• Gillian Keegan

A world apart

Such a lot has changed since my last maternity leave with the Monkey. Then we were in Australia, at Lightwood, I had two horses in work, and we had just bought the most beautiful Connemara weanling. Managing the property, kids and animals meant that life was very busy, despite the fact that I was having a break from the corporate world.

Here in India, we have lots of help, but I am surprised (I don't know why) that looking after three kids is still exhausting!! Not having the property to manage, and not having to do things like source hay, clean paddocks and stand for the farrier means that I have more time to actually ride, which is a dream, but there is something about the satisfaction of seeing a freshly harrowed paddock, or a fully stacked hay shed.

Anyway, comparing such different lives won't get me anywhere, but I thought it nice to see a snapshot of a morning in each country.

Australia - 2016

The view of the back paddock at Lightwood. Such a magical place, my heart is there.

The baby is teething, and I feel pretty guilty as I handed her over to the sitter. She'll be fine, but she looks at me accusingly with glowing red cheeks. I slide the house door closed, it's sticking - I must get someone to fix it. I have two hours, the clock is ticking. Rushing to the shed next to the house, I pile my tack and brushes into a makeshift garden wheeler / tack trolley and wince as I push my hat on, damp in the Macedon Ranges winter. Our cat watches me, lolling lazily on a dry shelf. I stare at her back, sure she's lying on mouse droppings. It's drizzling and I slide through the mud and park my overloaded trolley up at the arena in the rain. There are dark spots spreading on my leather saddle.

No sign of the horses, they have probably hidden themselves behind a tree, in a dip in the ground. One of the benefits to them of having a twenty five acre paddock. I squint, searching for a glimpse of a blue rug. A hare shoots up from behind a bunch of gorse a few meters away, making me jump. I must get someone to spray for gorse, I can see the little yellow flowers taunting me everywhere.

Ponies!!! My cry echoes through the gum trees. The neighbours think I'm slightly odd. A bit of movement and I spot the youngster, weaving his way through the trees, cantering, hopeful that I have a scoop of lucerne. My mare trots after him, looking at me suspiciously, hanging back. I breathe out, pretending that I don't have a care in the world. She knows full well that I'm on a timer and I have work in my eyes. 'Not today!' she says and dances off, laughing, tail the air. The baby nudges my pocket, rudely. Then, not finding a carrot, he turns around and backs his bum to me - a scratch is better than nothing.

We play our game, my mare and I, until she drops the act and decides it's all too much bother, leaning in for a scratch, and letting me slide the halter around her neck. I kiss her on the nose and tell her she's beautiful. She sighs loudly, blinking. A kookaburra laughs next to us and a bit of sun tries to break through the clouds. It's so peaceful here, we can't see another soul. I smile, and we make our way to ride.

India 2019

It's already humid as I walk up to the security gate of our development for my cab, the baby kicking in his seat in the kitchen with our maid. My jodhpurs stick uncomfortably and I wish I had worn my short boots. The taxi sounds a loud Indian tune as it reverses, and we start to make our way to the yard, me sliding around in the back with no seatbelt. We pass a herd of strongly scented goats, many just kids, being shooed along the road by two thin women in long, colourful saris. Cows graze at the side of the road, occasionally plodding in front of the car, no rush. At junctions we compete with mopeds for a space to turn, horns beeping in a friendly sort of way. A child taps on the window and offers me a rose.

Reaching the riding school we are checked by security guards. I come every day and they know my face, but they still check every time. We pull up and I pay a few rupees to the taxi driver before walking through the courtyard, waving at the chef as he hurries towards the restaurant. At the tack room, my things are packed in a neat box in the corner. A groom sees me and quickly grabs a head collar to fetch Bucee. 'No it's ok, I can do it,' I explain, he looks worried - that is his job. I walk to Bucee's stall past a row of other horses, thoroughbreds, warmbloods and arabs. Some are friendly, a grey mare, Sandy always wobbles her nostrils at me, others are downright rude, ears pinned back as they 'swear' in horse.

Bucee is in his stall, shining from his morning groom. He pricks his ears at the movement, swinging around from his hay to see who it is. I scratch his neck, sliding the halter over his nose, then push open his door and walk to the tack room, his shod hooves clip clopping next to me.

A rush of activity when we arrive, people grabbing tack, bandages, as I assure them that I can manage. The language barrier can be difficult, we communicate in broken English, and many of the grooms speak different languages themselves, Kannada, Hindi. Bucee looks slightly grumpy at the whole thing. Suited and booted, faster than a Grand Prix pit stop, I lead him to the mounting block, hop on, then off we go.

A monkey runs ahead of us through the car park, looking for fruit to steal or mischief to make. Bucee pricks his ears he's no stranger to monkeys, but he's wary of them. A large tent is being built on our right to celebrate the festival of Ganesha, and tarpaulins flap ominously. I feel tense, but surprisingly he doesn't spook. I breath out as we pass the guards and the sleeping husky guard dog, then give him a squeeze with my legs to cross the road to the arena.

x Gill x


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