It had all been very exciting at Havillands over the Summer. Two of the ponies Aslan and Eddie had qualified for the Shetland Grand National at Olympia, with Wayne and Belinda as riders. They had been a bit cut throat in their riding style over the past qualifying rounds, Babs hadn’t been a part of this as she had sprained her wrist in June which put the kybosh on her early Summer riding.
There had been an electric atmosphere in the yard on the day the official letter arrived. The children were so excited that their hard work had paid off and that they would be taking the ponies to Olympia and would be on TV in the evenings just before Christmas. Babs was looking a bit left out, but Jenny said that she could go along as well and be the official groom and help lead the ponies round before the races.
Lots of further training took place, the two hairy ponies were given extra exercises to build up their stamina, jumping practice over Shetland sized hurdles, special diet and immense grooming routines.
Thick native coats designed for living out in all weathers need a lot of looking after if they are to gleam like satin under the lights of a winter stadium. Eddie- a relative newcomer to the stables- was even more adept at opening gate bolts with his teeth than Aslan was, often led escape parties and the two hairy ponies were frequently brought back from neighbouring fields plastered in mud. Then the whole bathing and grooming routines had to start again. Luckily the kids were whales for work and never baulked at having to do stable chores.
Eventually December rolled round. Jenny and Gareth decided that the best way to organise accommodation in London was to take the two ponies in the big Havillands horse box and use it as a camper van as accommodation for the children and themselves. Wayne’s Mum couldn’t come as her shifts at the hospital in Broomfield didn’t give her time to get into London but she promised to see if she could watch him on TV in the nurses’ room whenever she could.
Mr and Mrs Sommer were happy for the twins to go away with Jenny and Gareth for a couple of days- since the girls virtually lived at the stables anyway!- and they would travel up by train one evening to see them in the show.
The horse box was cleaned inside and out. Jenny bought a new propane cylinder for the stove and stocked up on food for the trip. Gareth was in charge of tack,and equipment, (the ponies would have luxurious stables on the Olympia site.) The kids went mad making Christmas decorations to decorate the ponies’ stalls with as there is a competition for kids each year for the best kept and decorated stables.
Jodhpurs were cleaned, hats were brushed, pocket money was counted as there is a huge shopping area at Olympia to get lost in and spend a fortune on.
Finally it was the morning of the show. The kids had all gathered their sleeping bags and stowed camp beds and possessions in the horse box. Aslan and Eddie had been rounded up, virtually bulldogged and hobbled to get them into the box. The twins kissed their parents good bye, Wayne rang his mum at the Hospital, Jenny checked the oil in the engine, Gareth handed his dogs Zack and Asbo (a pointless Foxhound and a malevolent Jack Russel respectively) over to old Mrs Ellis the vicar’s mother who had
offered to look after them for a couple of days.
It was all going swimmingly until Jenny turned the key in the ignition and nothing happened!
Panic! Jenny started grovelling about in the engine, the kids burst into tears, Gareth tried to cheer them up and the tiny Shetland ponies, indignant at their incarceration in a horse box, began drumming a tattoo on the wooden partitions with their tiny Shetland hooves.
Eventually the RAC was called out and there was nothing to do but wait. Just as it seemed hopeless Gareth had one of his ‘brilliant’ ideas.
“ I know how we can get the ponies to London,” he said,
“?” said everyone else.
“We shall take them on the train!”
Of course everyone thought he was bonkers initially but after a few more minutes of hopeless silence, no one else could come up with anything better so they agreed to Gareth’s idea.
Ten minutes later Gareth, Wayne, the twins and two ponies in racing tack were standing at the bus stop by the green waiting for the number 45 bus that would take them to the station. Jenny was back at the stables still waiting for the RAC. As soon as the box was mended she was to drive into London and meet up with the rest of the Havillands squad at Olympia.
After a bit of a heated argument with Janeck the bus driver, Gareth negotiated that the ponies could travel on the bus for half fare providing they didn’t make a mess! Luckily they behaved themselves -despite bewildering a few elderly ladies and gentlemen who were on their way to the Post Office to collect their pensions- and soon they were at the station in town looking at the indicator boards. Belinda spotted a train from platform one that was on time, Gareth stuffed his debit card in to the ticket machine and bought travel cards for everyone. The next task was getting the ponies up the steps to the platform, but Wayne went ahead with a packet of Polos and they followed him gleefully.
The twins had to hang on tight as the train came into the station as Aslan and Eddie had never seen a train before and got a bit agitated, but Gareth managed to convince them that it was nothing more than a big Horse box, and with a bit of brute force, the four of them bundled the ponies onto the train.
At last they were on their way to London.
Things went well for a while, No ticket inspectors came along, so no one official wanted to know why there were two Shetland ponies in the bit of the carriage where you usually put bikes and push chairs. Eddie disgraced himself but Wayne saw him lifting his tail and was deft with a Tesco bag catching the dung before it hit the floor. He put it in the bin which was a bit smelly but it was preferable to it being all over the floor!
The train stopped at Romford, where a group of Brownies got on, they were being taken to see a Pantomime in London as a Christmas treat. Needless to say, the two Shetlands were the object of much attention from twenty four little girls. Gareth thought that perhaps too many sweets would be bad for the Shetlands but Wayne said that the sweets the Brownies were giving them would give the ponies extra energy to race with. There was no arguing with that logic.
The train arrived in Liverpool Street Station, the Brownies were all herded off to go to the pantomime, Gareth and the kids managed to get the ponies to jump down the step onto platform 13.
They shoved them through the hole in the ticket barrier that is usually used for suitcases and set off towards the Underground. Belinda studied the map and said that they needed the District Line to Earls’ Court and a connecting train to Olympia.
The first hurdle on the Underground was carrying a Shetland pony down the escalators! They had to be careful not to let their long tails get caught in the toothy bits at the end of the escalators. Aslan didn’t like the platform much and they all got funny looks from the other people there, mainly folks in London doing their Christmas shopping.
The Tube arrived and the ponies were bundled on to it. It was a bit of a squash in the carriage but the twins sat on the ponies backs and that freed up a bit of floor space. Eddie and Aslan were a bit unimpressed with this. An Underground train is not really the natural habitat for a Native pony.
It went to plan until they reached St James’s Park station, as the doors of the Underground train opened at the station, the ponies made a break for it, ditching the girls on the platform they dashed away, clattering up the stairs and out into the city. Gareth, Wayne and the twins were in hot pursuit but, by the time they had managed to get through the barriers the ponies were long gone. An elderly lady walking along Broadway with a pug dog on a lead said she had seen the ponies galloping off down Queen Anne’s walk towards the park.
The Havillands squad held a council of war, they would have to split up and search for the ponies, it was generally decided that it would be better for everyone if they didn’t phone Jenny and tell her what had happened! What you don’t know won’t hurt you, or anybody else involved for that matter!
They set off across St James’ Park and spotted the ponies grazing greedily at the far side. Splitting up into two groups they commenced a pincer movement to pen in the naughty ponies and try to catch them. They got close. Gareth and Babs were hiding behind a bin just in range with Belinda and Wayne lurking behind a bench on the other side. Like commandos they wriggled on their bellies towards the ponies keeping low so as not to be seen. Their plan would have worked if it it hadn’t been for the St James’ Park Pelicans. Just as Belinda was about to make her move on the nearby Eddie, one of the pelicans decided to give an almighty squark! This startled the ponies and caused them to bolt! They shot away towards Buckingham Palace, nearly causing a pile up of taxis on the Mall, and they galloped off along Constitution Hill.
“After them, Quick!” yelled Babs, starting the chase on foot.
Wayne- who is not a fast runner- decided to get in some help. There is usually a police officer near Buckingham palace. Wayne found him and asked for help. He explained the situation and -when PC Beckworth had stopped laughing- he radioed the mounted branch to help with the search. Soon a message came in over PC Beckworth’s radio, the ponies with Babs in hot pursuit had been spotted in Hyde Park! How they had negotiated Hyde Park Corner without loss of life will remain one of the untold mysteries of the Universe! Gareth Wayne and Belinda, thanked PC Beckworth and jumped in a taxi to get there quickly.
Meanwhile in Hyde Park Babs was being led a merry dance by the two Shetlands, tricky to catch at the best of times they were like wild dervishes in the open ground of the park. Several people had worked out the situation and were trying to help, the man selling hot chestnuts, three office workers and a group of Japanese Tourists. Some of these people had the right idea but quite frankly some were more of a hindrance than a help!
At this point Gareth, Wayne and Belinda arrived and so did several officers from the Mounted Police. Thanking the tourists they police said they would take over. The tourists said they had enjoyed themselves and it wasn’t everyday that you got to see a rodeo in London so they were happy.
The three Mounted Police officers with their huge, unflappable, bombproof horses set off to round up the naughty ponies. This made a change from supervising football hooligans but it was no less dangerous. Shetland ponies are very stubborn and if they have decided that they don’t want to be caught then it is nearly an impossible task to get hold of them.
After calling for reinforcements twice and putting the wind up several Park keepers who were raking up leaves,The ponies Aslan and Eddie were penned in against the railings of the park near the Barracks at Knightsbridge. This would have been the end of their escape if just at that moment the Blues and Royals hadn’t emerged from the Barracks in full uniform ready to ride to Olympia top be in the musical ride. There was chaos, police horses, army horses and ponies in all directions. How Wayne wasn’t trampled in the scrum was a miracle.
Aslan and Eddie bolted off along the path to Kensington Gardens with Gareth, Wayne, Babs, Belinda, The Met police mounted branch, a few interested Japanese tourists and the Blues and Royals hot on their heels! Eventually the ponies were trapped by the Statue of Peter Pan. MPC Weston handed the ponies reins back to Gareth with a look of relief on his face.
“How you look after those little monsters every day I don’t know” he said.
All that remained now was to finish the journey to Olympia, The Blues and Royals kindly offered to escort The ponies to their destination to make sure they were contained and to ensure the general safety of the public.
Gareth, the kids and the ponies arrived at Olympia just as Jenny was driving the newly mended horse box into the competitors area.
“How was the Journey?” she asked once the ponies were stabled and a kettle was brewing on the primus stove.
“Oh you know, the usual.” said Gareth. “Nothing we couldn’t deal with. Now pour the tea and we’ll tell you all about it.”