The trials and tribulations of being mum to a pony rider

Visit our board

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Clutching at Straw

I wasn’t born to the saddle and it shows. I’m sure that as I teeter about with a barrow, picking my way around the puddles of horsy wee with my nose crinkled, I never quite look the part, in a way which might cause mirth to the crueller observer, so I am eager to improve my style. I may not ever get to be the kind of stablehand who slings two haynets across her shoulder and backheels the gate closed with the leadrope of a mighty cob casually clenched between her teeth, but nevertheless improvements could be made. And here was a new implement on the pile of bedding straw - two prongs and a handle - ‘a pitchfork!’ I thought, delighted to lay eyes on this legendary symbol of true stablemastery and I abandoned my usual method of gathering huge armfuls and flinging most of it into a barrow to apply myself to learning the technique of effortlessly forking up straw. Like a real horsy-person.

To be honest, it was like ladling up dry sticks of spaghetti with two knitting needles, but I persevered for quite a while, before I was kindly informed by a perplexed passerby that what I was wielding was no pitchfork but a Yard Prickle. I was far too embarrassed to enquire as to a Yard Prickle’s use, but clearly forking up straw was not it.

The next mini-showjumping at Blade’s Hill is on Feb 15, worryingly close, and no word from Pat so far about entering Clyde, that’s ‘Braveheart’, and his owner. Of course it would be simplest to ask Pat about it and we have been practising: “Some girls were talking to J about going to the showjumping at Blade’s Hill with their ponies, and she was wondering if she could enter with Clyde.” This goes very well indeed in the car, with J taking the role of Pat: “Glad you reminded me, here’s the entry form, and feel free to make use of any one of my fifteen horseboxes!”

In real life, of course, with Pat supplying her own script, the conversation may not go precisely that way, and it is having a prepared reply for any of her possible responses that’s holding us up:
“J?? Showjumping? But she shakes like a jelly whenever I put the jumps up to 1ft 9! You ARE joking?”
“Hahaha, of course I was, Pat!” pony-mum slinks away, mortified

Pat did of course mention entering once, in passing, so this all may go better than my pessimist nature foresees, and PG is very, very keen. Why, I am not quite sure, since at times her jumping nerves border on hysteria, which I picture multiplied by the factors of a new arena, 10 unfamiliar jumps, and 32 expert little fellow competitors half her size on million-pound ponies which jump like stags. Enter Clyde: brown and shambling, and atop his saggy back a shaking jelly in an overlarge second-hand show-jacket, eyes tightly shut. The female members of our family have one and all a pathetically uncompetitive nature, though the same cannot be said of Reluctant-Pony-Dad: watching him play beach tennis with a skinny, gaptoothed 6- year-old PG had to be seen to be believed: grunt-reach-stretch-SMASH “Dive J ! Dive -!!! Oh bad luck, well tried, that’s 15-nil to daddy”

In Hard-Facts’ weekly puzzle league I set last week a picture round of ‘famous and not-so-famous animals’, Flipper, Lassie, Clyde etc. Clyde was variously identified as Silver, Black Beauty, and Champion the Wonder Horse. How proudly we beamed! though this is surely proof that my board-members do not read this blog.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Bread of Doom

Wednesday is the afternoon pony-girl gets off school to pursue ‘off-site games’. Such is PG’s loathing of team sports and regulation gym knickers, we had to pretend we had a pony a full year before we even thought about getting one, as owning a pony was the only acceptable excuse for being allowed off school unless you could produce a gym card or membership of the U18 England Hockey Squad.. By an odd coincidence, we now actually do have a pony, which only goes to show how wary you must be about lying through your teeth, as it will rebound on you viciously and extract a hideous toll.

Not that we are sorry that the Hand of Fate stepped in, oh no! we are devoted to our hairy beast. He may not be a thoroughbred like flighty Trop or a showstopper like Diamond, but he is about as trusty and bold a pony as it gets. Am considering ‘Braveheart’ for a showname, which I don’t think is too pretentious or a potential snigger-trigger in the way HoofPerfect or Jumpoff Joy would be.

Things are a little quiet in pony-land owing to the dark afternoons and the dreary days, but we visit the stables daily. Bolshy, Clyde’s loathed neighbour, has grown on me - he has such cheeky charm. He is only a baby in pony terms and his hooves keep getting muddled up. He’s not quite sure what his rider requires when she presses him on from his jerky trot, but eventually he’ll have a go at a canter, huffing and puffing and going up and down on the spot with his big feathery feet all tripping over one another. Quite a cutie-pie.

I made a chocolate cake the other day to a new recipe and it turned out the exact texture of a damp brown rubber pillow. The bread I made the same day was also a surprise. “Your dough will have more than doubled in size,” enthused the recipe, “and will need knocking lightly back with a firm hand.” My bread was not like that, and I took out of the oven disc after flat, dense disc. “Combat Bread,” Panikos nodded, recognisng it from my description, “for hurling underarm at people you don’t like much.” I guess the stars were wrong for cooking that day.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Showing Promise

We had to return a saddle to Mr Moneybags the saddler, and, us being country folk these days, I was not surprised to receive instructions ‘take it to the Duck and Feather as the church clock chimes 12 and leave it with Oneyed Jack the Innkeeper’. As we entered the dear little pub at the heart of a little Cotswold village and made our way through the little old men who have been playing darts there for 30 years without a break, the old ladies supping their rustic soup, all eyes were on us as Strangers in Town. In my Toggi jacket and my Ralph Lauren breeches (charity shop) with dung-spattered wellies, J in full riding rig with chaps and a large leather saddle hung over her arm, the miasma of fresh horse was rising from us like a noxious cloud, and it dawned on me that anyone would think we were horsy people! I was immediately embarrassed and slunk about like an imposter. I wonder if we’ll ever feel like real Horsy People?

We’re getting there though: things have been going very well here in pony-land, we are feeling much more at ease around the stables and pony-girl has recovered her jumping nerve – at least in lessons, where under Pat’s eagle eye she dare not wimp out of anything. Clyde had done his bit too, dashing for his jumps with as much enthusiasm as ever:

“It’s ok it’s ok, I gottit I gottit, shuddup and stop kicking me sides – weeeeeeeeeee! Bounce! There! That wasn’t so bad was it? Gone a bit quiet ‘asn’t she? What’s she doin’ up there, Tilly?”
“Shaking like a jelly, Clyde.”
“Bloomin’ eck. Yours any better, Tils?”
“Bucked mine off after the spread, Clyde so I’m off back to me stable.”

Pat has had to adapt her stock phrase “Well ridden!” to “What a clever pony!” when praising the Clyde/pony-girl combo, but nonetheless she is impressed enough to have restated her intention to enter them into a local showjumping competition – we are so excited! We have to buy a show jacket and I am currently trying to get a bargain on Ebay. We went to a saddlery today to try some sneakily on to get the exact size: it has to be worn over a body protector so PG tried on ever larger and larger jackets, until we found one which fitted perfectly around her bulkily padded chest. Unfortunately this meant shoulders the width of Babe Ruth and sleeves to her knees, but hey, it’s not a beauty contest. It’s a huge step for us to enter the world of competition, even small-scale local stuff, and we’re enormously excited. Clyde of course has done shows by the thousand, winning numerous rosettes, and it is a pity these were not passed on to us when we took him over, since it is by no means certain he will ever win another under such an untried bottom as PG’s. But still - Our first show!

Other people’s horses have beautiful names like Spirit or Lord of the Skies, but ours was named long ago by someone with no soul, and he’s stuck with it. But it’s common practice to have another name for shows. He does have a showname of his own… Fallback. Fall is an unpropitious kind of word to have ringing in your ears as you enter a jumping class, six feet above the ground on a narrow swaying back with no safetybelt, or then again, it sounds like ‘we once had hopes of a really class pony, but we had to fall back on this third-rate clodhopper.’ So we are looking for a new name; one that sums up the qualities of our ‘happy, honest and brave little trier’ more poetically than Clyde. Any suggestions gratefully received.....

Friday, January 14, 2005

A New Neighbour (old friend)

Note that non-pony-sister is wearing my Toggi jacket. Isn’t it amazing the way your children jeer hurtfully at all your clothes, then borrow them immediately.

Clyde has a new neighbour. I recognised the little chap in the stall next door right off; he was roadtested by pony-girl in one of our pony-buying forays. Briefly, that is: she got on and off in the same minute. Here he is in my blog: The next to be led out was a skewbald cob, very 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.

Yep, that was Bolshy, and now he has arrived at NagsR’Us, on trial with a first-time owner like ourselves. I stood by his gate murmuring softly to him, sorry for him as he was nervously dancing on the spot with agitation at his new surroundings, for which kindness the little blighter rewarded me with a vicious lunge and a sharp nip. Clyde has taken an instant dislike to this pretty young upstart and was probably telepathically telling him to naff off back where he came. The other day when Clyde was tethered at the back of the stable, I had to lure Bolshy to the front of his stable gate and stuff polos into his snapping jaws to stop him annoying Clyde, but I lost the stuffing rhythm for one second and lo! there was Bolshy’s cheeky face poking round a gap at the back of the stable, going nya nya and boldly taunting our old grumpychops, who lunged at him with ears flat back and teeth bared. One more inch and he would have ripped off Bolshy’s perky patchwork ears and spat them out contemptuously like a mouldy carrot.

I have a nose for unsuitable horses and my prediction is that Bolshy will be gone long before the trial month is up. But we shall see. After all, not everyone has perfected wimpiness to the degree we have achieved. Aircraft are a problem in this area as we are apparently under a flightpath for fighter training missions, and the planes, sleek dark arrows of death, roar overhead like rockets and are gone in an instant, leaving nervy throughbreds scattering round the school in panic with shrieking riders clinging to their necks. One passed over the topschool the other day and Pony-girl was off Clyde’s back in a flash - “that’s it, I’m taking him back, it’s dangerous!” “But – but!” I stammered, looking at Clyde, who was standing there unconcerned, his long lashes lowered and his eyes soft with some distant inner contemplation. “Clyde’s fine darling, he isn’t scared!”

“But I am,” PG darkly muttered.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Winter Doldrums

A few dark clouds have drifted ominously across the bright blue sky of pony-dream-land. First, pony-girl’s ashen-faced arrival at the tackroom door where I was struggling with a huge saddle: “Clyde’s got a nosebleed!”
Seeing the quivering lip, I heard myself answering calmly ‘He has probably given it a little bump, silly girl.” subdural haematoma – sub-cranial haemorrhage – low platelets – leukaemia’ - ?
There was the nose in question, poking perkily enough over Clyde’s stable gate, but from one enormous nostril there did indeed flow a trickle of blood . Plummeting hearts sent us off in a trice for a stablegirl who calmly diagnosed ‘little burst blood vessel – nothing to worry about’.

I’m glad to say he is fine, the old fraud. Pony-girl is not so great, however, having unaccountably lost her nerve for jumping. She has worked out that even Clyde, the best and most experienced pony-jumper at the stables, will get his striding wrong one time in three, this is apparently a mathematical certainty. Thus, her logic goes, if he clears one jump perfectly it can only go downhill from there, so that’s it for the day and back he goes to the stable. This sort of preparation, I fear, will get us nowhere at Sudeley Show.

I am arming myself up with books on nervous riders and regaining lost confidence but the latest tome to appear on pony-girl’s birthday, What Horses Think, is little help. Its author has given a questionnaire (A questionaire. Riiighhht) to a big sample of horses, who all replied. They replied telepathically, obviously, and apparently one horse designed his own shoes, telepathically coming up with a neat idea for a cork layer between hoof and iron. This is pretty impressive stuff! You want to know more, I know, so here goes: All you have to do is be around your horse, giving unconditional love. Think your question, eg ‘what do you like about being ridden?’ and your horse will reply. I tried this out. Standing at Clyde’s shoulder, giving unconditional love, I thought: “Are you happy with your striding, Clyde? are J’s fears unfounded?” and awaited his telepathic reply with baited breath, but all I got was a warm blast of apple-y breath in my ear and an untelepathic nudge at my carrot pocket.

The other night Pat was pushed for time and asked us to lock up the ponybarn for the night; I would have been dead chuffed with this unusual show of confidence in her most hapless and hopeless pony-people, had the responsibility not weighed on us so heavily that every time we arrived at the last stall to check for a loose headcollar we felt we had to begin again at the first one. Rugs were going on and off all over the place as we kept changing our minds over whom to rug with what, as fast as we filled waterbuckets they slurped it down, and the final task was closing and securing the huge barn door, which is the size of an entire house, has to be levered up with a plank and secured with a woggle in a flange-sprocket ten feet up a ladder by the light of the moon. I got no sleep that night, so fearful was I of returning to the stables next morning to find three ponies hanging by their headcollars, two expired from thirst and the rest escaped down the ladder, which we might have forgotten to remove.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Flumping the Jumps

Today Mr TallHat passed us by, leading the showstopping Diamond back from a session in the lunge pen. Pony-girl and I pressed ourselves flat against the wall, since Diamond was making a right noisy fuss and skittering all over the place and generally behaving disgracefully, or spiritedly, depending on whether you were doing buyer-speak or seller-speak. What a charming man Mr TH is, despite his high status as owner of the best horse at the stables (and we at the bottom with the smallest and shabbiest.) He caught my eye and smiled charmingly, so I stuttered out something like ‘beautiful – lovely – stunning!’ (I meant the horse, though Mr TH looked most dashing in his black breeches and Ralph Lauren shirt) and in reply he panted ‘very pleased – good prospect - little bit nervous –all a bit new – fresh’.
Translation: ‘The ****** has had me off 32 times so far” - horsy people are masters of euphemism. Clyde’s former owner was in the school last week careering around on her new trial horse, who was throwing in a violent buck in every third stride. “How is it, erm, going?” I tactfully enquired of Tess’s mum. “Such a lovely mare! but perhaps a little bit sharp,” came mum’s reply, gripping the rail whiteknuckled as her daughter’s cries of terror floated back to us on the wind. (The mare lasted a mere week but, I am glad to report, has now been replaced with something much less sharp.)

The lungeing pen, it brought back memories of our lungeing days. We haven’t ever lunged Clyde as he doesn’t need to be galloped into exhaustion before he can be trusted, but Whisper was another matter. Even in the relative safety of the round pen we swiftly ran into problems as Whisper was alarmingly intelligent and managed very soon to turn the tables on us so completely that we were galloping in terrified panic-stricken circles around the perimeter while she glared menacingly at us from the centre spot.

Pony-girl goes back to school this week so can have a rest from daily muckings-out at dawn for a while. Too late now to enter the next mini-showjumping series on Sunday: Pat hasn't mentioned it again. Maybe February - ? We need some time anyway, as pony-girl has currently lost her nerve for jumping (despite owning the best jumping pony at the stables) and is making the poor lad hop over mere trotting poles.