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The Perfect Pony – Sneak Peek
Pickle jumped to his feet, a cloud of dust and straw scattering out around him. The small pony snorted and shook his head. When had he lain down? It was much safer to sleep standing up. Pickle peeked out from under his long forelock. Good. The other ponies were mostly still asleep, all of them lying down. Dyggur, Teddy and Disa were stretched out in front of him, and Pickle could hear Dubh’s gentle snores from the direction of the shelter. But where was Skye? Pickle turned to find the leader of their herd also awake, lying down on a little rise from where he could see everyone. The older horse was watching Pickle with gentle brown eyes.
“Good morning Pickle,” Skye whickered, “Are you ready for breakfast?”
Pickle tentatively stretched out stiff legs. He noticed the warmth of the morning sun on his back, the breeze in his long black mane, and the sense of calm around him. After a few more moments Pickle let out the breath he hadn’t realised he was holding, and remembered; he was in a new home now. A home that, so far, seemed nothing like any others he had known. Pickle stretched more completely. What might it be like to get to stay here?
A little later Pickle munched hay beside Skye and studied his new herd. Skye had told him many of these ponies had lived here most of their lives, and some of them were in their twenties, quite old for a horse. Pickle paused mid chew. These horses took their time eating, slept laying down, and waited their turn at the water trough. They all seemed to just know they belonged here; that they were safe. Pickle returned to his mouthful, that must feel good.
Pickle observed the other ponies carefully all that day, and the next, and all the rest of that week. These ponies must have figured out something important, some special rules perhaps. He intended to discover what these rules were so that he too could live here till he was in his twenties.
First, Pickle watched Disa. When the farmer approached, Disa didn’t run away; she stood quietly with her head down and let the farmer slip the rope around her ears, staying especially still when the farmer had a little boy or girl with her.
Next, Pickle watched Dubh. When it was time to drink, Dubh didn’t dart in front of Disa; he quietly waited his turn, even if it did mean he drank last.
Pickle then watched Dyggur. When it rained, all the ponies found a space around the shelter, but Dyggur allowed the older horses to get the best places at the back.
Finally came the day two coyotes ran right through the field in the middle of lunch. Pickle’s head shot straight up on the air. Should he run away? Or chase the coyotes? Spinning around he saw all the other horses move behind Skye. Pickle followed them and watched Skye stand up tall and snort loudly till all the coyotes ran away. Pickle watched the rest of the ponies return to grazing. Was this what it felt like to have someone take care of you?
Drifting off to sleep one evening at the end of that week Pickle rested a back leg and leaned into Skye, just a little. He had it figured out now. He knew all he needed to do, and to not do, to be just as perfect as his herd members were, so that he too would get to stay here till he was at least thirty years old.
On Monday morning, Pickle stood still with his head down for the little girl to catch him. When she dropped the rope around his feet he was tempted to give her a little nip and run away; but he didn’t.
On Tuesday afternoon Disa was even slower than usual moving up for her turn at the water trough. Pickle stomped his foot. Under all that thick mane she probably wouldn’t even notice if he snuck in for a quick drink; but he didn’t take the chance.
On Wednesday, when it rained all day, he huddled with the other ponies around the shelter, without pushing his way to the best spot at the back. Pickle was stuck next to Teddy, who kept fidgeting and splattering Pickle with extra raindrops when he shook his head. He very nearly gave that annoying little Shetland pony a big shove, but just in time he stopped himself; that would not be following the rules.
Pickle resisted all of these urges to be bad, remembering how great he had it here; he would not mess things up. He just knew he could be the perfect pony, and not even want to do all these bad things, if only he kept trying.
The hardest times were when Pickle forgot where he was for a moment. Like the day Teddy stretched and accidently bumped into Pickle during nap time and Pickle, still half asleep, thought it was a horse from his old home whose ‘bumps’ were never an accident. Or the day the neighbour drove into the yard on a noisy tractor and Pickle, remembering another tractor, nearly ran into Disa in his hurry to get away.
Water dripped from Pickles muzzle after his long drink at the water trough at the end of the week. He pondered the situation. How come the part of his brain that reacted to what was happening around him moved so much faster than the part that was trying to be a perfect pony? How come he didn’t always want to be good? How come it was just all so hard? Pickle flicked his ears. He was half Shetland pony, and he knew that made him very smart. He would find a way.
Pickle walked slowly back to the shelter. He never actually shoved Teddy, did he? He never actually bit the little girl. And he almost always let Disa drink before him. A couple of times he’d messed up and was able to hide it. Like the time he did sneak ahead of Disa in the water line when she was dozing; nobody even noticed, so that was OK. Sort of. Or the time Dubh left some of his special dinner with all the vitamins, and Pickle ate it up before he remembered not to. Everyone thought it was Teddy who had done that.
After a month Pickle was very tired. He moved over to let Dubh in the shelter with a sigh. This being a perfect pony was perfectly exhausting. The more he tried to ignore his naughty impulses, the more he seemed to have.
Pickle’s head dropped to the ground. No matter how hard he tried he simply was not perfect. Maybe the horses and people here hadn’t figured that out yet, but he knew; and deep down he also knew his dream of staying here till he was at least thirty was ending. Just like every other place he’d been, soon he would have to leave this farm, and this time it was going to hurt so much more.
The next morning Pickle lowered his head for the little girl to catch him. She almost had the rope fastened when Pickle saw a flicker of movement behind him. Pickle jumped sideways to avoid the anticipated bite, landing on the little girl’s foot. She cried out in surprise and Pickle threw his head up, which knocked the little girl onto the ground. Any thoughts of being a perfect pony were long gone now, Pickle just needed to escape.
He jerked the rope off his head, and ran.
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