The Horse and the Missing Keys


Looking back, I knew I should have refused. There were opportunities to alter the chain of events.  I missed  every one.

“I’m away this week” said the Golf Police. “Any chance of a shirt. Or three?”

The ironing basket resembled the leaning tower of Pisa.  Shirts vied with trousers and bedding to be the bit which leaned the most. The languishing laundry was not alone.   There were other areas of neglect in the DIY department. The dishwasher had a tricky door. It jammed. Two light bulbs needed replacing and the lid no longer closed on the recycling bin .

On the radio, Queen were singing “I want to break free”.

“Leave it to me” I said.

Next morning, I changed the bulbs, kicked the dishwasher door and dragged the ironing board out of its dark cupboard. Poured  some de-ironised water into the iron, cleverly marketed with the evocative smell of sea dunes and grasses. Flicked the remote to the golf channel and tackled the tumbling laundry.

Steam hissed as the iron glided over the creased cotton shirts and bedding.  The room soon smelt of summer days by the beach.  And the smell of last night’s curry. Beyond the ironing board, in the corner, commentators on lush fairways talked about fast hands, swing plane and missed putts.  The basked slowly emptied.  Shirts were hung in the wardrobe with a note pinned to the Oxford Blue.

Dear Shirt Wearer,

You left your season ticket in the pocket. It has had a thirty degree wash, with a gentle spin.  It is  drying on the radiator.

The Ironing Fairy

Supper was lasagne.  And a big bowl of salad, sprinkled with parsley and parmesan.  The conversation flitted from holidays to horses. Whether we would catch the Northern Lights or New York.  Go whale watching or find a country cottage with wifi and a good shower.  City girl had booked her holiday and was sorting out the finer details.

“So what are the chances you can look after the horse?”

I try to visualize the golf clubs, supermarket and a chestnut mare.  The picture did not look balanced.

“Not sure it would work out”.

“It’s on the way back from the golf course”.

I mentally rehearse the journey from fairway to field.

“It means I will get stuck in traffic. How am I going to get her in with my golf gear on?”

It all falls on deaf ears.

“You know she loves you”.

And in that moment, I was lost. I had the chance.  But I missed the opportunity.

I loved the little horse.  She reminded me of a childhood spent galloping across  winter- bleak beaches. Tasting the salt blown on the wind and the sound of thundering hooves on the hard sand. Drinking hot, sugary tea on cold mornings, in a tack room which smelt of saddle soap and hay. Breaking the ice on frozen water buckets.  Watching sunrises, which made ploughed fields  sparkle from an overnight frost.  The excitement and fun of gymkhanas and shows. Riding by wheat fields, gold in the sun. Hunting for hoof picks and struggling with heavy winter rugs. Being late home for dinner and missing deadlines for maths homework.

In the end, the soft whinny and gentle ways of little horse won. I agreed and a few days later, waved goodbye to the plane and said hello to my four legged friend.   Apart from the mouse, it worked out well. I set the alarm two hours earlier and meet the horse before sunrise. She is a thorough bred chestnut mare.  15.2 hands. Wears a lose ring snaffle bit and soft as marshmellow.   She has two meals a day.  I make them up the night before, always checking the  note pinned to the door of the tack cupboard.


1 scoop of Chaff

Mix with a handful of pony nuts and slice up some apple and carrots. A teaspoon of multivitamins.

Cover these with dinner and breakfast covers and leave outside of stable OUT OF HER REACH.

Always check she has plenty of water.

Skip her out in the mornings and don’t leave the wheelbarrow full.  Empty it on the muck heap.

Section of hay in the hay net.  CHECK YOU HAVE TIED THE KNOT PROPERLY. There might be a rat in the hay barn.

Give her a few pony nuts when you put her out in the field.  DO NOT GIVE HER TIT BITS AND DONT TAKE ANY NONSENSE.  YOU ARE THE BOSS. SHE IS THE HORSE.

Remember she only likes organic apples.  Have fun xxx

Each morning there is a chestnut head hanging over the stable door.  I lob in her scoop of chaff, mixed with pony nuts and carrots.  She munches on the carrots and I give her a flick over with the dandy brush until her chestnut coat gleams. She gives a soft whicker of approval. I smell of hay and horse and carrot. When her breakfast is finished, I find the head collar and we wander off to the field. She shares the field with a dominant male.

“Have a good day in the field and don’t let that brute boss you around.”

She is such a lady and I want her to learn how to stand up for herself. She waits at the gate until I give her  pony nuts and then we go our separate ways.

It fitted in with the golf, less well with the golf gear.   In the evenings I went home via the stables.  Grabbed the head collar and headed off to the field. In my soft spikes.  She was always waiting patiently by the gate.

We walked along the lane the horse and I, swapping tales of our day.

“I hope the brute was less brutish today.  I lost at golf”.

She let me pick her feet out and crawl underneath her to do up her rug.   I make up the feeds from big dustbins in the tack locker at the back of the stable.  She manages to elongate her neck and her head joins me in the cupboard.  I ignore the bit on the note about tip bits and give her pony nuts. Such actions have consequences. Kindness comes at a cost.  We become best friends.   I learnt how to tie hay nets and how to get a section of hay in the dark from the barn. The rat kept a low profile.

The first week was good. The horse and golf went hand in hand. I enjoyed the sunrises. I was a dab hand with the feeds and the hoof pick. The exercise improved my golf and I began to stride out the back nine.   Things were less good the second week.

The Golf Police made an announcement over supper.  One of his clients was over from the States and looking for a game of golf.

“I said you play off 18”.

“18” I reply.  “We play 18. I play off 12”.

I tried to visualise the new plan. Horse feeds. Shirts. Supper and an American dimpled ball chaser. Something would have to give. The laundry lost.

Daily texts pinged through,  sent from under a poolside parasol. Between pimms and swims.

How are stables? Xx  PS. hot here.

I send a photo of head collar and happy horse.

Rain was forecast for the golf day with the American. I gave him the chance to cry off .

“No problems. I will get some waterproofs”.

The tee time was booked. The weather girl wore her Hollywood smile and warned of a low front.

I slept through the alarm. Leapt out of bed and could only find odd socks. One black. One yellow and green stripes.  The traffic was heavy and sluggish and I got to the stables late.

The horse sensed my angst. Picked up the vibes. She leant against the stable wall and I had to fight to get the rug off.  Filling the water bucket, the hose came off the tap. The odd socks were soggy.

I checked my watch.  Tee time and tides.  Time for the hoof pick.

“Lift your foot up, horse” I said.

The foot stayed down on the shavings.  I don’t know how much a horse weighs but it is a lot. Immovable force versus immovable object.

“Lift your foot up you great lummock”.  She gently lifted it.  I felt bad.

“Sorry.  You can have some extra pony nuts.  Don’t tell The Boss.  It’s just that I have to play this American and I am running late”.

She turned and looked at me.  I felt she understood. I misread the situation. I had set a precedent with the pony nuts.  Ignored the bit on the note about tidbits at my peril. I was about the pay the price. She went for my pocket.  Instead of the nuts, she got the little beige mouse hanging over the pocket top. It was  attached to my car keys.

Stay calm. I am the Boss. She is the horse.

“Give them back” I said, with authority.

She ignored me and slowly chewed the mouse as the keys jangled from the side of her mouth. I tried to snatch them back and she threw her head back in fright.  Three things happened. Our heads collided and  I fell backwards, landing in the soft wood chips. The keys flew through the air. As I got up,  she stepped on my toes. All of them.

Crawling around the stable, searching through the wood chips, with the light from my phone, I heard the soft whinny and felt a gentle nudge. A sort sorry.  I sat in the wood chips, as lost as the keys and a tear rolled down my cheek. For the mouse and my toes and the unmet American. I found the keys eventually, in a dark corner, by her water bucket.  The mouse was missing.

I threw on her rug and hobbled to the field. No time for sharing secrets. The head collar was tied to the gate.  She waited for her pony nuts.

“You shouldn’t have eaten the mouse, horse.  He was special ”.  She whinnied softly and her big eyes melted the crossness in my heart.

“Have a good day and wish me luck”.  She started to munch the grass and I limped back to the car.

I was late for golf.  The American was cool. We managed to get a later tee time.   He looked at the bruise on my cheek,  the bits of woodchip on my jumper and my red eyes.

“Gee.  You been in the wars?”

I’m fine.  I have an allergy”  I said, brushing off the wood chips and rubbing my eyes.

He told me about his nut allergy. His gluten allergy and his new therapist.  It was going to be a long round.

Overhead, the predicted cumulonimbus clouds were gathering. Ominous. Threatening. Tumbling.

It started to rain on the fourth fairway. In stair rods.

Lucky I got these waterproofs” he said.

My shoes leaked.  My waterproofs were at home and my toes throbbed.

He beat me 4 and 3.

“Great course. Loved your greens”.

He couldn’t miss a putt. I couldn’t buy one.

Over tea and cakes, I told him about the keys, toes and  horse.  He laughed.

“We must do that again sometime” he said.

“Safe trip back across the ocean” I said.

 “Next time you are toast” I whispered as his car took him back to the city.

It was late when I got to the field. The horse was waiting, bedraggled by the gate. She wanted her warm stable and feed. She nuzzled me gently, as I limped up the lane.

“Little horse, you do not want to know the day I have had” I whispered in her soft ear.

“I lost. 4 and 3.  He was ok in the end. The American. Came from California. Said he didn’t care much for our weather but liked the greens. And the homemade cake. Said to let him know next time I am in the States and we can have a game.  I told him about you and what happened. Sorry. My fault and  I can always get another mouse for the keyring.  Might even find a little horse”. 

The horse stayed close, neatly picked up her muddy feet and listened to the words. I knew we were still friends. The bruise would fade, the toes would heal.

It was dark when I left. I could just see the little chestnut head looking over the stable door. Cosy under her rug.  Her hooves were picked out, her water bucket full. The headlights light up the dark lane and in the mirror, a small dark shape crept across the yard to the hay barn.

When I got home the house was quiet.  The Golf Police had left a note on the kitchen table.

“Had to catch an earlier flight to Madrid. Will buy some shirts at the airport..  Hope the golf went well and you kept our American friend amused”.

I sent a text.

More than amused and before you ask, he won x

There was another text from under the parasol in paradise.

Everything ok?  xx

I sent a text back.

Fine. Everything is fine. xx

I skipped supper,  fell into bed and somewhere beneath the bright stars, the horse munched her sweet hay.