The trials and tribulations of being mum to a pony rider

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Counting the Cost

I made a lot of pre-pony paper budgets, desperately pushing numbers around to make it look like not only would the pony be cheap, it would actually save us money. Of course this was untrue, but necessary. However, three months into pony-owning I can report that it hasn’t been as bad as I secretly suspected (but did not dare say to reluctant-pony-dad). I am passing on my actual costs to date in case any visitors drifting past this blog find it helpful, as they will not find here the mythical recipe for the My Little Pony birthday cake that so many of them haplessly seek. I may have to find or invent one, in order to improve hits: how hard can it be? I have a Christmas-tree cake tin which can be adapted a bit (fewer branches, more legs) and the naturally erratic ups and downs of my cakes will ensure authentic pony contours, with the help of a sharp knife and plenty of pink icing.

Cost of Owning a Pony:

Purchase of one bogstandard nag: £1200, inc tack and rugs

Ongoing costs: (multiply by about 1.7 to get equivalent price in dollars.)

Livery: £108 per month (includes all feed, unlimited hay, straw etc, and mucking out. This is Working Livery wherein pony is available for use in the riding school).
Farrier: £45 every 6 weeks (2 front feet shod, all four trimmed)
Dentist: £50 (I have only paid this once; I think/hope it is a yearly visit. It included £10 for sedation, which is not necessary in all cases, but the dentist was heavily pregnant. I think in that case she should have paid for sedation as I cannot be held responsible for her habits.)
Worming: £13 (4 times a year.)

So far that is all the costs, excluding PG’s lessons which are still £13 an hour despite using her own horse, and excluding all the frills like Shiny Tail-Slather and GlammyPone Purple Twisted Plaiting Bands.

I make it about £1800 yearly, ie £150 a month, or £37 a week, for the privilege of owning your very own, enormous, grumpy, big-footed haychomper.

Pat is prone to throwing questions at her pupils in group lessons – ‘..so when two jumps are set up like this, it is called what?’ “Related distance,” non-riding pony-mum intones dutifully under her breath. Blank looks from the pupils grouped around Pat on their bit-chomping steeds. PG, as it goes, is a walking textbook and knows all the answers and no doubt she is answering loud and strong in her own head and basking in imagined glory, but her lips remain glued shut. “Hasn’t anyone heard of it??” Pat says, incredulous. I am as disappointed as she is: “We have it every week, don’t we Pat? What’s the matter with the haybrained clots?” “Related distance,” Pat informs them, giving up. “And how many strides do you think it will be between these two jumps?” I measure it with my eye: “I’d say four, Pat, or 5 for Clyde on his stubby thunderthighs.”

“Thirty-two?” ventures one brave soul.

Since my theoretical knowledge is so impressive, perhaps I was Born to the Saddle in some former life? The memories of the Hack from Hell (previous post) are too vivid, though, for me to be more than momentarily tempted to test out my theoretical genius actually in the saddle. For one thing, all pony-riding teenagers are slim, willowy creatures who rise and fall gracefully in the saddle with straight backs, their youthful beauty undimmed by the peculiar headgear. Here is a picture of J and me on that hellish hack.

I am the one in the WW2 army helmet.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


The sun shone down on the morning of the day of Blade’s Hill Showjumping. Pony-girl sang as she swept the stables with sweet generosity of spirit: “Good luck, Sally! Good luck, Kim! Good luck, every one of you! As I am not going to the show, I will sweep the barn and muck out all the stables, empty except for mine, for my pony will still be in it as he is not going to the show, and I will clear a space in the tackroom for the 42 rosettes you will be bringing back!”
Brave pony-girl! Brave Clyde, leaning forlornly over his stable door, watching luckier horses than he trot proudly past, dressed in full show regalia!

But who’s this? It is none other than Pat, striding into the barn: “Pony-girl! Did you really think we would leave you behind without a backwards look while we all went off to callously compete? Don your showjacket, tack up Braveheart and put him into Lady Carrington-Smythe’s 5-horse pantechnicon, you have earned your place at Blade’s Hill!”

Sigh,I have read too many Jill and her Pony books. Of course this did not happen, and we didn’t get to go to Blade’s Hill. Next one is in March: what favours can I reasonably do in this time to wheedle our way into a half-empty horsebox? Clyde is jumping courses like a little pony superstar, supersonically fast and going ‘Weeeeeeeeee!’ over anything up to 2’6”, PG is brimming with unusual confidence, we need to give them a chance at a show before PG’s nerve fails her again and before Clyde’s age catches up on him, his fetlocks crumble and his back gives way like a saggy old sofa.

We adore our Clydey beyond compare, and he truly is a superstar in his own common-milkcart-pony way, but that doesn’t stop us admiring Diamond, Mr Tallhat’s divine prancing steel-grey dressage horse. Shipped over from Spain a while back to adorn NagsR’us alongside Mr T’s other two fabulous eventers, one glimpse of that gorgeous dished face over the stable door in the Posh Barn is enough to turn PG and me dizzy with delight. “Oh mummy!” PG gasps, clutching at me, “If only I had a proper pony!” To which I reply, “we bought you a proper one, my darling girl, and you did not dare to mount it.” Which is true, as our Whisper was a mini-Diamond, prancing Arab perfection in miniature, and so scary to ride that PG turned pale with nerves and didn’t eat for a week. Which is why we have rough, tough urchin Clyde.
Pat was hanging onto Diamond’s leadrope today and called to PG: “Come ‘ere J and ‘ang on to this ‘orse while I fetch me whip!” Nearly fainting, PG took the leadrope - “’E might try it on a bit,” Pat added fondly, “but ‘e’s only a baby.” Any baby of 17 hands, feet the size of manhole covers and one ton of solid oat-packed weight is something not to be trifled with, but J had her moment of glory, trusted sole charge of the stable’s most valued prospect, a proper pony.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Time Ticks On

Today is the last possible day that Pat might say to pony-girl either yes, or no, re our Blade's Hill hopes (the showjumping meet there is tomorrow). Or she might say nothing at all, which is what she said on Tuesday. Pat is a busy woman with 2000 things on her mind at any one time and it's not unreasonable to suppose that the biggest most burning question on our minds is somewhat lower priority on hers.

The trouble is, that while it is not very vital in the great scheme of things that J and Clyde go to Blade's Hill tomorrow, it does have some importance - in the matter of establishing precedent and J-and-Clyde as part of the NagsR'Us Blade's Hill 'team', and in the practical sense that Sudeley Show is in May, 3 short months away, and a little practice in show routine at a less formal and relaxed venue is not just a luxury but vital! Why, Pony-girl is quite capable of forgetting the course when it's 3 crosspoles and the dramatic climax of a straight in the school manege, so 12 jumps on unfamiliar terrain and coping with saluting the judge as well is going to be a bit of a facer. Where do you wait? what do you wear? How do you cope with those two imposters Triumph and Disaster? We are too raw to be launched on Sudeley Show without a few trial runs.

If by some miracle Pat is, as I write, telling J that she has fixed it all up, then the question of what to wear will be a facer in itself: the show jacket I ordered in a flurry of excitement and bravado when we left The Note hasn't arrived, though the cream jodhpurs have. In emergency she will have to wear my brand-new (charity shop) Jaeger navy wool blazer, and I will have a new anxiety surpassing all others: what if Clyde balks at the water jump and the jacket gets soaked in six inches of muddy slime, ripped at the seams, and trampled beneath the callous hooves of Mr Pluperfect on his way to victory in a stunning time?

But I feel in my bones it's not going to happen. It's a pity this is not fiction or our heroine would at this very moment be receiving the happy news and if she does, I willl rush to blog it at once.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Mishaps and Messages

The other day pony-girl was leading Clyde along when Pat waylaid her. Pat is a woman who brooks no nonsense from girl or beast, and J is minded to obey instantly even so unwelcome an order as delivering a message, which inescapably involves speaking to a person, not high on PG’s list of favourite things to do. So she thrust Clyde’s leadrope into my hand and scuttled off to do Pat’s bidding at the double.

I eyed Clyde and he eyed me. His big brown orb rolled slowly over me, his meditations plain to read: ‘terrifed – hopeless - me very big – her very small - grass over there…. ‘ Before this mental process came to its inevitable conclusion I tugged at the rope, authoritatively squeaking “Walk on!”

We made good progress through the yard and then we turned into the barn in sight of his stable gate and I felt extremely pleased about this. I was leading a pony! There was my charge, still at the end of the leadrope, still following. Feisty, feared-by-farriers Clyde, obedient, plodding along at my bidding - surely I was graduating Pony-Mum-Stage-One with flying colours! It was then that I heard a muffled cry and turned to see a small Chinese woman flat on her back in our wake.

I wasn’t quite sure of the etiquette here. I was at the teeth-end, firmly in control; surely I could not be responsible for what was going on right back at the tail? I was naturally crestfallen by this disaster, but the poor woman downed by Clyde’s wayward hindquarters was very nice about it, even trying to blame herself – “I did not see him!” which seemed odd as most of us would notice a two-ton mammal presenting to the starboard side, but that’s how life goes sometimes, your stars just ordain it that way: “Today you will be felled by the passing of a large beast.”

Two sweet little girls came to talk to us the other day, hanging over the stable door and watching solemnly as PG picked up Clyde’s cobby feathered legs while he huffed and whiffled crossly, nudging his feedbowl with his nose, snorting in disgust because it remained empty despite his heavy hints. They told us that they are going to Blade’s Hill next week, taking their loan ponies showjumping. PG turned to me, eyes aflame: “I must go, mum. I really MUST!” I haven’t seen her this determined in a long while, this matters more to her than GCSEs, marrying well, or guaranteed World Peace, so we ummed and ahhed awhile about how to approach Pat and bring the matter to a head. We decided that only an utter coward would leave a note on Pat’s desk rather than face her in person; that would be the mark of a truly spineless pair of wimps. So we did that immediately, and this is what it said:

Dear Pat
Some girls told me they are taking their ponies to Blade’s Hill for the showjumping on 13 Feb. Would it be ok to take Clyde, and do you know anyone who might give him a lift? Thanks, J and Clyde.

No word yet from Pat.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Always expect the unexpected

Pat’s eye lit up when she saw me today, and she summoned me to her office with ‘something to show me’. Ohhhh! Undoubtedly the syllabus and entry form for Blade’s Hill! My heart was beating wildly as Pat rummaged through some things on her desk. “It’s time to give you one of these. Sorry it’s taken me so long, I meant to mention it before.” My mind galloped wildly through two clear rounds and a red rosette - on our way to showjumping glory, at last, at last! Pat gazed intimately into my eye as she handed something over with a flourish and a brisk “Best of luck!” I looked down and in my hand was a box marked ‘Worming Syringe.’

I am so glad we are no longer looking for a pony. None of our pony-buying forays ended in anything but disaster, which means we count the not-entirely-obvious blessings of our Clyde daily. I was looking through my notes of the time, and came across Tickie, whom we visited in October.

She sounded promising, ‘half-thoroughbred with three stunning paces who will go far.’ Thoroughbred was a word which always sent a ripple through pony-mum’s shamelessly shallow psyche, so it was quite a surprise to see the pony, who was thickset, had the personality of a teabag, and was much the same colour. Brown as a horse-colour is usually prettied-up as bay, chestnut, sorrel etc, but this pony was unequivocally brown from her ears to her soul.

Tickie’s owner was very proud of Tickie, whom she had bred herself. In fact she referrred to herself throughout as ‘Tickie’s mum’, and produced an album of photographs of Tickie, from birth to 7 years. You might imagine one photograph per birthday, and perhaps one or two for the intervening seasons, but no, the photographs were labelled ‘Tickie at 3 days’, ‘Tickie at one week,’ ‘Tickie and her mother’, ‘Tickie’s first steps,’. You can imagine it took quite some time before we got to ‘Tickie’s first rosette’, and ‘first’ meant what it said. How I wished I had not expended all possible compliments on the first pages and reserved some newer, fresher ones for the last!

Tickie’s mum mounted Tickie to show off her three stunning paces. She was rather too large for the pony, which brought her knees up into a jockey’s position, and her hands beneath her chin. We stood in the centre of a marsh as the wind howled and the rain poured down. The pony clumped lumpenly around the boggy field. Then round again, the other way. Back the other way, clumping slightly faster. We stood and watched and tried to look knowledgeable, with grave, assessing expressions. “What are we looking for?” Reluctant-Pony-Dad muttered, but none of us knew. After several more circuits the intense solemnness got to me and I felt a threatening surge of shaming, uncalled-for hysteria, not helped when J whispered, “How long will she keep going for?”

When it was J’s turn, with a whisk of its tail the pony revved up into an astonishing burst of speed from a standing start and was gone. All became clear as to the meaning of that term: “she will go far.” Her mum clutched my arm in rapt admiration as Tickie galloped on and on, a mere dot on the horizon with my shrieking daughter aboard – “I don’t often get a chance to watch her – but oh! I think she is three-quarters thoroughbred, don’t you?”

Pony-girl did eventually return, possibly saved by the one non-thoroughbred leg slowing down the other three.