Postcards from Ireland

Dear Everybody

The weather has been lovely.  I’ve caught up with loads of friends and spent some quality time with my mother and my daughter.  My mother’s pain treatment seems to have gone well (she had joint injections.  Much like a horse would).

I will be back to my normal bloggospheric self by Sunday.  Meanwhile, here are some random pretty images from my trip.

Bisous & à bientôt

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Oh yes, I got a new camera.  Dustproof, waterproof and shockproof.  Hopefully also Martineproof, given that its predecessor was fed tea and its pre predecessor was put in the washing machine…

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Let’s all go to a Horseshow 2

Well, April was the nominated month for doing an on-line horseshow.  (See Let’s all go to a Horseshow)

Circumstances are conspiring against me.  I’ve had to stay in Ireland an extra week, leaving me with a bare six days to cobble something together when I get home on Friday night.  I’m still going to go for it, though.  I reckon I should be able to do Class 8B (Practical Horsemanship, see test here) easily enough with Aero.  My plan is to video it as soon as I can, so I have something ready.

Then I’ll work on  a ridden  test.  Given the amount of riding that I haven’t been doing, I will probably be a wimp and stick to a Walk/Trot test, although that was never my intention.  Not sure which one yet – Baroque or Bog-Standard?  Which reminds me – I must send a message to Trudy Dempsey to ask what exactly is the difference between the two.

Is anyone else still in?  Or has my lack of ‘pushing’ allowed you all to fall by the wayside?

Check out Interdressage April Schedule if you think you could be persuaded.  Lot’s of these lovelies on offer :

Lets all go to a horseshow

Arty Trip

I mentioned on Twitter that I hoped to visit Tony O’ Connor‘s latest exhibition while I was in Ireland.  I also wanted to see as many friends as possible.  I wondered if I could kill two birds with one stone.  I suggested to my friend D that we make a road trip from Cork to Clonmel, about an hour and a half away.

“We coud do lots of catching up on the way,” I said.  “And then we could see all these cool horse pictures while we’re there.”

It worked really well.  We talked ourselves dry en route, catching up about horse stuff, dog stuff, people stuff… Finally, we reached the outskirts of Clonmel and I realised I didn’t have directions.  Or the name of the gallery.  Oops.

No problem.  With modern technology, one is never lost.  As long as there is 3G coverage of course.  We were in luck – there was.  A quick browse through Facebook produced the name of the gallery – South Tipperary Arts Centre – and then Google maps told us where  to go.

As we turned the penultimate corner, we both said “Oooooh” simultaneously.  A shop selling designer clothes?  A shoe shop?  Fancy china with a big SALE sign displayed?  No, we’re both horsey girls.  A tack shop or a field full of ponies, so?  No, neither.  It was a blacksmith’s workshop – not horsey, but full of interesting wrought iron thingies.  We’ll come back and have a look at that later, we said.

We made our way into the gallery and had a good look around.  I had approval from the Man Himself to take photos so I snapped away happily.  I have to confess that I liked Tony’s wildlife better than his horses this time round.  They spoke to me – “BUY ME!  BUY ME!”  But times are hard – and many of them were already sold.  Here’s a slideshow to share with you guys so you get an idea of what was there.

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We went for a coffee next door and then went back to the wrought iron place.  The blacksmith, Joe Channon was there and we chatted for a good while.  He helped his father put the fancy railings around the workshop years ago, he said.  His father was clearly an artist, too.  The more we looked, the more we saw :

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Joe is also a farrier, but he said he’s only doing two or three hours a day with horses now.  There are fewer horses and more farriers, so less work.  He’s lucky to have the workshop – and he’s good at his craft, too.

I had to get back to the passport office in Cork for two thirty, so we eventually said our goodbyes and left.

Later that afternoon, I called in to see Tony in his studio – I owed him a bottle of wine from a long time back.  That debt is now paid with a nice little Rasteau – I hope he liked it.  He told me that the gallery had called to say that they had had to put up a “No Photography” sign.  Weird.  I was quite open about taking pictures, and they hadn’t asked me not to.

Tony’s studio is quite bare now.  Ideas for new work were strewn around the floor in the form of sketches.  There are still one or two paintings around the place, but he has a lot of work ahead of him to get ready for the Dublin Horse Show in August.  The exhibition in Clonmel is practically sold out, so I don’t think any of them will be going on to the RDS!

It’s great to see Tony doing so well.  He’s come a long way from Carey’s!!

And the Winners are….

Interestingly, the Totes Aweseome Giveaway was less popular then the Mugnificent Giveaway.  I will bear that in mind in the future – more mugs, less bags.

In utter proof of the randomness of the draw, a Mug winner has won a tote bag.  Goddammit, I could have saved on postage.  Who is the two times lucky person?  Read on…

WordPress Winner : Diane F

Twitter Winner : Horse Care Courses (delighted for Carol, she’s the reason my Boys ended up where there are!)

Facebook Winner : It could only be…. Katherine Walcott of Rodney’s Saga :-D :-D :-D

Congratulations to you all.  Katherine and Joanna, your mugs are on their way – from Ireland.  French post office opening hours are really difficult to come to grips with so the mugs ended up coming with us on the ferry.  The third mug winner is yet to contact me, so who knows, it may be put up on offer again.

There is a third giveaway coming up, but I have had to stay in Ireland for an extra week.  Poor LSH and Cookie are driving across France all by themselves as I type.  When I get back to Cereste next weekend I’ll kick it off.  It’s the last Giveaway sponsored by the wonderful Zazzle, to whom I’m enormously grateful for the goodies!

Interesting post coming up shortly, involving a bit of thisDSCF0055

and a bit of that

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Slán go fóill.  That’s à bientôt in Gaelic.  Essentially.

Finding Suzie – the third Ballyloch Story

The last FREE Ballyloch story – read it while it’s hot!

And don’t forget the Totes Awesome Giveaway – you could win a Ballyloch tote bag, sponsored by the lovely people at Zazzle.  Click here for more information on how to enter.

 

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Suzie

Aug 12th.  My nineteenth birthday.

I wake up early, stretch and yawn.  Yay, I’ve got the day off!  I glance at the bed on the other side of the room to check if Jane, my older sister, is awake yet.  It’s just a habit – she moved out to live with her boyfriend six months ago and the bed is empty and bare now.  It’s still weird without her, even though we fought all the time when she was here.  I hear Mum moving around in the kitchen downstairs, talking to Dad in low tones.  A few years ago, they would have had a big surprise planned but I guess when you’re over eighteen, your parents feel they can cut back on birthday treats! I stretch one more time and heave my legs out over the side of the bed, shuffle out to the loo and do what I have to do.  I hear the postman at the door and smile.  There’s definitely at least one card for me!

I tiptoe down the stairs, riffle through the envelopes.  There!  The pale blue envelope, the familiar writing on the front, the foreign stamp.  Where this time, I wonder.  Oh, Germany.  Not so far away.  I tiptoe back upstairs and into my room, the blue envelope in my hand.  I open the wardrobe door, rummage around at the bottom and find the old shoebox.  I haven’t looked inside it since last year.  It’s an annual thing for me, ha ha!

I settle myself cross-legged on my bed and wrap the quilt around my legs.  Then I open the box and take out the little sheaf of envelopes, tied together with a red ribbon.  Eight pale blue envelopes, each bearing a stamp from a different country.  Eight cards inside.  Eight messages for my birthday, sent from all over the world.  I untie the ribbon and spread them around me on the bed, the new one still unopened on my knee.

Then I reach for the first one and open it.

Dear Suzie,

Happy Birthday.  I hope you have a nice day.

Love Suzie

It still makes me smile, that one – especially the little drawing of the horse inside the card!  I was ten years old when I wrote it.  My AuntieTrish had given me a box of notecards for my birthday.  I had loved those cards the minute I saw them and I love them still.  A grey horse gallops across a pale background, captured mid stride, with his mane and tail flowing behind him.  His head is up; his ears pricked, as he looks into the distance.  Gorgeous.

“Every year, write a card to yourself for the next year,” Trish had said.  “Post it to me and I’ll post it back to you from wherever I am so that it gets to you just in time for your birthday.”

This was Trish’s second attempt to turn me into a journalist like herself.  The first was a diary, on my ninth birthday.  I mean, seriously, what nine-year old keeps a diary?  She was disappointed to see just a week’s worth of entries in the big, hardbound diary when she visited at Christmas, but she’s a tough nut and doesn’t crack easily – I guess that’s why she’s a good journalist.  The cards were a better idea.  Just one a year.  Surely I’d manage that?

Yeah.  I had.  Although I really had no idea what to say to myself that very first time.  I’d forgotten all about the card on my eleventh birthday and I was mystified when I saw the pale blue envelope with the South African stamp.  I was thrilled to receive it, even though my superior eleven-year old self sneered at the poorly drawn pony produced by her ten-year old alter-ego.

I had been determined to do better next year.

I carefully push the card back inside its envelope and reach for the next one.  The same childish handwriting, this time with a stamp from Brazil.  Inside is the same card, with the same beautiful grey horse dancing across the front but YEUK! my snotty little eleven-year old self had defaced it by drawing a saddle, bridle and rider onto it.  What an eejit I was!

I open the card.  A folded A4 sheet falls out, with a colour photograph printed on part of it.

Dear Suzie,

I had the best birthday ever! Mum organised a Pony Party at Ballyloch for me.  Emer, Sarah, Niamh, Sam and Jessie were all there.  We all had a pony to look after for the whole afternoon and we groomed them and rode them and then had a party with chocolate cake.  I hope you have another Pony Party today.

Love Suzie

I unfold the piece of paper and look at the faded photograph.  Six smiling eleven year old girls, sitting on six snoozing ponies in a dusty arena.  Emer, Sarah and I had all been riding at Ballyloch for about six months at that stage – Sarah even had her own pony!  Poor Sam, Niamh and Jessie had no interest in horses but were dragged along anyway.  To be fair, Sam got the horse bug and rode for a while afterwards, though.

Liz and her Pony Parties.  It was a clever idea.  There would always be at least one unhorsey kid who’d fall for the smell and the feel and the gentleness of the ponies.  They’d usually manage to persuade their parents to allow them to come along for regular lessons afterwards.   Some of them even stayed riding at Ballyloch for years.

I put the card and the piece of paper away and pick up the next envelope, this time posted in New York.  Tucked inside the card is another photograph.  Two beaming girls on two hairy piebald cobs look out at me.  What fun we’d had that day!

Dear Suzie,

Mum said I’m too old for parties so she took me and Emer to a place where we could go trekking and we had an amazing three hour ride through woods and sand dunes and galloped on the beach.  It was the best ride EVER!! Next week I’m starting secondary school I hope Emer and me will be in the same class.

Love Suzie xxx

Best ride EVER?  Yeah, still right up there.  We’d gone out in a group of eight from a trekking centre in West Cork.  Emer and I had loved every minute of it – cantering on the trails through the woods, the horses’ hooves soft on the carpet of pine needles; trotting up and down the sand dunes, laughing and cheering as we went;  and finally a long, long gallop on the beach.  Looking at the sturdy piebalds again, I came to the conclusion that it was more likely to have been a steady canter than a gallop, but when you’re a pony-mad twelve year old, riding a horse on a beach… well, life just doesn’t get much better than that.

I pick up the next envelope.  This one has a Greek stamp.  The writing is a bit neater – my secondary school teachers had nagged me endlessly about my handwriting!

Dear Suzie,

For my birthday this year I got to go to pony camp in Ballyloch it was amazing I rode twice a day and learned about dressage and show jumping and cross country.  Emer came too she rode Blackie and I rode Bobby.  I wish I owned a horse or even a pony I wouldn’t care what size it was I would love it just the same.

Love Suzie xxx

Hmm.  Those teachers may have smartened up my handwriting, but they hadn’t improved my punctuation!  Good old Blackie and Bobby.  They were two faithful old riding school horses who put up with beginners but were still prepared to jump willingly for the better riders.  We’d had a lot of fun with them that year – although Emer had been moaning about Blackie being too slow.  I think that may have been when she started to lose interest.  Liz always said “Ponies fill the gap between toys and boys” and Emer had discovered boys at the age of thirteen – a lot earlier than me!

Next envelope.  A Chinese stamp?  Really, Auntie Trish?  I don’t remember you going to China!  I guess she gave it to one of her colleagues to post.  Pretty thoughtful of her.

Dear Suzie,

For my birthday this year I got a mobile phone and pony camp altho I’ve been helping in the house for months to go to pony camp so I don’t see why it should count as a birthday present.  Mum is sooo stingy sometimes.  I had Skylark for camp he was amazing and we won the jumping competition on the last day.  YAY!  I wish I wish I wish I had a horse like Skylark!  Back to school next week.  YEUK Junior Cert this year :-( but it’ll all be over when you get this lol

xoxoxo

OMG Skylark!  What a pony!  He’d been about 18 or 19 that year.  He was a retired Grade A jumping pony that Liz had picked up cheap somewhere.  Everyone wanted to ride him, but she’d only let her best riders up on his back.  He was so fast!  You had to go with him and trust him.  Emer had done camp that year, too, but she hadn’t been riding much so she was given safe old Blackie.  I remember the look on her face when she saw I was on Skylark, she was so disgusted!  I reckon that was the end of her riding career, she was dead jealous that Liz let me ride him.

I root around in the drawer beside my bed and find a photo of a smiling fourteen year old on a flea-bitten grey pony.  I can just see Blackie’s shoulder – Emer had yanked on the reins in a temper and walked away from Mum when she tried to take the photo.  I look at the background.  A slim girl stood beside a bright bay cob with a blaze on his face.  Wow, Charlie!  And that must be Jenny… she didn’t look too bad then.

I quickly take out the next card, eager to relive the memories.  This one has an Australian stamp.  That was from when Auntie Trish had gone to Perth for her holidays, visiting Uncle Brian.

Dear Suzie, this was the just best summer ever! Mum and Dad leased a horse for me. I’ve had him for two and a half months now and it’s just like having my very own horse.  I ride every single day. Charlie is amazing he jumps and does cross country and everything and he never bucks or gets silly.  I <3 him to bits and I soooo wish he was mine but Liz doesn’t know if his owners will sell.  He was their daughter’s horse and she died :-( Eek junior cert results in 2 weeks but then JC party night can’t wait I’m going with Lisa and Emer. Emer has a bottle of vodka stashed in her room she said we can drink it in her gaff while we get ready it’s going to be laugh!

Xoxoxo

Charlie, dear old Charlie.  He was such a sweetie.  I was so lucky to have had a horse like him as my first horse, even if it was only ever temporary.  He used to come trotting across the field when I called him, I would put the head collar on him and ride him back to the stables bareback.  I’d even jumped him bareback a couple of times – such a buzz!

I pick up my phone and flick through the photos until I find my favourite one and smile.  Me and Charlie in full flight over a log.  Charlie’s ears sharply pricked forward, his front legs neatly tucked up; me leaning forward, concentrating; my brightly coloured cross-country shirt billowing out behind me.  Charlie totally loved jumping and he was really clever, but once the jumps went up to a metre or more, he just couldn’t do it.  My smile fades as I remember some of the taunts at pony club and at the riding school shows.

“Ah Jaysus Suzie, are you still doing the baby jumps with the carthorse?”

“Hah, Suzie, that old carthorse will never jump around the 90cm course!”

And worse…

“Hey Suzie if that skinny cow Jenny couldn’t get him to jump higher how do you think you’re going to?”

That one hurt most of all.

Poor Charlie, I spent hours and hours trying to get him to jump higher.  Eventually, he got sick of knocking poles and took to refusing instead.  Poor baby.  I was such an idiot to push him like that.

And Junior Cert night.  Oh God, the memories.  The giggling, the make-up, the short skirts, the disco.  And the booze.  The lads, too – that was the first time I ever saw Jaro, but I was so out of it I fell over laughing on top of Lisa when he started talking to me!  Then going back to Emer’s house and puking in her Dad’s car on way home.  I still cringe whenever I think of it, even though he swears he forgave me long ago.  And the hangover the next day… yeuk!  That was the first time I ever got pissed.  You’d think it would have been the last but it wasn’t.

I look at the photo of Charlie again and then I remember the next time I met Jaro.  I was just coming back from Ballyloch, after another dismal session trying to get Charlie to jump higher.  I was hot and sticky, my t-shirt and jodhpurs were filthy, and my hair was glued to my head with sweat from my riding helmet.  I was dying for an ice cream so I asked Mum to let me out at the shop.

“I’ll walk up home after,” I said.

I hopped out of the car, after agreeing to buy bread and milk too, and turned towards the shop.  A gang of teenagers were sitting on the wall at the side.

“Hey, horse girl,” one of them called out, except he had a slight Polish accent, so it sounded like “Hey, horrrse girrrl.”

I looked at the group and vaguely recognised the tall blond boy who had spoken.  I met his bright blue eyes for an instant and my heart lurched.  Just like it had somehow slipped sideways in my chest.  Wham.  Then one of the other lads called out,

“Where’s yer pony?  Were ya riding today?  Can I go for a ride?”

The whole group burst out laughing and I blushed, mortified.  Then a familiar voice called out

“Don’t mind him Suze, he’s just a langer!”

Emer!  I waved at her and carried on into the shop.  Thank God they had all gone when I came out.  I could see them, shoving each other around and laughing as they walked down the street.  But Emer texted me later.

SOMEONE <3 <3 <3 YOU!!!

And that was the start of it all.

I sigh and skip past the next envelope.  I don’t need to look at it, I know what’s in it.

Suzie wuz ere

I’m not proud of that one.  In fact, I’m not proud of that whole phase in my life.

In the beginning, it was just a bit of craic, hanging out with Emer and the gang.  I made sure they never saw me in my riding gear again – if I wasn’t in my school uniform, I was wearing short skirts, high boots, tight tops, loads of make up.  We’d sit on the wall beside the shop, laughing and talking and occasionally passing a surreptitious cigarette around.  Then the parties started.  Not in someone’s house, no.  We’d literally beg, steal or borrow a few bottles of booze and go off to the woods below the housing estate where we lived.  My parents thought I was at Emer’s house for the night and we’d usually manage to end up back there.  Eventually.  Hammered and stoned out of our minds a lot of the time.  Jaro – he was the Polish lad – and me hooked up almost straight away and a couple of times we’d sneak back into his house and… well, you know!

Jane knew what I was up to, of course.  She kept quiet for a while and then she started nagging at me.

“Fifth year is important Suzie, you’ve got to think of your Leaving Cert.”

“For God’s sake Suzie, you stink of booze.  Cop yourself on!”

“You’re throwing your life down the toilet, Suzie.”

“What the hell are you doing going out with that Polish langer?  Bloody Poles coming over here taking all our jobs!”

We’d always argued.  You know, the usual sisterly stuff about keeping our room tidy and taking each other’s clothes.  That year we ended up having some full blown screaming matches.  Even our little brother, Tom, would slam down his Playstation and come stomping into our room to tell us to stop fighting, we were spoiling his concentration.  Mum didn’t know what to do with us and a few times all three of us ended up screeching and yelling at each other.

And Charlie?  My visits to Ballyloch became rarer and rarer until finally Liz had a go at me one day for neglecting him.  I think she must have been on the phone to Mum afterwards.  Anyhow, Mum brought it up over breakfast a few days later.

“Suzie, I don’t see the point in paying livery any more.  It’s two weeks since you went to ride that horse.  God alone knows how long it was the time before that.  I don’t see why I should work two jobs just to feed someone else’s horse, so you either start paying for him yourself or we stop the lease on him.”

“How am I supposed to pay for him?” I snapped back.  “I’ve got this thing called school every day.  Oh yeah, and homework every night.  I could get a job in the shop if I stopped doing my homework.  Would that suit you?”

Yeah, that conversation went downhill from there.  I was such a little cow, poor Mum was working hard so that the family could have extra treats – I had Charlie, Jane had her art course twice a week and Tom had his Taekwondo and his computer games.  Thank God neither of them ever became as bratty as me.

I reach for the next envelope.  This one was sent from Iceland.  I’d been well impressed when it arrived – Auntie Trish had been sent there to do a story on whether Mount Unpronouncable was likely to blow its top again or not.

Dear Suzie well last year’s card sucked so I’ll try to do a better one this year.  Jaro’s waiting for his results today.  Finger’s X’d!  if he doesn’t get enough points to do medicine he’s going to do biochemistry instead. We’ve officially been going out for over a year now can’t believe it but it’s true. Still <3 Him :D :D Mum and Dad have finally decided that he’s ok whoop whoop! Even though they hate me going on his bike :-( :-( We’re going for a spin this afternoon to celebrate his results.  Or maybe to try and forget them. Can’t wait

Hugs & kisses to MEEEEE

From ME :-D xxx

Would I ever forget that birthday?

Jaro didn’t get the points he needed for medicine, even though he’d worked really hard.  He hadn’t done well in his mock exams in December and, after Christmas, we sat in his parent’s kitchen and had a serious talk.  The first one ever.  He told me about the life his parents had left behind in Poland and how they’d come to Ireland to try to make a better future for their family.  He told me about how hard they had worked for years – his mum doing two or even three cleaning jobs a day, his dad working long hours in a repair shop fixing washing machines and fridges, even though he was a fully qualified electronic engineer.  He told me how his brother took two jobs to help pay the family’s bills and how he went to night school to improve his English.

“Suze, I can’t sponge off them, “ he’d said.  “I have to do my share.  I have to do well in my exams and go to college so I can get a decent job.”

He’d held my hands as he started to say the next bit.  I always wonder if he could feel them shaking.  I was so scared he was going to dump me, I think I was shaking like a leaf.

“I need to stop seeing you so much.  You know I’m crazy about you, but I really need to study.  When the exams are over, it’ll be easier.”

I think I grew up more during that twenty minute conversation than I had during the whole sixteen years beforehand.  Once I knew Jaro didn’t want to break up with me, I was okay.  We agreed to see each other just once a week during term time and to ‘see how the study was going’ during school breaks.  It was just for six months, I told myself.  I was crazy about Jaro too, but I could back off for six months if that was what he needed.  Maybe I’d focus on my school work a bit more, too.  There was no way I wanted to share a room for the rest of my life with Jane the Pain.  Maybe if I did a bit of work, I’d be able to move out in a year or two.

And something changed over the next six months.  I hung out with the gang less and less.  Started to get better marks at school.  Hell, I didn’t turn into a saint or anything, I just tried a little harder.  Jaro and I sometimes got the bus home together, him getting off two stops before me, of course, but seeing him for those few minutes during the week made it easier to cope with only meeting up on Saturdays.  It was a long six months but, at the end of it, I’d passed all my end of year exams and Jaro had finished his Leaving Cert reasonably happy.  He got a summer job in a hotel and his brother loaned him enough money to buy a motorbike – a 400cc Honda – so he could get to and from work.  The bike was a bit of an issue for my folks, unfortunately.  They’d just come around to accepting that, at almost seventeen, I was old enough to have a steady boyfriend, but a boyfriend with a motorbike?  Not so good.

Anyway, the day of my birthday last year, Jaro got his results in the morning – not enough points for medicine, of course, but he was sure he’d get into UCC to study biochem.  Then he picked me up and we set off for Kinsale, cutting through a small industrial estate to take a shortcut.  As we came around a corner, we could see something on the road up ahead – an accident?  A broken down car?

“Stop!” I yelled, and Jaro pulled the bike over.

Three young boys stood around a skewbald mare, who lay flat out on the side of the road.  She was still attached to a sulky, which was hanging there, tilted over to the left, its fall stopped by the pull of the traces.  Her sides were heaving, her whole body was soaked with sweat which had lathered into foam between her hind legs and underneath her harness.  Her legs twitched and trembled as she lay there and there was blood dripping from several cuts on her legs and from her mouth.  One of the boys grabbed the reins and hauled on them as we stopped.  A second started beating her with a stick while the third, the youngest, kicked her rump as hard as he could.  He only looked about ten years old – how could anyone so young be so cruel?

“What the hell do you think you’re doing,” I screamed, scrambling off the bike.

“Mind your own effing business,” yelled the eldest, a lad of about fourteen – about the same age as our Tom.

Jaro got off the bike and took off his helmet.  He’s pretty impressive, even if you’re not biased like me. He’s six foot tall, and he’s fit and muscular from carting crates and barrels from the storeroom to the hotel bar.  The boys stopped and looked at him, sizing him up.

“You’d better stop hitting that horse,” he said.

He doesn’t have a strong accent, after living here for eight years, but it’s still there.  These boys picked it up straight away.

“What are you gonna do about it, ya stupid Polish tool?” asked the eldest.

“Keep hitting that horse and you’ll find out,” replied Jaro, setting his helmet down on the bike.

The three boys exchanged looks and the youngest one said “G’wan Mikey, you and Shane could trash him no bother.”

Little brat! I thought.  The two older boys took a couple of steps forward, the older one – Mikey, I suppose – slapping the stick against his left hand as he walked.  Trying to look tough.

“Try it if you want,” said Jaro.  “You’ll be sorry.”

I could feel him tense up, more than see it, and I stepped forward too.

“There’s two of us,” I added.  “Seems even to me.  Are you ready to get the crap beaten out of you, or do you want to just piss off now?”  Whoa, where did my tough chick voice come from?

The boys hesitated and I stood beside Jaro, ready for whatever happened.  Meanwhile, the poor horse, no longer being beaten, heaved a great sigh and lay still.  Oh God, was she dead?

At that very moment, the door of a warehouse beside us opened and an old man came out.

“Leave that horse alone, ya little hoors!” he yelled.  “I’ve called the guards.  They’re on the way.  You better get out of here if you don’t want to end up in court for cruelty!”

With a few more taunts and threats, the boys walked off, acting macho as they went down the road, waving the stick at us.  They shouted at the man,

“We know where you work, you better watch out!”

Quick as a flash he yelled back,

“Well I know where you live, you little feckers! If I have any hassle from you I’ll have the guards around to your house before you know it!”

Then they were gone.  I ripped off my helmet and ran to the horse.  Her red-rimmed eyes were half-closed, but she was still breathing, thank goodness.  I looked up at the man.

“Could you get some water?  And a sponge or something?”

He nodded and disappeared back into the building.  Without me saying a word, Jaro pulled out his pen-knife and cut the traces.  The sulky, finally released, settled on its side with a thump.  The man quickly appeared with a basin of water and a towel, followed by a couple of other workers from the warehouse.  They stood around, watching as I started to sponge the mare down with the towel, talking to her all the time.  I could literally see her chest shake every time her heart beat, it was pounding that hard.  Gradually it slowed.  The mare moved her mouth – made a swallowing kind of motion – and lifted her head with a groan.

“Easy girl, take your time, “ I said.

“More water?” asked the first man who had come out to us.  I nodded.

By the time he had come back, the mare was no longer stretched out on her side.  She was still lying down, but at least she had her head up, forelegs tucked up in front of her.  This time, I put the basin on the ground in front of the her, and she dipped her nose into it but didn’t drink.  Now we could hear sirens approaching and, within minutes, two squad cars came around the corner and stopped beside us, blue lights flashing.  I stayed with the mare, gently stroking her neck and her face, while the guards talked to the old guy and Jaro, before going back to their cars.  One car then went off in the direction the boys had gone – fat chance of finding them, I thought to myself.  The two guards from the other car came back to me and the mare.

“We’ve called the ISPCA,” one of them said.  “They’ll be here in half an hour and they’ll call a vet.  You seem to know horses, Miss -?”

“Lynch,” I replied.  “Suzie Lynch.”

He smiled and nodded.  “Would you mind staying until they get here?  I need to take a statement from you anyway, and from your friend.”

Half an hour later, the mare struggled to her feet.  I took the harness off her, removed the bit from her bleeding mouth and turned her bridle into a makeshift halter.  She was desperately thin.  You could count every single one of her ribs and her hip-bones stuck out like sore thumbs – literally, as the hair was rubbed off and the skin was pink and sore where it stretched over the bones underneath.  She was missing two shoes and her bare hooves were badly broken, with long cracks stretching up the hoof wall.  She stood quietly, head low.

The ISPCA inspector arrived soon after.  She seemed like a brisk, no-nonsense sort of person, but you could see her face soften when she looked at the mare.

“Well thank God we don’t have to put this one down,” she said, after checking the mare over.  “I can cancel the vet and get my friend to bring the horse to the refuge.  You never know what to expect when you hear of an overturned sulky and a horse down.  Broken legs, broken backs, hooves worn away to the bone – you see everything.”

She saw the look on my face and shrugged.  “It happens,” she said.  “And worse.  I see it every day.”

Even though we weren’t needed now, Jaro and I stuck around to wait until the horse was collected.  We both felt kind of responsible for her, I guess.  The old guy from the warehouse brought mugs of tea out for us and the inspector, and the four of us stood around, sipping our tea and talking about the amount of cruelty and neglect that seemed to be going on these days.

Eventually we heard a truck approaching and turned to look.  A familiar battered blue lorry was making its way up the road.  The Ballyloch truck and Liz!  I hadn’t seen her for well over a year, when she had lost the rag with me over not looking after Charlie.  I’d never seen her get mad before, but she’d been absolutely raging at me that day.  Trouble was, she’d been right – I’d been incredibly lucky to have a horse like Charlie and I’d really neglected him.  What if she started to have another go at me?

I took Jaro’s hand for moral support as Liz approached.  She and Claire, the ISPCA inspector, seemed to be old friends.  Liz shook her head as she looked at the skewbald.

“How can anyone treat an animal like this?” she asked.

Then she looked at me.

“Oh, hello Suzie.  How are things?”

“Good,” I replied cautiously.  “How are all the horses?  How’s Charlie?”

“Charlie’s good,” she responded with a smile.  “Jenny’s mum has sort of taken him over.  She’s learning to ride.  Charlie’s perfect for her.  It’s really working out.”

“Aw that’s brilliant!” I was genuinely thrilled.  Poor old Charlie deserved to have someone fussing over him, even it was an old lady.  Jenny’s mum must be well into her forties, after all.

The ice was broken.  We chatted easily for another few minutes, then Liz took the mare from me and led her towards the truck. The mare walked unsteadily up the ramp, Liz tied her up, put up the ramp and said her goodbyes.

“You should call out someday, Suzie,” she remarked, as she climbed up into the truck.  “It would be nice to see you again.”

We watched the truck drive away, then Claire shook our hands and thanked us for helping.

“You saved that mare’s life, you know,” she said.  “Not everyone would have stopped like you did.  You’re welcome to call into the refuge any time to see how she’s getting on, but I think she’ll be fine once she gets a bit of TLC.”

Jaro put his arms around me as we watched her drive away, then he hugged me tight, really tight.  I looked up into his eyes and he kissed me gently on the nose.

“My horse girl,” he said.

My Horse Girl.  I liked the sound of that!

Two weeks later, we went out to the horse refuge on the bike to see the mare.  Claire met us at the gate and brought us to a paddock where our girlie and a couple of others grazed.  She was still really skinny, but her coat looked better and there was a hint of life in her eyes that hadn’t been there before.

“I hope you don’t mind, but we’ve named her after you,” said Claire.  “We haven’t had a Suzie for a while.”

“Ah no, I’m delighted,” I laughed.  “I never thought anyone would name a horse after me!”

It was strange, but that whole episode brought me and Jaro closer together than ever before.

Sitting on my bed, I turn at last to the unopened pale blue envelope on my knee.  I open it carefully and pull out the card, although I have a fair idea of what I wrote last year.  The same grey horse gallops across the same pale background.  I open the card and read

Dear Suzie what a day that was last year. I’ll never forget it. Results tomorrow aaargh. I still don’t know what I want to do so I am going to take a year off studying and figure it out. Got a full time job lined up in the hotel where Jaro works so M & D won’t be moaning about me mooching off them.  I’ll still be able to help at the rescue centre on weekends.  Off there now.  I love it there even if I don’t get paid booooo :-( Suzie the horse (it still sounds weird doesn’t it) is doing great and there is a potential adopter coming tomorrow.  Fingers x’d!

Suzie

xoxoxo

I smile.  I can’t help smiling whenever I think of Suzie now.  That potential adopter had turned out to be as perfect as can be and Suzie is now living a life of luxury in Co Tipperary.  Her new owners even keep in touch with me and Jaro, and they send us photos from time to time.  Hell, the screensaver on my phone is a picture of Suzie grazing happily in a green field.  She had turned out so sweet, after having such a bad start in life.  I learned so much from working with her and some of the other rescue horses at the refuge.  I had helped them learn to trust again, but they had helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  I was determined to work with horses, especially helping to retrain and rehabilitate mistreated and abused horses.  The first step in my plan was to get a recognised horse qualification, which meant moving away from Cork.  But Jaro and me had talked about the future and he’d promised to support me in whatever I did.

“I can see how much it means to you,” he’d said.  “It’s who you are.  You’re my horse girl.”

The next couple of years are going to be tough, but I know in my heart that we’ll still be together at the end of it.  Then I’ll follow Jaro wherever he needs to go to find work.  While there mightn’t be too many bio-chemistry jobs in Cork, there will always be horses in need of help, wherever we end up.  That’s the one thing I’m sure of right now!

There is still one envelope in the bottom of the shoebox. I take it out, pull out the card with the familiar grey horse still galloping on and on.  Into the future?  I open the card and look at the bare empty page inside.  What to write, what to write.  This is the very last one, so I’d better make it count.  I find a pen on the bedside table and chew on it thoughtfully.  Finally, I start.  It’s short.

Hi.  You’ve just done your first year of Equine Science in UL and you’d better have done well or there’ll be hell to pay.  Remember.

I know where you live.

Love, Suzie  xxx

*****

If you liked Finding Susie, please please share! The more people who find out about the Ballyloch Stories, the better!  I’d also really appreciate it if you could leave a review or a rating of any of the three stories released so far on Amazon.com.  Amazon’s ratings are very much used to decide whether stories are shown to the public or not.

The cover image for this story, “Free Spirit”, is reproduced here with the kind permission of its creator, Claire Martin.  To view more of Claire’s work or to contact her, visit her page : artistsandillustrators.co.uk/claire-martin

The Ballyloch Stories are based around the clients of the fictitious Ballyloch Riding School, near the non-fictitious city of Cork, Ireland.  Each story is intended to stand alone, but the reader may prefer to read Lucky in Life first, as it describes the beginnings of Ballyloch Riding School.

Although the stories are inspired by the author’s experiences during her time running a livery stables near Cork, all of them are works of fiction.  Names, characters, businesses and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner.  None of the human characters are intended to resemble any person, living or dead, and any such resemblance is entirely coincidental.  Some of the equine characters depicted are based on real horses the author has known over the years but are always presented in a fictitious way.

Copyright 2015 © Martine Greenlee

All rights reserved.  No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review.

Trademarked names may appear in this story. Rather than use a trademark symbol with every occurrence of a trademarked name, names are used in an editorial fashion, with no intention of infringement of the respective owner’s trademark.

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