Like the rest of the country, our village has been enjoying the long, hot summer days, with temperatures soaring consistently higher and higher to break all known records. Perhaps ‘sweltering’ is a better word for it, as far as humans are concerned; or maybe it depends whether you can relax and soak up the sun, or whether you have to work under its relentless glare.
Animals perhaps have to ‘endure’ rather than ‘enjoy’ the extremes of weather; and I’m afraid owners are often blissfully unaware of their suffering. I have cut back some of Tramp’s fur to help keep him cooler (but wouldn’t last any employment as a hairdresser). I didn’t have him shorn to expose his skin, as I have seen with other dogs, even those professionally groomed -- I would worry he would be burned by the sun.
Ignorance is one thing; uncaring cruelty another. A white Shetland pony is kept in a dusty paddock near the Old School House. I say ‘kept’ when really it has been abandoned there, forgotten by the little girl who, I suspect, is no longer gripped by ‘My little pony’’, nor any longer a victim of the marketing around it. Or maybe she just grew. When Tramp and I past it on our walk yesterday, the pony trotted across to greet us, as usual, swishing its tail to rid itself of flies and tossing its dirty, unkempt mane from its eyes.
As I stroked its nose and chatted to the pony, while Tramp sniffed around the grass verge, a large tractor and trailer lumbered up and drew to a rattling halt alongside us. I saw Young Sally was driving, with almost her whole upper body stretched to span the enormous black steering wheel, arms spread to their limit across the diameter. She had thundered through the village several times a day over the last week, and I knew she had some summer work helping to bring in the hay. She would wave joyously as she sailed by, high off the ground above our heads. She was in her element.
As she climbed down from the cab and said ‘hello,’ I saw Sally was carrying two large bottles of water. These she proceeded to empty into a plastic bucket on the ground just inside the gate to the paddock.
‘There’s no shade here for this little horse,’ she said, ‘and no-one’s bringing it water - even in this heat!’
‘Horses need a lot of water, don’t they?’ I don’t know a great deal about horses, and I'm not that keen on them.
‘They certainly do. A regular-sized horse can drink 10 litres a day. And this little thing has been drinking nearly that much every day this last week.’
‘But you shouldn’t have to bring it water. Why aren’t its owners looking after it? It’s so cruel!’
‘Yes it is. It could die without water.’
‘Should we tell the RSPCA do you think?’
‘Best to keep it among ourselves. I don’t want the owners to suspect me of reporting them, which they probably would once they heard I had been bringing water. Don’t worry, it’s all in hand. Old Norm is going to have a quiet word in the right ear.’
I wasn’t so sure any word from Old Norm in any ear could be quiet, but I was happy to learn something was being done to address the problem, and hopefully shame the owners to either sell the pony or look after it properly.
I learned some time ago that while country people in our village might appear to have a fairly cold relationship with animals, both domestic and wild, they can’t abide suffering. And so, smallholdings might raise pigs and sheep almost as pets, in relatively luxurious conditions and even giving them names – but once they are big enough they are led away to the slaughterhouse without any hesitation. Deer, rabbits and squirrels might be shot as pests, or to be eaten, but no-one from the village would admit to leaving any creature half alive to die slowly of their wounds. At the same time, our village is proud to help with the preservation of owl, butterfly and bat colonies, and outside experts are frequent visitors, especially those involved in plotting the habitats of adders and grass snakes inhabiting rough land.
Young Sally climbed back up into the cab of the tractor. She called down to me, ‘See you in the pub later? One more load of bales should do it. Should have it all in by tonight.’ She suddenly sounded rather despondent at the prospect of the work finishing for another year.
‘Ok,’ I said. ‘I’m buying!’ It was the least I could do, given how she was looking after someone else’s horse. One good turn deserves another, after all.