The trials and tribulations of being mum to a pony rider

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Blue Day, Brave Heart

When we bought Clyde at Pat’s suggestion from a girl who was moving on to bigger and better things, I am ashamed to admit that we thought we were settling for second, or even third, best. The only criteria he filled on our list of essential attributes for Our Dream Pony were a) he was a boy b) he was cheap (you will recognise RPD’s input here.) He was not pretty, not silver dun, was going nowhere, set in his ways and too old to learn new tricks. He had big knobbly knees and his mane was hogged like the thuggish bullyboy mule we suspected him to be. Plus, he already had a rug, and it was not the jazzy pink and black Mark Todd of pony-mum’s dreams.

How shallow we were! OK he is a bit of a Cockney barrerboy and his face is best viewed with a sideways glance and then quickly away again, but that pony is one in a million. His solid calm means even nervous unhorsey pony-mum doesn’t mind standing by the big-teethed end and is venturing further rearwards every week! He doesn’t bite, kick or buck and he stands steady as a rock for his panicking Pony-girl when fighter planes divebomb his head. And I, no animal-lover, find my heart melting into a puddle at his keen courage and his trustiness and his warm sturdy body and the way his aloofness turns to excited jiggles and desperate ‘me! me!’ harrumphings at one glimpse of an apple. And all that would be more than enough to make him, our very ordinary stocky little fish-cart puller, a pony in a million. So you have to understand that any rosettes our little champion brings home are merely incidental and not the point at all.

Having said that, we find we are very keen to win them and it was the Combined Training at Blade’s Hill on Sunday. First came the dressage and PG and Clyde achieved a good score that put them second (even though, wait for it, PG got a 2 point penalty for forgetting the test again - yes, again. No, I didn't believe it either.) All they had to do to stay in second place was go clear in the jumping section, and while I hid behind the Portaloo (after Sudeley I have completely lost my nerve for jumping) go clear they did, and were presented with the Blue Rosette. (This was very suitable, for PG’s cheap Ebay gloves had been leeching dye all day and she had a bright blue face to match.) She was already pulling off saddle and showshirt when I, rubbing my hands in that calculating way we pony-mums have, pointed out that, since the dressage score is carried forward to all jumping classes, all they had to do was go clear in the 85cm class to get second place in that too.
“He can’t jump that high!” PG gasped.
“Well, Pat always says the only thing stopping him jumping big is err well, never mind that now.” (for what Pat says is: ‘that pony could jump anyfink if only YOU wasn’t on top of ‘im!’)
She was tempted… . “Can I retire if it looks really big when I get out there?”
“Of course! Just have a go!”
I wasn’t half so confident as I sounded, especially as I had just seen the jumps and gone white with shock, but I managed to walk between our trepid team and the arena until the last moment when I slid aside to reveal the view. PG’s eyes came out on stalks - “But they’re – “ Too late: Clyde was off, trotting confidently through the gate with his ears up and whisking his tail.
This time I went into the Portaloo. I was only gone a second and when I came out PG and Clyde were waiting outside which was quite a surprise. “Oh!” I gasped, “Did you have to retire? How far did you get?”
“Glub,” sobbed Ponygirl. “He – glub!”
“Never mind darling! Well done for trying!”
PG sobbed harder. “Oh mummy! He was fantastic! He just flew over them all!”

And he really had, so it was second place again for Darkest Braveheart, another blue rosette to add to his collection and a total of 26 points on the Blade’s Hill league table for real prizes should they be placed at the end of the year. Which doesn’t look as unlikely now as it did when we started out….

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Monday, Fun Day

RPD and Pony-girl are being left together on Monday when I’m visiting Non-Pony-Sis in Oxford. Both of them are sunk in deep gloom about this one whole day and we are working on plans for their quality one-on-one time together -
“Can you think of something nice to do?”
RPD thought hard: “We could fill in some forms together! Bank forms and tax forms and - ”
It was a shame to quell his rising enthusiasm, but “No, no,” I said, “have another go. Something fun for the two of you?”
He scratched his head – this was a tricky one. “I know – I can take her to the stables …..early - and collect her …. much later!”
“That’s lovely,” I said brightly, not wanting to be a damp squib re. his obviously wellmeant effort, “but it’s hardly together time, is it? Let’s have another little think, shall we?”
“I’ve got it!” he cried excitedly, “We could clean the fridge out!”
Not promising, is it?

Google searches on my blog continue to intrigue me: some are predictably fevered (I think it’s time I was a spoilsport and point out that ‘she rides bareback’ means the horse has no saddle.) But what would you make of ‘naughty pony names’? I know, it’s an odd one isn’t it?

We are off tomorrow for a Combined Training competition at Blade's Hill which involves dressage (the dread Prelim 10) and jumps at 75cm, faults to be deducted from dressage mark for an overall score. No idea how this will go, we just know we can’t expect another Dream Day - not unless everyone else turns up on an ancient mule and forgets the test, of course.

What do you mean, 'that sounds like PG and Clyde' - ??

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Red Rosettes

Clyde was having a bath, which he tolerates gloomily but without any of the frisky joy and gratitude you might hope for, considering that it’s no fun for me either - I get as wet as he does and I wasn’t hot in the first place. It was time to hang up the hosepipe, a job given to pony-mum who is entrusted with these less demanding tasks. I was grappling doubtfully with 100 meters of slippery, wet, heavy hoseline with a random sprinkly surprise on one end when I was hailed by a shout from afar:

“No, no, NO!!!!”
Yes, it was the Gaffer....
“Ye can stop that RIGHT NOW!”
.....storming across the yard towards me on attack run. I froze to the spot, standing there with my wet blue knees knocking and looking around for support from Pony-girl: strangely enough she had disappeared, except that Clyde seemed to have sprouted an extra pair of booted feet between his other two pairs.
“Ye NIVER hang up the ‘ose pipe like that! Niver, niver, niver!”
“You show me how,” I simpered, in a shaming attempt to win sympathy, which was frankly a disgrace to Womanhood everywhere, but if your lip is curling with scorn, then you take on the Gaffer in full battlemode.
“Ye DON’T let it trail in the muck an’ slime, don’t ee know that yet? Ye fixes it round the peggle-notch and then ‘ee 'angs the nozzle off the under-dangler – loike this!”
“Ah yes, I see!” I lied as he deftly lassooed the hooks from right to left in a dazzling display of hose-slinging. “The under-peggle and the nozzle-dangler – gottit.”
His faded blue eyes met mine piercingly. “And ‘ee pulled the pipe full down off the tap, did ‘ee?”
“Oh yes,” I said quickly, “Straight off.” I confidently mimed the action of a sharp downward tug. The Gaffer pounced:
“Well ye shouldn’ta done! You’ll spoil the twistle-threader on the nozzle-pipe with youm sloppy wummunly ways, and then I’ll be ‘anding ‘ee a bill for a new ‘un, see if I don’t!”
I was backing away by now, but he had one last trump card:
“And 'ave 'ee seen THE YARD PRICKLE? Summun’s bin usin’ it for wot it shouldn’t nivver be used for, and I bet I knows who it is!”

Not even the Gaffer could spoil our joy, for that was Sunday, the day we went to Blade’s Hill for a dressage competition, Prelim 18 (restricted) and Prelim 7 (Open). Both classes had a big entry, Pony-girl was the only junior and Clyde the only pony (not to mention the only one of dubious breeding, though we vigorously deny the rumour that he was born 11 months after that donkey got into the mares’ field) and yet unbelievably they won both classes – yes, won them both, took two red rosettes and with it the exclusion from entering Restricted dressage, ever again.
Needless to say our joy knew no bounds, as they say in the Jill books, since a first place seemed an unobtainable goal to us when we started competing, and two red rosettes in one day – well, that’s the stuff of Dreams, isn’t it?

It is not easy to blog about success as failure is much more fun to work with, and I hope to resume normal Doom-and-Disaster service after Sunday’s Combined Training event – dressage and showjumping - but for now, just look at Clyde. Didn’t he do well?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Showjumps and Shovels

It seems we have either showing days that go like a Dream or days that are Nightmares, like Sudeley where Clyde flattened the second jump of the course and PG executed a balletic five-foot mudskid on the point of her nose. Blade’s Hill on Sunday was one of the dream days, and our boy sped round the jumps in the 60cm class, whisking up a clean pair of heels at every one of 7 jumps and straight into the jumpoff, and then he cantered back looking triumphant. Smaller ponies than Clyde look faster with their short legs twinkling round at full flat-out mini-gallop: so when at the end of the class the placings were read out and PG and Darkest Braveheart were in 5th place out of 30 competitors we were so staggered it took me a moment to push PG forward to get her rosette – a lurid orange, but you can’t have everything – Clyde’s first showjumping place in the competitive world!

It was so hot and there was no shade for our poor little pony so we really, really wished we were going home before the 70cm class, quit when you’re ahead and all that, but off they went again He flew round just as nicely but PG mistimed the double in the jumpoff and he clipped down a pole, but, brave and resourceful pony that he is, gathered himself for the next and cleared it all by himself while she dithered, so four faults there, but she came out grinning and patting his neck, ecstatic at their performance. (I will not mention the moment where she whirled round a corner atop a thundering Clyde, yelling “the course! I’ve forgotten the course!”) We packed up ready to come home, keen to get our hot, tired pony sponged, stabled and comfy again, and we didn’t go back for the presentation.

”Let’s just go and see who won, shall we?” I said when all was tidy and Clyde ready to load.
“No, let’s just go home, we’ll see it online.” PG seemed hot and tired, though I can’t think why – she had the easy bit, it was pony-mum bore the brunt of the day as nervous chauffeur, hefty tack porter and doughty muck shoveller.
“Oh come on, it’ll only take a minute.”

Off we limped to the station and there was the organiser putting things out ready for the next class. No sign of a list of winners and times. In her hand, though, was a large pink silk rosette. “Someone didn’t wait around for their prize,” I laughed, marvelling that anyone could be so blasé!
“Yes,” she said, consulting her handwritten list, “Dorkiest Bravetart – 6th place,” and we gibbered and snatched it uttering incoherent thanks and rushed back to show it to Clyde who took a sniff and decided it wasn’t worth a nibble.
So home we came with our little brown hero, and his two beautiful rosettes.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Pink Rosette

Well we survived, even the part where I was backing out Horatio unsighted with only Pony-girl to direct, forgetting that she lives on another planet and her eye might be caught by any of the 16 fine dressage horses passing through the box park:

"Am I still OK, J?"
"Yes, fine - I mean NO! NO!! STOP!! The fence - !"

Since the other competitors were large haughty ladies on proper horses, it was with some trepidation that we crept up to the mark board after the test, especially as Clyde had been in frisky mood and thrown in a sprightly buck on the canter transition. We were totally thrilled to find he was placed 6th (out of 11) and won the pink rosette, which we were truly not expecting, and here he is, characteristically unimpressed:

That was the dreaded Prelim 10, which was 'restricted' - to competitors who have not won first place in Dressage before - in the unrestricted Prelim 18 they were unplaced, but scored respectably which is not bad for a pony who used to pull the fish cart round Evesham Market, I think you will agree. So we are thrilled to pieces, and Horatio chuntered happily along round the 18 roundabouts, and I only stalled once, which OK was while crossing the busy A44 in the path of oncoming traffic, but we were cool, we made it, and now we can rest.... well at least until Sunday, when we return for the Showjumping....

"Actually, I were only planning on doing 30, if you don't mind..."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Here we come.....

Now we have Horatio all ready to whisk us off to any show we fancy it’s all a bit overwhelming – from no shows to any shows - but we have taken the bull by the horns and are starting with dressage at Blade’s Hill tomorrow. Pony-girl has entered Prelim 10 which, is, of course, the test where she endured a humiliating two-honk penalty in May. With wild if possibly misguided enthusiasm she also entered Prelim 18, which she has never performed, except on foot in the garden. As a layman I can report that it appears to be a lot of trotting in a circle, followed by a bit more trotting round the other way, ending up with a nice trot up and down to finish. I did try calling tests for her in case her mind goes blank, but since she wears her hat jammed down over both ears it wasn’t a success.

Clyde has been entered under the name Darkest Braveheart, so everyone will get a bit of a surprise as they await with bated breath the opening of noble Darkest Braveheart’s box and only Clyde comes out, but PG wants him to have a showname so a showname he has. Since we’ve never done, or seen, dressage at Blade’s Hill before I have absolutely no idea what standards to expect, but the point is to make the journey with only pony-mum at the wheel, get used to loading and unloading Clyde ourselves and being entirely dependent on our own resources to manage the day. Now if you know me and Pony-girl at all, you will be stroking your chin and going ‘hmmmmm’ at this point, but we are going to have a damned good try and if I pass this test then I am very nearly a real, true pony-mum I reckon, even if I don’t know my snaffles from my spurstraps.

Our one attempt at taking Clyde for a dummy-run test drive didn’t go as well as expected, to be honest. Progress across the yard was slow - one glimpse of the box from afar and he began to lift his tail, stopping every other second to deluge the ground with mountainous piles of dung. Off I went to get shovel, broom and barrow. Clyde cloppered willingly enough up Horatio’s ramp, immediately realised his mistake and began to back down the ramp again as once before in Mr Newtruck’s trailer. A mutinous banging began which shook the van and clanged hollowly round the yard. Neighs of anger could be heard. When I returned panting with my dung-shovelling kit, I found Clyde standing smugly outside the box, and RPD and PG looking sheepish and shuffling their feet.

“He didn’t want to go,” PG explained.
“He didn’t want to go?”
“Old chap seemed a trifle agitated,” put in RPD. “Drive’s off, I’m afraid.”
“Oh great,” I bitterly said, “and what if he doesn’t want to go on Friday?”
“Oh, he’ll know it’s for real then and he’ll be fine,” Pony girl cried. “He’s very intelligent – he must have an IQ of at least, um, 30!”

We’ll see, won’t we? At this point my thoughts are not on PG’s score, whether Clyde will achieve any degree of lateral flexion or any sign of going on the bit, or whether both tests are a three-honk fiasco. I just want us to get there and back in one piece..........

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Saddling the Stallion

There was the Gaffer lying in wait to ambush me with a Gaffer-tale:
“Didya hear about yon SILLY WOMAN!”
“No,” I whispered, for the silly woman was standing five feet away, not that that bothers the Gaffer.
Gaffer was looking his best this morning, in a NagsR’Us sweatshirt that lived up to the name, and an extra stain of something sticky down the front. His trousers were held up with baling twine (possibly recovered from the muckheap) and his beady eye glinted with malicious merriment.
“Come for a lesson she did and told she were riding Captain – so into stable she goes – puts headcollar on he – grooms the great bugger top to toe – puts a muckin’ big saddle on he and straps it up nice and tight – gets t’bit into his great jawhole like – leads him out meek as a lamb!”
“I see…..”
Gaffer cackled manically, in a rare old good temper. “Had her foot in stirrup like –and that’s when I sees her and I says ‘You’m in for an excitin’ ride there, lady – thass not Captain, thass BiggUns me young stallion you got there, never bin backed he ain't! HAHA!!” He shook helplessly with mirth and I had to join in - what a dining out story for her! ‘How I saddled up the unbacked stallion and rode him fearlessly out of the yard’!
The Gaffer turned his attention to me, about to step into Horatio our new horsebox for my first drive. “Ye never be gonna driving that!” he unflatteringly gasped.
“I am indeed,” I said confidently, nearly wetting myself with fright. “Yes, I have no fear at all.”
“Ye must be off yer ‘ead, wummun!” Gaffer yelled. “You get that bugger stuck down Neddle Bottom and ye’ll be in ditch arse over tit sooner’n blinking, I seen it ‘appen time an time again, you wummen never can woggle the springersprocket into the clackerknacker afore the crunchentorque goes off the scale like!”
Since this was exactly what I feared myself, my knees weakened and I grasped the Gaffer for support. “It will be just like driving a car,” I stuttered, “That’s what Pat said - ”
Gaffer’s eyes rolled in disbelief: “Pat! What do she know? None ‘o you wummen cain’t drive worth a ha’porth o’beans! Didya hear about the man called his wife on ‘er mobile – ‘Darlin’ he says, ‘be careful out there, there’s a maniac on the motorway driving the wrong way!’ an’ she says,’It’s worse’n that honey, there’s loads of ‘em doin’ it!’“

Despite the Gaffer’s gloomy forecast, Horatio and I got on just fine, once we got over our little misunderstanding with the gears. We loaded Clyde just to see if he liked the look of his new chariot, and he got impatient waiting for us to coax him in with Monty Roberts’ tactics, snatched away the lead-rope and galloped up the ramp ahead of us to see if there was a haybag. Tomorrow I will try a drive with Clyde aboard, and next weekend… we have TWO shows…! The horizon has suddenly stretched – it’s all out there waiting for us…..