Turning on the bed side light Chris sat hugging her knees, her head resting on her arms.  The dream had come again, exhausting, terrifying but oh, so exhilarating and she had awoken from it once more with the strangest feeling that it had not been a dream at all.

It was only a few months  since she had moved into this cottage, so different from the house in which she had brought up the children and lived most of her married life.  It was mad to move from everything she knew, but it was something she had to do - a sign of independence for a newly single, and besides the Sixth Form College in the nearby town was perfect for the twins.  It had surprised her when they leapt at the chance of the change, but who understood children?  Far from bemoaning the loss of friends and cinemas and urban delights without number, they had talked in a most unteenage way of fresh air and birds and flowers.  She had wondered more than once if they had talked it over in that disconcertingly parental way one’s children sometimes did, deciding that it would be a good thing for her to move, to get away from Paul and his new wife.  Not that she minded, all that much, seeing them together.  When a marriage is over it is over. She was enjoying her new found independence.

She lay back on the pillows and closed her eyes.  In her dream she had walked down the path between the beds of herbs and cottagy things  like delphiniums and hollyhocks long grass  at the end of the garden where there were  three ancient apple trees.  It was waiting for her there: the most beautiful white horse.  Without saddle or bridle, its mane like soft silk, it walked up to her and thrust its velvet muzzle into her hands, blowing gently on her fingers.  This was the strange part.  All her life she had been afraid of horses. Not that she knew any well, but even  from a safe distance, though undoubtedly attractive creatures, they looked strong and uncontrollable and dangerous.

Here her dream became stranger still.  After flinging her arms around the animal’s neck and kissing it as though it were an old friend she somehow  vaulted onto its back, feeling the muscular flanks of the animal beneath her bare legs, winding her fingers into the mane and leaning forward to whisper in its ear. It listened, it raised  its head and pricked its ears, then it turned and strode purposefully towards the open (open ? It had never been opened) gate.  In her dream she was not afraid.  She leaned low, encouraging it to go faster as the horse moved smoothly from trot to canter and finally into a gallop, taking her down the fields, across ditches and through gates and on towards the Downs.

By the time they returned her face was flushed, her hair tangled and her legs ached, but she was so, so happy.  Slipping off the horse in the garden she kissed its  nose and tiptoed up over the dewy grass and in through the backdoor where the children, music quiet at last, lay asleep.

Staring up at the ceiling, disorientated, she lay still for a moment, then, throwing back the bedclothes she walked across to her dressing table. Turning on the lamp she peered at her face.  It was flushed and her hair  was wild and tangled, but surely she looked like that every morning?  Everyone did when they awoke.  She examined her hands.  No sign.  Of course no sign of their fierce  strong grip on the mane,  no smell - she raised them cautiously to her nose -  of horse.

With a sigh she turned and climbed back into bed.


‘You’re nuts, mum!’ Mat reached for the cereal box and tipped a helping onto his plate.  ‘You can’t take up riding at your age.  Besides, you hate horses!’

‘Shut up, Mat!’ Lyn poured herself her own breakfast - a single cup of black coffee.  ‘Of course Mum can learn to ride.  Everyone ought to take up something new at her age.’

‘Thanks.’  Chris’s dry acknowledgement was lost in the twins’ banter.

‘She might fall off and break her leg or something.’

‘Nonsense.   She’d be brilliant.’

I will be brilliant.  She didn’t say it out loud.  They weren’t listening anyway. Smiling tolerantly she chivvied them out of the house and went to get ready for work.  As a part time receptionist at the local surgery she had found herself the most perfect  job she could have wished for.  She had met practically everybody in the village and already knew most of their life histories.

Her colleague behind the reception desk that morning, Anita, knew Sandra Hodge, the woman who ran the local riding school.  In a lull between patients Chris rang up and booked her first lesson before she had a chance to change her mind.


The horse was brown, its coat muddy; it wore a saddle and bridle and when she reached out her hand to stroke its nose it put its ears back and shook its head.  She listened intently to the instructions on how to mount, thankful that this first lesson was  on her own and not in front of  twenty small girls who  rode like angels.  Even mounting the thing proved a problem. Her foot would not reach the stirrup -it was too high and each time she tried, the horse side stepped away from her leaving her hopping frantically in space.

Sandra grew bored more quickly than the horse.  ‘Come over here to the mounting block.’  In seconds, much chastened, she was on.  This horse was far fatter than her own Moonlight, as she had christened him, the stirrup leathers cut her legs through her jeans and its action as she was led out into the ring was jerky and uncomfortable.  All her confidence had  long since  oozed away.

‘Sit straight.  Relax.  Hold the reins as I showed you.  Sit down into the saddle.  Don’t lean forward &ldots;’ The string of instructions assailed her like machine gun fire.  Her legs began to ache long before the lesson was over.  When the time came to dismount she nearly collapsed as her feet met the oh-so distant ground.

‘Not bad.’ Sandra gave her a tight smile. ‘If you want to persevere I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it. In the end.’

Get the hang of it - she, who had galloped, bent low over her horse’s neck, through the moonlit countryside, the wind in her hair  and  guided the horse with nothing more than the gentle pressure of her knees! Angrily she fumbled with the buckle of her borrowed hard hat and vowed never to return.

She managed a long hot bath before Mat and Lyn arrived home.  It wasn’t easy to hide her crippling stiffness but smiling determinedly she staggered round the kitchen and was relieved that, engrossed in  college gossip, they did not notice.  If they had she would never have heard the end of it.

She was doing an afternoon shift the next day, so in the morning, after the twins had left for college she walked down the garden towards the orchard.  It had been a wet warm month and the lush grass and leaves had grown like tropical jungle.  The next thing she had to learn was gardening.

She stopped by the tree where she had first seen the white horse, staring round the sun-dappled grass.  What had triggered her dream? Nothing that she could see as she walked on under the apple boughs towards the back gate. The latch was rusty and bent.  It took her several minutes of determined rattling and shoving to release it and force the gate open a few inches.  Outside the field of green wheat fresh and rippling like the sea, stretched away for miles.  Around the edge there was a narrow track.  She stepped onto it, staring round, trying to identify the landscape of her dreams.  But it was no use.  It all looked different in the bright warm sunlight.

She was just turning in at the gate once more when her eye was caught by something at her feet.  Staring down she felt her stomach lurch with surprise.  Cut deep in the sandy soil of the path she could see the shape of a large hoof print.

Of course, people must ride round the field.  Why else would there be such a well marked path?  She cast round for other signs of passing horses but in spite of the soft ground there were none and puzzled, she made her way back into the garden.

The dream returned that night and  as though remembering her riding lesson she hesitated as they turned out of the gate  and guiding the horse with her legs and her balance she turned it off the path and into the field.  Cantering circles in each direction as she had seen some of the other students do in the distance, she listened to the rustle of its feet in the long sweet corn and watched the moonshadows stretch and turn across the ground in front of her.  Only when they had done that did she lean forward and whisper in the horse’s ear and turn it for the gallop towards the Downs.

Her next lesson was very different from the first. Different instructor, different horse. ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Hodge had to go to London for the day.’  Horse and teacher this time were both attractive, slim, long haired and kind. Chris giggled to herself as the comparison flitted through her head and forgetting to be afraid she ruffled the  mane of her new mount.  ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Hodge didn’t say how much experience you’d had.’ The girl walked over to the barrier round the indoor school and reached for the saddle she had left there.

‘No. Please.  Can I try without.’ Chris, left holding the bridle, whispered to the horse, which hadn’t tried to bite her.  It twitched its ears attentively.  ‘I haven’t had much practice to be honest, but most of what I have done in the past has been with no saddle.’

The girl let the  heavy saddle fall back on it resting place.  ‘Great.  Good practice for you.  Bring her over here so you can get on.’

The same mounting block.  No stirrups.  Not letting herself think Chris threw herself upwards and vaulted lightly onto the horse’s back, gathering up the reins.

‘Great.  Canter her round the circle. ‘ The girl sat down on the mounting block and prepared to watch.

Chris took a deep breath. This felt more familiar, and it had been so easy in her dream. A gentle squeeze with her legs, a chirrup at the eager ears.

The horse broke straight into a canter, loping easily round the sawdust ring, responding to her every move.  To her surprise and delight she loved it.  It was easy, exciting - not as exciting as being outside, but still exciting.

The next two nights she dreamed of nothing at all. On the third she dreamed she was stacking supermarket shelves with biscuits she had made herself on a bonfire at the back of the surgery.  Bitterly disappointed,  she retraced her steps, next morning  into the garden.


She shook her head in despair.  Losing her marbles, as Mat would say.  Calling out loud to a dream horse from a dream world. Perhaps she shouldn’t have ridden for real.  Perhaps the experience had destroyed the dream.

She made her way towards the gate and out onto the path.  The ground had dried out now.  It was hard and dusty.  Turning left out of the gate she began to walk along the track listening to the skylarks high above the field, screwing up her eyes so that she could see the tiny specks against the brilliant blue of the sky.

The horse was upon her before she knew it, galloping around the corner, its rider intent upon the path.  With a scream Chris threw herself sideways into the corn as the animal reared up and skidded to a standstill.

’Are you all right?   My God, I’m sorry. I never saw you!’ The man was off the horse and at Chris’s side almost before the animal had stopped.

Shaken, she lay still for a moment, then slowly she sat up.  ‘I’m OK.  It’s not your fault.  I wasn’t paying attention.  I should have heard you.’

His chestnut mare had trotted a few yards away and stopped.  It stood near them, its rein trailing,  snatching greedily at the hedgerow grass.

‘I’m Tom Ketch.  From Saddlers farm.’ He had taken her arm and helped her gently to her feet. He was tall, tanned,  her age, or perhaps a bit older. He was dressed in jeans,  leather jacket and boots. ‘You’re Chris Dean, aren’t you.  I’ve seen you around.  Is your ankle twisted?’ She had staggered slightly as she put her weight on it.  ‘I’m so sorry.  Look sit here.  Let me look.’

‘I’m all right.  Really.’  It was wonderful to be so fussed over.  But at the same time it was embarrassing.  What kind of an idiot must he thing her, nose diving into the wheat like that?  She firmly removed her arm from his and planted her foot on the ground, stamping experimentally and hiding resolutely the answering needle of pain which shot up her leg.

‘It’s a wonderful place to ride,’ she said.  ‘Please don’t think you can’t gallop round here because of me.  It’s my own fault.  I was too busy listening to the skylarks.’

‘And why not?’  He smiled and she found herself smiling back suddenly, unable to take her eyes off his face.  ‘Perhaps we can ride together some time?’ he went   on.

 She wanted to.  Oh yes, she wanted to, so much. She had placed him now.  Tom Ketch.  Newly returned from living abroad to take up the family farm and stables.  Handsome. Fortyish. Gossiped about.  And single.

She sobered rapidly.  ‘But I don’t ride - or at least, I’ve only just started - ‘

‘Nonsense.  You’re good.  I’ve seen you several times.’

She could feel herself reddening.  He must have somehow watched her that last occasion at the riding school. But several times? No.

‘I’ve no experience at all.  Honestly. I wouldn’t be very good company.’

‘On the contrary.  You look as though you’d be very good company.’ He broke off, looking stricken.  ‘I’m sorry.  That sounded like a really corny chat up line.’

‘And a very nice one.’ His discomfort gave her a little confidence .  How stupid to feel so at a loss.  It was so long since she had been involved in a conversation like this - a relaxed flirtatious to and fro,  with a good looking man.

‘So, where do you keep her stabled?  I thought I knew all the liveries round here.  I know there’s nowhere at your cottage.’

Chris frowned.  ‘I don’t understand.  I’ve been riding at  Hodges.’

‘My God, why?’ He reached into the pocket of his jeans and produced a distinctly grubby looking packet of peppermints.  The horse immediately looked up and whickered at him hopefully, a long trail of wild grasses hanging from the corner of her mouth.

‘Yes, greedy, for you.’ He held one out for the animal and she came to him like an eager dog.

‘She likes them?’

Nodding he gave the horse one and rubbed her nose, then as she had feared he offered one to Chris.  With a hidden smile she shook her head.

‘I didn’t realise that the Hodges took in livery horses.’

‘But they weren’t mine, the horses I rode.’ Chris glanced at him shyly.

‘What, not that gorgeous grey?’

‘Grey?’ She stared at him.

‘The one I saw you on a few nights ago.’

Her mouth went dry.  For a moment  she stood stock still, looking at him, her eyes intently searching his face, then she turned away. ‘You have seen me riding at night?’

‘Yes.’ She heard the puzzled tone in his voice, the chink of the chestnut’s bridle as it pushed at his pockets, eager for another sweet.

‘On a white horse? In the moonlight?’ She was staring out across the field.

‘I wasn’t spying, Chris.’ She could hear the amusement in his voice.

‘No. No, I’m sure you weren’t.’ Suddenly afraid she found herself clenching her fists.

He noticed. Unseen by her, an eyebrow rose fractionally and a glint of understanding showed for a moment in his eyes. ‘Whose horse was it? Did you take her without asking?’

‘No!’  Her indignation took him aback.

‘Then I don’t understand.’

‘No.’ She shook her head violently.  ‘No, nor do I. I’m sorry, Tom. I have to go.  I’m late for work.’ Sighing she shoved her hands deep into the pockets of her jeans.  ‘I’m sorry I can’t ride with you, I really am. ‘  She couldn’t meet his eye.  Turning away from him she almost ran back towards her gate and fumbling with the latch she let herself into the garden.

That night as she rode Moonlight out into the darkness she was not  thinking about Tom Ketch, the riding school horses, the surgery, the children.  In her dream she was one with the horse, leaning forward to rest her cheek against the warm firm neck before urging the horse faster and faster towards the horizon.

On the edge of the field in the shelter of the trees Tom Ketch watched in silence.  Only when she was out of sight did he turn and make his way up the field path to her gate.  It was closed and overgrown with weeds.  In the beam of his torchlight he could see no hoof marks, no bruising of the grasses, no trampled corn.  For a long time he stood staring through the apple trees at the sleeping cottage windows, deep in thought. Then at last he turned away. Smiling to  himself he began to walk home through the darkness.  Tomorrow he was going to ask Chris  Dean once again if she would like to ride with him.  On one of his horses, the pretty grey Arab mare he had thought of selling.  And perhaps, if he persevered, he would for the first time in his life be in a position to make someone’s dreams come true. It was a wonderful thought.

All short stories »