The climate in Cornwall is different from that on Exmoor – so different that the Payne children, Harry and Lowenna, had never seen snow.
As a thank you for having Orion, we promised the Paynes they could come and stay at West Ilkerton Farm when it snowed. Usually this happens several times during the winter and spring on Exmoor, but all we got during the winter of 2014-15 was rain, rain and more rain. Not a snowflake in sight . . .
At last, when we’d nearly given up hope, there was a forecast for snow on high ground, particularly on Exmoor, Bodmin and Dartmoor, and it was going to happen on a Saturday. Ideal!
Jon had to work, so Beansy brought the children up for the weekend, despite the fact she wasn’t feeling well.
The weather was pretty good when they arrived on Saturday afternoon. We went to see Eric and Lucy out in the field, and the ponies got some apples as a special treat.
And then, as if by magic, during supper it began to snow! Hurray! We could hardly contain our excitement!
Half an hour later, it had all gone.
Never mind. The forecast was for snow overnight, so we were bound to wake up to a winter wonderland . . .
As soon as I woke up the next morning, I knew it hadn’t happened. The light seeping into our bedroom was the ordinary, dull light of a grey winter’s morning rather than the luminous reflected light from snow.
The children were bitterly disappointed but making a huge effort to be polite about it. I felt awful, and tried to compensate by doing fun things like lighting the fire in our dining room so we could have a campfire breakfast. (It took about two loaves of bread to perfect our toasting technique, but eventually edible pieces of toast were produced.)
Outside, it was turning into a sunny day. Huh, so much for snowstorms.
Sarah, who’d been checking her Facebook messages, suddenly said, “Look! They’ve had snow at Exford! Oliver Edwards has posted some photos of snow at Westermill.”
“Is it still there?” I asked.
“Hang on, I’ll send him a message.”
Tap, tap, tap . . . Tap, tap tap . . . “Yup, he says there’s still some, but it’s melting fast.”
Feeling rather like those crazy storm-chasers in America who drive around in search of bad weather, we drove into the centre of Exmoor. The roads were clear, but ribbons of snow still clung to the verges and hung around in patches on Brendon Common. We stopped briefly, in case that was as good as it would get, then kept on driving through Exford and towards Dunkery, hoping that the probability of finding snow would rise with altitude . . . Yes! We were right!
It was powdery, like icing sugar, and there wasn’t enough to build a huge snowman or go tobogganing properly, but it was just enough to have some fun and a snowball fight until the novelty wore off and everyone became cold and hungry.
What was really amazing about that weekend was that Beansy wasn’t at all well but she still came up because she didn’t want to disappoint the children. She’d told me beforehand that there was a possibility we’d have to rush her into hospital. Thank goodness that wasn’t necessary. However, she was going to have to have an operation as soon as possible, and it would take her at least a month to recover afterwards.
Originally the plan had been that Orion would stay with the Paynes until the summer, and we would swap Eric and Lucy for their Exmoor stallion Dunkery Tawny Owl (Owly) at the end of February. Eric was going to a new home, and the children were keen to have Lucy back so they could ride her. Owly would run with my three mares so that, all being well, they’d have foals in 2016.
However, this plan could have resulted in foals being born in January, when the weather’s often at its worst. Also, Beansy wasn’t going to be well enough to train Orion for a few months, so we decided on a Plan B: to swap Eric and Lucy for Orion instead. Having made tremendous progress, Orion hadn’t been doing so well recently. Perhaps a complete rest and change of scene would do him good.
There was one day, and one day only, when Jon and Beansy could make the journey to Exmoor while somebody looked after the children at home. Even though the weather forecast was appalling, we had no option but to go for it.
The weather was even more appalling than we’d bargained for, with high winds and sleety rain. Jon led Orion over to the other side of the farm, where Gaia, Demeter and Dora were waiting in a pen with Eric and Lucy. The idea was to get Eric and Lucy out before we released Orion, but he became so excited that we had to release him into the pen straight away. Eric took exception to another gelding with his harem, but luckily Beansy caught Eric, Jon caught Lucy and they led them away before any damage was done.
I’d been looking forward to a joyful reunion between Orion and Gaia – I think Orion had, too – but she was utterly vile towards him. She’d loved Eric from the start, and appeared to be lost without him, so perhaps she felt Orion was responsible for the removal of the love of her life. Whatever the reason, she treated him like an outcast, attacking with her hooves and teeth whenever he approached her or the other two mares, or even me. Soon he was covered in bite marks.
To add to his misery, the snow we’d longed for a couple of weeks earlier arrived. It was the kind of wet, sleety snow that chills you to the bone. The other mares were okay because they had thick winter coats, but the Cornish weather had been so warm that Orion had already shed his winter coat and replaced it with a sleek summer one.
I worried about him all the time. He looked so cold and lonely, but there was nothing I could do. All our available shed space was taken up with cows, calves, sheep and our riding horses. He’d just have to tough it out somehow . . .