It was an anti-climax of a meeting. To this day I am absolutely astonished that we managed to arrive at the lairage within minutes of each other. But there was no fanfare or exchange of pennants. They'd been expecting to find us there, and we were too out of breath to disabuse them. And perhaps it was best not to ask what they'd have done if they hadn't found us at the lairage. I preferred not to know.
And, anyway, there was a more pressing problem. That of negotiating the two huge wooden gates that blocked the entrance to the stables. Were they locked?
I grasped a handle and prayed. They weren't locked. The huge doors swung and stuttered open. And then all hell, which had never been adequately shackled since the last time, was let loose again. There were dogs everywhere. Barking, growling, jumping, running. Gypsy joined in, dragging Shelagh along on the leash. And then on came the farmhouse lights, then the courtyard's. So much for not disturbing anyone.
The farm dogs were gathered in, eventually, and the horsebox manoeuvred into the courtyard - it was even bigger than Sue's, more of a juggernaut than a horsebox. And then all the equipment and extraneous luggage were tracked down and taken on-board until all that remained was to load the horses.
Rain and the pony were a bit skittish to start with but after a few false starts bounced inside. Then came Rhiannon, snorting and prancing, the wind whipping her tail and mane, the courtyard alive with lights and shadows.
We knew she was going to be bad.
No one else did. The usual warning of, 'watch out, she kicks,' was met with the seasoned indifference of people who had spent a lifetime handling horses.
Five minutes later, seasoned professionals were running and ducking for their lives. Rhiannon had broken free of Shelagh's grasp after a spectacular bout of bucking and kicking. Which was, of course, too much for the farm dogs who immediately ended their short truce and raced after Rhiannon to join in the fun.
I think I counted five dogs and eleven humans that night. All running around a small courtyard in the middle of a stormy night on the cliffs. There might have been more, they made enough noise.
All we needed now was...
And there it was, right on cue, a clap of thunder, celestial applause.
Rhiannon was caught, escaped and caught again. Grooms and drivers and various family members of the lairage shouted encouragement, ran, fell down and threw themselves against walls. It was like Pamploma on a bad night.
And all around, the wind continued to blow and the rain to fall, the sky flashed and thunder rumbled.
It was a night to remember.
And then it was over. Rhiannon loaded.
As we left the lairage, I couldn't help but wonder at the forbearance of the people there. We had descended upon them in the middle of the night, chased them and their dogs around a courtyard for half an hour and still they waved us goodbye.
I wondered if they were used to it.
I hoped not.
(next instalment:The Catnappers of Wimereux)