The trials and tribulations of being mum to a pony rider

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Night Before

Every class at the Nags’R’Us Dressage gala awards rosettes down to 6th place. This sounds like pretty good odds! However, it struck me that if you were in a class of seven competitors things could get pretty embarrassing should you be in seventh place. Six beaming winners riding out of the arena with an enormous, lavish rosette pinned to each bridle - and one lone failure shambling out behind. Naturally, Fate being what it is, there are indeed exactly seven competitors in Clyde’s second class, prelim 10, so I have rehearsed Pony-girl on How to Leave Arenas with a Big, Brave Smile.

But who cares! We have had a glorious day today at the stables, the place alight and abustle with 68 competitors all queueing up to use the one hose and three hitching posts in the yard, a general air of excitement and anticipation abounding. Last time Pat held a dressage gala we were merely spectators who hung around on the fringes, the dread Whisper lurking menacingly in her stable waiting to be lunged, and this time we are part of it, us! mere pony wannabes six months ago, now in possession of our very own large, hairy pet and with an entry ticket to the magical world of competition! Clyde is a stoical sort of boy who didn’t flinch under the furious onslaught of shampoo and scrubbers, the only dodgy moment coming when PG in her enthusiasm turned the hose on fullforce and sent him reeling back, staggering under a blast of high-pressure water pounding his nose. We then rugged up our small damp pony with a clean fleece cooler, which I am rather dreading removing tomorrow lest a mass of hives, lumps and festering pustules has broken out beneath.

PG’s show shirt has arrived in the nick of time so we are all set up and raring to go at 7am tomorrow, though it can’t be disguised that PG’s showing ensemble has been cobbled together on the cheap, more Ebay than Harrods if you know what I mean. We won’t be getting the prize for Best-Turned-Out and we may get no prize at all, but we did the work, they know the test, and ohhh! the fun we’ve had! May the sun shine tomorrow: we’re on parade!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Going On the Bit (or not)

Making tea for RPD to take to the opening Sunday of his bowls season would have been a soothing and relaxing task, had it not been for RPD’s anxious hovering and handwringing, and his pleas ‘not to make too much!’. It is very disheartening to hear that there might be such a thing as too much of one’s cakes.

It’s not only the Bowls Season that’s gearing up: leaflets and flyers for the summer’s local pony-shows have been fluttering down around us from all sides. So exciting! Pony-girl and I pour over them for hours, selecting all the classes where ancient, mediocre pony with nervy third-rate rider might be in with a chance. We would happily enter everything, but there is no point until we get some hint of any forthcoming trailer-space for Clyde, and I am frankly tired of dropping hints. It’s not dignified and it doesn’t win you friends. But! the schedule for Sudeley Show is out, the local event we went to last year when we were wistful onlookers with no hope of a pony, and we have always held that up as the focus of the year, the pinnacle of our showing dreams. And we are certain to go, since it's close enough to the stables to hack there. Mind you, PG is already working herself into a nervous fit at the thought of weaving Clyde in and out of the heavy traffic zooming down the main Cheltenham-Stratford Road. Since NagsR’Us has had its share of disasters lately with horses out on the roads spooking, bolting and engaging in various hair-raising encounters with cars, I am also not happy about this whole horses-in-traffic concept – why, we can be terrified of a giant bucking beast safely confined in a rubber-padded arena, no need to factor in speeding metal death machines! I can already picture me plodding alongside the intrepid pair for 5 miles carrying a distress beacon and a resuscitation kit, but nothing can really dent our insouciance, this is spring and it’s Show Time and it really is Where the Fun Starts.

Before Sudeley Show we have Pat’s own Dressage Gala on May 1st. PG is working hard to improve Clydey’s suppleness and submission, and it involves something mysterious called ‘going on the bit’. A clueless non-horsy person such as myself can only dimly grasp the concept of this, but it’s something to do with the horse’s outline and its head carriage. Clyde doesn’t get it any better than I do and has his head how he feels like it from one moment to the next – this can be poking vaguely in the direction he’s going, or, on days when he’s wearing his grumpy hat, glowering darkly down at the floor. We have begged Pat for half an hour of emergency private tuition, but with a mere 10 days to go, even a miracle worker like Pat has little chance of turning Clyde into a dressage horse and unkinking pony-girl’s shoulders from their Quasimodo-like hunch. But we'll be there no matter what!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Showshine Sunday

Arabella’s dainty mare Fizzy was lame on the morning of the show, but Pat lent her Joe the Thug to ride, so small Clyde was duly loaded into the trailer with big Joe and off they went. RPD had made his usual meticulous preparations for the journey with printed Multimap directions, hint-sheets, clue-cards and pony-mum in charge of navigating, so it is no surprise that we found ourselves hopelessly lost in the wilds of Worcestershire within minutes. 10 minutes to go till Clyde’s debut, with Pony-girl’s show boots and saddle sitting on the back seat!
I stopped to ask the way to Blade’s Hill but as usual the only person around was the village idiot – “It could be thissaway…” points to the left “… and then again, loike, it could be thattaway…” points to the right, so all I could do was reach for the mobile phone.

“J – we’re lost.”
Muffled, J relays this dismaying information to Arabella’s rather grand dad: “They say they’re lost.”
Distant rumble of wellbred voice: “Where are they? Have they gorn orf the road?”
“Arabella’s dad says where are you?”
“Well we don’t know exactly….”
“They don’t know where they are.”

An embarrassing start, but we finally rolled into Blade’s Hill with 5 minutes to spare. Wonders greeted our eyes! Smart riders in high-fashion gear, their horses clad in sparkling showrugs fresh from their wrappings, spotless travelboots in purple and black and gleaming coats that dazzled in the spring sunshine. Suddenly the back of Arabella’s trailer burst open and out staggered Clyde, lurching down the ramp, his legs wrapped untidily in raffleprize bandages over chunks of off-white sofa stuffing, his pale blue rug patched with streaks and splodges of brown. At that moment PG arrived around the corner in her drooping, oversized showjacket with her hat down over her eyes.
Alarmed, I hissed “Whyever didn’t we wash Clyde’s rug? There’s dung all over it!!”
“Daddy didn’t want it in the washing machine with his things.”
“Well we didn’t have to tell him did we?”
“Yes but last time he guessed when he found all that horsehair in his pants.”

Bless him, when unpeeled Clyde shone as bright as any pony there, his dark bay coat gleaming with Canter Showshine and pony-girl looked nearly like a real rider, tho she will have to stuff the jacket shoulders before the dressage show in May.
I have worn thin the Jill and her Pony books with endless rereads, so I know the way things usually go: impoverished young girl on small crap pony rescued from knackers’ yard amazes all by beating priceless pony superstars: this did not happen to us, but the day was every bit as special as we had ever dreamed. The tipping hoof that touched the pole and put them out of the jumpoff was unlucky, but PG didn’t forget the 12-jump course (to Pat’s relief: she was clutching my sleeve in her nerves and hissing ‘I’ve seen J forget which way to go over three jumps in the school’, which hardly helped my confidence), Clyde didn’t spook at the nasty filler which caused many a nervy pony to unseat its rider, and Arabella’s dad hinted at more trailerdates in the summer. Happy, happy day!

There was only one sour note: Back at the stables, Clyde sidled sheepishly out of the trailer with his ears flat back and a raw flesh-wound on his neck. Yes, dear Joe the Thug swaggered down the ramp with torn-off bits of Clyde hanging from his teeth. Since Clyde is ok we aren’t going to make a fuss, but oh, the shame of it! Clyde the Wimp!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

A Great Day Out

'Are you SURE you don't need to see out, J?'

We just had the most exciting day at Blade’s Hill – Pony-girl was determined, confident, and enjoyed herself to the hilt, as did pony-mum - and even RPD! As luck would have it, we ended up with not one but two offers of a lift, and Clydey travelled in style with Arabella’s horse. Braveheart, as I forgot to sign him in due to my nerves, jumped beautifully and cantered so fast he would have been in with a chance of a place had a dipped hoof not brought a pole down, but he made no mistakes in the Clear Round class and came home with his rosette. Lots to write about… next time. A wonderful day!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Bandaging Braveheart

Yes, Pony-girl has been practising for Clyde's upcoming trip in the trailer, wrapping his knobbly thickset hocks in padding as tenderly as if he were a thoroughbred with legs made of glass. On a countdown to Blade’s Hill Mini-Showjumping, two days to go and excitement mounting. Pony-girl seems more excited than nervous, astonishing for a girl who can get worked up into a state about taking the school bus a whole week before the dreaded deed must be done: “But when do I show him my ticket?” “When you get on, darling child.” “But do I have it in my hand when I get on… or shall I get it out afterwards?” "Play it by ear my sweetheart, why don’t you.” “How will he know where I’m going?” “I think perhaps you could tell him, my precious?” “But what if he doesn’t hear me? Should I say it again? Cos if he did hear me, then I’ll have said it twice won’t I?” etc… so I am only too happy that the prospect of taking Clyde round a course of 12 jumps in a strange school miles from home amid people who can really ride, on proper ponies, is filling her with starry-eyed excitement. Clyde may be a little surprised when the sick-bag comes out, but nothing much fazes our Clyde.

The sick bag? Once our constant companion. We went to visit our first, our very first pony-prospect in September, a nervy mount named Sixpence who nevertheless impressed us with her pretty looks and the way she went on the bit immediately. J put her over a round of jumps in the seller’s manege, drew to a halt beside us and got off. Throwing the reins into the owner’s hand, fearless pony-girl cried “I love her! Please, please let’s buy her! I’m so happy!!” - and was promptly sick all over the floor. I learned to carry a towel and several plastic bags with me at all exciting times, and I think I will conceal some in the boot ready for Sunday.

Things to do Sunday morning: polish Clyde till he shines, bandage his knobbly knock-knees with the jolly Winnie-the-Pooh bandages we won in a pre-pony raffle (they will look well with his long, grumpy face won’t they?) check pony-girl over for stable stains, and attempt to budge Clyde from the bottom of the box ramp where he may be digging his heels in, saying “No way!” I plan to hang a temptingly stuffed haynet inside as food gets Clydey lurching forwards enthusiastically without fail. He is very like RPD in this respect.

No idea what heights she is jumping (probably 2ft on the first outing unless Pat has other ideas) and we don’t expect them to win anything (not even 6th rosette!) as the competition is hot and strong… butif they get round without mishaps.. without boltings and refusals (that would be Pony-girl of course) and oh! a clear round for our first show would be really, really wonderful, wouldn’t it?