First and foremost, we should make some introductions, even though she was horrified and somewhat deflated, to learn that not everyone had heard of her. But then when you are only five and just starting the out and about stuff, the world can turn out to be a jolly big place, containing a startling number of things you never knew about. But I digress, the Unicorn’s Sunday name is Balleroy Iona but she likes IP, short for Iony-pony and because she thinks it makes her sound like her surname could be McCoy. Although born in Lambourn, she’s been a Dorset resident since she was eighteen months old (yes…ok…but someone has to live here), having had a blissful childhood she’s met all the challenges of her new life with very good grace, exactly as one would expect from a pony that has been brought up to have very good manners.
On her passport it says that she is cream dun; initially she wanted that crossed out and amended to drop dead gorgeous, but now she thinks that stating the obvious is rather crass. Patently, all unicorns are top of the breathtakingly stunning pile, it goes without saying.
Late last summer, IP took the first steps into the next stage in her life – that of becoming a ridden pony. Backing was rather a non-event, as were all the preliminaries to get her to that point – she humoured me and didn’t laugh too often as I did my best to ‘do things properly’. With hindsight, perhaps unicorns don’t need the same tuition as ordinary horses but who really knows – she’s the first one I’ve been friends with. Her first few hacks, however, proved to be a revelation as she quickly discovered that the world was not flat, or even flattish down here in Dorset. Then there was, of course, the little stream/ford to cross… coming so close on the heels of the discovery that the world was lumpy, this body of water could have been the Atlantic and, all in all, was more than she could bear. Sensibly, she consulted the alarmingly weighty pocket version of ‘A Highland Pony’s Rights and Obligations’ immersing (excuse the pun) herself in those titled ‘during ridden duties’ and for safety’s sake whilst she sought guidance, she put the handbrake firmly on. For suggesting we might at least give it a try, I received a miss piggy headshake, followed closely by a smack in the face by the Highland equivalent of a stamped foot and all the while had immobile stone pony legs (don’t move the feet whatever you do!), because it clearly states that in sub-section 6 of the aforementioned Highland Pony Rights and Obligations. After several minutes of immobility and wet feet (mine not hers), even with her new best friend (more on him later) showing her that there were no sharks, no rip tides and assuring her that the stream had been properly risk assessed, she decided that actually she was now quite bored and went through as if there had never been a problem. However, that handbrake option had got her thinking. That was clearly a skill to be practised at every opportunity – like every ten to twelve strides. Eventually, sweating (that’s me again, not her) we made it back home. She went off to think and eat whilst I went for a lie-down in a darkened room with a damp flannel on my head.
Seems funny to look back on those days, now she never ever applies the handbrake even when it might be most prudent to do so and I’ve taken up carrying a hip flask of gin… She can deal with most small annoyances such a farm traffic – not a flicker; gamekeeper who discharged a 12 bore on the other side of a hedge as we passed – he got a narrowing of the eyes for such inappropriate behaviour in front of a unicorn (even one in training) such as she is. As is the way with those of a divine leaning, she has huge tolerance for mere mortals who should, but patently don’t, know better. (She’ll squish his quad next time though….). Now she marches up the mountains, even that particular one which could be compared with the south face of the Eiger, despite the fact that it is almost vertical in places – you ask her and she’ll tell you that (it’s not by the way, just long and climbing and definitely a hill, no mountain). But all this mountain climbing brought about another startling revelation and that was that her skin leaked. Horrified that this might be the early signs of altitude sickness, she headed straight back to the yard expecting bubbles and cool towels – she had to put up with a sponge and the hose instead. I did tell her that it was spring water, probably mineral, that could, if we had the enthusiasm, be bottled and sole for massively overinflated prices down the beach.
She gave me her withering look….
Now is probably time to do another introduction as IP has a very special friend who has seen her through all the unsettling discoveries she encountered during her first few months out and about, held a hoof as required, not minded being squashed, or left behind and been the friend of the sort that one would snigger with round the back of the bike sheds if; a, bike sheds existed still and b, that was the sort thing that ponies could do without drawing attention to themselves. IP’s best friend is called Buster. He’s a young ginger lad from the wrong side of a Welsh mountain and, with his looks, probably of mixed parentage but he does have a rather charming singing voice. She thinks he’s utterly marvellous but don’t tell him as she’s rather hoping he might do something dashing if he thinks he has to woo her….
When IP and Buster first met she was somewhat suspicious of his intentions, but as soon as she realised he was what might be termed ‘a proper caution’ she threw all of hers to the wind. He still hangs on to the notion that he should escort her to and from her door after he has taken her out, but she’s now showing her independent streak and prefers to meet rather than be met. After all, she’s a modern girl and it’s so much more grown up. He does point out, quite vocally, that being abandoned without even the opportunity for a quick peck on the cheek is not quite what he had in mind.
Next on her list of acquaintances, is another ginger chap (perhaps there’s something in the water as there are a lot of them about around here). This one’s short, round and hails from Dartmoor – if you ask him he’ll say he comes from Princetown - where the prison is because he thinks it makes him sound dark and dangerous… Now we can tell you but perhaps not others, but IP has renamed him. He is, in her mind, to be forever known as ‘Tripod’….on account of the fact that he has rather distasteful colty tendencies of the ‘dirty old man’ type, complete with the raincoat I fear…. Wherever she has heard such things I may never know!
And last but not least, there’s Marilyn. Surprisingly, she’s a ginger too. Now Marilyn is an Arab and it may be simply enough just to state that fact and leave it there, but well-bred young unicorns don’t hold with anything as common as stereotyping. Well, not much anyhow. Where to begin with Marilyn….the fact that she is a diva should be taken as rote, that she manifests serial neuroses which change by the hour should be politely ignored, as does anything she might have to say about ‘voices in her head’. She requires endless pampering and therapy just to go down the road and back again….I have a feeling it may not be a long term friendship but it takes all sorts. The other issue with the ginger diva is that she has a tendency to be a tad ‘Essex’, showing a preference for leopard print accessories and karaoke, together with actually liking her blingy browband. And, of course, Marilyn considers herself to be high on the scale of all round gorgeousness.
Now…you and I both know that IP is top of that particular scale which she holds by natural beauty and true class, she wouldn’t be seen dead in savannah print or diamante. But as it turns out, going about with Marilyn has its advantages - IP can do arched and bouncy with ease whereas Marilyn prefers the giraffe posture as she’s read somewhere that it makes you look younger and less wrinkled. IP can do the L’Oreal mane toss as well (she has enough of it) which Marilyn cannot having only the mane of a very badly brushed and somewhat aged Barbie doll.
So all in all, IP’s doing well in the early stages of her voyage into adulthood. The streams are no longer oceanic and can be paddled through with ease, the mountains that required crampons and breathing apparatus are now just hills – bit huffy puffy, but perfectly manageable for a unicorn (in training) to trundle up and down. We have even made a trip or two to the beach, it’s so close it would almost be rude not to.
Our first visit to the seaside may be one that ought to be recounted as IP had to cross the main A road for the first time. This, in itself, requires a certain mind set as it is chock full of container lorries and car drivers who looked around themselves at Milton Keynes and aren’t doing that again until they get to Cornwall. Not only is the road itself horrendously busy but, there are some strategically placed man hole covers at both junctions, placed in such a way that I now know, hand on heart, that the people who install such things have a sense of humour or are simply downright perverse.
So, back to business, we approached said main road, poked out a small unicorn nose to assess the lay of the land. Before I could offer an opinion on a plan of action, IP marched out with her ‘follow me, I’m a Police horse don’t you know’ face on, traffic duly slowed and stopped. She adopted the white line position, straight as a die at a hound jog down the hill to the right turn to the seaside, glaring at any car that so much as looked like it might get in her way. It was spoiled only slightly by a massive spook of the directly vertical kind at a sandwich board advertising the heady delights of Sally’s tea rooms. Having made the passage across unfamiliar and downright dangerous territory, I duly got the bunting out and told her how amazing she was. Ears pricked, neck arched, she told me how silly, of course, everyone knows that already.
It might be worthy of a mention but I’d made that particular seaside visit in a rash moment when I thought that the traffic/campers/small children density might have been eased in the post school holiday light of day. That was where the plan started to go more than slightly awry. Every ten yards we had to stop and turn back to a passing place to let vehicles through on the single track road, every other ten yards we were trotting on to find space to let yet more come by. Little lightened the impact of such backwards and forwards ridiculousness, not even the prospect of collecting a portion of homemade fudge from a friend who lives close to the beach and has one of those ‘outside the front door’ sort of stalls. Anyway, long story short and all that, we made it, eventually, to the beach.
Buster (Welsh lad) decided that IP should have a photo of herself beside the sea for her diary. She stood, very ‘French Lieutenant’s Woman’, dramatically gazing out to said sea, nostrils flaring slightly, the full L’Oreal hair thing going with the slight sea breeze – I’m sure that you get the picture. Anyhow, maybe it was the smell of the ozone, maybe it was the fear that she might be asked to step into said ocean (which actually is the Atlantic), but she was suddenly twenty hands high and I am not exaggerating. We have piaffe big time, combined with a high blow of the kind that alerts attention from a mile away. By the time we had piaffed at that height almost in the door of the camp site shop, I baled out and tried to talk down the unicorn from wherever she had taken herself mentally. Now, in reality, all those cars and camper vans should have realised that a unicorn having a…’moment’…is probably best approached with extreme caution, if approached at all. I huffed and puffed beside her as we walked up the hill away from the very scary blue stuff while IP decided that as she was still in the throes of a ‘moment’, she could legitimately block the road and her adoring public would, of course, understand. Not. She piaffed and I crawled, gasping almost now, to the top of the hill and yet another passing place. Taking advantage of the fact that we had stopped, I got back on whilst I could still stand. Immediately I have IP back again, all fourteen two and a little bit, quite a bit miss piggy head tossing, but aside from that normal height and normal pace. We marched back over the main road without a backwards glance, even tiptoeing over the ridiculous man hole covers. After a bath and rub down (her not me this time), I left her blowing up her lilo for the next adventure. As it turned out, we stayed well inland for the next few weeks as I didn’t want to have to resort to camouflage and balaclava when I returned alone for an evening dip in the sea.
Ah, the summer and dry hooves…it’ll be here again soon. Meanwhile, we’ll reminisce until the weather improves.
Love IP and Midge x