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Hell and Horseboxes
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We used the time to inspect the horsebox, which was much bigger than we'd expected – more like a removal lorry with extra doors. There was room for six horses inside. It even had a groom’s compartment with a bed and a stove. And there was a pony already on board – a part-load on its way to Gaillac, two hours north-east of our destination. Which left plenty of room for us, the cats and our own luggage. This was another big advantage of travelling in the horsebox – plenty of space for any forgotten extras which had evaded the removal men – or had had to be rescued, like the Hoover for last-minute cleaning detail.

Then came the bad news. Portsmouth would not take the horses. It would be too rough to carry them. And all the Channel ports to the west were closing. Our only hope was Dover but that raised another problem – the new guidelines for the transportation of animals.

It would take six hours to drive to Dover and that would put the new journey time over the limit. Which meant putting the horses into lairage at Dover. Which meant a statutory eight hours rest before they could be loaded again.

Which meant we'd have to load Rhiannon twice.

"Oh," said Sue. "And maybe we'll have to stop at Bordeaux as well."

Three times.


The loading started well despite the wind whipping across the yard and rattling the metal cladding of our big barn. Jan's horse, Rain, went up the ramp at the second attempt and Sue closed the stall behind her. One horse loaded. One to go.

Shelagh clipped the lead rein onto Rhiannon's head-collar and walked her towards the ramp. Three strides later Rhiannon put on her stubborn face and dug in her front hooves. Shelagh turned her around and tried again. Same result.

We tried picking up Rhiannon’s front feet and slowly walking her forwards. That worked for a while. We managed to place one hoof on the ramp but that was it. Rhiannon started sniffing the ramp suspiciously and snorting.

Then we tried apples. Letting her take a bite then drawing it away from her. We managed to get both front feet on the ramp – perhaps a push from behind might be enough to....

It wasn't. But it was enough to send her squirming backwards, off the ramp.

We tried another apple.

We tried Polo mints.

We tried a trail of Polo mints leading up the ramp into the box.

Nothing worked.

We walked her around for a while to steady her.

And then we tried speed. Perhaps if we approached at a fast walk, the momentum would carry Rhiannon up the ramp.

It carried her off the ramp even quicker, as she leaped sideways at the last minute.

Time ticked on. Rhiannon ditched her Miss Stubborn persona and alternated between Miss Spooked – the ears pricked, wild-eyed, ‘what are you doing to me?’ neurotic horse – and Miss Evil – the ears back, Second Horse of the Apocalypse who, having unseated War on the grounds that he was too much of a wimp, was eager for some serious retribution.

We tried to calm her down, keeping a close eye on the end that kicked as we walked her around the lawn a few times and plied her with mints and soothing words. Then back to the horsebox. We’d use lunge ropes this time.

We pushed. We pulled. We cajoled. At one stage we had all her feet on the ramp, but just when it looked like she was going in, she bounced back out. Apparently, the tread boards on the ramp were now the problem. Instead of picking her feet up and stepping over them – they were only half an inch proud of the ramp – she decided she had to drag her feet through them. And if they didn't move then neither was she.