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Jane Badger Books

Diana Pullein-Thompson: Ponies on the Trail (eBook)

Diana Pullein-Thompson: Ponies on the Trail (eBook)

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Sandy and Fergie are going to help local trekking centre owner, Jake, with a new idea of his: a week-long adventure holiday on ponies, sleeping in shepherds' huts up in the hills of Shropshire. The riders are a very mixed bunch, and Sandy and Fergie find themselves heading for a week full of things they did not expect.

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“An adventure holiday, that’s what they call it nowadays,” said Jake, giving us a quizzical smile. “With Offa’s Dyke into the bargain. I shall be glad of your help.”

“Of course,” we said, sitting on the rickety iron gate of Jake’s stable yard and swinging our legs. “Silverstar and Mimosa will love it.”

Jake was one of our favourite grown-ups. He had come to the rescue when we had moved from the town to the country and bought a pony without knowing much about stable management. At the end of last summer we had started helping him with his pony trekking business, and during the winter we had sometimes ridden up to his place to talk about this and that.

“Not under canvas, can’t stand tents,” Jake went on, leaning against the door of a shed, “but in barns up in the hills, the old shepherds’ huts, in sleeping bags. I’m having the saddles fitted with extra dees. Just a dozen or so riders, and we provide the lot—pony, food, and equipment for six days.”

“Great, brilliant!” said Fergie. “Do we get free grub?”

“Free everything for you and Sandy, so long as you work, help with the cooking and the saddling-up and so on.”

“And stop the ponies grazing with the beginners,” I added, having experienced that difficulty on all-day pony treks.

“Middle of May, you said, didn’t you?” asked my brother. “That fits in with our half term. We’ll write it down in the diary as soon as we get home. I suppose that snow will have shifted by then.” He glanced towards a great shoulder of hill whose top shone white in the watery blue light that comes over the Shropshire hills after rain. In the distance were the snow-capped mountains of Wales. Up here on Offa’s Dyke there is a magic in the air that I have met nowhere else, but, like most elements of the spirit, is felt only by those who are open to it.

“I hope some girls come,” said Fergie after a pause. “I mean, don’t adventure holidays appeal mostly to middle-aged people wanting to recapture their youth, and to teenage boys wanting to prove themselves?”

“Can’t say. Never tried. Have to wait and see, won’t we?” Jake grinned again. “Might get an odd bunch, bearded weirdies, long-haired layabouts, or a really nice lot.
That’s part of the adventure for us. I need you specially because there’s them that don’t understand our speech. And there’s them from Glasgow or London or other such places that I can’t make ’ead or tail of.”

“Sort of interpreters?” I suggested.

“That’s it, and there are sure to be one or two daft ones in the party, there always are.”

“But not all long-haired boys are layabouts, and Dad’s growing a beard and he’s no weirdie,” put in Fergie, who at fourteen and a half felt old enough to question one or two of Jake’s assertions.

“Well, I’m not saying you couldn’t be right there.” Jake straightened up from his relaxed position against the door. “Want to see the mare I bought from Jim Stubbard? A bit wild now, but she’ll quieten down with work.”

“Love to,” we said.

We got down from the gate and went into Jake’s stone and timber barn. And there was the mare standing in the corner, munching hay, her bay hindquarters round as an apple, her broad tail black as ebony.

“Maybe she’s too good for trekking. I don’t know, can’t tell yet,” said Jake. “She’s quiet enough to handle, but she doesn’t half take hold when she feels grass under her feet. Stubbard’s grandson has been galloping like a crazy cowboy, I shouldn’t wonder. He had the idea he might hunt, so they stabled and corn-fed her all winter and then that young man changed his mind and bought one of those Suzuki bikes instead. Here, come on, let’s see you.”

Jake’s marvellously soft voice with its Welsh lilt made the mare turn towards him at once. She gazed at us with great eyes shining like black treacle in the grey light of the barn. Her wide forehead, decorated with a star, tapered to a delicate muzzle with a snip of white between the nostrils. Bright and polished as a cherished conker, she boasted black points and four neat black hooves. Solidly built, with short cannon bones, long thighs and forearms and a deep girth, she still had about her an unmistakeable air of breeding.

“Part thoroughbred?” I suggested.

“Maybe, but she’s got no papers. Gentle as a kitten she is. Lovely shoulder she’s got, hasn’t she? I’ve called her Treasure. Thought I’d drop the chocolates and sweets and go on to precious stones and metals … Copper, Garnet, Pearl, Ruby, Peridot, that sort of thing.” Jake gave the mare a handful of oats from a bulging pocket, and added, “I’m going to ride her on the trail myself.”

A door opened in the grey farmhouse and Jake’s rather gaunt wife looked out.

“Your tea’s ready,” she called. “It’ll be getting cold if you don’t come in directly.”

The chipped brown door shut again with a sharpness which suggested impatience. Jake’s wife has never shared his interest in horses, and Fergie and I could never quite see why she had married him, but our parents said she had the features of a past beauty and the remnants of an entrancing voice, and an enraptured Jake was not the sort of man to take no for an answer.

“We must be off,” I said hastily. “And thanks. Of course, count on us to help with the adventure trip.”

We turned towards our ponies who had been standing tied to a fence. Mimosa, who is a palomino mare, looked round and gave a sweet little whinny of welcome, and Silverstar pawed the ground with a neat grey foreleg as though trying to tell us her patience was coming to an end.

“One of Jake’s brainwaves!” said Fergie, mounting Silverstar.

“Twelve people. Not bad. He could make a few hundred, pounds, but the food will cost a lot, I expect,” I replied, turning Mimosa towards home.

Dusk was falling, hiding the hills one by one, as we rode down the lane.

“I suppose Mum and Dad will agree,” I wondered, in sudden doubt.

“They trust Jake absolutely, you know that,” said Fergie. “Let’s trot.”

At home, Mimosa’s foal, now a yearling, let out a long neigh of welcome as we turned into the yard. Leerie, our tri-coloured collie, bounded forward to meet us, and Mummy called from a window, “There’s warm lardy cake for tea if you hurry.”

I felt suddenly that life was good and the future full of splendid opportunities.

Page length: 119

Original publication date: 1979

Who's in the book?

Humans: Sandy, Fergus, their parents, Jake, Professor Gray, Mrs Gray, Eric Small, Helen Wetherall, Igor, Jonathan Smith, Valerie, Linda, Kristianne, Michael Appleby, Felicity and Jane Wood
Equines: Silverstar, Toffee, Fudge, Peppermint, Twix, Cadbury, Rolo, Crunchie, Candyfloss, Treasure, Sandpiper

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