So, this is UK appreciation month and I want to talk about a British obsession – the weather. But not without reason. I’m an author of children’s pony books and officially horse mad. But I’ve recently discovered that dedication is continuing to love your horse through the depths of a British winter.
I get up before the sun at 5.40am. I keep everything quiet so I don’t wake my partner, fast asleep and cosy, wrapped up in bed. He still has over an hour of sleep to enjoy. I shiver in my cold little cottage, grasping a steaming mug of tea as I stumble over our mewing cat. After she’s been fed she slinks back up stairs to bed and for half a second I wish that I could do the same. My ear is ever alert to the sounds beyond my curtains. I’m about to step out into whatever weather the bleakest British months have to offer. One particular sound makes my heart glum – swathes of heavy, swirling rain driven by gusty wind, buffeting my windows. Once my wellies are tugged on, I open the door and in seconds it’s buffeting me. I’m chilled to my bone and it takes away my breath. My Mini Cooper is a mini refuge. I turn up the radio over the sound of the blasting air conditioning, trying to warm up the windows enough for me to see. Being woken by icy temperatures is not kind in anyone’s book.
But when I get to the yard, the deep whicker of greeting from my Spanish horse, Jerezano, makes battling the tiredness, darkness, rain and gusty gales fade into insignificance. It warms my cockles every morning more efficiently than central heating. I work alone in the artificial light inside the stable yard. It’s all enclosed, which makes it almost – almost – cosy. At this hour I’m a whirlwind – feed buckets get distributed, his stable gets mucked out, his rug is changed, his field fuelled with hay, his water buckets scrubbed and refilled, his ear rubbed (this is almost as important as his feed bucket being delivered). And if, after this, I delay in turning him out, he sets up a tattoo with his front hoof. I tell him off and he obediently places it back on the floor. Then lifts the other. The tattoo resumes. I tell him off and he obediently places the offending hoof back on the floor. Then lifts the other – you see the pattern emerging. At an ungodly hour this incessant noise plays havoc with a sensitive ear. His tactics work – he is turned out quickly. He has a rug which covers up to his ears and curls round his tail. It’s thick and cosy and rather like the duvet my boyfriend remains, even at this time, wrapped up in. Zano’s rug renders him oblivious to the sharp wind that cuts straight through me and the menacing rain that snakes down my upturned collar.
When Zano’s out and he’s eating and I’ve sloshed and almost upended myself on the sucky mud I look back. This winter is not romantic, with ice tipped hedges or snow. Instead it’s wet, harsh and the once green grass has turned to slush. Zano gives me a contented blink, then settles back to munching his hay. My heart glows. Then a fat drip lands on my neck. I turn back to the yard only to trip over the long haired mouser, Toby, who seems to prefer cat treats to mice or rat treats.
After making up more feeds, I race off to work, just as daylight makes an appearance. By the time I turn off my computer the office is reflected back at me in the window. The world outside is pitched into darkness. Zano bookends my working day and my evening stable chores are done, once more, in artificial light. I groom, I scratch Zano for ages and watch as his upper lip wobbles in delight. His every whim is catered for and he expects nothing less, Spanish prince that he is. Time melts away, especially as my dedicated partner makes an appearance and collects the manure heaps from his field, no matter what havoc the weather is up to outside. Together we make sure Zano’s tucked up cosily for the night with plenty of hay and water before giving him his night time feed and kiss. Occasionally I question the combination of horse ownership and British wintertime – ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ springs to mind. But even the rain, sodden clothes, lack of riding time and endless chores couldn’t dampen my horsey spirits. I just have to look at Zano’s handsome, noble face to know that I’m the luckiest person alive. I wouldn’t change a bit of it for the world.
The Pony Detectives, the books I write, are like my extra bit of heaven. They’re horsey through and through and when I get home from the real yard with Zano I step straight onto the fictional yard at Blackberry Farm with the four girls and their ponies. By the time the heating finally seeps into the cottage’s nooks and crannies, I’ll be on my rocking chair in the study with yet another mug of steaming tea, tapping at my keyboard, dreaming up horsey crimes for Mia, Rosie, Alice and Charlie to help solve. Once I’m tucked up, I love nothing more that writing in the depths of a dark, grim winter; the heavier the rain and the more tree-creaking the wind, the better. That’s finally my time for feeling snug, wrapped up in my writing room. And when Puffin, my cat, curls up on my lap like a purring hot water bottle, my happiness is complete.
Be sure to check out Book passion for life today for a guest post from Ruth Warburton, author of A witch in winter and a giveaway.