The Winners 2017 Under 15 Runner Up

The yard presents itself a challenge, for her to overcome every day.

She wakes up at five a.m. and quickly downs a much-needed coffee, scorching hot, strong enough to keep her eyes open for the tough hours to come.

Adorning herself in layers of fleece and wool, strapping her long hair into a tight bun and covering it religiously with a sloppy and slightly disfigured hat flourished by a loosely sewn on bobble that, given the amount of wear it has had, is doing well to stay attached to the hat.

Pushing on a thick pair of thermal gloves and muckboot wellies, she steps out onto the frosty yard, following the same direct route she follows every day, strutting over the uneven stones with the confidence of a model, nobody awake to see her.

By the time she reaches the familiar green shed, her toes already begin to numb in the cold. She extracts a large bundle of half-rusted keys from the pocket of her Paul Carberry jacket and despite the colossal number, immediately finds the right one, the same key she picks up every day; she inserts the silver, aluminium key into the lock and shoves open the heavy metal door.

The small room in front of her is lined with barrels upon barrels of chaffs, pellets and Alfalfa mixes, cartons of carron oil and vanilla essence. Inhaling deeply, she takes in the sui generis scent that only those in her yard take for granted.

She picks up a round scoop and begins to fill buckets routinely until eventually she has twenty-six uniform black pails sitting in a row, each filled with a unique combination that she knows better than her own name.

One by one she carries the buckets back and forth, stable to stable, filling feed troughs and being acknowledged only by the contented snort of the horses, happy to be back in the comfort of their stables after their dawn run on the gallops; clad in their net coolers, quality judged by quality.

The serene silence of the morning broken by the masticating thoroughbreds, a whinny or two erupts and hooves stamp on the rubber matting.

She smiles and lets out a long sigh, her breath visibly turning to steam that rises above her. She cups her now ungloved hands and blows softly in a vain attempt to bring warmth to them.

Looking around her at the stables, various rugs draped over different doors, stray strands of straw littering the otherwise too-clean concrete floors, the welcoming smell of horse that seems to never leave; the smell of home, the smell she's woken up to every day- the yard that brings challenges, the yard that is home.

She realigns the buckets for the next person to come along and redo everything for the second lot of horses currently on the gallops; replacing the covers on each barrel carefully and bolting the heavy door as she exits.

Reluctantly she leaves the shed and trudges back to the house, the frost crunching at every step; checking her watch (7:45 a.m.), she then cautiously pushes open the door, she wipes her boots and slides them off quietly, draping her jacket over one of the hooks. She pads across the floor into the kitchen and opens the cupboards, cracking eggs into a saucepan.

"Mam, hurry up, I can't be late for school just because you can't wake up early enough"

She smiles sadly, nodding, "Of course, sweetie".

The biggest challenge in the yard- is leaving it.