The hawthorn and maple leaves have started to turn, their edges burning mustard yellow like paper in the grate. I watch them from the horse’s back - Roxie, the plump cob with a Hackney trotter hop, who carries me up and down the green lanes of Hampshire. We pass the house of a childhood friend, and through the windows I can see the large, white rooms I used to play in two decades ago. They had a piano and a chocolate labrador, and two heifers in the field behind the house. A damson tree, glistening with dark fruit, bends over the hedge from their garden and I lean out for one, two, a handful - but Roxie is restless, moves us forward, and the damsons remain out of reach.
We ride out to Hawkley, gallop around for a while, and turn back along the road rather than the bridle path. Two months ago we took the path and a fallen branch caused Roxie to spook, throw me off and then stand on my leg, which still bears a faint horseshoe-shaped mark and feels tough under the skin, like gristle in a steak. It’s been stormy this month and I don’t fancy the risk, so along the road we walk, and the fresh autumn air creeps along with us. Wild hops climb up the hedgerows like milky pine cones, longing for the sun. We return to the yard and I hose the sweat off Roxie’s back, then turn her out and make coffee. The swallows are still here, threading in and out of the stable rafters, and we breath together in the warmth of the morning, watching the white sky glow.