Tuesday 25 October 2016

Contrasting city and country encounters

Lay of the Land

Fiona O'Connell

Published 31/05/2015 | 02:30

Unlike well-behaved horses used to being around people like the one pictured, these huge horses were nervy and clearly unused to human interaction
Unlike well-behaved horses used to being around people like the one pictured, these huge horses were nervy and clearly unused to human interaction

Sometimes it's not the experiences of city and country life that differ, so much as the details. Years ago now, thankfully, back when I was living in the Big Smoke, I was walking up a city centre street one evening with a male friend, when we heard people running behind us.

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I immediately felt uneasy, though ostensibly there should be nothing particularly sinister about the sound of footsteps. But sometimes paranoia is proved right.

We came to a halt as a gang of teenage boys blocked our path and surrounded us. My first real inkling of fear came when I looked into the eyes of the ringleader and sensed he did not recognise us as fellow beings.

Sure enough, one of them grabbed my umbrella and started using it to whack my friend, while another moved in to land a headbutt. At that point, we somehow managed to break away. We hurried on -shaken, and stirred enough to tell a garda we encountered what had happened.

I had a similarly unexpected encounter with a bunch of buckos soon after I moved to the country. It occurred in one of my favourite places to go for a walk, where fields bordered by virgin forest lead down to the same river that runs past my town cottage.

I had made a few attempts at feeding the 12 horses that live there. But though a couple of them were curious enough to approach and sniff the proffered carrots, they didn't really seem to know what to do.

For my part, I also found the experience a little daunting. These huge horses were nervy and clearly unused to people. It made sense when I learnt that they were rescues, being former hunting horses and cruelty cases.

I decided that it was best to admire them from afar. So I gave them a wide berth thereafter, though they always paused to glance at me when I passed. Until, one day, they must have decided that it was time for more formal introductions.

I was making my way back up the trail to the gate, when I heard a sound behind me. Correction: I heard a stampede of hooves that sounded hot on my heels. I turned around and saw the 12 tearaways charging my way. No apocalyptic horsemen were needed for the situation to be intimidating.

They came to a halt on the grassy border, just inches from where I stood. There was a moment when nothing happened. Then the smallest of them, a ghostly white mare, stepped on to the trail and blocked my path.

She eyed me, as if saying "well?" as people around these parts tend to greet each other. I glanced at her gang of galloping gee-gees, who were also watching. Then the pony stepped aside and I walked on.

Leaving me shaken once again by encountering sudden strangers. But this time stirred into wonder.

Sunday Independent

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