Lots of you have said you’d like to know more about Sarah, Pippa, Milly and the others, so we thought we’d let them tell you their own stories.
This first one is about a very busy winter’s night at Hillcrest that Sarah will never forget…. But read it for yourself……… (You can print it out if you want to).
It was one of those bright but still cold days early in the year at Hillcrest stables. The morning feeds had all been eaten and the stables mucked out. Mrs Wilkinson was in the workshop sorting out a pile of rugs…
The workshop was a cheerful place, always the first place Sarah ran to whenever she arrived on the yard. It was where she was most likely to find either of the owners because the room was shared between Mr Wilkinson’s tools and his wife’s sink and old washing machine which was used only for washing horse rugs and bandages. The first Aid cupboard was in here too, and an old sewing machine which Mrs Wilkinson used to mend rugs as fast as the ponies managed to tear them.
"Hello, I’m here. What’s happening?" called Sarah as she breezed in on this Saturday morning. Mr Wilkinson was bending over his workbench, hammering.
"Hello Sarah" he smiled "Just straightening this bolt off the top gate" he explained "You’ve missed the excitement this morning – Jigsaw and Copper decided to have a race down the steep field but they hadn’t bargained for the mud at the bottom; the pair of them went skidding straight into the gate. No harm done though, well, only to the gate".
Mrs Wilkinson stopped counting exercise bandages and looked up. "Hello Sarah. Everything alright at home?" Then, without waiting for an answer she went on, "How is it that whenever four bandages go on a pony only three come out of the wash?"
Sarah had heard this question before and had a fair idea of the answer. "Try feeling right inside the drum". She suggested. "Sometimes they stick to the sides".
Mrs Wilkinson knelt down and felt around inside the washer. "Oh, there we are – clever girl – a matching set".
Sarah grinned "What would you do without me?" she asked; then, more seriously, "Where shall I start this morning?"
"Let’s see". Mrs Wilkinson thought for a moment. "You could make up the evening feeds – I’ve done the beds. Then I want to lay a deep straw bed for Toffee; her foal is due any day and we want to be ready. We could go and have a look at her if you like, and just check if she looks any nearer to having it. Perhaps we should bring her in full-time from now on to be on the safe side".
"O.K." said Sarah, "but I thought you were going to wait a bit longer".
"I was. She’s so attached to Muffin that I don’t want to separate them. I’m sure she’ll work herself up into a state and be convinced that Muffin has vanished off the face of the earth and she’ll never see her again. You know what they’re like."
They walked across the yard and through the gate into the smallest paddock. The two mares, Muffin and Toffee came across to meet them.
"You see, Muffin isn’t due to have her foal for another three weeks." Mrs Wilkinson felt in her pocket and produced some pony nuts which Muffin accepted eagerly. "You however," said Mrs Wilkinson to Toffee rather sternly, "Are due any day. Toffee looked suitably impressed and waited patiently for her share of the nuts. "Yes, I think she’d better be brought in now, as soon as we’ve got the foaling box ready."
It was a busy morning. Mr Wilkinson was asked to use his tractor to bring four bales of straw from the big barn and leave them outside the large stable which was used as a foaling box. Sarah busied herself disinfecting the stable and water bucket and hanging up a well-filled haynet, and then used the wheelbarrow to bring in each straw bale to be separated and spread deeply on the floor.
"Oh, that’s more like it" said Mrs Wilkinson looking in at the door. "She’ll be snug enough in here. Will you do the teas when you’ve finished, please, Sarah? Then we’ll have a quick lunch and you can ride Jigsaw or Copper out if you like".
"If I like" thought Sarah, who thought it the greatest treat in the world. She had spent every spare minute at Hillcrest Stables since she was seven. Dashing home from school, bolting her tea, reluctantly doing her homework and then running down the lane to see the ponies. Every weekend and holiday was the same, and she was sometimes quite confused as to where she actually lived, - home – or here on the yard. In the Summer when Mr and Mrs Wilkinson were showing the ponies, she often stayed the night with them to be sure of making a very early start. For some far-off shows this could mean four o’clock in the morning if they had to be in the ring at eight. Sarah loved every minute of it; the stable management just as much as the glamorous moments under the lights in the main ring at some prestigious championships. She was thirteen now and determined to make a career with horses when she left school.
She finished preparing the stable for Toffee and went to find Mr Wilkinson in the kitchen where he was making toasted sandwiches. "Just the thing to warm you up." He said. "I’m sure it’s getting colder as the day goes on. Has anyone hear a weather forecast?" Nobody had, but the sun was still shining weakly when Sarah tacked up Copper and rode out of the yard into the forest. They went round the usual block of forest tracks which brought them out on the lane about half a mile from Hillcrest, heading for home.
"It’s colder, Copper." Said Sarah, and at that moment a flake of snow settled right between the pony’s ears. "Oh dear, here we go". It only took ten minutes to reach Hillcrest but by the time they were back on the yard the snow was falling thick and fast and the sky was already growing dark. Sarah settled Copper in his stable and joined Mrs Wilkinson giving out the tea-time feeds. Toffee had already taken possession of her foaling box and was standing with her head over the door, calling to Muffin across the yard.
"I told you." Said Mrs Wilkinson, "Those two can’t bear to be separated. They have to do everything together. Come on Toffee, be sensible, eat your tea."
By the time the work on the yard was done and the last water bucket had been filled it was dark and a pale new moon was shining above a blanket of crystal snow. Sarah and Mrs Wilkinson went into the feedroom to make up the breakfasts.
"A third of a scoop of mix; half a scoop of nuts and a scoop of molassed chaff". Chanted Mrs Wilkinson.
"A spoonful of cod liver oil and a measure of Startrite." added Sarah, mixing in the supplements which all the ponies were given in the winter months. "Now we’re missing a bucket – Oh yes, it’s Toffee’s". At this moment Mr Wilkinson put his head round the door and was asked if he would just go and retrieve Toffee’s bucket – surely she would have finished her tea by now. It was a good five minutes before he came back. "She hasn’t touched her tea". He said.
"Silly mare. She’s fretting at being parted from Muffin." Decided Mrs Wilkinson. Her husband shook his head. "No, I don’t think so. I think she has other things on her mind". Mrs Wilkinson stared at him.
"You don’t mean - Oh no. - Well I suppose she has to have it sometime, but what a night to choose!".
The next two hours passed in an agony of indecision. Should the vet be called? If they left it too late would the vet be able to get through the ever-deepening snow? Sarah phoned her parents for permission to stay on. It was already too
deep to cycle home. By nine o’clock Toffee was well on the way and Mrs Wilkinson guessed the foal would be born within the next hour. She went into the office to call the vet, saying it was only a precaution and that they could probably manage without him on such a bad night. Then, quite suddenly, just as everything seemed to be going so smoothly, everything went very, very wrong.
They were sitting quietly on a strawbale in the corner of the foaling box, enjoying a cup of tea from the thermos Mr Wilkinson had made earlier; he knew from experience that these could be long all-night sessions, when Sarah said: "Look. A foot! The foal’s coming. Oh clever girl Toffee!"
Mrs Wilkinson spread a clean towel ready for the foal to be born onto – but nothing happened. Toffee strained and pushed but the foal did not appear.
"Sarah," said Mr Wilkinson slowly, "There should be two front hooves; that’s a hind foot. The foal is the wrong way round. Go and ring the vet again – and tell him to hurry".
Sarah ran to the house, reciting the vet’s phone number under her breath as she went. She grabbed at the receiver and punched out the number, How slowly the dialling could be heard in her ear. It seemed ages before a disembodied voice informed her that this was an answer machine; the vet was not available, but if she would like to call his mobile……. Sarah repeated the mobile number over and over, dialling it as fast as she could. There was a short pause and then the voice of Tom Barton, the vet.
"Hello." Cried Sarah, "This is Hillcrest stables, We really need, you. It’s an emergency".
"I’m on my way to you now".said Mr Barton, "But the roads are so bad, I’m almost stuck I’m about two miles from you on the Merryton road, but it could take me an hour to reach you. Oh no…." the voice stopped."What’s wrong?" cried Sarah.
"There’s a car completely blocking the road in front of me. No-one in it. They’ve obviously abandoned it. I’m afraid I’m not going to make it, Sarah".
"What can we do?". Asked Sarah, determined not to go back to Mrs Wilkinson with such an alarming message.
"Take the phone into the mare’s box and I’ll try to talk you through it. But get John; you may have to pull the foal"
Mr Wilkinson – John – was already with his wife and the mare when Sarah got back to the foaling box.. Toffee was lying on her side in the straw, breathing hard.
"How is she?" Sarah hardly dared ask.
"She’s very tired and getting weaker. Thank goodness Tom will be here soon".
Sarah handed over the phone. "It’s going to be a long-distance consultation". She explained. "He’s going to talk us through it".
The next fifteen minutes seemed like a lifetime.Mrs Wilkinson held the phone and passed on the intructions to Mr Wilkinson, who with a mixture of gentleness and strength, carefully turned the foal around and pulled it free of its mother.
"It’s alive". Mrs Wilkinson’s voice was just a whisper. "Oh, good girl. Toffee. You’ve done it. You’re a Mum". The little foal raised its head and spluttered as Mrs Wilkinson wiped its nose and mouth clean to help it breathe,
"A filly". Said her husband, rather proud of his contribution to the happy event. Sarah couldn’t speak. She had never seen anything as wonderful as this brand new baby horse, and she rather thought that Toffee agreed with her. They all watched as the mare licked the foal clean and dry, and after ten minutes or so, it staggered to its feet. Within half an hour it had taken its first drink of milk and the crisis was over.
Mr Wilkinson took the phone from Sarah. "Tom, I’m coming out in the tractor to tow you out – it’s the least I can do. Mary and Sarah will find us something hot to eat and you'll have to spend the night here. I'll be with you in twenty minutes or so".
With a last look at a very proud Toffee nuzzling her foal, they all left the stable and went back to the house. It was nearly midnight but no-one felt the least bit tired. Mr Wilkinson started up the tractor and, headlights reflecting off the snow, lumbered out of the yard. Sarah laid the table while Mrs Wilkinson opened several different cans of soup and mixed them all together in a big pan.
They smelled wonderful and Sarah was suddenly very hungry.
It was nearly one o’clock when Mr Wilkinson arrived back on the yard with the vet’s car roped behind the tractor. "Come on in Tom.". called Mrs Wilkinson. "Sorry you’ve missed all the drama but at least now you’ll be able to have a meal and a good night’s sleep knowing you’ve nothing left to do".
"That sounds wonderful Mary." said the vet, "We’ll just take a quick look at Mum and the new arrival and be back in five minutes".
They were bck in five minutes all right. At the run. "We need the storm lantern". Called Mr Wilkinson. " Something’s happening in the little paddock. Muffin’s making a dreadful noise". Sarah and Mrs Wilkinson dragged on their coats and wellington boots and ran out onto the yard. Under a tree in the little paddock, in a circle of yellow light cast by the lantern, Tom and Mr Wilkinson were bending over something on the ground, "What’s happened" called Sarah, then suddenly the vet was staggering towards them through the driving snow carrying something in his arms.
"Oh Muffin". Cried Mrs Wilkinson. "You couldn’t bear to be left out could you? Two foals in one night. And what a night!"
A deep bed was quickly laid in the barn and Sarah ran to the tackroom for towels and a water bottle. The foal was very cold, and, following the vet’s instructions they rubbed it dry. When after nearly an hour it still had not stood up and drunk from its mother, Mrs Wilkinson went off to make up a bottle of mare’s milk replacer. To everyone’s relief the little foal drank half the milk and settled down to sleep while its mother had a warm feed to help get her strength back. "they’ll be all right now". Said the vet as he tucked a warm hot water bottle up against the little foal. "But you’ll have to feed it every couple of hours unless it gets the idea that it can drink from mum".
Two hours later, Tom went o ff to bed and Mrs Wilkinson made up another bottle. "Go an Sarah, time you were in bed too." She said, pulling on her coat.
"Oh please let me just come with you to feed the little one then I promise I’ll go straight up".
"Alright then, come on".
Together they crossed the yard in the moonlight. Everything was still and sparkling in the snow.
"OK Toffee?" asked Mrs Wilkinson, looking over the door The mare was asleep, standing over the foal who was already beginning to lose her new-born gawkiness and plumping out nicely.
"Here we go then. Here’s your bottle" said Sarah as they went into the barn. But Mrs Wilkinson was smiling.
"We’re not going to need that. – Look" and there was the little foal, standing drinking from its mother.
"So all’s well that ends well". Said Mrs Wilkinson.
Sarah smiled "You did say Toffee and Muffin always have to do everything together – and they’ve proved you right".
"Let’s hope tomorrow is a quieter day" said Mrs Wilkinson.
Sarah grinned, pulling her coat tighter round her against the snow. "I wouldn’t bank on it." She said.