The trials and tribulations of being mum to a pony rider

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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Dreamweaver Daze

Sweetheart is an instructor with a memorable style. Her voice never raises above a soothing, lulling tone whatever appalling pony-behaviour is taking place before her eyes. When Buggah the bolshy bay flies into a snorting, head-tossing tantrum, you hear "Ooohh naughty Mr Big Orange! Give him a little tap tap tap with your heels!"
Another of her lines: “Now, give tiny Penny-pony a little wake-up call with the tickling stick...”

Panikos asked if this translates as ‘whip the bastard till he does what he’s told’, to which the answer is ‘exactly,’ but Sweetheart's way is so much nicer.

When she benevolently bent her gaze upon Clyde, my macho stallion (ex) on one of his bravado bids to leap three fences in one stride, and murmured “ohhh naughty Clydey-boy! Are you being a bit of a winkle today?” we decided it was time to change class.

Lots of pony-time for pony-girl today, and she joined up with a bunch of other girls to have fun in the top school – :) so I came home to make a start on Christmas shopping and Christmas Puzzles for hard-facts. It was nice to have some pony-free thoughts for a change. Panikos recently got it into his head that instead of me saying three times an hour ‘just pop this up on the site for me’ it would be a really splendid idea if I learned how to upload midi files for Name that Tune puzzles myself. So I am battling to get to grips with Dreamweaver. I’m not a natural at PC stuff, which is the less hurtful way of saying that you need look no further for the helpline caller who spent ages searching for the Any Key to press, so you can see that ftp has been a bit of a challenge but I’m making headway. It was a real thrill when I realised that making some little change on my pc causes a hard drive on our server thousands of miles away in the US to whirr and click into action! Now that’s power (and a concept it’s fun to imagine explaining to a time-travelling Ancient Greek philosopher who would knock spots off us in debate but who would have quite a lot to catch up on.)

It occurred to me after one near disaster I’m doing some tidying up..... we didn’t need that old graphics folder did we? TELL ME WE DIDN’T NEED IT! that allowing me to fiddle about with hard-facts’ vital files was not the wisest move Panikos ever made.

“Oh it’s ok,” he soothed, “Even as you tell me you’re working on it I quickly backup the entire board to CD.”

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Saddle Sunday

The panic is over! The old fraud was back to normal (feisty and glaring) when we turned up breathless at dawn to check up on him. Worn his new Likit down to a stub again and performed very nicely in the Sunday owners’ free-for-all in the top school. I did some sterling work integrating J into the clique of other junior owners, as the ultimate aim is of course to leave her there with them while I go home and cook the Sunday roast. I fear it may be an uphill task because while the other girls are welcoming and friendly, J is something of an antisocialite. She takes after her father, RPD, who was last heard to speak in the cricket season.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by Pat, who barked at me "You ‘ere again? You don’t have to hang around with her all the time you know! Just leave her and GO!" I shrank into my huge Musto coat and tried to look unnoticeable – not easy when you are the size of a mountain draped in billowing beige.

I took some pictures of Clyde today and posted them on hard-facts. I think he looks very nice in them and I have to say I thought he was the handsomest horse there this morning, even beside Trop the beautiful ex-racehorse who was prancing around in a nervy way. Ex-racehorses may trot quite sedately up to a small crosspole such as in the topschool this morning - but immediately on landing they take off at a headlong bolt for the finish line leaping everything in sight, just as they’ve been taught from birth. Her owner Maggie has still some work to do there I’d say, and no doubt she will be starting on that as soon as she manages to turn Trop round.

The big excitement of the morning, apart from Clyde’s brighteyed, sparkling good health and being banned by Pat, was the arrival of Clyde’s New Saddle. He came with one tossed in contemptuously with the price; it doesn't fit him very well owing to his saggy back which has a dip in it like an old sofa. RPD winced and skittered at the idea of buying a new saddle, but I reminded him how much we had saved on buying Clyde and not the Arabian dream. "You must be having trouble finding room to stash away all the money you’ve saved recently," was his sarky reply, but he agreed. New English leather saddles cost more than two Clydes, but precious pony-girl turned her nose up at a synthetic Wintec, though those seem OK to a neophyte like me, being lighter and easy to wipe over with a damp cloth. But pony-girl loves to pass the hours with various straps and bottles of neatsfoot oil and saddlesoap, so a compromise was reached on second-hand leather. The NagsR’Us saddler was sent for and I was assured by Belle and Caresse (my favourite mother-daughter team at the stables) that he would find us the right saddle – ‘no matter what it costs, it will be worth it!’ But Belle and Caresse, while lovely people, are so rich they have no idea how real people live, so I set an upper limit of £250-£350. The saddler, Mr Moneybags, produced a saddle this morning which fits Clyde perfectly, and can be worn with his rosepink numnah. I noticed the cost was £375 but it seemed so petty to raise a quavering pony-mum quibble amid the squeals of admiration as Clyde strutted proudly around the yard.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Join Up and Jacket Joy

Right at the very moment I was posting the last entry moaning and whingeing about the Ebay jacket no-show, blow me if it wasn't being delivered! There it was, poof! appeared like magic the moment I clicked Publish Post. What can I do but set matters to rights.

And it truly is a lovely jacket. Brand new as advertised, still with tags and a sticker for £153 - what a bargain, since I paid only £62! Its ink fleece lining is so warm and soft I could snuggle in it for hours. And that pony-girl and I could both fit inside it, zip it up and have room to spare for a third is an added advantage - how handy it will be on sleepover nights if someone forgets a bag.

It would really have come into its own on the night we went to see Monty Roberts live at a local equine college, which was the coldest night in February. RPD speaks rarely, but one thing that can crank him into action is the mention of MR - "that was the coldest night I've ever.....hours and hours..." Pony-girl and I had a wonderful night, saw Monty work his magic on a horse that had never loaded without a fuss (which I trust was not the same horse which had never loaded without a fuss at his previous venue), back an unbacked 4 year old in 20 minutes, and relieve a spooky pony of its terror at the sight of black plastic. All this was achieved with the help of Monty's patent Dually Halter, which works as a no-pain method of controlling horses (" See how I simply put the halter to the less comfortable position..." )

Monty seems like a great man and I love his ideas of learning to think like a horse, to use its herd instincts as a means of modifying its behaviour, rather than continually whacking it about the head as was the norm in Black Beauty days. Since owning Clyde, even pony-mum has become unwillingly fond of the difficult old blighter, trimming the tops off his carrots and cutting the pips out of his apples, but pony-girl has followed Monty's methods for years, and would love to try a Dually Halter on Clyde. Since Clyde is a skilful escape artist, I have my doubts as to whether the DH, even in the less comfortable position, could ever replace his chifney bit - but I'm tempted to order one as a surprise for Christmas. Only this afternoon, my finger was twitching over the Bid Now! button on Ebay for a Dually Halter in blue (to match his boots). I told you, some people never learn.

Out Comes The Sun

My Musto Ebay jacket has still not arrived, after 2 weeks. I really must do something about it. Have been investigating Ebay's policies for compensation should an item not arrive - but what a hassle. I swear this is the very last time I buy something from Ebay.Helpful notes from Panikos: 'you will see same item on ebay next week from seller in cotswolds called postman pat.' 'Even now Chinese peasants are stitching in a fake Musto label'. Etc.
Sunday was the best day we’ve ever spent in our new role as pony owners, which was about time, as I was pretty much giving up on the whole thing as just as disappointing as every other really hyped-up thing, like the National Lottery and tamagotchis. Pony-girl spent the whole day at the stables and it was as fun and exciting as the dressage gala day, cheerful and bustling with merry banter and the thwack of bottom meeting saddle as people set off for hacks across the fields or the schooling arenas.Got a couple of burning questions answered too – ‘can we use the top school if there are other people in it’ – ‘yes, you don’t need to ask’ - so for nearly an hour J circled and cantered and trotted and did whatever it is riders do when ‘schooling’…. I stayed to watch even tho I had a joint of pork to cook with instructions for RPD to put it in the oven at 12.

Then it was time for Clyde to have a bath under the yard tap, out came the Showshine Shampoo for his legs, amazed to discover he has one white fetlock under the ingrained stable stains. With the best care in the world nothing can disguise the fact that Clyde is, ummmmm, ordinary: but he scrubs up into quite a handsome little chap. Pat came over to have a chat while we were engaged in this splashy task and I seized the chance to ask about ‘what to do if we arrive on Wednesday afternoons to ride him and he’s been turned out in the field.’ She looked at me inscrutably and said ‘Get him in then’. I am sure she thinks I am the dopiest and most hopeless pony-mum ever to take up the horse-owning challenge, a sentiment with which I heartily agree.She admired my Toggi blouson (purchased from mumsy–of-the-dodgy-discount) and pointed out that her own was identical, only a different colour, upon which I blustered “Oh of course it is, I didn’t want to look like YOU, Pat!” Another clanger! I could drop 'em for England, I swear. I meant of course that I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for her – look - I know what I meant.

What a great day, though. This is what pony-owning should be like! Pony-girl happy all day, riding, jumping, grooming and washing. Today is Wednesday and the great test of 'can we catch Clyde in from the fields or sneak off home again, defeated. My money's on Clyde, who is the bolshy sort, turning his pony-rump towards you and hiding his head in the corner of the stable when he spots a bridle, four defiant hooves planted square and determined. I admire this spirit greatly, but it doesn't bode well for the 'your pony will see you and come over to greet you!' scenario.

Came home to find that RPD had, as instructed, put the joint of pork in the oven. Maybe next time he will also turn it on.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Dark Horses and Black Beauties

Every fortnight in our village we get the Mobile Library, which is a pleasant little expedition which doesn’t involve muck or flying hooves for a change, and I picked up a book by Melissa Holbrook-Pierson about the enduring love of Woman for Horse. There are two kinds of women in the world, those who are prone to a consuming passion for the horse, seduced by his huge warm furriness, his nobility and willingness to please, his beauty in canter along a dawn skyline etc (pony-girl); and then there are those who don’t mind fondling the odd hairy nose or two if it’s had a muzzlewipe first (pony-mum). But this book is fascinating and lyrically told, and got me musing on the whole hippophilia thing.

I don’t believe it’s anything to do with sex, although that seems to be a wideheld belief given the number of sites pony-mum has come across in searches for exciting horse equipment – this blog gets referrals for +pony +girl +horsy joy, which I feel must end in disappointment. But personally I believe Melissa when she speaks instead of the intense but pure desire of girls to bond with their horse and to become one with him. I know this is true. Pony-girl was so desperate to own a four-cloppered friend that she actually became a horse. The jumping courses are still there in our garden, a broomhandle on two paintpots, over which pony-girl spent the summer whipping herself at a collected trot, muttering agitatedly ‘four faults!’ when it was caught by a clumsy hoof. She was also given to scrambling on all fours around her bedroom at manic speed and would readily explain this behaviour, “I need to do more work on left-leg canter, and my shoulders fall in on the corners.”

I found this behaviour rather sweet, but it was about this time that Reluctant-Pony-Dad retired to the study, from where he has not to date returned.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Going to the dogs

Still haven’t had my Musto jacket from Ebay. Nine times out of ten once the joy of whacking in that winning bid fades I am aghast at what I’ve bought, and this time’s no exception. Whyever did I think the size (Large) would be ok? All expensive clothes are oversized so that the rich feel oneupmanly petite and it will be enormous. One puff of breeze under the hem and I will inflate like a windsock, but do I ever learn? No. I have boxes full of unwise Ebay bargains, unpacked, glanced at once in horror and consigned to the loft. Still, my doubts about it are no reason for the seller to keep me waiting so long. Maybe it took off in transit and will next be seen in use at the Three Counties Show as a beige pavilion.

I could do with that jacket, though. Our pony-owning has got off to a damp start in more senses than one. Rain every day, and two abortive trips to the stable. My anxiety as a first-time livery owner has increased – it’s so hard for me to remember that I’m paying them. Yesterday we turned up at the yard to find no sign of Clyde, who had obviously been turned out in the fields. I had a nervous conference with pony-girl. “Are we allowed to bring him in?” “I think so… but...maybe we should ask…?” “How do you catch a pony, J?” “Well in my book it says… ‘stand at the gate with a carrot and call enticingly, hiding the headcollar behind your back.” “Yesssss….. and then what?” "'Your pony will come over to greet you’.”

This seemed unlikely to both of us..

“But…. maybe it’ll mess up their routine if we get him in now. Maybe he always goes out on Wednesday afternoons.” “Maybe you’re never allowed to ride them in the afternoons. “Shall we ask?” “It’s your pony, you ask.”

I’m not sure if it’s paranoia making me feel as if we’ve worn thin our welcome, or whether we’ve worn thin our welcome. What with the parade of ever more unsuitable trial horses we landed the stables with, our bumbling efforts in the lungeing pen and all our quavering questions about water buckets, this can never be discounted.
So off we slunk, whistling casually, hats and whips behind our backs as if a ride had been the last thing on our minds.

Once home I could see this was ridiculous but the trouble is, I’m a victim of my wobbly British backbone which insists I should never be a nuisance and apologise profusely if someone thumps me on the nose. But I’m not imagining everything. The advent calendar we bought for Clyde to hang on his tack peg so he can have one pony-treat per day through December is really very nice and the treats are packed with Bach Flower Remedies essential for a glossy coat and good pony karma, but it caused Pat to mutter darkly ‘you are turning into the owners from Hell.’

The government has banned hunting. People who enjoy hunting foxes and stags clearly have something a bit vicious about them however well-masked in pink coats and red-cheeked bonhomie, but this decision, coming hard on the heels of government frenzy about smoking, smacking the kids, and eating junk food, makes me feel like I want to leave the country on the next banana boat.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Hack from Hell

My life’s been pretty much been rescheduled. There is not a pony-free day on the horizon for years. The reality of this is only just sinking in. Some people have asked me when I will be climbing aboard myself. "Merry," they say, "When will you be vaulting lightly into the saddle, twirling your whip and laughing gaily as you head for the hills at a gallop?" The answer to this is 'never'.

In May pony-girl was desperate to go on a hack, “with you, mummy,” so in a weak moment, knowing that never, never was I going to agree to owning a pony, I agreed and booked an hour-long session for the two of us at a local place. The omens were not good - the yard was awash with mud, the stablegirls were sitting around with the ash from their fags casually suspended over bales of hay. My horse was coaxed out of his stable looking even more reluctant than me, his head hanging low and his bony old body covered with splashes of what I hoped was dried mud. J, whom I had described as ‘not very experienced’, was put on their newest mare, who had only been with the stables a week. “It will be interesting to see how she goes,” said our Team Leader enigmatically. I had assumed we were having a private hack for the two of us plus escort since that was what I had arranged on the phone, so imagine our surprise when we set off with 8 children on ponies of various shapes and sizes for their regular Saturday morning lesson.

The countryside was beautiful as we climbed high onto the Cotswold escarpment with the views of the valley and villages below, but I was not able to enjoy it, gripping on in terror to Roscoe’s dirty mane as he lurched and staggered his way up narrow, muddy gullies overhanging sheer drops to the left. When we finally turned onto open fields my relief didn’t last long as the Team Leader seemed determined to improve my style and kept yelling at me to ‘sit up!’ ‘heels down!’ “STOP doing that! Look at these little kids, LOOK at their style!” This was a waste of time: I knew within one minute of mounting that once allowed off, they could threaten me with live snakes in a cage on my head but nothing was ever going to get me back on a horse again.
J’s nag was prancing skittishly beneath her, and TL would occasionally break off from her praise of the small children’s style to yell “Kick her on, kick her ON! She’s going to roll!” It was a pretty tense time, though my ride was over sooner than anyone else’s, for once Roscoe hit the return trail he spotted home and broke into a rollicking trot which I was powerless to prevent so I arrived back in the stable yard well ahead of the rest, teeth jiggering manically together, breathlessly bouncing up and down like a jellybag, and staggered everywhere with my legs bent into the exact shape of Roscoe’s barrel-shaped sides for a week.

Someone commented that Xmas shopping would be easy for me this year, and how right she is; I’ve done it all from my pc at various online saddleries. J is the sort of girl who swathes herself by choice in baggy, gloomy layers, a bit like a home-made burkah, so when she admired Clarissa’s saddlehugger jods in pink check I was at once on the net ordering a pair for a Christmas surprise. Having watched her pound up and down on Clyde’s broad back for an increasingly long time each day, I am wondering if her small bottom will soon start to spread like a pancake, so to be on the safe side I’ve ordered them in a slightly larger size.

Monday, November 15, 2004

On taking over

Today was the wonderful day, the exciting day, when I became a pony-mum (official) and J the proud owner of Clyde. We handed over the cheque at 3pm and in return received: 3 rugs (one is in rainbow shades! good start), 1 saddle, and 1 small brown pony (with attitude). There was a tearful scene of farewell as the reins were handed over from his previous teenage owner carried out to her anxious mum’s commentary : “She’s been for one last ride – sniff – such a lovely pony – snuffle – now I’ll take her home and try to put her shattered life back together –“ By this time we were all nearly weeping too in sympathy, but the saddest one of all was Reluctant-Pony-Dad as he wrote out the cheque.
Clyde was so easy to handle in the stable as we tacked him up that I sensed no turmoil within his stout pony breast as to this dramatic change of ownership, and pony-girl took him out to ride. Far from her galloping off into the sunset and returning much later (which was the picture I enthusiastically painted for RPD when selling the idea – “she will be gone for hours and hours, every day!”) this involved setting up lots of jumps in the bottom school. The jumps at Pat’s are made by her lovely husband out of old buildings, etc, and to pony-mum fell the task of hauling them about while J sat in comfort on Clyde’s back barking out her orders – “and now a related distance crosspole on hole 6 on a diagonal from A-E – no no! Closer! how long do you think the poles ARE?”
I caught sight of RPD flanked by livery owners lined up by the fence as I struggled, dragging gigantic sides of house this way and that as rafters banged heavily on my heels at every step. Everyone was convulsed with helpless laughter, I expect from sheer joy of seeing J so happy.

While negotiations were in progress, J had been all for turning up with a tape-measure to fit Clyde up for pony boots and other essential pony-paraphernalia, but I had vetoed this as it seemed insensitively premature, a bit like the eager debate on where to bury Arafat, while he was still alive (I was worried he might wake briefly and hear the TV News.) Now Clyde is duly measured up and I have a long order to make, though it took us ages to decide if the Best-Dressed-Pony-at-Christmas should have Rudolph antlers, or merely a Santa hat – both would be overkill, of course.

Reactions to Clyde’s mugshot on Hard-Facts have been mixed, and fairly brutal at times: “Are you sure it’s a pony, Merry? He doesn’t say heehaw by any chance?”

Saturday, November 13, 2004

End of the dream and a beginning...

This is how it came about.

On Tuesday, Pat rang me: "I thought you’d like to know that Clyde’s for sale, and if I were you," she said meaningfully, "I’d snap him up."
Clyde is one of the ponies on working livery in the school. He’s quite a character, the only pony at the stable who has to be led in a Chifney bit – one whiff of a headcollar and he’s bolting for the Elysian fields, dragging a farrier or two behind him and five stablegirls trying to tempt him back with a carrot. He is an exciting pony to ride, as he’s fast and jumps huge for his small, stocky size The first time you see Clyde in action is quite an experience. There’s this little brown pony trotting along peacefully… unexceptional… but even as he turns for the jump, before he can even see it, he gathers himself, explodes into an astonishing burst of energy and he flies. That aside, he’s ‘safe’ and ‘sensible’, with none of the head-tossing heel-kicking histrionics of Whisper.

We snapped him up.

He is not the dreamboat horse of shallow-pony-mum’s fantasies, and he won’t turn any heads (tho J unaccountably thinks he is the most beautiful pony that ever pawed the ground). I’ve had to scale down my ambitions re the In-Hand beauty contest at Sudeley Show, but a Clear- Round rosette should be in the bag!

The dream ends here. But pony-owning reality, ah, well, that’s about to start…

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Dressing the part - Ebay can help!

What should an aspiring pony-mum wear? The week I spent as a livery owner opened my eyes to a thing or two. That that there is a reason other than being rich, spoiled and pretentious why horsy people drape fantastically expensive gear on their stringy, muscular bods (all those hours wielding a muck shovel mean you can cancel your sub.to the gym – unless of course you are having an affair with your trainer, which seems to be the modern way.)

Yes, when we get the pony and spend our days bent double under haynets and the weight of hoof after mighty hoof to be picked out, J and I will need warm, waterproof, cleanable gear. But in any case I am as susceptible to label-culture as the next person, only with not quite so much money to indulge it, at least until I sell my memoirs. When pony-girl was small and cute I fell in love with designerwear for kids, and only came to my senses when she grew out of a dreamy, baby-sized denim jacket by Versace in two weeks, but I have less money to waste these days, especially since the pony will soon be eating it all.

Toggi, Musto, and Harry Hall! These are the new mantra-words that ring in my ears. I lust for a petal-pink Musto Performance jacket with navy trim in which to watch J soar over the jumps at Sudeley Show, her Harry Hall jodhpurs creaseless and pristine! Careless and wasteful the rich in the Cotswolds may be, chucking out their gowns and Jimmy Choos to the charity shops after only one champagne-slinging ball, but despite feverish, obsessive hunting through the racks at the Sue Ryder, I’ve yet to unearth anything that bears the coveted tags.
So I turned to Ebay. I am a bit of an Ebayer-in-Recovery after my obsessive 2 year dealings in Beanie Babies (yes. I know.) but here was compelling reason to dip my toe in again. "I will probably be able to sell it on at a profit! " I said temptingly to RPD. "That’s what you said when you bought 15 Britannias – the ones which are sitting in the loft I think?" he sarkily replied.

But imagine my delight, my joy, to find the very Musto jacket I have seen in Fox’s Saddlery for £175, no reserve, at £58 and only 9 hours to go! My Ebay tactics veer wildly between caution and recklessness, both of which seldom end in triumph (for me, though I have made some sellers pretty happy) but I played it like a pro this time, bid £60, immediately lost out to a hidden bid, put in a max bid of £75, and won the item for £62. The size (large) shouldn’t matter, not with all those Harry Hall layers beneath, and the colour (light stone/ink) is pretty close to the desired pink/navy – especially when viewed through the rose-tinted specs of a winning bid in the bag.

"Yeah but it will be well worn," (my cynical friend, Panikos) – "No no! it’s Brand New With Tags," I enthused, jiggling with the happy dance.

"Nicked, then," he sighed.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Time off

I don’t spend all my time hunting for ponies and dreamily rearranging the shelves of pony-grooming-paraphernalia, oh no. Spent the last two days finding new quizzes and posting topically and lightheartedly for hard-facts, my forum. We have a new member which is always good news. I am always trying to reel in new members with cunning ploys and promises of free pepperamis (the free pepperami was real enough. I just didn’t know it was a redhot chilli firestick. There were complaints.)

J’s riding lesson yesterday involved jumping without reins. As a horsy novice of the worst kind, the kind to make the cognoscenti grit their teeth, their fingers twitching viciously on their riding crops, I nearly called out "but however will you stay on without the reins to hang onto, darling?" Of course anyone who knows anything will tell you that you stay on using your balance and your seat, but watching J canter up to a jump on the fastest pony in the school with her arms held out to the sides trapeze-artist-wise was a nerve-wracking experience. After pony-girl’s wimpy performance on Bolshy last week this was a reassuring sign of nerve, as I had been toying with suggesting she return to tap-dancing where the only thing that shies in fear is smaller tapdancers who get in the way of your madly clacking steel-capped toes.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Dun Delight and Muddy Mayhem

"He’s a lovely little chap," said the nice woman at the stud farm, and indeed he did look very lovely, in the stable with the door shut and his choppers stuck in his haynet. Silver dun with a black mane and tail too, exactly as required. I felt a definite stirring in the loins, so out he came for J to try.

It is a requirement of every stud farm that it be situated at the top of a hill on a steep slippery road, churned up mud to a depth of 6 inches underfoot, 5 lively dogs running around at the pony’s heels, and a couple of large farm vehicles trundling noisily about. This one was no different, and Stroller picked his way slowly around the waterlogged paddock, breaking into a clumpy trot occasionally, and stopping often by the fence to gaze yearningly at his sniggering mates in the field beyond. When pointed at the small crosspole jump to show off his connemara jumping skills, he hobbled boggily up to it, veered to the left and carried on. Pony-girl repeated the approach and this time he was firmer about it. "Look mate, even if YOU’RE blind, there’s an obstacle here. This is what you do, you walk around it… see? "

We all agreed he was too green to be of immediate use to J (disappointing pony-mum, who is always seduced by stunning looks to set off a Weatherbeeta Raspberry-and-Sky cooler and bodywork just itching for a buffing with Canter CoatShine).

The next to be led out was a skewbald cob (I know, I know. But quite pretty, like a stuffed toy with white-and-gold velour patches). "You’ll really feel the difference, this one’s done so much more!" She was dead right there, Bolshy’d done so much more he knew that whisking up his heels, rolling his eyes, and tossing his head like a stallion meant he got to go back to the stable even before the saddle warmed up.

The last was led out to our rapidly sinking hopes: Muddylegs was not an outstanding horse in any sense though he was reputed to be a fine jumper, and in fact I remember nothing whatever about him except a vague impression of brownness and the sound of pole after pole clattering to the floor in his wake.

Pony-girl has the handicap of never having ridden outside Pat’s all-weather schooling arenas and cross-country field with its painted Toytown jumps. Trying out a pony in a bog is difficult for her where it would not be to a child Born to the Saddle, riding fearlessly to the hounds over ditch and stile from the age of 6. I have made an appointment to go back on Wednesday when an all-weather arena can be hired to give Stroller another chance. I have, after all, a whole bottle of Silvershine Showing Shampoo which would make him look divine for Sudeley Show.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Speed-dating for the Perfect Pony

As the weeks pass and the stable stays empty, the gorgeous, wicked Whisper just a fading memory, J is naturally anxious to ensure that pony-mum is working hard. She quizzes me gruellingly the moment she leaps off the school bus about how many adverts I’ve trawled, how many phonecalls made, etc. Truth is I am keener to rush out for the mags/local rags and scan for the magical words (14.2, dun, safe, Glos) than she is.

I have seen ads for a service which promises to bring you Your Dream Horse – to your door – within one month! This sounds like a wonderful idea – arranged marriages for pony-rider-wannabes and lonely perfect-ponies. For a fee of £80, Equibuy will do the looking for you to your specified requirements, height, color, age, intended use, email you a picture and details of the made-to-measure nag, then deliver it to your door for a two-week trial, complete with vet’s certificate, guarantee, and gold lame brushing boots.

£80!! I’ve spent more than that on Horse and Hound. How tempting. It removes at once all the problems of spotting the perfect horse - in Scotland, and the difficulties of coming up with tactful face-to-face ways of saying ‘he’s so lovely. If only he had the fourth leg,’ etc.

It sounds way too good to be true, and so I ring the nice Equibuy person with my queries. She’s so reassuring and so keen am I to be reassured that I’m very, very tempted. . with one quick signature I could be sitting back with my feet up, idly twiddling a haynet and awaiting the arrival of Our Dream Pony!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Ponydream Days

A phone call and subsequent email about the 14.2 Perfect-Pony which lives too far away. Apparently the woman ‘never checks her emails’ which always strikes me as odd coming from people who advertise online giving an email address for contact, but there you go. Paxo is his name, which is an odd name for a pony, tho perhaps worse were he a turkey. He can only be sold to a ‘competitive home’ as anything else would stifle his potential, he 'won everything this year’, and has only to hear the bell ring in a jump-off and ‘poof! – he’s gone’. He sounds pretty good though despite the show-ring bolting habit and he’s undeniably the right colour, but I’m holding off for the moment, if only because I feel we’ll be turned down on the grounds that the Sudeley Clear Round jumping will be deemed insufficient to further his Olympiac ambitions.

In the meantime Pat and her husband (a sweet man who came to our rescue by driving Whisper home) have found a nice skewbald cob they think we should go to see, and by scouring the small ads I found today a local pony dealer who has at present 2 almost-suitable ponies in. (‘Almost’ seems to be about as good as it gets) One is a dun (mmmmmm) Connemara, but only 5 years old, though she assures me he’s ‘very quiet’; the second is, well, a skewbald cob. We've made arrangements to view on Saturday morning.

We’ve been looking now for three months - much longer and J will have entered the next stage of teenage-girlhood - you know, the one where they emerge but rarely from their darkened music-pounded room, to scowl at their hateful parents and raid the fridge. Oh, how pure and sweet will seem the ponydream days then!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Pony Club Yearnings

The Pony Club, for J and me, is the magic Inner Circle of pony-dom, with its compulsory tweed hacking jackets, Rallies,Tests and Pony Club Camps, a vision we can only gaze upon from outside with our noses pressed to the window. I've never seen an actual pony club, but I’ve read lots of books about girls called Jane Barrington-Smythe and their dashing exploits. I’ve just discovered the Pony-Club’s UK website and it sounds as it it hasn’t changed much from the 1940s with its emphasis on jolly sporting children, sportsmanship, chivalry, citizenship and loyalty. Wow. Though it may not be a suitable environs for J. She shows no signs of any of the qualifications.

The autumn newsletter schedules for Christmas 2004 a Young Entry Ball, which, with its ‘carriages at midnight' sounds a jolly good lark, wouldn’t you say?

Admission to a Pony Club branch is dependent on actually having a pony, which of course we don’t. After the Whisper fiasco, Pat has taken to scurrying past me quickly with her eye trained firmly on something captivating in the distance. She is probably hoping we have gone off the idea, but not us! We are made of sterner stuff than that. We have done this week’s local papers, and scoured the November issue of Horse Deals, and it’s 28 days to wait till the next. There are Dream Ponies in Yorkshire, Ireland, and Tennessee, but none in the Cotswolds. This is why I was scouring the Pony Club website in the first place - for its classified adverts.

I found a 14.2hh dun gelding aged 12 (spot on for height, colour, sex and age!) at a price not too far off – in a county 60 miles away. In a mad moment I emailed the seller to enquire if it’s still there eating her hay when it could be eating ours. Almost certainly RPD will bark that it’s ‘outside our criteria’, which he adheres to to the letter. But imagine how maddening it is to see perfect ponies dancing tantalisingly just out of our reach while cob after piebald cob shows up our doorstep!