Category: horses

The Bolt

All 3 horses spooked sharply. Conditions for a hack that December day were great, admittedly it was cold, but the sky was blue and the wind was busy ruining someone’s hair in another part of the country. It was quiet and frost still lay unthawed in the shadows of the hedge-line. These are the worst spooks, initiated by things you didn’t see or hear coming. This wasn’t a chip-wrapper gently blowing toward me in which I had time to communicate to my horse it’s okay. This wasn’t a florescent lycra-clad cyclist passing me from behind. This particular monster was silent and unseen.

The most dangerous kind.

All riders should spend more time riding along hedges preparing for the day monster’s are out of view and quiet. I’m certain all pheasants harbour psychopathic tendencies that enjoy waiting until your horse is only 12 inches away before squawking their disapproval, then deliberately flying straight at your head.

Pigeons aren’t innocent either. Forget the picturesque image of a beautiful country cottage adorned with a lone pigeon perched on a thatched roof gently coo-cooing. No, pigeons hold meetings in tree’s plotting your demise.  10 even 20 of them sit there giggling and elbowing each other as you approach. Meticulous timing and planning goes into the exact moment they all simultaneously take flight. All those flapping wings are comparable to the sound of a standing ovation at the Royal Albert Hall.

I still have no idea what unsettled all three horses, yet it goes a long way in explaining my passion for the horse, their power is formidable. The rapid change in direction and the speed they can complete this manoeuvre is astonishing.

Sadly one of our small group would never ride again.

My friend and I react instantly, although it would take another thousand words to describe what our bodies and muscles did in that split second. Another thousand words to explain how and why we had their trust, what they may have been desensitised to and what training they’d had, all culminating in stopping a bolt.

You either stop a bolt from occurring or you manage a bolt. Once that flight instinct kicks in and the horse is in full flow I don’t believe it’s going to end quite as soon as a rider would like.

The times I have found myself in this situation I have let the horse run initially, what else is there to do? Fighting with his mouth will be ineffective if he is convinced a lion is about to sink its teeth into his backside. You are not there in his mind, he is quite literally running for his life. Adrenalin plus instinct is a powerful force in any animal.

Fighting with a horse’s mouth is also unseating as you are not concentrating on anything else that could be done to calm your horse. The direction he is heading in should be a focus. There could be a left turn coming up or something to jump, even something to stop dead at, have you seen it and are you prepared? I’ve seen many a rider come off at a sharp turn simply because they hadn’t seen it coming. In nearly every case in my experience I have found the horse a short distance away calmly grazing, or at times circle around to rejoin the group. If the rider had just sat the corner regaining control may have only been seconds away. Although it has to be said, losing the rider may have contributed to calming the horse. The rider may have added to the stress and prolonged his flight instinct by panicking.

Hacking along the side of a canal while talking on my mobile may seem complacent to some, especially when a gust of wind revealed a huge orange sack that had been hidden in the tree until it billowed out full of air. My horse bolted away from the canal edge and across a field. I was still talking on the phone by the time I regained control. So not complacent at all, control was re-gained far quicker than dropping my phone and frantically pulling on the reins.

There isn’t an organism on this planet that expends energy for no reason, not a plant, an animal or microbe. The horse wont either, so don’t give him a reason. It’s a myth that horses left to their own devices will run around all day, or the wild horse will cover great distances on a daily basis.

They don’t.

They stand around grazing, grooming each other, resting or sleeping. Movement will occur as they graze and move between water and food sources. Horses would rather eat than run around needlessly. Watch the horses that are in paddocks when they are spooked. They will herd up while running, but they soon stop, look in the direction of fear, snort…then drop their heads to graze. They literally can’t wait to start grazing again.

Observe how they look to the first animal that has started grazing, that’s very likely the herd leader. They look to their leader to find out whether it’s safe to graze or not. The rider experiencing a bolt should also be the herd leader by communicating to the horse that everything is fine, a rider cannot communicate this while frantically pulling on the reins. Riders that do this aren’t calm, they are frightened and the horse knows the difference.

You are giving them a reason to keep running.

My friend and I came across approximately 30 children out in the country-side out on a school trip. The sight before us was a sea of colour, their anoraks and pack lunch boxes in every colour of the rainbow. They had all sat down for a picnic and all those small faces turned to us, mainly to look at the horses. I can’t berate the teacher here, I’m certain the decision she made was to not spook the horses. The correct decision was exactly the opposite of what she asked the children to do.

She told them to all stand up.

What was once a quiet carpet of colour, became a large moving noisy wave of blues, pinks, reds and oranges, consequently…my friends horse bolted. It’s actually a happy memory, one we still laugh about today. She looked at me with some rolling of the eyes as I waved goodbye. She didn’t change a thing, not her position or rein length. I stayed in the same place, until it dawned on her horse we weren’t following, and nothing was chasing him. Within minutes her horse was back at my side.

On that December day however things didn’t end well. The rider fought with the reins, her grip was so tight that when the horse pulled against her for release, she tipped forward. Even if nothing else was to occur, it was obvious her position was now at the point of no return.

Her upper torso was lying on the horses neck, and not accustomed to this position…he bucked. She hit that ground from a distance of approximately 15 feet. Humans, as I learnt that day can actually bounce. But this is meant as no joke, I actually wish I could erase that sight from my memory.

Bolting does not have to be a horrific experience that ends badly. Of the situations I have been in or witnessed, remaining calm is key to regaining control quickly and safely. Added to that, with experience and preparation bolting can be averted 99.9% of the time anyway. Lastly, with so many British roads flanked by hedgerows introduce your horse to the psychopathic pheasants, plotting pigeons, barking deer and rogue plastic bags in the countryside first…and well away from traffic.

Horse Blaming

The two ladies were heading down the hacking track toward me, they were talking loudly which caused me to look over. One of them was riding a horse, the actual owner was walking beside the horse holding onto both reins. It was apparent by the rider’s position that she was a novice. It begs the question why was a novice sat on a horse that needed 2 pairs of hands on its reins? As they passed me I heard the owner informing the rider that with this horse you had to show him who was the boss,  to be firm and not to take any nonsense.

I carried on watching as I knew there was about to be a problem as the horse looked uncomfortable, he was head high and his steps were tentative. I was waiting for him to pull backwards as he had every right to do so. With the owners hands being in that position the horse was essentially being led from pressure below and behind the chin. The movement occurring in that horse’s mouth must have been very distressing, at best confusing if not a painful experience with 4 hands yanking on his bit.

The horse reared up. I watched the owner more than the rider as she was the one shouting. She stepped away horrified, only then did she let go. This is yet another situation where a rider puts their trust in a human that allegedly has horse knowledge. However at the moment the owner became scared, and out of her depth… she stepped away. If indeed that horse had any nonsense on its mind, the situation would have ended catastrophically for the rider.

The threesome turned around and headed for home. Again they passed me and I could hear the owner verbally berating the horse. It hadn’t reared out of malice though as I’m fairly sure horses have no such emotion (or any concept of what nonsense may mean). This wasn’t a horse that had bolted once the owner let go, it wasn’t even napping. It simply wanted the pressure in its mouth to stop.

I felt bad for the animal and I mentally apologised to it on behalf of the entire human race.

This owner was not new to horses either, she had been at this particular yard for 20 years. Yet she had no knowledge or understanding of what her hands were doing, and was quite prepared to take a novice out into open country-side on a horse which in her words needed to be treated firmly. Also its worth noting in the 2 years I was a livery at this yard, I hadn’t seen the owner hack this horse out, not once.

It seems in some cases an equestrian is regarded as experienced because they have knowledge on types of feed, supplements, how to muck out, bandage and tack up.  Yet the horse trainers I am aware of (which I would trust with my life) probably couldn’t even name one brand of hoof oil, or know how to tie a tail bandage. But they understand the animal fully, their instincts, behaviour and psychology. Yet it is common for a potential rider to approach and pay a person for a lesson or hack that has more knowledge of caring for horses, rather than someone that actually understand how horses tick.

Two weeks later I am stood in my stable and I hear more horse-berating occurring. The person is attempting to lead a horse by a rope attached to the bit. She is at least 3 feet in front of the horse and pulling on the rope like she is in a tug of war contest. I point out to her the saddle has slipped and is now sitting on the side of the horse. This particular animal knew something was occurring that felt different on its back, so did not want to move forward. Far from being a stupid horse then as I’ve seen saddles slip before and the horse take flight bucking wildly. However this intelligent animal stopped and waited for someone to notice…while tolerating a metal bit that was being pulled repeatedly. The saddle was adjusted and the horse obediently walked forward.

The same day I was walking passed the arena. There were several small jumps set up and 2 children are riding their horses. For reasons unknown to me one child does not ask for canter in the conventional way but trots to the corner and uses her whip to ask instead. As she reached behind her to smack the horses flank she does not give with the rein and the horse was subsequently socked in the mouth with the bit.

I winced.

The horse which I assume was reacting out of pain threw its head to the floor and stopped dead, the child took a short flight and landed in front of his head. Within 1 minute there was a group of people standing around the crying child. However the horse which was now standing in the corner with its reins on the floor was completely ignored. It’s worth noting also the horse hadn’t gone to the gate, leaving the arena wasn’t on its mind. Sadly no one seemed interested in checking that the horse wasn’t injured and in pain, or even removing its tack and taking it out of the arena. When asked what had happened I could hear the second child informing the adults that the horse had thrown the girl off.

Again I mentally apologised to it on behalf of the entire human race, but as ever…the horse always gets the blame.

Equi-Vision

Mel had left the stable block to take the ten minute walk down to the paddocks. My horse was already in and we had been chatting for some time while I groomed. I didn’t know this woman very well which didn’t matter as horse women generally only talk about subjects pertaining to equines. Mel was a tall strapping lass in her mid-twenties and was fairly new to riding and after several lessons had decided to get a horse on loan. This is an arrangement that can work out far cheaper than paying for regular riding lessons. The owner of the horse was on the yard frequently so Mel wasn’t thrown in the deep end, help and advice was usually on hand. Mel was happy to feed, groom and have a walk, sometimes a trot around the arena. She had no aspirations of going on a 6 mile hack or competing at the local shows. Max was a gelding with a quiet, gentle personality and the situation seemed amicable.

15 minutes had passed since she had left to catch Max and my mobile started ringing, it was Mel. She was out of breath and screeching down the phone that she had been chased out of the field by another horse. I knew which horse she meant, and although he was very dominant, I had never heard of him chasing anyone.

My experience with this horse is that he would try to follow to the gate when leading another horse out. He wasn’t anxious about being left alone as there were other horses sharing the same field. I always got the distinct impression he was trying to cut off the horse I was leading in an attempt to herd it up. On occasion I would be walking through the field just to check the water trough and he would follow me, if I ignored him he would get so close that his muzzle would brush the back of my head.

There are times to correct such behaviour and times to ignore it. This comes from understanding the environment, the specific situation and reading their body language. There would be little point in sending this horse away on every single occasion, there may be a time when I need his trust. Constantly acting aggressive will not help me on a wet windy day when I need to catch him in. Hanging out with me and simply being curious as to what I’m doing when cleaning the water trough is not the time to be waving a rope in his direction.

Bowing his neck and trotting around me in a circle is the time to stop such behaviour. There’s little point in continuing to walk. People often head for the gate only to find themselves in a precarious position once there.

Stop walking toward the gate.

This is the worst place and situation in which to rectify a problem. Stop and face the horse, or horses. Stand your ground while communicating to them to desist following. This isn’t a situation that should be rushed. Don’t turn your back, don’t keep walking. Keep sending the horse away until it understands not to follow.

They will understand!

If a horse appears aggressive and wants to send you out of the field, you are basically obeying it by heading toward the gate. Don’t leave until you are ready, and it is safe to do so.

I took the 10 minute walk down to the paddock to find Mel leaning on the gate, her face was red and puffy and I could see she had been crying. I asked her to go into the field with me, but she flat out refused. We could have spent just 15 minutes in that field and learnt why the situation had developed, and how to avoid it in the future but in her mind now the horse was dangerous.

On leading Max back to the gate Mr Dominant displayed his disapproval and trotted over. I turned to face him, unclipped the lead rope from Max’s head-collar and gently swung the rope to and fro toward him. I didn’t let him pass or circle around me, I simply indicated he was to come no further. Max and I left the field without incident.

But what has Max learnt?

Max has learnt that Mel isn’t in charge, he has seen Mel run away and been ‘sent’ out of the field. In terms of herd hierarchy she is beneath Mr Dominant. Every horse in the field will understand this…also every horse in the adjacent fields. Horses understand strength and weakness, dominance and subservience. They watch and they learn, it’s what horses do. Learning to ride and groom is such a tiny part of horsemanship. Invest 99% of your time in learning about herd dynamics, instinct and psychology. Watch their body language and understand what they are saying.

I saw a grey mare this morning watch me as I walked up the track, I knew I didn’t need to call to my horse as she would very quickly check to see what the grey was looking at. My horse looked over and also spotted me, then the coloured mare looked in the same direction. That’s now 3 horses looking over. The mare in the adjacent field then also turned to look, and as she did her foal stood up and looked toward me. I was a good distance away walking on wet grass, they wouldn’t even have heard me, yet all the horses knew I was coming. I knew how it would unfold, and it was magic to know this and watch it.

So while every horse in Mr Dominant’s field will have identified he is more dominant that Mel, they would have also noted I sent him away, I’m more dominant than their herd leader. Every horse in that field and adjacent fields will have understood. Although herd dynamics can shift and change, with correct communication and being aware of my own body language, I’ve made my own environment much safer in dealing with any of these horses.

Horses in stables on busy yards are also watching, they may appear to be calmly munching on hay but horses are very alert animals. They are always aware of everything occurring in their immediate environment.  Spend enough time on a large yard and you will notice its always the same people having accidents, the same people who fail to catch a horse, or get dragged when leading. Then there will be one or two people who rarely have problems, can catch that horse, and never get dragged. The horses have watched, they know who is weak and who is strong, who to follow and who to ignore.

They are watching you…always.

The Horse That Drowned

My mother walked into the living room to find out why her 9 year old daughter was crying. The child was curled up on the sofa clutching her knees to her chest. The cushion with the green velvet cover that was probably bought from Oxfam for 20p was being used to absorb ample amounts of bodily fluids that consisted of tears and snot. My mother’s eyes darted to the tv and she sighed, marched over to the box of doom and switched it off. She asked her child Why do you do this to yourself?

Yes, Lassie was lost. It was raining and he hadn’t eaten for a week, to get home his malnourished body had to cross an angry swirling grey river, and he barely made it. The poor animal dragged himself up the opposite bank, then collapsed from exhaustion. I’m sure Lassie made it home, I have some vague memory of him running across a corn field in slow motion, with his boy-owner running to embrace him.

So why do I do this to myself?

I don’t anymore if I can help it. Video’s, films or books depicting animals suffering are avoided. Even the Budweiser commercials leave me crying for ten minutes, hey but the donkey dreamt big, and succeeded!

War Horse, no. Free Willy, no. Homeward Bound, no. Not even Lion King? No. Black Beauty? Yes, but never again, I’m still scarred.

Recently however I forced myself to watch a video knowing it would upset me. I felt it was necessary. There has been a growing trend on social media involving owners taking their horses to a body of water, either the sea or a lake in order to swim. Owners may be encouraged to try the same when they see videos of successful swims, it looked fun and everything went swimmingly.

What about the videos they aren’t seeing?

We hear of dogs drowning in the ocean, they swim far out and can’t get back. Some explanations I have heard is that they were caught in the current, they grew tired and they sank. It’s possible a rogue wave swept them off a rock and took them out to sea, that happens to people also.

I believe the main reason is because they become disorientated. They look for land and choose a direction, the wrong one. Horse or dog, they have no experience of the sea. They didn’t sit in geography lessons and look at maps and learn how big oceans are. They continue to swim trying to find ground beneath paw or hoof. Take your horse into the sea to let it swim and you are risking its life.

But the video I watched didn’t involve a horse becoming disorientated, it didn’t even involve the sea. It was a warm peaceful evening, and this small lake was without a ripple. Perhaps the owner had taken his horse swimming here before, and without incident. Yet the horse drowned.

The owners mistake?

His horse was wearing a bridle and martingale.

Once a horse loses ground beneath his hooves, he doggy paddles. The front hooves come up high much like a dog swims.

Amongst all the splashing, I really couldn’t tell whether that horse had his hoof caught in the reins or the martingale, or both. But with every attempt of a downward paddle a powerful equine leg pulled on the horses bit, dragging his head downward. Unfortunately it’s entirely possible to ascertain the separate moments of when the horse tried to swim, couldn’t swim, sheer panic, then the death throws. Within a few short minutes the lake was once again without a ripple, and the Universe had lost an innocent soul.

Why am I being so graphic?

I don’t want anyone to kill their horse. Don’t dream of beaches and calm lakes swimming with your equine friend. I wouldn’t even risk using a head collar and lead rope. The video was upsetting but it also needs to be considered that the horse didn’t want to go in the water. The owner had to boot the horses sides to force it to get in. The horse was unsure, and for good reason.

Trainers will use swimming for fitness, therapeutic and rehabilitation purposes at professional yards, but there will be 2 ropes used, one each side of the head. The ropes are kept out of the water, and no-where near the front of the horse. No-one else should be encouraging their equine friend into a body of water unless it’s within a controlled environment with knowledgeable people.

I fear cases of drowning are not talked about, no-one will want to admit hooves were tangled in tack. I also fear they won’t even realise hooves were tangled in tack, the owner may just think the horse couldn’t swim. People will share their swimming videos on social media, more people will be encouraged to try the same. More horses will drown.

Stay on the sand, or better still stubble fields and bridle-ways.

Confessions of a Hunter: Part 4

The Terminator

Even with 120 hooves splashing with thunderous gusto along the rutted muddy farm track I could still distinguish that 4 of them were gaining on us from behind. This isn’t normally a concern but my ears informed me that this horse was becoming dangerously close to the rear of my horse. I took a swift look behind and saw it was George on his strapping great piebald cob. He met my swift gaze with a look of apologetic dread as he pulled frantically on the reins. But from my view point it may as well have been a new born kitten pulling on the horses mouth, it had no effect what-so-ever. In that instant we both understood he was out of control and there was nothing anyone could do to help.

The tightly packed field on this narrow track should have made it impossible for a horse to pass us safely… or even politely. Obviously his horse hadn’t read the book on hunting etiquette. No, the large well-built gelding would indeed have a gap if my pony could be pushed out of the way. The intention was completely clear as he menacingly advanced on us like a low flying airbus.

Usually when two horses clash sides, remaining seated is entirely possible even if the stirrup is torn from one’s foot. The major problem with being completely barged out of the way by an animal weighing 650kg is that it hurts.

The gelding was close now, just as his flaring nostrils were 6 inches behind my left heel, I felt my mare being pushed to the right. All thoughts of an impending crushed leg vanished from my mind as I looked in that direction, I had bigger problems. With a good deal of horror I realised this side of the track was flanked by a very steep embankment. Not to imagine Dover Cliffs, but I would estimate it to be a drop of approximately 30 to 40 feet. The short stout tree’s growing on the slope could perhaps stop my pony plunging to her death, but I reasoned it diminished my chances of being thrown clear should she tumble over the edge. Images of myself sandwiched between a tree and a flailing horse flooded my mind as adrenalin levels reached an all-time high.

This was the first hunt of the season hence the large field, and like everyone else I had been looking forward to this day. But here I was, feeling sure this would be my last ride…ever. However this wasn’t the first time my mare had experienced horses attempting to push past us.

Exactly one year previous to this a similar situation had developed in which a horse had come galloping up behind my mare. The red ribbon that adorned her tail is actually quite useless during hunting. As while every rider may know the significance of it, argy-bargy dominant horses fuelled by oats and adrenalin, do not. Unfortunately this particular huntsman’s horse would not be taught the danger of galloping up behind my cantankerous mare this day. Albeit with admirable aim, my horse delivered a killing shot with enough power to incapacitate an adult buffalo. It would have under normal circumstances put paid to high spirited shenanigans…had there not been a human knee in the way. Regrettably the rider suffered a fractured knee cap and was out of action for the rest of the season.

One year later I’m staring down at this steep embankment at full gallop, we are so close that the edge is breaking away causing soaking wet clumps of soil to roll and bounce down the slope. My mare’s ears are pinned flat to her head and she has one eye on the piebald airbus, there’s a silent exchange of equine swearing occurring between both horses.

I don’t care if she is angry, I don’t care if she’s gesticulating to the horse to move away. I want to know if she’s seen the bloody steep drop, I want her to concentrate on that as opposed to arguing with George’s horse!

George is also aware I am about to be pushed over the edge, he is both terrified and furious at his horse and is panic-shouting something of an apology. It occurs to me I could use my stick to crack the horse across the muzzle in an attempt to move him away. But as it turns out my horse had other plans. Just as I’m certain we are both about to plummet to our deaths if I don’t intervene, my mare delivers a formidable blow with a back left.

The sound is audible even above the many hooves travelling at speed in 8 inches of water logged mud. This isn’t the dull thud of a hoof impacting muscle either. This sound is comparable to the discernable crack of a whip, expertly and powerfully used by the likes of Indiana Jones when relieving a gun-wielding bad-ass of his weapon.

My mare doesn’t strike the riders knee as in the previous year, no she booted the knee of George’s horse.

Let’s just say this horse fully understood the perils of galloping up close behind someone’s horse that day, because he was instantly crippled. The horse pulled up immediately on 3 legs hopping lame. I’ve no idea how long it took poor George to negotiate his way back to the lorry with his broken steed in hand. Although news did reach me some weeks later that the horse was likely to recover after 3 months of box rest.

It is at this point I should point out, if you haven’t guessed already, that the owner of the fractured knee cap from the previous year was also called George.

The same George in-fact.

Yes for 2 years straight my horse is responsible for making one particular huntsman hang up his riding boots right after the opening meet, and entirely missing two seasons in a row.

Muchengeti Mweya 

Under normal circumstances when a missing child is found alive there is a feeling of overwhelming relief at the happy outcome for everyone concerned . None of these feelings would surface however when the child first locked eyes with the man, the only person she had seen during the last 8 hours. In this situation there was only a sense of trepidation and fear.

The paddocks at the riding stables were huge, not 10 acres, 20 acres huge, more like 100 square kilometres huge. It wasn’t usually a problem finding the horses that were to come in as they would never wander more than a few kilometres away from the gate. Food in the paddock would consist of rare patches of dry grass growing from the nutrient rich but arid ground. The horses understood that coming on to the yard was advantageous because they would be given hay and hard feed. Furthermore the water trough was near the gate and it made no sense to wander from the only liquid source in such a vast area.

The horses that were abandoned by their owners would eventually give up grazing near the gate as there was nothing to be gained from staying. These unfortunate animals would wander off and die of dehydration or starvation, which ever took them first. The carcasses would be devoured by jackals, warthogs and birds. Whatever was left would be reduced to bare bone by a million maggots. The bare bones would be cleaned of marrow, before being dispersed by nature, dust to dust, ashes to ashes … the horses simply disappeared.

The horses that did survive the hunger and thirst could unfortunately end up in a snare, Jane would on occasion come across the traps and deconstruct the thin strong wire loops that were attached to the buffalo thorn trees. The snare had two purposes, the first would be to capture the animal, the second to cut the neck as it struggled to get free hence killing it. This will all sound very barbaric to those people used to finding their meat neatly packaged on a Tesco shelf. The snare itself throws up some very unsettling scenes in one’s imagination. But those too poor to shop at a super-market were unlikely to be able to afford a high powered rifle.

Moreover, in this part of the world poachers could be shot with no questions asked. In this part of the world a black man with a gun could be shot no questions asked unless he was wearing a uniform. There were simpler ways to capture an animal.

Jane shouldn’t have been in this paddock as little girls were normally shielded from the horrors that could lie beyond the gate. The stables employed yard hands to do the mucking out and everyday tasks. But for whatever reason Jane’s pony had not been brought in for her that day. This is why she wandered off to the paddock without telling anyone her intentions. It only became clear that Jane had disappeared when later in the afternoon her Dad came to pick her up from the stables. There was some shock when the yard owner realised Jane had not gone home already, and she had not been seen since that morning.

The child was declared missing.

Little white girls going missing in this part of the world could potentially create a very dangerous situation within the community. Jane’s Father was like every other man in this small town and had been drafted into the reserve police and armed with formidable weapons. Jane herself had been taken up the firing range every Saturday morning and taught to operate a Belgian FN rifle. Her fathers locked cabinet also contained a Mossberg pump action shot gun.

It is unclear why Jane lost sight of the paddock gate but once she realised she had, there was nothing to do but keep walking to try and relocate it. With the onset of heat stroke and dehydration Jane became disorientated and her mind became muddled. She became terrified the jackals, warthogs and birds would eventually cause her disappearance as well. On reaching the boundary fence Jane climbed over and continued walking ever deeper into the African bush. Her scalp became frazzled from the Sun and her socks were so wet from sweat that her jodhpur boots were rubbing her heels raw. Jane could feel that her feet were bleeding, but knew she’d never get her boots back on if she was to look. Flies that seemed to lack all sense of self-preservation were intent on sitting on her salty face and the constant batting them away was enough to cause insanity.

Only by the grace of the Universe was Jane lucky enough to stumble upon a rudimentary road that was nothing more than a dry sandy track. It’s at this point she spotted a tall black man, and as the man spotted her they both locked eyes.

He was tall and thin, the bottoms of his trousers were frayed and his dusty feet stood on flip flops that had seen better days. He wiped his face with his hand in what seemed an attempt to wipe away the vision before him. He shifted his feet uncomfortably and for the briefest moment looked panic stricken as he looked up and down the road.

When people say a situation is awkward they have no idea what awkward can really mean.

With a sinking heart the little girl understood why he was acting nervous. She had already seen and experienced more things than the average little girl should in this part of the world. Jane should have felt relieved that she had stumbled across an adult, but she already knew he couldn’t help. Both the police force and the reserves would be armed, everyone looking for her would be carrying an automatic rifle.

It may pose an unusual sight and perhaps instigate an unfortunate situation if they were to find this black man walking down the road miles from anywhere holding the hand of the lost little white girl.

He quite rightfully wanted nothing to do with her.

Jane still begged him for help but he would only reply in the Bantu language of Shona and gesticulated that she should go that way. Jane didn’t want to go that way alone, she was frightened, tired and didn’t want to get lost again. But the man remained adamant and continued pointing down the road. Jane set off with the little water she had left in her body streaming down her face. After a couple of minutes she looked back and it gave her some comfort to see the man was following her, but with a good distance between them.

As the afternoon was drifting into evening Jane realised the distant rumbling she could hear was the sound of an approaching car. She stopped and waited as a police Landrover came into view kicking up the dust of the road as it bounced along the rugged arid track. The car came to an abrupt halt and two policeman jumped out and ran toward her, one of them scooped a very grateful Jane up into his arms. While Jane was being carried back to the car she looked over the policeman’s khaki clad shoulder to wave goodbye to the tall man in flip-flops …but he had disappeared from view.

Wazviita.