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Caroline Akrill: Courses for Horses (paperback - Eventers 4)

Caroline Akrill: Courses for Horses (paperback - Eventers 4)

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"Today, we were supposed to be discussing plans for the future of the stables. If there was a future to plan for. Personally, I doubted it."

There is trouble at Havers Hall. The house and stables have been refurbished, but now the money has run out. Lady Jennifer and Elaine’s Father, Harold, are turning the refurbished house into an upmarket B&B. Elaine and the Fanes have been told, in no uncertain terms, that they must make the stables pay or the horses must go. Clearly, what little business they have will not keep the stables going so something must be done.

The Fanes think starting a riding school with some of the local dealer’s ponies will do the trick. Elaine has other ideas, but first she needs to make a momentous decision about her future with her beloved event horse, and then break it to the Fanes.

How will the eccentric Fane sisters react to Elaine’s life-changing plan? Only one thing is certain – there is more trouble ahead...

Eventers series 4

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I was just loading the skip onto the barrow when, with a tremendous clatter of hooves, the bad-tempered-chestnut raced into the yard with Doreen hauling at his reins and screeching like a lunatic; only just managing to avoid decapitation by flattening herself along his neck as the horse made a dive for the safety of his stable.

Even amidst the drama of this unexpectedly early and somewhat abrupt return from morning exercise, I could not fail to notice that Doreen had set out with two horses and returned with only one. I dropped the skip and ran to the stable door.

‘Where is the black horse?’

Doreen, our part-time helper, moaning and incoherent, slid down from the saddle whilst the bad-tempered-chestnut, never one to miss an opportunity for sabotage, whipped his head round, grabbed the pocket of her anorak in his teeth and ripped it straight off.

‘Ow, you brute!’ Temporarily revived by this act of equine vandalism, Doreen wrestled the shredded and sodden piece of quilt from the chestnut’s jaw. ‘Let go! Let that go, you vile animal!’

‘What’s happened to the black horse?’ I asked her urgently. ‘Where is he? What have you done with him?’

Doreen dragged off her skull cap. Her floppy dark hair was matted to her skull. Tears spurted from her eyes. She gripped my arm in anguish. ‘It wasn’t my fault, Elaine! It wasn’t! I was just riding down the lane and William came round the bend with hounds on foot exercise. I only stopped for a minute, Elaine, honest, and William, he was asking about Henrietta ’cause you know he has a crush like, and then …’ She paused to take a shuddering breath.

‘And then?’ Sometimes Doreen could try the patience of a saint.

‘… and then hounds was snuffling along the verge and they put up a rabbit, and William tried to call them off but they was gone like greased lightning! And the black horse, he just pulled the rope out of my hands, and he was after them like he was shot from a cannon! Honest, Elaine, I couldn’t have held onto the rope’ – she held out her hands to display rope burns across her palms and her voice rose to a shriek – ‘and now he’ll be in the next county and kidnapped! Or lying in a ditch with his legs broke! And oh! That, that Henrietta Fane, when she hears about this, she is going to kill me!’

Given more time I might have killed her myself, but first we had to find the black horse. He had been hunted for many seasons by the galloping Fanes and would have been after hounds in a trice. Nobody could have stopped him, certainly not Doreen. But where was he now?

‘I’ll saddle Nelson,’ I said. ‘We had better go and find him.’

But even before I reached the stable door, I heard hooves on the drive. I ran to the entrance of the stable yard with Doreen hot on my heels, both of us hoping for the return of the black horse. It was indeed the black horse, and he was not alone.

William, in his brown kennel coat, was sitting on the black horse’s exercise blanket steering him by means of his headcollar rope, surrounded by a lot of very muddy hounds. He grinned at us cheerfully, as if he located rioting hounds and captured runaway horses all the time – as if it was an everyday occurrence. Knowing the Midvale and Westbury Hunt as I did, I thought it probably was.

‘It wasn’t really the girl’s fault, Elaine. She couldn’t have held on to him.’ William threw a leg over the black horse’s withers and jumped off, giving the headcollar rope a yank as the black horse began to dig up the drive with a front hoof. He looked at the horse with appreciation. ‘He’s a goer, I’ll say that for him, and a good ride even without a saddle. Nice looker too. Wouldn’t mind him as a hunt horse, if he wasn’t such a bloody fidget.’

The black horse had certainly bloomed. When I first came to work for Nigella and Henrietta Fane in their dire and ramshackle stable yard, he had been dull-coated and ribby, prowling round a stable with blocked drains, his feet evil with thrush. Now, his jet-black coat shone like satin and his mane and tail had a silky shimmer. His large, rather anxious eyes, rimmed with white and fringed with impossibly long lashes, gave him a slightly whimsical charm. Walt Disney would have loved him. You could almost imagine his animated image galloping over hill and dale, diving bravely through wicked brambles, urged on by a handsome prince desperate to rescue a beautiful captive princess.

William slapped the horse’s neck with affection and handed me the rope. ‘What’s his name?’

I didn’t know what to say to this. He had always been known as the black-horse-who-never-stood-still.
Suddenly it seemed ridiculous that he didn’t have a name. Still thinking Disney, I said the first name that came into my head. ‘Walt,’ I said. ‘His name is Walt.’

By my side, Doreen, gave a little yelp of delight. ‘Walt?’ she shrieked. ‘Walt?’ She took the black horse by the headcollar rope. ‘Well,’ she marvelled. ‘All these years I’ve worked for the Fanes, and nobody ever told me that!’

She put an arm over the black horse’s neck. ‘I never even knew you had a name,’ she told him as she led him off towards the stables. ‘Come on, Walt.’ She was absolutely thrilled. As the black horse passed me, I could have sworn he winked, but then again, it could have been my imagination.

Page length: 242

Original publication date: 2022

Publisher: The Bee Press

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Customer Reviews

Based on 1 review
Sherry Clark
Courses for Horses

Excellent. I always enjoy Caroline Akrill's books.