A Nice Surprise

The pony picked its way carefully down the valley’s far slope, grazing tufts of grass as it passed. Felipe and I stood perfectly still, almost holding our breaths. The pony was apparently oblivious to us but steering in our general direction. Felipe wore a rapturous expression. Thank goodness, I thought. We had left the car in a lay-by and headed out into the fields, county Roscommon laid out under a patchy sky to the south, the Curlew mountains building around us. The soft, damp ground was carpeted with springy heather. Felipe carried the binoculars. It was the third day of his visit from Barcelona, and I had promised to show him the wild side of Ireland. On the drive up I had described how kestrels hovered in the air on sharp, fluted wings ready to arrow down on unsuspecting rabbits and voles, while robins and wrens darted in and out of hawthorn bushes. Felipe had looked impressed. After an hour of walking, with not a kestrel in sight, nor any other bird, and the rabbit-free grasses waving happily at us under a brisk wind, Felipe’s expression had slipped to confused; the binoculars swung forgotten in his loose grip. I was about to suggest turning back when the pony appeared, portly, muscovado brown with a large white patch across its back. It approached us at a leisurely pace until we met in the middle of the field. ‘To who belongs this?’ Felipe asked.  I shrugged. The pony shook its head. Felipe grinned, ‘She says, to no-one.’ We stood for a while, the three of us, until the pony shook its head again and walked away, over the far ridge of the valley and out of sight. ‘You know before about ponies here?’ Felipe asked as we retraced our steps to the car. ‘No,’ I said honestly, ‘that was a nice surprise.’