In PONY JUMPERS #10: TOP TEN, Katy stays the night at Caherdubh in Co. Galway with Dan, Keeley and Mairead, before they travel across the country to the Young Rider camp at Shearwater. In this version, the timeline is slightly different and they stop in at a horse show in Barnadown to assist Deacon, then go on to Kilford for the night, in Co. Wexford, before going to the camp the following morning.
I removed this part of the book because it stalled the momentum of the story, and the descriptions of Kilford seemed unnecessary to the plot of that book. Plus, we’d just gone through pages of describing Caherdubh, and more descriptions of another house felt superfluous. However, for those who have now read Irish Luck, I thought you’d like to catch a glimpse of Kilford five years later, as seen through Katy’s eyes.
The chapter was titled HOME AWAY FROM HOME, and it begins with Katy waking up at Caherdubh…
I woke the next morning to the sound of voices outside my room, and the thumping of feet across the landing. A gap in the curtains revealed a dark blue sky, speckled with a handful of fading stars as the night started its transition into day. Footsteps approached my door, then there was a gentle knock.
It was Keeley. I still felt bad about turning her away last night. I hadn’t meant to hurt her feelings.
The door creaked open, and instinct told me to close my eyes. I feigned sleep as she crept across the darkened room, her sock-clad feet brushing against the floorboards.
“Katy? It’s time to get up.”
I could hear her soft breathing as she stood next to the iron bedstead. If she’d been my mother, she’d have turned the light on and pulled the blankets down to my feet, demanding that I rise and shine in the most obnoxious way possible. If she’d been AJ, she would have just jumped on me, knocking the breath right out of me, or hit me acros the face with a pillow.
I felt Keeley’s hand on my arm, her touch still tentative. “Uh, Katy?”
I opened my eyes wide, grabbed her arms, and screamed. “Arrgh!”
Keeley screamed as well, leaping backwards out of my grip. Her socks slipped on the floorboards, her feet shot out from underneath her, and she landed on her bum with a thump.
“I’m sorry!” I sat up straight, worried that she was hurt, but Keeley just burst into a peal of laughter.
We were both laughing hysterically until Mairead burst into the room, looking worried.
“What’s going on in here?”
Keeley and I looked at each other, and she cracked up again.
“Keeley woke me up,” I explained.
“You were awake!”
“True.” I swung my legs around to the side and stood up. “And now I’m up.” I held out a hand to Keeley, who grabbed it and let me pull her to her feet. “And now, we’re both up.”
Mairead shook her head, but she was smiling. “Get dressed then, and get yourselves down for breakfast.”
She’d left the room before I could tell her that I don’t really eat breakfast, and when I made it down to the table, she’d already put out a plate of scrambled eggs for me. Keeley was tucking into hers like someone who hadn’t eaten in days, and then Dan came inside with the dogs on his heels, his hair damp from the misty rain.
“Is the bacon ready?”
Mairead set a plate of bacon and fried tomatoes on the table in front of him, and he grinned, then looked across at my plate and raised an eyebrow. “What’re you, vegetarian this morning?” He speared a piece of bacon and flipped it across the table onto my plate. “Eat up.”
Deciding it would be easier to eat than to argue, I started on the eggs, which were surprisingly good. I’m not a big eater early in the morning, but the smell of the food and the peer pressure took over my instincts, and it was with a full belly that I eventually clamboured into the large horsebox. With three ponies, two horses, four humans and a small terrier on board, we waved goodbye to Eamonn, who was back on duty looking after the horses while the family were away, and drove on towards the east coast.
I’d fallen in love with the house and stables at Caherdubh during the time I’d spent there, loving the exposed beams and sloping ceilings, the warm, cottage-y feel of the place, the old-fashioned outbuildings and slightly desolate west coast landscape, but Kilford was in another league altogether.
It wasn’t a vast property, but it backed onto expansive woodland that made it feel like part of a much larger estate. Apparently it had been one, once, but hard times had seen it change hands over the years and the acreage had shrunk. But it was still very impressive. The fields were large and flat, with plenty of trees to provide shade and thick hedging combined with post and rail fences to ensure security. Glossy, beautiful horses grazed quietly , swishing flies with their tails and dozing beneath the trees. I caught a glimpse of a large grey stone house with large white-trimmed windows before the horse truck turned and drove on towards the stables, and I remembered my early impression of Caherdubh – that it hadn’t seemed like a place where Grand Prix horses would live or be trained. This, on the other hand, did.
The stable block was enormous, all built from grey stone. Hanging baskets full of red and white flowers hung from the eaves between each loosebox, and what must have been the old carriage house stood at the far end of the yard, two sets of large double doors thrown wide open on this summer’s day. Elegant heads with pricked ears looked out over their doors as we led the ponies down the yard to their stables, and more than one whinnied a greeting to us.
“So, what d’you think?” Dan asked as we shut the ponies into their boxes, where they immediately began rearranging their tidy bedding.
“I love it,” I said, staring around me in disbelief. “It’s even nicer than I’d imagined.”
Dan chuckled. “I’ll warn you now, it’s a lot nicer than the house.”
I thought of the large manor I’d seen as we drove in, and figured that he was cracking another joke. But when Keeley eventually led me through the front door into a dark entrance hall, with dust motes floating in the air and several moth-eaten hunting trophies mounted on the wall, I realised that Dan had meant what he’d said.
“It’s a bit of a dump,” Keeley said cheerfully as I followed her over creaking floorboards towards the curved oak staircase. “We used to have a housekeeper, but after Dad married Mairead, she said it would be a waste of money to get someone else in to clean the house. Trouble is, she doesn’t do it either. But we spent most of our time outside, so none of us really care.”
Daylight filtered dimly through the unwashed windows as we made our way up the stairs. Fat dust bunnies lingered in the corners of each step, and more disembodied stag heads glared down at me.
“Don’t you find it creepy being surrounded by so many dead animals?”
Keeley looked over her shoulder at me with some surprise. “What? Oh. I suppose I’m used to it,” she shrugged. “They’re much more cheerful when we dress them up at Christmas. Every year there’s an argument over who gets to be Rudolph, but we try to make sure they all have a turn.”
I laughed as we stepped onto a large landing, and followed Keeley along the passage and up a couple more steps to another landing with three doors leading off it.
“This is my room,” she said, throwing open the door on the left to reveal an enormous bedroom with a four-poster bed and walls plastered in rosettes and photos of her ponies. It was something out of every pony-mad child’s wildest dreams, and my inner eight-year-old gasped in delight.
“I like the way you’ve decorated,” I told her, and she grinned.
“Well, the wallpaper is proper horrible, so I had to try and cover it up as much as I could,” she explained. “You’ll be through the door behind you,” she added, as she tugged her suitcase into her room and dropped it on the floor. “And we’ve got our own bathroom, so we don’t have to share with Dan. Always a good thing.”
“Perfect.” I dragged my broken suitcase across the gap between the two rooms and opened the door to reveal a medium-sized bedroom with dark green walls and an open window that looked out over the stables. The long curtains fluttered in the breeze, and I abandoned my luggage and went to kneel on the wide window seat, watching a groom swing up onto a sleek chestnut horse and ride out of the yard on a loose rein. Had anyone ever had a better view from their bedroom window than this?
Keeley’s voice over my shoulder made me startle. “Do you like it?”
I turned and grinned at her. “Do I? Can I move in here forever?”
Her face lit up instantly. “Of course! Dad and Mairead wouldn’t mind.” She closed the gap between us and sat down next to me on the window seat. “Will you really, though?” she asked hopefully. “Please?”
I shook my head, regretting my words in the face of her excitement. “I can’t, not really. I have to go back home in a couple of weeks, remember?”
Her face fell in an instant, her disappointment clear. There was never any need to guess what Keeley was thinking – she wore her emotions on her face without a trace of self-consciousness. It was strangely disarming, although I worried that the outside world would force that openness out of her as she grew older.
“Because. I live there. I go to school there. My mum and my friends and my ponies are there.”
She bit her lip, clearly not wholly buying my excuses. “You’ll come back though, right?”
“I will definitely be back as soon as I can.”
“Good.” She tilted her head. “How soon will that be?”
“Keeley! I haven’t even left yet,” I reminded her, looking around at the bedroom, taking in the peeling wallpaper and faded bedspread and dusty mantlepiece over the empty fireplace. It was very different from my small, pale bedroom at home, but I could almost imagine myself staying here. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”
I woke early the next morning to the sound of singing.
“I like to rise when the sun she rises, early in the mooooorning…”
Across the short landing, Keeley’s bedroom door was flung open and I heard her voice.
“Shut your gob, Dan!”
In response, he only increased the volume. “I like to hear the small birds singing…”
Keeley’s door slammed shut again, and I heard Dan laugh as his footsteps clattered down the stairs. I sat up and threw the covers off, then walked to the window and pulled back the heavy curtains to reveal a pinkish tint still in the sky, and grooms carrying buckets down the yard to whinnying horses that banged impatiently on their doors as they waited for breakfast.
My own stomach rumbled, and I closed the curtains again before heading to the bathroom to wash my face. I changed into denim breeches and a polo shirt, tugged my favourite bright blue socks up to my knees and pulled a hoodie over my head to guard against the morning chill before heading downstairs.
Dan was still whistling the song he’d been singing earlier as I walked into the expansive kitchen and found him making toast.
He turned with a smile that made my stomach squirm a little. “Good morning yourself. Is Keeley up yet?”
“She’s awake,” I said. “I don’t know if she’s out of bed.”
“She’d better get on,” he said, dropping hot toast onto a plate and slathering it in butter. “We’re going up to Barndown to see Deacon shortly, but Mum wants us to do our mucking out before we go.”
“Can’t we leave it for the grooms, and say we’ll skip out for them tonight?” Keeley asked as she walked into the room, still in her pyjamas, her unbrushed hair straggling over her bony shoulders.
“Don’t be so lazy,” her step-brother replied, and she stuck her tongue out at him as he turned his back. “You’ll have Katy thinking you’re a proper spoilt brat if you keep going on like that.”
She wrinkled her nose but didn’t argue, taking a seat at the large table at the other end of the room, surrounded by windows that looked towards the yard on one side and the hedge-trimmed fields on the other.
“You do know we have a guest,” Dan said, watching as she poured herself a cup of tea from the steaming teapot sitting in the centre of the table.
Keeley looked surprised. “Can Katy not pour herself a cup of tea?”
“Of course I can,” I said, taking a seat opposite her and helping myself.
“Is nobody going to help me with the eggs?” Dan demanded.
“Nope.” Keeley had picked up a Horse & Hound magazine and was flipping through it, so I stood up again.
“I’m not much of a cook, but I’ll try.”
Dan grinned and held out a spatula. “That’s all I ask.”
Barnadown was another purpose-built equestrian centre with multiple arenas, row upon row of temporary stabling, and a truck park full of floats and horse trucks of all shapes and sizes. We parked near the gate, then made our way through the venue to the stable block where Deacon had his team, accompanied by his head show groom Ailbe, and their working pupil Roisín, a tall girl with fiery red hair and endless freckles.
I was introduced to Deacon’s horses – a stunning light grey stallion called Rook, two of his dark grey progeny, Carrick and Flint, a wild-eyed bay called Mac, who snorted at me suspiciously every time I went near him, and Balor, a black and white pinto with blue eyes and a large Roman nose.
“I did warn you,” Dan said, as we stopped in front of the piebald horse’s stable and I looked in at his awkward conformation and oversized hooves. “Every yard has to have at least one ugly horse, and Balor is ours.”
“Don’t say that to his face,” I scolded Dan as the piebald horse nudged me with his nose, his large ears flopping forwards in greeting. “You’ll give him a complex. Don’t you listen to him, Balor. I’m sure you’re a lovely horse.”
From the corner of my eye, I caught Roisín’s approving smile at my comments as Dan chuckled.
“Oh aye, he’s sound,” he agreed, then leaned in conspiratorially, his breath warm against my cheek. “Deacon would never admit it, but I think he’s his favourite.”
We spent the day helping Deacon with his horses, tacking up and washing down, walking the horses between rounds, checking start times and running from ring to ring. The horses jumped brilliantly, for the most part, with Carrick placing second in the Six Year Old class and Flint winning the Seven Year Old. Rook had one down in the first round of the Grand Prix, but Mac seemed utterly overwhelmed by the atmosphere, cantering around the course sideways, flinging his head around and taking the first two rails before Deacon retired him after a refusal at the third fence.
“What was the matter with him, do you think?” I asked Dan as he led the nervous bay back to the stables.
“Just had an off day,” Dan shrugged. “That’s sort of Mac’s deal. He’s like the little girl in the nursery rhyme, you know the one. When he’s good, he’s very very good, but when bad…”
“Why does Deacon bother with him, then?”
Dan shrugged. “Says he keeps him honest, stops him from getting too sure of himself. And loads of people said the horse would never be any good, so he’ll take any opportunity to prove them wrong.”
“Or prove them right,” I said, looking at Mac dubiously.
“Sometimes. But the thing with Mac is that he’ll always find a way to surprise you.”
We packed up shortly afterwards and headed back to Kilford behind Deacon’s enormous green truck, with its glossy paintwork and pop-out side. I’d taken one look at it and shaken my head at Dan.
“I thought you said you don’t have a lot of money,” I reminded him. “But I’ve seen where you live, and how you travel, and none of this is cheap. I should know. We do cheap like nobody’s business.”
He grinned. “We don’t, but our sponsors do. Well, Deacon’s sponsors do, anyway. And you said it yourself. You’ve seen where we live.”
“In an enormous house with six bedrooms and four bathrooms.”
“A house that’s falling down around our ears,” he retorted. “This is window dressing, Katy. Surely you’ve figured that out by now. It’s an illusion.”
“Fake it ‘til you make it?” I replied, and he winked at me, reminding me no matter how much time we’d spent together, he still had the ability to make my knees go weak.
On our return to Kilford, we put the horses away and then went out for an evening hack through the woods. Keeley joined us on her dun pony Spice, who struggled to keep up with Dan’s longer striding horses. I was mounted on Tadhg, who marched out happily and seemed pleased to be home.
It was a perfect evening, and I couldn’t help wondering if Keeley’s offer that I could stay on was a genuine one. Well, I had no doubt that it was genuine from her, but would the rest of her family agree? Was there really a place for me here? Could I bear to be away from home for so long?
And yet, the more time I spent at Kilford, the more at home I felt. The house, despite its unkempt state, was thoroughly lived-in. If it had been maintained in the grandeur that it had obviously been designed for, it would’ve felt intimidating. The library, with its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with old leather-bound books, would have felt stuffy if the antique furniture hadn’t been pushed aside to make room for a well-used pool table. The dark red walls and macabre hunting prints on the walls of the formal dining room would’ve felt oppressive if Keeley’s school books hadn’t been scattered across the big oak table; and the drawing room, with its enormous tall windows that looked out into the overgrown, stone-walled garden, could have felt vast and echoey without the juice stains on the cushions to the well-thumbed paperbacks stacked on the windowseats.
If you’d asked me to describe my dream home, a place like Kilford wouldn’t have immediately sprung to mind, but now that I was here, I couldn’t think of a better place in the world to live.