The trials and tribulations of being mum to a pony rider

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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Horses in Our Lives

Among pony-girl’s array of predominantly horsy Xmas gifts was Monty Roberts’ The Horses In My Life. The book begins with the story of 15.2 hh Ginger, on whose back the tiny 4 year-old Monty is pictured proudly holding a riding trophy they had just won, the first horse he loved, even sleeping in his manger at nights for safety and comfort, until Ginger was taken and shot for the war effort. Lovely book about a wonderful man and some of his beloved special horses, Shy Boy, Johnny Tivio and Dually, for whom the trademark halter was named.

Pony-girl and I are passionate about old Monty, having once seen him work his magic in a chilly Cotswolds barn. Monty did a great ‘voice’ for the horses he was working with that night: "Know what this is, Jack?" "Dat’s a saddle. My uncle tole me about saddles". "And what did your Uncle say about them, Jack?" "He said ‘buck it off!’" “You haven’t bucked it off, Jack.” “You’ve tied it on!!”

On early rising: I come from a family of smug martyrs who love to rise at dawn.. They are convinced of the moral superiority of their habit – compared of course to mine, which is to wake midmorning and surf the net till dawn. There is something very much more right about their way, which they are never too shy to point out. I spend the same number of productive hours awake that they do, just shunted along a bit, but this isn’t good enough. Only the hours before 10am count. I’ve tried cutting into their self-praising litany “…and the dawn looked so beautiful when I saw it through the window as I was nearly done cleaning the kitchen” with “Good for you, and I broke a new personal record last night and stayed up till 4:45am! Maybe you will manage to stay up a bit longer tonight yourself,” but they and I know this is only bravado. It is right and good to get up at dawn and evil to stay up late. I expect God said so. Well, if my mum is listening I hope she is proud of me, because yesterday I was at the stables by 8am. Did I feel smug? As hell. Have I seen the light? No, it was worse than I ever suspected and I plan never to do it again.

J and I try to share out treats in the pony barn, if we can escape the eye of bolshy old Clyde, who stamps around in a vile temper if he spots us dishing out snacks he considers rightfully his. This means taking an ever larger bag of carrots for more and more horses. But who could resist Holly the nervy thoroughbred, who stands there patiently, ears alertly pricked, hopeful but polite: “My position in the herd pecking order is too humble to expect a share of the best food,”. Or Mangy and PegLeg, who are to be put down for obvious reasons – obviously they must be snacked whenever possible before it’s too late. Or Adorable, who is. And so daily the size of the carrot bag has increased so I am now humping along under the burden of a hundredweight sack like Santa every morning.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Singing Fir Surprise!

This is Clyde on Christmas Eve morning. Yes, I know. "But that is the handsomest pony that ever lived!" you are exclaiming, and I can't deny it.

Christmas is well underway here in MerryLand with daughter number one on her way home from London as I write, and a tray of Christmas goodies fresh out of the oven, including my first ever Yule Log that ever actually rolled like it was meant to - picture here The holly on top is plastic, as the berries on the real sprigs I culled from the neighbour's hollybush this morning look violently poisonous to me. It would be very bad luck if RPD should find one in his slice as he would grumble about it, right up to the moment the fatal stomach cramps set in.

I had a nuisance telephone-selling call this morning (on Christmas Eve?!) and was so surprised that I tripped over the wire of Douglas the Singing Fir. Ever eager, Douglas burst into life, rolling his great green eyes and bellowing out his raucous Christmas song with enormous enthusiasm. I let him sing till he had finished, even thoughtfully holding the phone a little closer to his mechanically flapping mouth.

There was silence at the other end of the line. Then "Murry Chrrrisstmas..... and a Happy NOO Year!" Douglas finished triumphantly.

I hope it made the caller's day. It certainly made mine.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Clyde has been a very bad pony, although he looked innocent enough today, his head poised alertly at the stable gate, his ears pricked ‘What are they doin’ ‘ere?’ and his snorty whiffle ‘Where’s me carrot then?’ But it was a sorry tale we were told by Shauna, the sweetest and meekest of the stablegirls, who works long hours for no money and only the faint hope of being asked to exercise one of the ponies as reward, confessing to us in a shy whisper: “I'm very very sorry... but this morning I put the barrow across the stable door when I was mucking him out… and he spotted a gap – and he just took off!”

And so it was our naughty Clyde escaped again, cloppered off determinedly into the yard evading all attempts at capture and nipped adroitly into the field where he munched as much grass as he could stuff into his whiskery chops before the Head Stable Girl arrived. I wouldn’t dare defy her myself, and Clyde knew the steely hand of authority when it clamped down on his mane (unbecomingly hogged). Back to the stable he went. Phew.

Well, it’s Christmas week, and Clyde has worn the reindeer antlers on several occasions. He looks very handsome in them. “Oh ma’poor boy!” Pat cried, rushing over to thump his neck with a calloused hand, “What ‘AVE they done to you!” and there he stood, nodding his Santa-hatted head and morosely agreeing with her, the traitor: “Ah’ know, ah’know, Pat. Owners from hell!” - but secretly I know Clyde is happy as a horse can be. He is polished till he shines, mucked out every time he lifts his tail, carrotted and appled daily, and Pony-girl loves him to bits. All that and a show browband in apple-and-fir velour!

A show browband... which leads me to the best big news of the week. Pat was watching J with Clyde yesterday, jumping a course with the big horses and striding himself right between the jumps (poor pony, he is small and has to take 2 and a half paces for every two of theirs.) Pat nodded approvingly - and delivered the ticket we've been waiting for:

“It’s time them two went show-jumping!”


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Tinsel, Cards and Memories

Great excitement at Nag’sR’Us as it is Christmas, reins are tinsel-bound, and cards are being handed out ‘To J and Clyde from Petra and Mr Foxy’ - ‘To Belle, Caresse and Teegee from J and Clyde’ – no dilemma about adding horse names to cards as not only does everyone understand that Clyde is a very important member of the family, but also at the stables we all define each other by horse. i.e, I am probably known as ‘you know, the woman with the unfortunate haircut. No? OK - the woman in the coat three sizes too big. Still no? Clyde’s Mum’ ‘Ahhh yes’.

Further excitement! there is a new horse at the stables, always a bonding thing. Pat recently travelled to Spain to purchase a horse for Mr TallHat, a man who already has two gigantic superstar nags. The other day we were hosing down Clyde who was tolerating this gloomily, and Pat summoned us into the Livery Barn, a place so closely guarded with its premium selection of show jumpers and eventers you need a security pass to enter. We needed no second invitation and stood cooing over the stable wall. Diamond is dark grey with black mane and tail, a fancy Spanish breed, dainty but strong. We saw him giving an exhibition in the bottom school the other day, everyone was hanging over the fence drooling at his fancy paces. One of his moves was so fancy, indeed, that I thought it was a spook and clutched the rail with white knuckles lest Mr TallHat was about to be ignominiously dumped. But apparently this sideways step with frisky heel flicks was some advanced dressage move. I guess it reminded me of Whisper, a mini-Diamond, and who could perform the exact same move, only not on command but when she spotted something really scary, like a puff of air, or another horse.

Talking of Whisper, I have been thinking about her a lot lately. She was a beautiful pony. Too good for us and our bumbling novice ineptitude, of which stolid Clyde is endlessly forgiving, but in another year……. She was ours for so short a time; we loved her and feared her in equal measure. I hope she found a good home where she is cherished and can flourish. I hope she wins everything at Sudeley Show next year so we can say ‘She was ours once. If only.....’

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Christmas Cards and Carrots

I received a Christmas card from the neighbour’s dog yesterday, which has prompted some debate over whether to add our pony’s name (and possibly a small hoofprint) to ours. Clearly not the ones to distant acquaintances who would assume Clyde to be a surly fostered teenager we were nurturing in the bosom of our family over Christmastide (for this reason, among others, it would have been better if our pony were named Fergy FourLegs or MightyMane IV). But at all? I detest such whimsy – from other people. But now we have a pony, it seems obvious that his name must be included. Obviously at least to other pony-owners, and in my reply to next door's dog.

But are we pony-owners at all? On Sunday J and her new friend were innocently walking through the stableyard wearing hats and bearing whips when from behind a stable door leaped out none other than Mrs Scowl, who is in charge of the stables in Pat’s absence. “What are you girls doing?” she hissed. “Riding,” I imagine they answered. “Which ponies are you riding?” “Clyde and Portly,” they whispered. “You must ASK before you take out the ponies! They are not your ponies!”

This puzzling exchange left the girls confused and uncertain, big-eyed and keen to spill out the whole exchange in breathless whispers when we returned. J and I are only too ready to be put off by this sort of thing, that Clyde is not our pony, as we never quite believe that he is, but rationally I know he is, as I have the purchase-price sized hole in my bank account and our first livery bill to prove it. What a blow to our confidence – we’ve only just got the hang of turning up at the stables and not humbly seeking out permission before we go and offer him an apple! Remember the Likit?

It was a most undermining day. Sarkia and Bichia, two teenage non-pony-owning girls told J that she was a) mucking out Clyde wrong b) that she should not ride him twice in one day and c) she should remember to put his rugs on before she left. To which she should have said a) but I like him to have plenty of muck to roll around in b) but it’s going to be such a laugh to see him hobble round on three legs c) actually I plan to spray him with icy water and leave him to drip dry. Or maybe the best response is to adhere to the worthy old adage never apologise, never explain, a motto I base my life around as much as possible, no honestly, I do, I’m really trying with it, it’s just that, erm…..

Dealing with this kind of teen-girl bitchery is difficult for J, who is unsophisticated and easily crushed, and she is still angsting over this. But in my persuasive sell months ago to persuade RPD into pony-purchase, I explained that the benefits of pony owning was not merely a jolly good thumping up and down on a saddle 5 times a week, Oh no!, but also the enhancement of Life Skills which would speed up J’s Personal Growth (though I’m relieved to report that I stopped short of 'she will find out who she really is'.) So J will have to cope. And then she will be a more rounded person, better fitted to deal with Life and Difficult People. And maybe we can train Clyde to kick Sarkia.

On the plus side, Clyde is so endearing that he would melt the stoniest heart (except RPD's). He raced back to his stable after his lesson all excited, to find the stable girls had forgotten to put his scoop of feed in his bucket. His harrumphing snorts of expectation turned to disbelief as he nosed the bucket round the stable, turned it upside down in his teeth and shook it, then raked through the straw with an energetic hoof, so strong was his belief that it must be there somewhere, his whiffles of surprise and disappointment heartrending to behold. It was time for the Emergency Carrot.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Winning Streak

I have a talent for winning competitions. This is the gift the good fairy dropped in my cradle, eschewing less useful gifts like beauty, charm, wealth, etc, and it makes watching for the postman just that little bit more fun, never knowing what’s going to flop onto the mat. Unfortunately, the bad fairy’s gift was to ensure that all the prizes I win are what that wonderful writer Betty Macdonald called 'toecovers'. Did I win the set of Fusion stable rugs in pink/purple combo from Your Horse magazine? nope, but the runner’s up prize of a hoofpick and under-the-tail wipes? In the bag. The brand new leather saddle at the local saddlery draw? Nope! But hey, those Winnie-the-Pooh leg bandages will look soooo cute on Clyde’s knobbly brown knees. That poem dashed off at 2am one morning for a lingerie store -? the top prize! The top prize in this case was a long, shroud-like nightie and a pair of pyjamas which are brick-red and see-through, though I sense they are not meant to be. My latest entry was for an online wordsearch, with a prize I knew was doomed to be mine win so I cleared a space on the shelf ready. It arrived today – a picture frame, a smiling mummy-pony with her big leg swung around the shoulders of her little foal, and two large holes in their tummies to insert my favoured photos.

Will my winning talent extent to local pony shows? Ohhh, the joy of bringing Clyde home, red-rosetted! The joy of displaying them on the shelf next to Reluctant-Pony-Dad's bowls trophy and the little cup pony-girl won for her Miss Polly Had a a Dolly dance! Talk of competitions has been thin at Nags’R’Us stables, despite my canny questioning, but I recently found a local livery yard which runs monthly mini-showjumping courses. That would suit Clyde perfectly, he is a mini-showjumper himself, and has done jumpoffs aplenty in the past. I see on the online result sheets that several people we know regularly enter these things on ponies just as ordinary as our precious little popsicle, so why not us? Pony-girl is keen as mustard, we have the WTP leg bandages - we’re ready to go!

But ‘go’ is just the problem. How do we go? We don’t own a trailer and RPD has been meanly impervious to hints that we really, really need one. A small, fairly crap one would do – it would go so perfectly with our small, crap car and small, crap pony. But no, we must walk, or beg a lift – “Hey Lady Carrington-Smythe, what say we pop little Clydey-boy in there alongside LordlyOne Champion the 2nd?” You can see the problem here. I don’t even know if the Clyde-PonyGirl team is up to competing in such an event – tho’ the jumps are only 2’-2’3” – Clyde can jump that high. Heck, I can jump that high. But it would be so embarrassing should we express our interest in competing and have everyone roll about laughing. But we are nothing if not resourceful and have come up with a plan. What say we just happen to be passing through the yard when all the show prospects are being loaded into the vans? Imagine our smiles, our brave send-off - “Good luck, good luck everyone! (No, Clyde! Back!) Oh poor Clyde, he thinks he’s going too! Yes, it IS hard for him to see all his friends going but he’ll be just fine, you all have a lovely time now!”

How can they resist? Watch this space - and I'll make a start on clearing that shelf.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Clyde UnCluttered

Because we now own a special saddle which is to be used only by pony-girl and not those who ride Clyde in the school, we have been given the key to a forbidden zone – the area known as Pat’s Tack Room. It is a treasurehouse of livery owners’ tack, with bridles and saddles of finest leather (sometimes 3 for each horse – general purpose, dressage, and jumping) and horses’ boots and bits of every variety. Pony-girl has an obsessive compulsion with bits and, if she dares, will rifle through them softly crooning ‘eggbutt snaffle… mullen-mouth Pelham with curbchain….weymouth set with french-link bradoon….’ Our saddle is a poor thing besides these and we tend to dart in and out apologetically, tugging our forelocks to tall men who sweep past in full hunt dress.

Clyde was a bad, bad boy in the lesson yesterday. He can’t stand to wait in a queue for his turn, though he fools you by looking like he’s going to – standing there patiently, staring into space, thoughtfully chewing on his cherry-roller - then
- wow! with no warning he dashes out of line and streaks for the jump, overtaking everything in sight and scattering the nervous thoroughbreds into panic-mode, flighting from the tiger the herd lookout just spotted. This is not good and sends Pat shrieking ‘you got control of that woild animal?!?!’ I’ve read that while it’s tempting to think this behaviour means ‘oh bless him, he really loves jumping!’ instead it can mean that the pony hates jumping and is desperate to get it over with. I don’t think Clyde hates jumping or loves it. He’s an old hand, a done-it-all-seen-it-all kinda lad, and I’m convinced he just knows it’s coming up and he gets fed up standing in line. A bit like RPD when he knows his dinner is due.

Pony-girl has a dream, a dream where she is at One with her horse, riding bareback across the rolling Cotswold prairies, her strong, noble beast unfettered by bridle or bit, guided only by telepathy and the merest twitch of her skinny knees. Unfortunately Clyde is the sort of pony who was delivered to us with a mouthful of clanking hardware and so strapped up with bits of leather that only small areas of pony were visible beneath the trappings. These trappings, I was told, are not to control the feisty little chap, heaven forbid! but merely to remind Clyde of the need to stop when his rider requests it. This is a reminder Clyde does quite often need, as various hints in this diary will have given away. However, pony-girl feels that bonding with Clyde is at the point where she can dispense with at least some of them, so today off came the martingale which prevents him throwing his head up wildly (I expect he has seen The Black Stallion) and the flash noseband, which clamps his muzzle shut to deter any attempts to spit out the bit, was loosened two holes.

I feel J’s dream has every chance of success. Clyde is telepathic. I know this because ‘Hmmm, what big feet he has! How heavy they look! See the way they are punching the ground, up and down like piledrivers as he walks! I wonder how it would feel to have one of those iron-clad cloppers clump down onto my toes’ had no sooner sprung into my mind than he was kind enough to demonstrate it to me.

It wasn’t his fault and I was able to refine my jump-lugging technique to accommodate the ensuing hobble quite nicely.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Christmas Clyde

I can’t believe it’ll be Christmas Eve in 3 weeks. When I angst and fret, my family pat me on the head - ‘but there’s ages to go yet – and don’t go to so much trouble this time!’. These same people will be expecting filled stockings on Xmas morning, a pile of wrapped presents under the beautifully decorated tree, and a perfectly planned meal at 2pm. Preceded by meals the day before and meals the 3 days afterwards, at which times the shops will be shut. Maybe they still believe in Elves?

Mind you Christmas shopping for pony-girl has been easy this year (in fact she has used up all credit for about six Christmases to come what with 1000lb of solid pony now stuck in that stable, with his munch-meter running 24/7 365 days a year). Christmas shopping for Clyde… hmmm.. My melting insides when he thrusts his soft muzzle into my hand haven’t blinded me to the fact that his little pony heart won’t throb with excitement when he sees his Christmas presents, but today was December 1st and he appreciated the surprise behind the first door of his advent calendar (cod-liver oil and tasty titbit). We’ve hung it on his tack peg, clearly, nay, boldly! labelled ‘Clyde’s Advent Calendar’ – do I hear a ghostly whisper of ‘Owners from hell…’ ?

Belle and Caresse are my partners in crime, since they coo and fuss over their piebald cob Teegee as if she is the most beautiful thing on earth. This is lovely to see, especially since Teegee is scarily ugly with a madly glaring wall eye and a nature so vile she has to be escorted through the yard with a runner at nose and tail: “Keep your horses clear! Back off, back off, I tell you!” But she is very loved and will, they tell me, be adorned with tinsel and have bells on her saddle on Christmas day, which will hopefully distract Pat’s vengeful eye away from Clyde’s little red hat with reindeer antlers.