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The Prince who stole my heart

Last week I said goodbye to a very dear friend. He was every girl’s dream – tall, dark and devastatingly handsome, with Irish roots and a quirky, loveable character.

I’d known him for almost three years. We met through a twist of fate. I was looking for someone like him. He was looking for someone like me. He filled a hole in my life I’d forgotten was there, making it brighter, fuller and - occasionally – more terrifying.

I remember the first time we met as if it was yesterday. I was nervous. It had been a long time – over ten years – since I’d put myself ‘out there’ and I felt rusty. Awkward. All fingers and thumbs.

I needn’t have worried. With a friendly nudge and a nibble of my coat pocket he put me at my ease. It wasn’t long before I felt as though I’d never been away.

We hooked up every Thursday, he and I, as the seasons changed and time marched on. On warm, cloudless midsummer mornings and autumnal afternoons when soft rain blurred the horizon. On sharp, frosty days when our breath clouded the cold air, and breezy spring days when the hedgerows were a carpet of wood anemones.

He knew me as the small human who came armed with carrots and apples once a week and took him for an amble along the lanes and bridleways of rural Kent.

I knew him as Prince, the bright bay Irish sports horse with the memory of an elephant and a phobia of manhole covers.

His owner had been looking for someone to share him one day a week. I was spending my days writing about ponies yet my life was bereft of the real thing. I jumped at the chance of becoming his Thursday rider.

Prince re-awoke my obsession with horses and provided barrow-loads of inspiration for the Riverdale stories. Remember that time Poppy lands on her backside in a mass of thistles when Beau spooks at a clump of oxeye daisies in Into the Storm? That happened during one eventful canter on Prince. Luckily, unlike Poppy, I managed to keep my seat – but only just.

All his expressions, quirks and mannerisms found their way into my books. The sheer joy of trotting down a country lane with a set of pricked ears in front of me was rocket fuel for my writing. I spent hours planning stories while I was out riding. In fact, I regarded my Thursdays as essential research. Virtually tax-deductible.

But if life teaches us anything, it’s that good things don’t last forever. Prince has found a lovely new home and our arrangement has come to an end.

We had one last ride together last Thursday. Heavy rain was forecast, yet the sun shone for us. It was perfect in every way.

I said goodbye as I said hello – with a carrot. And as I drove away I wondered if he would remember the small human he’d shared his Thursdays with these last three years. Probably not.

I, on the other hand, will remember him forever.

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