his pram and was rocking him gently from side to side, whilst giving him the bottle that he’d found in the bottom of the pram. It was the stable jockey, not I, who was the object of William’s praise.
As I drove home after seeing six horses in two days, I had some thinking to do. I called my trainer, I called some friends, but, as always, it was my husband who helped me to decide. “There is only one answer” he proclaimed, authoritatively. I waited expectantly, hoping to hear the insightful answer that would revolutionise my horse-buying dilemma. “The answer is that none of this makes any sense at all, that having a horse is a fundamentally ridiculous thing to do and therefore trying to impose any form of logic on it is fruitless”, he continued.
I’d really liked the five year old, but in the end, it was the first one, the chestnut ISH with the Roman nose, who won out. Over a family supper that weekend, my father asked about the new horse. “What’s he called?” he said. “Parrot!” shouted my two year old daughter. Mummy rode a parrot! Parrot’s a horse! Parrot’s a bird!” “Carrot”, I corrected her. The new horse is called Carrot.” “Parrot!” she shouted again. “Pieces of eight, pieces of eight”, said my father, helpfully. “Who’s a pretty Polly, who’s a pretty Polly”, added my aunt. “Shiver my timbers”, said my husband. I scowled at them all. “Parrot’s orange”, my two year old informed us all. “Carrot….” I said again, sadly, but everyone ignored me.
As I drove into the yard a few days later, the yard manager came to greet me. “So,” she said, excitedly, “tell me about the new one.” “Well,” I sighed, “he had a pretty questionable vetting and he doesn’t go on the trailer.” She stared at me, standing at the front of my trailer, holding my new horse. “So how did you get him back?!” she asked. “Very, very slowly,” I replied. “Oh well”, she said. “So what’s his name?” I paused for a moment, remembering how outnumbered I’d been on this subject. “Parrot”, I said, sulkily. “Parrot?” she repeated, deadpan. I looked up at my horse, stroked his nose and turned back to her. “Yes”, I said, more firmly this time, “this is Parrot”.