Grace Olson

Head and shoulders photo of Grace Olson
When I was young, I wrote a book and sent it to Terry Pratchett. He wrote to me to tell me he'd enjoyed it and gave me advice on how to present it to a publisher. I was astounded he'd replied and sadly my self doubt made me shove his letter in a drawer and do nothing more with my manuscript.
Fast forward to the present day and the emptiness of lockdown gave me the space to write again. I plucked up the courage to post a chapter on Facebook and instantly was inundated with 'likes' and requests for more! Hurrah! It was an amazing moment!
So I set up a Facebook page which then grew so much I had to create a website to enable clarity for my readers.
The result is The Yard - a book about my life in the mad world of horse-lovers. It's proved to be a well loved tale as each week during lockdown, I posted one episode and the response was extremely heart-warming. Such lovely messages from people who enjoyed being reminded of their own horsey experiences and surprisingly non-horsey people have loved it too!
My day to day life involves using my horses in therapeutic work with terminally ill people and I hope to use my book, The Yard, to somehow raise awareness for my therapy work.
Award Category Finalist
Award Submission Title
The Yard
A new mum, with post-natal depression, meets a horse-mad show jumper who triggers her childhood dreams of owning a pony and ends up being responsible for training an unschooled five year old horse, with no idea how to proceed, at a ramshackle livery yard run by a tyrannical, Wagner-obsessed, animal rescuer and her hen-pecked husband.
My Submission
Chapter one

“LEN!!!” shrieked Valerie in her witch-like shrill. The sound ricocheted off my head like a very sharp razor blade and not for the first time I thought how lucky I was not to be Len.
“Yes Valerie?” replied Len in his typical ‘I’ve given up all hope of a good life’ kind of voice.
“Len, where have you put the bloody scissors?” Valerie demanded.
“I don’t know love, you had them last.” Len was bent over with his hands on his knees, out of breath and slightly wheezing. His trousers were covered in patches of brown from all the poo picking he’d been doing.
“What do you mean I had them last?” spat Valerie. “You had them when you were opening that bale of hay, which you weren’t meant to be doing, and now it’s all over the place and I will have to tidy it up.”
“But Valerie love! You had them after that when you were cutting the vet wrap for Candy’s bandage!”
“Oh, bloody hell Len, why didn’t you tell me that earlier? They’re in the bloody caravan!” Valerie stormed off without even apologising to poor old Len.

Len raised his eyebrows and grinned at me and mooched off with his wheelbarrow, back to the Shetland paddock. I shot off round the corner, into the field to get Lucy before Valerie could ask me to do anything for her. I could see why everyone else came up to ride at either twelve O’clock when Valerie had gone for lunch, or four O’clock when Valerie had gone home for the day and made a mental note to do the same.

Chapter two

My love of horses was re-ignited one ordinary day while I was working from home as a self-employed massage therapist.
Lady Alexa Heptonstall was born in the saddle, as the saying goes, and she swept into my life due to a bad back. How she managed to do all the physical work involved that comes with having a horse is totally beyond me because she certainly did have a terrible back problem. She was hilariously funny and had a wonderful plummy accent which sounded almost identical to Princess Anne. I always looked forward to her visits because you could guarantee there would be a horse related drama going on somewhere in her life. She was also very down to earth despite her lofty up-bringing.

Alexa was an Amazon of a woman and reminded me in many ways of Miranda Hart (from the tv). She had the same kind of height and strong build and very similar hair and a comical way of relating her various equestrian mishaps. She was powerfully strong minded and she didn’t mince her words - if you were being an idiot she would let you know very clearly.
In those early days, Alexa had two horses. A beautiful dapple grey Irish Sport Horse and a huge Cleveland bay. Both were for show-jumping as that was her passion. When she first showed me photos of them I was so impressed.
“Wow! You’ve got two horses!” I exclaimed.
It was amazing to me because at that point in my life I didn’t know anyone who had a horse and suddenly here was someone who had two of them! Naturally I wanted to know all about them and all about the things she did with them. It was really difficult to remind myself to think about her physical condition and how best to treat her. I must have given her some really crap massages that’s all I can say and I’m amazed she bothered to come back every fortnight!

The two beautiful horses (and they really were spectacular especially the dapple grey) were kept at a livery yard. This surprised me as I knew that her family had a very impressive, sprawling mansion.
“My dad collects vintage Hot Air Balloons so the stables are full of them!” explained Alexa.
“Wow that sounds fun! Do you go up in them?” I asked
“Oh no! Dad just collects them, he never actually goes up in the air in them, they’re just his weird hobby!” laughed Alexa. “Also, he’s very allergic to horses so they’re not allowed anywhere near the house.”

So the two horses lived at a particularly posh establishment in the up-market spa town of Harrogate where you would most definitely expect to get top quality service. Alexa had been at a few other livery yards but had left them all because they had been very bitchy places. This surprised me as (naïvely) I thought that livery yards would be lovely places full of women sharing the same love of riding horses and all having a nice time together. Alexa laughed her head off at that comment.
“If only!” she said, “They are full of stupid idiots who have all the gear but no idea.”
She proceeded to tell me about how, in general, livery yards consist mainly of “unfriendly women full of their own self-importance with warm blood horses that they can’t control and who only ride round the block (because they daren’t go any further), wearing the latest equestrian clothing and do a bit of dressage not particularly well.”
“How depressing!” I exclaimed, “I couldn’t stand being with people like that.”
“I can’t either!” said Alexa, “this place is not too bad-so far.”
A few weeks after that conversation Lady Alexa came to her appointment red-faced and boiling with rage. She had arrived at the livery yard much earlier than usual, as she had a busy day ahead, and as she walked around the corner towards the stable block there was one of the grooms punching her dapple-grey horse in the face repeatedly!
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” shrieked Alexa at full volume.
The groom stopped in mid punch, shocked and dumbstruck like a rabbit in headlights. Alexa was over there in a millisecond and had the girl pinned up against the wall, shouting into her face! The groom just crumpled like a deflated balloon and stuttered something about the horse nipping her.

The groom was sacked on the spot but Alexa didn’t want to stay there anymore. Fortunately for her she had a friend who owned his own show-jumping yard in the beautiful, wild moorland of Ilkley and he said she could go there in the meantime.
Horses and gear were instantly packed up and transported to the crumbling luxury of the once famous Smithson yard.

Chapter three

Tony Smithson was a man without luck on his side. Or actually he did have luck but it was always bad. He was an exceptionally gifted rider and unlike most of the top showjumpers we see on TV, this guy not only trained his own mounts from day one but he bred them too. His yard was a horse lover’s paradise.
The beautiful old brick, ivy-clad farmhouse overlooked herds of mares and foals grazing in the surrounding fields. On the yard itself, beautiful showjumpers looked over their half-doors and of course he also had a full size outdoor and indoor arena.
Tony had inherited the farm from his dad and in its hey-day they had multiple grooms and everything was sparkling clean. Unfortunately, they just didn’t get the sponsorship so unlike the showjumpers we all know about who get given amazing horses, Tony had to breed and produce his own and in order to be able to make a living he had to sell them just as they were proving to be seriously talented horses.

After Tony’s father passed away, the vigour and excitement of the yard disappeared with him and the once buzzing place drifted into a quieter and more sombre time.
Tony’s dad was the glue that kept the place together and a powerhouse of enthusiasm coupled with a good business brain. Tony couldn’t seem to function as well without him and although he kept going, things were just never the same again. The staff had to be reduced to one full-time groom and Tony had to roll his sleeves up and get down and dirty with the horses.
Inevitably, as there were only Tony and Jo, the groom, to look after the whole place, things began to look a bit shabby. Broken fences were quickly bodged back together and doors that needed a lick of paint were left for another day which never came.

The glory days had gone but Lady Alexa didn’t care she was just so relieved to get away from yet another disappointing livery yard, especially as she also had the stress of arranging her forthcoming wedding to Phillip…

Chapter four

Phillip was a farmer’s son, which you would be forgiven for thinking that would be a bonus for a horse lover. Far from it!
Phillip was not interested in farming, instead he had chosen to be a lawyer. And Phillip’s father, like most farmers, didn’t like horses. Every tiny millimetre of land was earmarked for produce-there was no room for horses on his farm. How gutting!
The thing that struck me the most about their relationship was how uninterested in the wedding Alexa seemed to be. The whole organisation of it just irritated her mainly because it took up valuable horse time.

For most women, buying the dress (with someone else’s money) would be incredibly exciting-but not for Alexa.
“I’ve got to go and try on bloody dresses today!” she said, sounding thoroughly exasperated.
“Oh brilliant!” I said enthusiastically
“No it isn’t,” she sighed, “I can’t imagine anything more boring.”
She then went onto say she had already told him straight that she was going for a ride in the morning of the wedding!
I was so surprised by this comment that I actually laughed quite a lot as I thought it was a joke.
“I’m serious! All the bridesmaids are going to get their hair and nails done!” she exclaimed as if that was a completely ridiculous thing to do before a wedding.
“I’m not bloody doing any of that rubbish,” she continued, “I’m going out on my horse!”
She really was so funny but it made me wonder why she was marrying him.
“Well it’s always been expected that we would get married from the day we were both born.” said Alexa. “Our families go way back. It would cause such a fuss if I didn’t marry him and he’s not all bad!”
I found that attitude really bizarre and I was surprised that someone as tough as Alexa would entertain the idea.

The wedding came and went as weddings do and I saw Alexa again a few weeks later.
“Bloody hell the honeymoon was so annoying!” she said, “He insisted on surprising me and we ended up in Fiji and it was so deathly dull I could’ve cried!”
“Oh dear!” I said, because what else can you say to that kind of comment?
“I don’t mind a couple of days on a beach,” she continued “but after two weeks of it I was ready to strangle him!”
(Perhaps not the best way to start married life?)
“It’s such a relief to be back with the horses!”

Chapter five

“Hi! Sorry about the smell I’ve come straight from work!” This was the greeting I received when I opened the door to my newest client.
Wendy Spencer arrived wearing mud splattered jodhpurs and a red fleece covered in bits of hay. She also had a few shavings in her hair.
“That’s okay!” I laughed, “Do come upstairs.”
She really did stink of haylage which sometimes can really hum.
I start all my first treatments with a consultation so that I know what type of massage is needed and if there are any medical problems that I need to be careful with.
I have never written down so many injuries-and all to do with horses.

Wendy had had a broken wrist; a broken arm; a broken leg; a broken jaw; a broken rib; broken vertebra; a broken collarbone-the list was seemingly endless and I realised my mouth was wide open almost on the floor in disbelief so I shut it quickly.
“Wow!” I exclaimed “That’s quite a catalogue of disasters!”
Wendy just laughed.

Like Alexa, she too had enjoyed a life full of horses. Her parents had bought her a pony when she was little and from there she had grown up with them and now as an adult her career was helping people to train their horses.
It appears that there were lots of people who had bought inappropriate horses as Wendy easily made a living out of-as she put it- “helping these idiots.”
She also worked part time at a very posh hunting stable where she was in charge of exercising and training the youngsters.

I was fascinated, more so by the fact she had sustained so many injuries yet she still continued to do it.
“It’s part of the job!” she laughed.
Her back was absolutely knackered and I could’ve done with a meat tenderiser to hammer it out, however all I had was my elbows but that seemed to do the trick thank goodness.
Her back was so bad she came for a massage every week for months and I always looked forward to her visits.

Wendy had been “given” a gorgeous horse, called Bobby, to work on by a farmer who for no apparent reason had bred a couple of horses out of his Shire mare. The ‘dad’ was a thoroughbred and the resulting offspring were stunning. The farmer had heard through the horsey grapevine that Wendy was good at training horses so she had been asked to treat Bobby as if he was her own. She was to train him and eventually compete with him and then he would be sold. The farmer would then give Wendy a large percentage of the profit.

Wendy saw Bobby every day and she absolutely loved him. She showed me a photo and he really was gorgeous. Shiny black with three white socks and a lovely white blaze on his giant head. His face was Shire shaped but he wasn’t heavily built like a Shire, he was lighter and looked like a perfect hunter. I was so envious! She invited me to come and see him and of course I couldn’t resist.

The farm where Bobby lived was a half hour drive into the most utterly beautiful countryside… then straight out the other side where suddenly it became very flat and featureless and really quite stark.
“Oh!” I said out loud as I was so surprised by the sudden change of scenery.
There was a row of shabby old workers’ cottages and a very straight road with very sharp corners led into the farm. It really was the most bizarre road I’ve ever driven on. You literally had to almost stop so that you could take the corners without ending up in the field next to the road.

Every expense had been spared in keeping up the maintenance of the farm. If the farmer could have used Sellotape to fix a broken wall then I’m sure that’s what he would’ve done.
Wendy took me into the crumbling stable block which had most definitely seen better days. Only one stable was nicely maintained and that was Bobby’s.
He really was a lovely horse and he was clearly very happy to see Wendy because he made that lovely chuckling noise that horses make when they are happy to see you. I’ve often wondered why that sound is called a “nicker”?

Wendy brought Bobby out of the stable and turned him into a large field with his sister, Pepper.
Pepper was a gorgeous dark dapple grey and was completely wasted as nobody did anything with her. Someone had tried to put a saddle on her once and she had bucked so then the person stopped. But how ridiculous to expect a horse to automatically be okay about having a saddle put on its back without any prior experience of anything! Some people are really stupid.
So there she was doing nothing and because of this she was very clingy with Bobby which made things harder for Wendy.
I wished that I could have had Pepper because she looked like the Sindy horse I used to play with when I was little! However, I had zero knowledge on training horses so I quickly shelved that thought.
As I was driving home all I could think about was how much I missed riding horses and I wondered why I had ever stopped.

Chapter six

I stopped riding at the age of 18 at a time when I had just been given free use of an ex-race horse called Tommy who lived on a dairy farm next door to my cousin’s house. My cousin and I used to help with milking when we were young teenagers. Tommy belonged to the farmer’s wife, Jane, and she didn’t have much time for him so she asked me to help exercise him.

Tommy was brilliant, so laid-back and happy to hack out anywhere. We had some lovely rides together and he was so happy that someone was taking him out. He had a sense of humour too and actually played a trick on me!
I turned up one lovely sunny day and he was lying in the field on his right side with all his legs stretched out.
“Hello Tommy!” I said and he looked at me, rolled his eyes and groaned and lifted up his two left legs and then let them flop back down with a clunk as they hit his two right feet.
“Come on get up!” I said to him, and again he rolled his eyes groaned and banged his legs.
He did this a couple of more times and I was really quite freaked out.
“Oh my God!” I said and dashed to the farmhouse to tell Jane.
I banged on the door, praying that she was in and not miles away with the cows.
Luckily, she was in.
“Come quick!” I gasped, “Tommy is really ill I think he’s dying!”
“Humph, no he isn’t the cheeky bugger.” Jane snorted and she pulled her wellies on and marched towards Tommy’s field.
I was taken aback by her reaction and followed her.
“Stop messing about Tommy!” she said to him and I couldn’t believe it- he got up and smirked! He literally smirked!
“He likes to play jokes on people,” said Jane.
I was lost for words. Jane just laughed and walked back to the house.

Although I really loved Tommy and we had some fun times together, I stopped going because I felt so intimidated by Jane. Looking back as an adult I really don’t know why because she was so lovely, but when I was 18 I was very self-conscious and massively lacking in confidence.
Jane was a typical tough Yorkshire farmer with a very no- nonsense way about her which just highlighted my general lack of common sense and made me feel a bit idiotic.

I remember when I first went to see her about Tommy. We went into the field and she gave me his headcollar and somehow, I managed to put it on upside down! I really don’t know how I did that.
All Jane said was “you’ve put that on the wrong way around!” but I was so embarrassed. I’m amazed she let me loose on her horse.


authorshaunnar Sun, 30/08/2020 - 22:43

Congratulations on making it as a finalist! Best wishes! 

Mary D Mon, 31/08/2020 - 12:51

Congratulations on your success Grace -:)

Suzanne Smart Sat, 19/09/2020 - 14:57

What a fabulous piece! So pleased you decided to shine your light! Best wishes for the next stage.