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Jane Badger Books

Caroline Akrill: A Hoof in the Door (paperback)

Caroline Akrill: A Hoof in the Door (paperback)

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There isn’t a horse I could think of who could take his place.

Elaine has her event horse, Legend, and she’s still working at the Fanes’ stable, Havers Hall. The future of the stables seems as rocky as ever. When Elaine is given the chance to compete for an eventing scholarship, she knows this is the chance she has been waiting for. She can escape the Fanes. She can be an eventer.

Fate, though, has other ideas. You can’t compete if you don’t have a horse.

This is a reprint of the 1980s original, when hunting was legal.

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“You don’t think, Elaine,” Nigella Fane said in an enquiring tone, “That The Comet is beginning to step out a bit?”

Almost before the words were out of her mouth, the dog cart hit a stone on the lane and bounced in the air. Nigella grabbed the side of the cart, and I snatched up the reins which had hitherto been lying unattended across The Comet’s dappled rump. Lulled by the rhythmic clopping of hooves, the rumbling of wheels, the creaking of leatherwork, and the blissful warmth of the spring sunshine, I hadn’t been paying any attention to the horse at all. I had been admiring the scenery, yet I had quite failed to notice that the scenery was slipping past at an accelerated rate.

I stood up in the cart and yanked the slack of the reins through the terrets. “Steady boy,” I said warningly, “slow down now.” But The Comet wasn’t listening. His ears were set ominously for the way ahead and they didn’t even twitch in my direction.

“I told you we should have fixed him with a bearing rein,” Henrietta Fane said in an irritated voice from the back seat. “If he really gets going there’ll be no holding him. You know what he’s like.”

I knew only too well, since The Comet was my horse. I had foolishly accepted him in lieu of unpaid wages after an argument with the Fanes.

“People haven’t used bearing reins since the days of Black Beauty,” I told Henrietta crossly. I hauled uselessly at The Comet’s cast-iron mouth. “They’re probably illegal.”

“A pity,” Henrietta commented acidly, as the cart began to sway from side to side in a discomforting manner, “because The Comet obviously needs one.”

I made no reply to this, being almost rocked off my balance. I lurched back into my seat and wedged my feet firmly against the front of the cart in order to get a better grip on the reins. As I sawed furiously at the grey horse’s Liverpool bit, I wondered if anyone else in the history of horsemanship had ever been run away with at the trot; because between the wide-banked ditches thick with cowslips, under the vast and luminous East Anglian sky, The Comet was certainly running away now. His neck was set solid, his head was down, his rump was swinging in a determined manner, and his front legs were shooting out like pistons, achieving elevation and suspension worthy of a dressage horse.

“Perhaps you should try the brake,” Nigella suggested. Her voice was calm, but the knuckles of one hand showed white on the outside rail. With the other hand she clutched her hat. It was a small, red, satin pill-box with a polka-dot veil. Nigella considered it just the thing for driving.

I looked round for anything which resembled a brake. I had found the ramshackle cart in the gloom of the disused coach-house behind the stables at Havers Hall, where it had been mouldering away for decades. If it had ever had a brake, it certainly didn’t have one now.
“There isn’t a brake,” I said helplessly. “There’s nothing to control the speed with at all, apart from the reins.”

“Then kindly tell that to The Comet,” Henrietta yelped, “because he doesn’t appear to know, and I’m not enjoying this very much!” I wouldn’t have changed even my own unenviable position for Henrietta’s. She was riding with her back to us on a fragile little dickey seat suspended above the lane, with her feet jammed against a wobbly foot-rest.

By means of a herculean effort, I managed to get back on my feet in order to set the whole of my weight and strength against The Comet, leaning backwards on the reins like a Roman Charioteer. Eight stones and three pounds of dead weight did nothing to impede the grey horse’s progress whatsoever, particularly as one of the reins snapped almost immediately. I hurtled backwards, almost knocking Henrietta off the dickey seat. Henrietta was still screeching when a car came round the bend.
The car braked furiously and skidded. It swerved out of our path and mounted the bank in a desperate and noble attempt to avoid taking off our outside wheel. As we bounced against the opposite bank, I caught a momentary glimpse of the driver’s ashen face, before The Comet’s iron-shod hooves carried us relentlessly on.

“I don’t want to add to your troubles,” Nigella gasped, “but the wheel on my side is behaving in a very peculiar fashion.”

I had time for one last despairing heave at The Comet’s plank-like jaw, before being completely thrown off my feet by an appalling jolt and a rib-cracking rebound, followed by a prolonged splintering crash. The Comet, the lane, the banks and the sky seemed to spin round like a kaleidoscope, and when I opened my eyes again I was lying amongst the cowslips and the rogue wheel was bowling along the lane quite on its own and almost out of sight.

The Comet stood serenely on the tarmac attached to two broken shafts. Nigella, her pill-box slightly askew, stood at his head, surveying the remains of the dog cart which were scattered across the lane like so much kindling. “Well,” she commented, as much to the horse as to anyone. “That seems to be the end of that. I can’t say I’m sorry.”

Henrietta scrambled up from the ditch, rubbing her elbow and looking murderous. Her anorak was split from top to bottom and her wild, waist-length hair was stuck with twigs and bleached grasses. I lay where I had landed, wondering if I would ever walk again, much less achieve my ambition to become a leading light in the world of the Three Day Event. When I had recovered sufficient nerve to move my head, I found myself facing a poster nailed to the trunk of a stag-headed oak.

The Midvale and Westbury Hunt
POINT TO POINT
April 25th
First Race at 2PM
Hon Sec O T V Bloomfield
Shrubbery Farm, Kettleton

I sat up, discovering with a flood of relief that I seemed to have retained the use of my limbs. “Nigella,” I said urgently, “I’ve just had an idea!”

Henrietta gave me a vicious look. She was examining a cut in her leg through a torn flap in her jeans. “Well, if you wouldn’t mind,” she said in a sour tone, “We would prefer not to listen to it. Breaking The Comet to harness so that we could give driving lessons was your idea, if you care to remember, and it hasn’t exactly been a roaring success; we might all have been killed.”

“Yes, quite honestly, Elaine,” Nigella said in a resigned tone, turning her attention from the shattered dog cart to the lacerated sides of her favourite satin-laced, tap-dancing shoes, “it might be advisable to wait until we have recovered from the effects of this idea, before you suggest anything else.”

“But look at the poster,” I implored them. “We could enter The Comet for the Point-to-Point!”

There was a silence whilst the Fanes looked from me to the poster, to The Comet; then, “How much money do you get if you win first prize at a Point-to-Point?” Henrietta asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted, “but quite a lot I should imagine. Hundreds probably.”

“If we could win just enough to buy Legend a dressage saddle,” Nigella said thoughtfully, “and some jump stands with proper cups and pins …”

“The Comet must have qualified,” I said. “He’s sure to be eligible. He’s hunted for most of the season, and he goes like a bomb. Nothing, nobody, can catch The Comet once he gets into top gear.”

We all looked speculatively at the grey horse, weighing up his chances. The Comet was embarrassed to find that he had suddenly become the centre of our attention. He raised his head in the unbecoming Liverpool bit and the blinkers, and he stared intently into the far landscape, as if he had unexpectedly caught a glimpse of someone he knew.

“But who will ride him?” Henrietta said. “Which one of us will race?”

“Oh, I must,” I said firmly. “After all, it’s my event horse we are financing.”

Page length: 188

Original publication date: 1982

Who's in the book?

Humans: Elaine, Henrietta and Nigella Fane, Lady Fane, Nick Forster, Lala Thornapple
Horses: The Comet, Legend, The Bad-Tempered Chestnut, The Black Horse Who Wouldn't Stand Still

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