The trials and tribulations of being mum to a pony rider

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Curse of Crinkley

Christmas joy filled the Merry household with the whole family gathered together and all was fun and laughter, warmth and jollity! Then came the second hour and things were getting a bit tricky, so we turned to our favourite board game, Rapidough, where you model an object in Play-Doh from a word on a card. Of course, like any other family activity, this simple pleasure can lead to bickering, sulks, and hours of resentment, but also some highs: how fondly we all remember Non-Pony-Sis’s recreation of Trafalgar Square, two inches high in pink, not to mention RPD’s storming ‘Scott’s Last Expedition’, complete with little dead doh bodies in a chilly landscape – though as we pointed out, the polar bear added to give us a clue was not geographically accurate.

It was Pony-girl’s turn and a long thick pink sausage was rapidly forming from her ball of dough. “This is quite hard to model,” said she frowningly, “But you should be able to guess it - Daddy’s got one. Or, at least, he used to have…...” pony-mum and Non-Pony-Sis’ eyes met in an unworthy snigger at this point - “But I haven’t seen it for a long time…,,” The sausage was upended and fixed to the mat in upright postion, upon which it immediately began to droop to the left. By now even RPD’s eyes were flicking back and forth in alarm, while NPS and I were behaving disgracefully, holding each other up, shoulders shaking. Pony-girl glared at us. “Why are you all being so silly?” With a scalpel she began delicately to etch a tiny hole at the end of the bulbous pink knob, holding the floppy thing up with one hand. By now we were on the floor. She fixed us with a stare – a long, long cold one. Scrabbling desperately for composure, we tried out a few half-hearted guesses, “sausage!” “hosepipe!” “Vesuvius!” though it was difficult with only one thing on all our minds, especially when a wobbly pendulous sphere joined the sausage at the base, shaped by PG’s innocent young hands. “Balloon animal!” I choked desperately, “Clyde!” usually a good guess when PG is modelling, but that was an unfortunate guess in this case and now we were all helpless with laughter, even under PG’s icy glare, which could have frozen Scott to death a whole lot faster than any mere Antarctic chill. “I don’t know why you are all being so annoying!” she gritted in fury, tyring to set the wobbly column upright, “Can’t you see what it is?” Alas we could not, not until a tiny doh handle appeared, animated (strictly against the rules) in a brisk circular motion by PG’s angry hand and RPD arrived with great relief at ‘a hand-held drill’.

So much cooking to do at Christmas! and mine is always a dodgy business – while my lemon iceream tart with a gingernut crust was a triumph (the one which didn’t have to be scraped off the floor) but my chocolate Yule cake must henceforth be known as the Log of Gloom. Solid, wet, brown and heavy, it sat on the table for three days with RPD gamely sawing off little tiny hunks for tea – one bite would strike him dumb for ages as he chewed his way through it with bulging cheeks and madly working jaw. I put it to rest on the third day in the bin, and soon after saw RPD staggering outdoors with it, bent double under the weight.

I should have asked Ethel Crinkley, our local byword for all that is superb in cookery, how to make one. Got a favourite cake recipe? Mrs Crinkley already knows it and hers will be better. It will be more scrumptious, a finer colour, and it will rise more. Do not set out your cakes beside Mrs C’s at a bake sale, for a measly price will be slapped onto yours, and yours it will be that doesn’t sell. I once asked her for a recipe for her cheese-and-walnut sables as they melted in the mouth and were so scrummy I could easily have polished off the plateful, and planned to make some at home and eat the whole lot. Either she was having a laugh when she rattled off the recipe to me or my skills are not up to the task – I could barely believe the trayful of greasy yellow crumbs I pulled out of my oven and spent some time searching down the back of the oven shelf to see if the real biscuits had slipped off. Cooking? Some got it and some ain’t.

We are back to competing on Sunday – Clyde jumped a three-foot spread tonight with a contemptuous flick of his whisked-up heels. There is a new class at Blade’s Hill – the Gold Cup Class – which has real money prizes! We had better dust off his Jumping Shoes and stick a firework under his tail.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Clyde Lost... and Found

As you can see, Santa came and no-one was forgotten.

Just before Christmas it seemed as if this year’s would be a miserable one. Our easygoing, staunch little pony disappeared for a few days and was replaced by an interloper with Clyde’s looks, which scared us all. On the Saturday before Xmas I went up to the top-school to catch the end of PG’s group lesson, and was puzzled to find her going round the school on.. Tilly the cob?! As she passed, PG glimpsed my waggling eyebrows and mouthed, miserably, “Technical hitch!” I had to wait till she came round into the firing line for my next urgent question: “What’s happened?” “I can’t tell you now,” she whispered, and now I could see a small tear trickling down her pale cheek. Another wait, jiggling from foot to foot in my anxiety. When my next chance came, “Just tell me! Is Clyde OK?” I hissed, and - “No!” she burst out, swept along past me by Tilly’s staunch and hairy trit-trotting legs.

That was it, I was off, pounding down the hill on legs quite similar to Tilly’s, peering into the gloomy barn, looking for that long striped nose arrogantly thrust out, King of the Barn. It wasn’t there – Clyde had his nose down in his pile of hay. “Cly-yde!” I called, hurrying up to the gate. Nothing could be wrong, surely? He was upright! Eating!

Clyde stopped munching. He froze. He dropped the mouthful of hay and began to back away from me, eyes trained on me in a fixed and chilly stare. My heart stopped: it was a stranger there in our stable, an imposter with cold dead eyes looking out at me (the eeriest thing!) from Clyde’s familiar face. Chilled, I tried calling, talking softly, holding out my hand, producing a mint. Nothing but that wary, frozen stance and that bleak and icy stare trained unwaveringly on me as if I were a spectre from the dead. Something really was wrong.

The story unfolded when PG came back from her unhappy ride. How Clyde had been one minute perfectly OK, then suddenly seemed to go mad. Reared and whinnied with no warning. Would not be touched.. Panicked too much to have his tack put on. Had had to be left there while an alternative mount was found. Seemed to recognise nothing and no-one. Backed away and froze when anyone approached, wide-eyed in terror, poised for flight.
At a loss we stood there: and it occurred to me that a pony in pain might behave very much like this one, and when Clyde got into peeing position and stood there for a long time without success it became clear we needed help.
Pat strode into the barn, all no-nonsense briskness in the face of our jibbering terror, went into his stable and snapped a headcollar on. I think she had probably suspected some panicky overreaction on the part of the two greenest, most hopeless and most adoring owners at the yard… but when Clyde, teeth bared and ears flat, tried a savage double-barrelled kick as she went to take his rugs off, even she looked startled: “Right! Oh, that’s not ‘Clyde’, is it. Off to the lunge pen with you my lad and let’s see what all this is about.”

At the end of a lunge-rein Clyde trotted and even cantered without apparent distress, he seemed unusually chancy of temper and prone to kick, but there was no sweating, no breathing distress, and his eyes were bright and clear. “Well, he’s not ill, I’m sure,” down-to-earth Pat said, “I can see he’s NOT himself, but… I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about.” Nothing to worry about? While it was a relief to know my various diagnoses of kidney infection, colic, ragwort posioning and brain tumour were all off the mark, a character transplant seemed potentially even more disastrous! The very reason Clyde has been such a happy story for us has not been the champion’s rug, the triumphs and rosettes, but that he has been such an easy pony, so dependable, so trusty that even a hopeless novice city-girl pony-mum can take him off in the van for a day and not think, even once that here in her care is a huge beast with a mind of its own, nor that her slight and nervy daughter stays in the stable alone with a huge, essentially stupid animal of a species which panics easily and kicks out with half a tonne of brute strength. How much damage would this do to her confidence?

Apparently the same thing crossed Pat’s mind, for her next words were: “ .. so now on you get and take him up to the top school. Yes, alone. Yes, to ride him, did you think I meant to give ‘im a look at the view, loike?!” Something about practical Pat’s scathing tones did the trick and PG took him off, a-quake and a-tremble. All went well, he seemed to settle under saddle, but it was several days before our Clyde was ours again, tending to panic at the sight of people, a dung fork, his water bucket, and his shadow, and a full week before PG regained her confidence in that easy, trusting bond they seem to have. What did our brave, calm, friendly pony conjure up from shadows that so terrifed him he lost his trust in even us? If only we could read their minds. If only they could talk.