There’s a farm called Misery, but of that we’ll have none
Because we know of one
That’s always lots of fun (Ha ha!)
And this one’s name is Jollity; believe me, folks, it’s great
For everything sings out to us as we go through the gate
Bonzo Dog Band
I was not always lucky enough to keep my horses somewhere great. Like many horse owners out there, my experiences on livery yards over the years defy belief. If they had been televised as part of a reality TV show, the audience would have concluded it had to have all been staged. But nothing upstages the livery yard experience where the truth is always far, far stranger than anything the Kardashians could possibly keep up with.
Take for example my first ever livery yard experience. Bear in mind that at this point I had very few contacts within the local horse community. Also, having bought my horse before finding somewhere to keep her, I was literally down to any open stable. Lucky for me a yard close by had space. The day prior to my horse’s arrival sees me in my local feed store. Naturally my excitement at the arrival of my first ever horse needs to be shared with the sales assistants. I order hard feed, haylage, feed bowls, buckets and pretty well anything else that catches my eye. Treats, licks – that must-have rug. I’m asked what kind of horse I’ve bought, what I intend to do with her and then finally – where are all my purchases to be delivered?
The three exchange knowing looks. I feel an uneasy feeling stir within me. Finally – one speaks.
‘Is there anywhere else you can keep your horse?’
There were so many factors that made Jollity Farm (not of course it’s real name) unique which had earned it this reputation. But the muck heap soared far above these. Not so much a heap as a landmark visible from the International Space Station. During the many years Jollity Farm had operated as a livery yard, the muck heap had never once been taken away. And seeing that there could be as many as 30 horses stabled on the yard when it was at capacity, that’s a lot of poop. Not to mention the poo picking. By the time I moved in, the muck heap towered over two sides of the Olympic sized arena like a steaming Himalayan range. Its foothills beginning some 50 yards away just behind my stable block.
Muck Everest as it was known, was accessed by a series of gangplanks suspended over gaping crevasses and vertigo-inducing chasms of bottomless horse poo. One misstep could see one sink without trace. A few years back my friend Peter who is a real-life Indiana Jones type, summited the real Everest. All I can say is he needn’t have bothered with any of the smaller peaks to work up to this when Muck Everest was so accessible and presented far more of a challenge. That is if trekking to Everest base camp blindfolded, and on one leg after drinking two litres of Pimms while pushing an overloaded barrow full of muck is enough of a challenge for you. Because that’s what ascending Muck Everest up a network of semi-vertical, wobbling planks felt like.
Visitors to Jollity Farm would regard Muck Everest with an expression which combined equal measures of disbelief and fear. This went hand-in-hand with worries about either avalanches or it spontaneously combusting. We could only speculate that the fall out from any such explosion would bury not just the adjoining barns but the surrounding villages too. Worse was the thought this Mt. St. Helen’s of fermenting methane might blow when one was scaling it. After all, physics tells us nothing escapes a black hole.
Muck Everest behaved very much like a glacier. But of course, faster moving as it was added to on an ever-increasing daily basis. Every other day, Cheryl who ran the yard (not her real name), would get into her tractor and push back the inexorable tide of poop like a mechanised Canute but just as futile. This led to many notices being placed around the yard about correct poop depositing. One must not dump one’s load on the Himalayan foothills but ascend with one’s barrow to the peak – and add to its grandeur.
All liveries were equal at Jollity but some liveries were more equal than others. This especially applied if you competed, were married to a trainer or simply rich. Or Cheryl thought you were. If so, your horse got the best grazing and you were not expected to scale the dizzying heights of Muck Everest. At one point, Cheryl announced that an international dressage rider would be bringing her horses in. Intent on making a good impression, she installed mirrors in the arena at great cost. All the better to reflect the peaks of Muck Everest leaning over it. Alas, not only did she fail to bring her horses in, it turned out that if she was an ‘international dressage rider’ then I was entitled to call myself an ‘international endurance rider’ simply because I had ridden out with the gauchos in Argentina. The additional perspectives they supplied of Muck Everest aside, the mirrors however were much appreciated by the not so equal liveries.
But no matter how many notices were put up or snarky texts sent, some people it appeared simply would not follow poo protocol. The lower regions of the Everest range needing constant containment as they began creeping into other areas like the manure equivalent of lava. For Cheryl, it has become all a bit like trying to shift a tectonic plate. And every bit as unstable. Heading towards Everest one morning with a full barrow, I found two other liveries at its base, staring back at the stable block. At first, I think they might be waiting for a Sherpa or an oxygen tank. But no. ‘Look at that’ says one of them pointing over my shoulder. I turn. There on a pole behind me – a video camera. Poo cam’s red light telling us we’re being watched. It’s Candid Camera unreal.
The summit of the ridiculous now reached, we abandon ourselves to visions of Cheryl in her bungalow, wine in hand, in front of a wall of monitors live-streaming the poo perpetrators like Ed Harris in The Truman Show. After all, what else is there to do when Strictly is no longer on? It’s then we hit on the perfect response. Not so much a Mexican wave as a Mexican mooning as three pairs of jodhs head for the ankles.
All the little pigs, they grunt and howl
The horses neigh
The dogs bow-wow
Everybody takes a bow
Down on Jollity Farm!
It’s been almost nine years since I left Jollity. The real Mount Everest is increasing its height by 4mm a year. Friends who out of desperation or lack of options, have ended up at Jollity Farm, report Muck Everest is still very much intact and growing at a much faster rate. The poo cam however has been removed.
Written by Helen Watts