Sunday, 1 August 2010

Charlie and Casino

I think i might go riding later. I went last week with Tor and Hollie. The horses hadn't been off the farm for weeks; they have been mooching around the field for days on end in a heat induced soporific stupour, so they looked rather cock-a-hoop when they realised they were off on a jaunt.
My horse, Casino, is a little gem. He's come to spend his twilight years with us, kindly loaned by our friend Emma, who used to hunt him twice a week.
He's an old timer on the Hunting field, and i took him on in his 17th season, in the erroneous belief that i would have the time and energy to get him fit enough to Hunt, whilst coping with a new baby (albeit, an angelic one.)
He's 22, but doesn't look a day over 10. He loves being busy, is low maintenance, a good doer, and he adores Hunting. When we hack out he bustles along the lanes at 100 mph, and has a turn of speed which belies his elderly years. He's a creature of habit: he likes to eat his nuts before his chaff, he won't go in the Lorry if he doesn't think Charlie's getting in too, he will only deign to be caught if he feels like it, and he likes his sugar beet not too sloppy thankyou very much. He won't tolerate too much fussing, isn't averse to administering the odd irritable nip, and has an inexplicable aversion to Skewbalds. Jasper says he is racist.
The last time Emma took him Hunting, he was only half fit, so she thought she would take him to the meet and potter about at the back for an hour or two, then come home.
Casino had other ideas. The first enormous buck he put in as hounds drew the first covert, left Emma in no doubt that there wasn't going to be much pottering about at the back.
The field galloped off, and Casino proceeded to outpace them all, bowling merrily along, skipping over the rails, and blithely popping a five barred gate as though it were a cavaletti.
He was still pulling like a train as the field turned towards Whitmore Coppice, and the biggest hedge in the Vale, the legendary Whitmore Flyer, a vast, dense expanse of blackthorn hedge set down hill and with a stomach churningly enormous drop.
Casino irritably swatted aside Emma's attempts to make a beeline for the gateway. He pricked his ears keenly, as the monstrous obstacle loomed into view over the brow of the hill. He calmly picked his way through the melee of refusers and loose horses and flew it like a steeplechaser, before scooting joyfully down the hill, turbo charged by a loud volley of farts , eliciting a round of applause and howls of mirth from the footies.
Charlie, is a 12 year old broken down pointer who i paid meat money for. It was the best money i ever spent. Jasper's had three terrific seasons on him. The pair of them are terrible thrusters, and both utterly fearless, which has resulted in some epic days.
He's flatfooted and dishes for England, but he's as nimble as a mountain goat and he'll take you over anything you point him at. His only character flaw is that he's not 100% in traffic. In fact, he's a total pillock, particularly with tractors. He doesn't bat an eyelid at the farm tractors that drive up and down all day, within feet of him:but if he encounters the same tractor down the lane, then look out! He plants himself in the road, snorting in horror, before trying the obligatory Lets-turn-round-and-run-home manouvre. When that fails, he scrambles up the bank or into the hedge and sidles past it trembling like a leaf before sticking his head down and clattering off up the lane. It's very irritating, particularly since an Amateur Jockey friend of mine came to try him and having been tanked past three tractors and a flat bed trailer, announced that "he's not scared, he's just taking the piss."
Riding him does not promote feelings of well being and relaxation. Having to humour him through the rigmarole of "OH NO! A TRACTOR! I AM GOING TO DIE OF FRIGHT!" at least ten times on every ride is very irritating. I get grumpy with him, which compounds his stupidity, which makes me even grumpier. By the time we get home i am red faced with anger, muttering curses and vowing never to ride him again. He's so inured to my death threats that he doesn't even have the courtesy to look worried anymore when i tell him I'm sending him to Potters.
Casino and Charlie are inseperable. They weren't sure of each other when i introduced them, and kept a wary distance, but they studied each other curiously when they thought the other wasn't looking. Within a couple of days they had formally acknowledged each other with polite small talk and by the end of the week they were thick as theives, united by their passion for Hunting. They will stand, heads together and a faraway look in their eyes and i imagine that they are regaling each other with tales of glory - Charlie describing his dazzling performances on the race track, and Casino sharing cherished memories of his hey day as a Top Class Hunter.
When i watch them together, whether they're dozing contentedly under a tree, or thundering round the field in the misty dawn, i am always reminded of the retired race horses in Philip Larkin's beautiful and poignant poem "At Grass", the closing lines of which always bring a tear to my eye.

"...they have slipped their names, and stand at ease,
Or gallop for what must be joy,
And not a field glass sees them home,
Or curious stop watch prophesies:
Only the groom, and the groom's boy,
With bridles in the evening come."