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Jane Badger Books

Caroline Akrill: I'd Rather Not Gallop (eBook)

Caroline Akrill: I'd Rather Not Gallop (eBook)

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Side-saddle isn’t easy …

Caroline’s cousins have several surprises for her. They have a plan. It involves a horse. And a side-saddle. And someone who will ride the horse side-saddle to glory in the showring. All they need to do now is get Caroline to be that person, but Caroline is not keen; not keen at all. Even the eccentric but eminently practical help of Mr Marmalade the side-saddle expert does not seem as if it will be enough.

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‘The Small Hunter is a nice horse,’ Sarah said. ‘He is young it is true, and inexperienced, but one could not say he was naughty. Not deliberately so.’

We sat round the kitchen table and stirred sugar into tea the colour of beech leaves. Wembley rosettes lined the inglenook. Won by ponies that had made Aunt Sybil’s Stud famous. Had made her one of the top breeders in the country. Satin rosettes in lovely colours with glittering, golden centres.

I captured a tea-leaf in my spoon and I thought of all the hunter classes I had watched. How bold and courageous the horses were. How strong and spirited they looked. How they stretched themselves out and pounded down the straight to show the judge what a beautiful length of stride they had. I thought of all this and I knew the Small Hunter would be the death of me.

‘I can’t do it,’ I said. I shall disgrace you all. Ruin the horse’s mouth. Be carted in front of Royalty. Fall off and break my neck.’

There was a silence whilst everyone considered this. Aunt Sybil unwrapped a fresh cigar and began to search her pockets for a lighter. Sarah regarded me anxiously. Becky with open irritation. Simon helped himself to more fruit cake and looked amused.

‘Let Simon ride it,’ I said. ‘Let me be a spectator. Let me watch from the ringside with a catalogue and a shooting stick. The idea appeals to me.’ It didn’t.

‘It’s impossible,’ Sarah said. ‘Can you imagine Simon in a silk hat? Could you picture it, the white painted rails round the arena. Royalty in the grandstand. The banks of flowers and the band? The spectators would die of laughter. The judges would faint.’

Simon waved a piece of cake in order to signify agreement. He wore a long-sleeved Indian vest embroidered all over with little round pieces of mirror. His fair hair lapped over his shoulders. He wore three amulets and round his neck, a wonderful collection of chains and beads. In the Kings Road he would have been just one of the crowd, but it was true he could not easily be imagined on board the Small Hunter.

‘Surely you wouldn’t let us down, Caroline,’ Sarah said. ‘When the horse is all ready to show.’

‘We thought of you first,’ Simon said. ‘Caroline will ride it, we said. Others could have sprung to mind but didn’t.’
‘It will help pass the time,’ Sarah said, ‘What are you going to do for the next few months — before you start on the stud management course?’

‘The horse has been stabled since Christmas,’ Becky pointed out. ‘Simon has spent hours with it every day.’

‘Strapping it and schooling it,’ Sarah added. ‘Lunging it.’
‘Just for you,’ Simon said. ‘So that you would have something to ride. For your sake.’

‘I should be grateful,’ I said. ‘And I’m trying to be. Perhaps I could just have a little ride on it. Just to see how I get on. To see how it feels. Before I refuse altogether.’

We beamed at each other, my cousins and I. Then Sarah’s face fell. She said. ‘There’s something we haven’t told you.’

‘Yes,’ Becky said. ‘There’s more, and it’s worse!’ Laughter made her choke and she showered us with cake crumbs.

‘What is it?’ I said. Everyone looked blank.

‘In all fairness,’ Aunt Sybil said, pouring herself a third cup of tea that was almost entirely solid leaves. ‘Tell Caroline everything. To be completely fair, tell all.’

‘Kipps has been sold. The mare, Matilda has gone to America.’ There was no trace of regret in Simon’s voice. A stud must sell its stock. ‘Sarah has a novice fourteen-two to bring out this season. A black mare.’

‘The first black pony we have ever had,’ Becky said, adding fondly, ‘Benjamin is still here. No one wanted to buy him.’

‘Which is understandable,’ said Simon dryly. ‘Considering his appalling showing record. Considering his manners and his temperament. Considering everything.’ Becky gave him a nasty look and drew breath. Aunt Sybil stopped what could have been a tiresome argument by rapping sharply on the table with the bone handle of the cake knife. Three hunt terriers leapt out of their basket and flung themselves hopefully at the door, yapping wildly.

Aunt Sybil silenced them with a roar. Their ears and tails drooped. They looked at her sheepishly and crept back across the quarry tiles.

‘Tell Caroline about the other,’ she said. ‘The child should know.’ ‘The Child’ was eighteen. She offered no further information herself.

I looked round the table in a questioning manner. Simon grinned. Becky picked the cherries out of her cake and ate them. Sarah said: ‘Honestly Caroline, you will find side-saddle very easy to learn, and far more secure. It is practically impossible to fall off.’

My tea cup crashed back into its saucer. The spoon shot across the table into Aunt Sybil’s lap. She picked it up absently and stirred her tea with it.

‘You’re mad,’ I said. ‘You’re all mad. To suggest such a thing. To think of it even.’

‘We knew it would be a shock at first,’ Sarah said. ‘We realise it. We accept it.’

‘Hard-bitten hunting women ride side-saddle until they are positively ancient,’ Becky said. ‘You could ride until you were ninety. Perhaps even longer than that. You could even die in the saddle.’ She thought it was a nice idea. She was eleven years old.

‘You might have told me before I came,’ I said.
‘You could have warned me.’

Sarah said, ‘Then you might not have come.’

‘It isn’t too late. I can still go home,’ I said. Knowing I wouldn’t. Hoping no one would say ‘go then’. There was nothing for me to ride at home. Only Billy, my old gymkhana pony, dreaming away his old age in the paddock. A reminder of the days when I only thought of shows in terms of Potato Races and Musical Poles. Billy had cost seventy pounds when he was six years old. Here at the Stud there were twenty-five brood mares and their foals were worth five hundred pounds the minute they were born.

‘Come Caroline,’ they said. ‘You love showing. Think how miserable you will be when we are riding and you aren’t.’ And they told me how safe it was. How elegant. How easy to learn. Although when pressed, they were forced to admit they had never tried it themselves.

‘But we heard from a Very Reliable Source,’ Becky said.

‘I really can’t do it,’ I said. ‘My nerves are not strong enough for such an enterprise. Regretfully, unhappily, I have to refuse.’

Simon gave a large sigh of resignation. ‘We bought the saddle especially,’ he said. ‘It cost ninety pounds.’
‘Repairs to the stuffing and the balance strap cost another three pounds fifty,’ Sarah said. ‘We wanted you to be safe.’

‘It seems a shame,’ I said.

‘The habit is a lovely shade of blue and made of the very best material,’ Becky said. ‘And the hat is by Herbert Johnson.’

‘The waistcoat is canary and I expect the veil will tickle your nose,’ Sarah said. ‘I wish I was going to wear it. I wish it was me.’

‘I should like to try it as well,’ Becky said wistfully, ‘but I am too young to be truly elegant.’

‘We must agree,’ Sarah said. ‘You would look ridiculous.’
‘It seems a pity to refuse altogether,’ I said. ‘After all the trouble you have taken. Just so that I would have something to ride. For my sake.’

‘A trial is all we ask,’ Simon said. ‘It is all we can reasonably expect.’

‘I will give it a trial,’ I said. ‘Just as long as you realise there have been no promises made.’

We beamed at each other, my cousins and I.

‘You will look delightful,’ Sarah said. ‘Gliding along on the Small Hunter with your hair in a bun and the veil flying in the breeze.’

Page length: 109

Original publication date: 1975

Who's in the book?

Humans: Caroline, Simon, Sarah, Becky, Aunt Sybil, Mr Duffy, Mrs Carter, Adrian, Mr Marmalade
Equines: The Small Hunter, Benjamin

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