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Jane Badger Books

Hazel M Peel: Dido and Rogue (paperback)

Hazel M Peel: Dido and Rogue (paperback)

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Will Rogue be the one horse for whom Ann and Jim have to admit defeat?

Ann and Jim Henderson have bred two very different horses. Sweet-tempered Dido can turn on a sixpence and brake alarmingly fast: all very useful for a polo pony. But Rogue is different. He has been difficult since birth, and the older he grows, the more menacing he becomes. His very survival depends on whether Ann and Jim can find the key to him.

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THE MARE FELT the pressure of bit and legs. Impishly she grabbed at the bit, shot sideways, switched her tail, and bucked. Then, stretching her neck, she shot forward in a gallop, legs drumming a tattoo on the short turf. Her eyes were bold and clear, her short ears pricked and alert, and, as the legs felt again at her sides, she braked to a halt. The suddenness of the movement hurtled her rider forward into the saddle.

Jim Henderson quickly readjusted his balance and nudged the mare into a brisk walk. Clad in an old grey sweater and wearing fawn breeches and black boots, he sat square and straight in the saddle. He held all four reins from the pelham bit in his left hand. The polo-stick he carried high in the right. The newness of the stick—its fresh whiteness—contrasted vividly with the dirty grey of the polo helmet and the black of both riding-boots and leather knee-caps.

The mare was a rich bay, the colour of aged oak, without a single white hair on either head or body. The black tail and mane shone from health and grooming, as did the animal’s four black points. She was not tall, standing only just over fifteen hands, but she was compact and well made, with the fine skin and thin tracery of veins showing good blood in her breeding.

Jim Henderson appeared to be under-horsed. He was a fraction under six feet, with long, well-muscled legs topped by a lean, fit body, the whole capped with an open, frank face more rugged than good-looking.
As they walked down the field Jim swung the polo-stick through the four basic movements: first the off-side forehander, then, reversing, the off-side backhander. Grunting with satisfaction at the neat strokes, he turned slightly in the saddle and, gripping the saddle-flaps tightly, with his weight on the stirrup-irons, he swung to the rear, making a near-side backhander stroke, then reversed quickly for the near-side forehander.

He pushed the mare into a canter and went through them again, guiding the animal with leg-aids, neck-reining, and body-swerves, and finally they tore down the field in a flat-out gallop. The mare scudded joyously over the grass with ears flickering as he practised the strokes at high speed. At the end of the field they turned. The mare pirouetted neatly on her hocks in her haste to obey her rider. She eyed the white ball lying on the grass and danced eagerly towards it, while Jim felt with hand and legs, measured the distance, then swung down and forward with his stick on the off side. The ball shot forward, and the mare chased it, no urging being needed as she entered wholeheartedly into the game. Reining her to the right, Jim swung out of the saddle, keeping his stance by balance and grip, and he hit the ball from the near side, making it trickle over the grass in a slow roll.

Jim was annoyed at the weakness of his stroke. He turned and rode at the ball again, his jaw set in determination. The head of the stick poised, hovered, then swept down, meeting the ball with a satisfying clunk. The ball rose, a whirling white dot, and swiftly the mare chased after it, her ears twitching as if asking her rider which side she should go. A touch from the legs! The reins were laid across her neck on the left, and, with the ball on her near side, the mare galloped level. The stick descended again. Another clunk, and the ball went high and fast through the air, falling back on the grass a good forty yards ahead.

Jim pulled the mare back into a walk and, with his stick waving in the air, attracted his wife’s attention. With a wave, Ann Henderson broke off from talking to the highly interested spectators, swung her horse round, and cantered slowly over to her husband.

Ann was riding her big horse, Pilot, the piebald gelding who had been first her hunter and point-to-point horse and later their mutual steeplechaser. Pilot was the great and ugly-coloured piebald who had won them the Grand National, and with whose winnings they had been able to found their stud of thoroughbred bloodstock. It was also this proud and bossy horse who had, in part, helped her and Jim to get to know each other and marry.

He was Ann’s pride and joy! Perhaps there were better horses, but no horse could quite be compared to Pilot in Ann’s estimation, and she patted the muscled neck. The horse acknowledged by ducking his head and grinding on the snaffle-bit.

Ann wore brown jodhpurs and boots and a green sweater, for the wind still had an edge to it, even though spring was only around the corner. She wore her black hunting-cap, and black leather pads protected her knee­joints.

“How did Dido go?” she asked as she rode up to her husband.

“She’s O.K. It’s me. I’m weak on that near-side fore­hander. The first time I hit it all right, but with as much strength as a six-month-old baby! The next time, though, I really walloped it!” said Jim, resting the stick on his right shoulder.

“It’s just practice. Anyhow, I don’t expect any polo­player is good at all four strokes, and that one is the most difficult of the lot. Do you want to try some riding off now?”

“Yes, at all paces—but we’ll start at the walk.”

Heeling Pilot on Dido’s near side, Ann rode quietly at the walk, holding the large gelding back so that his longer strides did not overtake the smaller mare’s. With a nod to Jim, Ann felt firmly with reins and legs and pulled Pilot to the right. At the same time Jim rode Dido to the left until both animals were moving along at the walk, leaning on each other, the smaller mare getting rather the worse of it with the piebald’s greater weight.

“Trouble is, Pilot’s really too big for this,” said Ann as she eyed Dido’s ears moving backward in annoyance.

“Can’t be helped. He’s the best we’ve got for practice,” said Jim, carefully watching the mare’s mood. “Dido must learn to ride off, and anyhow in real polo the horses will all be her own size.”

They pushed into a trot. The two animals rode shoulder to shoulder, pushing at each other, the riders’ knees protected by the leather caps, thudding together.

“O.K. Let’s canter to the bottom, tum, then come back at the gallop and try,” called Jim.

Neck and neck, ears back, straining and pushing at each other, the bay and piebald moved down the field. The mare switched her tail in annoyance as she found the gelding pushing her away at a tangent. At the end of the field the two animals wheeled away from each other and swung back, moving fast.

“Now!” shouted Jim.

Ann swung Pilot towards the mare, neck-reining quickly, and, as if anticipating the movement, Dido tried to increase her pace. But the bit checked, the reins and legs ordered, she swung aside in a half-pass, and then solidly bumped the piebald’s shoulder, pushing him off his line of ride.

“That’s better. I think she’s getting the idea,” called Jim. “Again!”

Dido felt the aids and swung a little too sharply to the left. Hastily Jim lessened the angle of approach a fraction of a second before the two animals bumped together, and again it was the piebald who was pushed erratically aside. Jim sat down in the saddle, drew his legs behind the girth, and, feeling on the reins, he tightened his grip. Instantly, almost in the one stride, the mare shuddered to a halt and stood, nostrils flaring, eyes rolling, and skin twitching with excitement.

Ann rode back with Pilot.

“Nothing wrong with the brakes anyway,” she laughed. “I’m sure I’d be sent flying if she stopped so quickly with me.”

“We’ve made good progress. She’s learned all about the stick and the various strokes. She likes chasing after the ball, and she seems to understand now about pushing another horse away. I wish she could turn as sharply as Easter though, but you can’t have everything. I’ll just have a few more practice hits, then come in. She’ll have done enough for today.”

Page length: 162

Original publication date: 1967

Who's in the book?

Humans: Ann and Jim Henderson, Charles Barton, Mike, Susan and Robert Barton, Miriam, Tom, Pat O'Hara
Equines: Dido, Rogue, Pilot, Mischief, Night Storm

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