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Hell and Horseboxes
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More foot-lifting, horse-shuffling minutes ticked by. I'd given up worrying about ferries. I'd even started to look upon Gypsy in a more favourable light – puppies weren't that bad, really. Not compared to some animals.

And then it happened. Rhiannon trotted up the ramp, a couple of bounces, a head toss or two ... and disappeared inside. No back-breaking foot-lifting required. No pushing, shoving or mints with a hole. It was almost as though she'd said to herself – I'll give them forty minutes of hell first, just to show them who’s boss.

The cats were next. They had their own deluxe travelling crates with separate areas for litter tray, food, water and sleeping. The only complication was the fact that we had to arrange them in a particular order. Our cat, Guinny, a five-year-old silver tabby, didn't like Minnie, the kitten. Put them within sight of each other and spit would fly all the way from Devon to Dover. Luckily we had plenty of room in the box with its feed passages and spare stalls.

Then came the blankets and rugs for the horses, the hay and the hay nets, the dog and cat food, their bowls and water containers.

And then our luggage – in by far the smallest bag – a change of clothing, some food, our money and all the papers we were going to need for the journey.

Finally, we collected Gypsy from the back garden, checked to make sure she hadn’t uprooted any trees or buried a postman, and then we all climbed into the groom’s compartment behind the cab.

We were ready. All packed and a whole new future ahead of us.

Then we remembered the Hoover.

And the log basket.


We said goodbye to the high banks and narrow lanes of Devon, to the white farmhouses and the slate and thatch. We passed through the chalk of Dorset and Wiltshire, across the lower reaches of Salisbury plain to the accompaniment of scudding clouds racing to beat us to Dover.

We were making good time – the one advantage of having a force eight gale at your back. We checked on the horses every half hour or so – walking back through the horsebox and checking their water and hay nets. And we talked to the two major feline powers, stressing the importance of maintaining the no-spit zone.

Most amazing of all was the behaviour of Gypsy. She was quiet, perfectly behaved, curled up on the floor or the bed, with lots of yawning and scratching but no barking, whining, biting or throwing herself through the hatchway at the driver's throat. Which was unexpected. And worrying – was she being too good? Was this a ploy to make her next descent into the diabolical even more terrifying?

As we approached Dover, Sue's mobile phone gave us the news that the ferry companies were predicting a window in the storm sometime during the night and could we be on stand-by. They didn't know when the window would come, not exactly, or how long it would last but it was probably going to be the only chance of getting the horses across before the week-end.

Which presented us with another problem – where would we stay the night? Sue had suggested a hotel and was ready to book us in. But Shelagh was worried they wouldn't take a dog and three cats. And would they have a night porter who could wake us up as soon as this window arrived? We couldn't afford to miss it.

Then Sue remembered the darts room at the lairage. It was a rest room provided for the grooms. A sofa, a few chairs, a dart-board – not exactly plush or indeed private – but it was warm and on-site. And if there weren't too many grooms staying over we might even be able to sleep.

The lairage was an impressive sight. A few miles outside Dover and room for about fifty horses. It was the equine equivalent of an airport hotel – close to the ferries and the stop over point for all the horses bound for the continent; the show jumpers, race horses, eventers ... and our two.

As we led the horses up the wide central aisle of one of the stable blocks we couldn't help but notice the change in Rhiannon. She'd seen the stallions. Which improved her mood considerably. The stubborn, I'm-not-moving-for-anything face, had been replaced by her look-at-me face. Complete with high tail carriage and flashy Arab trot, she pranced down the aisle, parading herself unashamedly before the gathered on-lookers.

It was now mid-afternoon and a lull in our journey. We'd seen to the horses, we'd checked on the cats. We'd walked Gypsy around the lairage a few times. Things were calm. Pulse rates were back below the critical level.