It was dark by the time we got back from Liverpool. Usually, I dread walking down to the field after dusk because of the bit where the rhododendron bushes grow like a tunnel over the path, making spooky shadows that move about in the corner of your eye, but that night I didn’t even notice, I was so excited. Charlotte was standing by the gate, nickering as usual, and the others trotted across when they heard my footsteps on the path, keen to get to the haynets that were hanging up in their stables.
I led them up, then popped into the tack room and put the kettle on to make myself a hot chocolate in my chipped old Pony Club mug. Smokey and Bertie looked across to see if I had any treats for them and looked disappointed to see that I hadn’t.
I quickly tied up the small chestnut in his stall, then ran back to the tack room, grabbed my grooming kit and the hot chocolate and carried them back. I placed the box quietly on the ground so as not to spook him and unclipped the lid, taking out my body brush.
I always chat to them when I’m grooming, and today was no different- I gave Bert a detailed account of the Grand National. He glanced round at me with a mouth full of hay, as if to say he didn’t really care.
Charlotte was her normal grumpy self, almost kicking me as I picked out her feet. And then Smokey had had a good roll and was caked in mud. I rummaged in my kit to find a rubber curry-comb, all the while talking non-stop about the race. “The winner wasn’t obvious at the start…I thought it was going to be number 4 because he looked so strong, but right at the last second-literally-number 7 got his nose in front!” What I didn’t mention was that, every time I watched a race, I wished I was one of those jockeys, flying over the brush fences and galloping top speed, totally focused on the win.
I always saved grooming Oliver for last. He wasn’t greedy like Smokey, grumpy like Charlotte, or spooky like Bert. He stood contentedly as I brushed him and told him about the day. He was the biggest and strongest of the three brothers, and I knew he had the most potential. I bent down and whispered to him, “I think you and me have got a chance for next year.”
I stood up again and looked at him carefully. It was the first time I’d told anyone about my dream and it felt so strange to say it out loud. I’m sure he understood me, though.
He turned his head away from the haynet and looked up at me with his big brown eyes. I scratched him behind the ears, and said quietly, “Yes, I think perhaps we could even win the Shetland Pony Grand National!”