I learned to ride as a child. Living in the country it was what girls did and riding was an afternoon activity once a week at school. All the girls rode, so I did too. I was OK at it, but never in the prize winning league. My memories include: being unable to convince ‘my’ pony to go over any jumps ever; being left hanging from a low branch by another pony determined to find the shortest way home on a cross country ride; and losing a toenail when a dozy horse accidentally lent on my foot when I was holding him the stableyard. I’m sure there were good bits too, trotting along country lanes, spending time grooming and catching ponies instead of having to play football on riding afternoons, but of course it is always the dramatic incidents that burn themselves in Technicolor on the brain.
I left riding behind as I moved into my teens and my only subsequent close encounter with a horse years later in Italy left me with a broken rib, when I fell off it rather gracefully as it shied at a pheasant and bolted for home.
Our son was fascinated with horses as a toddler, but when he had the chance of a pony ride at the age of four or five, refused even to get on one. His sister followed suit and, as he turned out to be allergic to horses, learning to ride was never on the agenda, even though we live in the country with a dozen studs and horse farms around us.
It was Youngest who seemed to have been born with the intention to ride. This year after a couple of years of wistful reminders, I finally got it together and organized riding lessons for her. Middle Daughter took two weeks of watching to decide that she wanted to learn too. Son had one lesson and no more, due to lack of any real interest, although he was actually pretty good.
So this last year I have had to rediscover ponies almost from scratch. I started off fairly tentatively, holding the ponies while the girls mounted, and being dragged off to whichever succulent patch of vegetation attracted their interest. Last week I finally found that I’d made a massive leap of confidence around them. I took the two girls to their second pony show at their riding school on my own, as a pressing engagement with a rugby match kept the boys at home. Youngest had opted to enter the best walk and trot off the lead class, but Middle daughter, less confident, went for the on the leading rein classes. Both wanted to do the pole on the ground class, where they go round a jumping course on the lead rein, but with all the jumps at ground level.
It was one of the few gorgeous sunny days, we’ve had this spring. Even at eight thirty in the morning it was warm in the sun, but still chilly in the shade of the pines along the side of the show ring. Ponies accumulated, riders searched out riding hats and numbers and consulted the list to see who they were riding. Parents got out folding chairs and picnic boxes and bagged a spot in the shade.
First off Middle Daughter was on Rane, a little grey pony. It was my duty to lead him round the ring and eventually persuade him into a trot. It felt more like being a tow truck as he started off resisting all efforts to do more than walk fast with his neck sticking out horizontally, while I tried to run in the deep sand. Eventually he obliged for a short stretch, just long enough for her to show off her rising trot and for me to reacquaint myself with my running muscles.
Later on, the pole on the ground event made me realize just how unfit I am. Persuading Rane to trot over a course of ten jumps in soft sand had my lungs protesting at this unaccustomed demand for their services. We got around without any mishap, though I’d wondered if I would make the last jump… Youngest was supposed to go on next, but the riding teacher took one look at me and sent someone else out. As I tried to look cool and unpuffed, I was given away by a tickly cough from the recesses of those poor abused lungs. Luckily my husband had arrived by then, jubilant after a triumphant finale to the Tri-nations rugby series. I handed over the reins without any more ado and it was him who led Youngest and Ginger round the course, her confidently telling him which way to go, as he hadn’t had a chance to walk the course.
The girls were thrilled with their rosettes, a first place for Youngest and second for Middle Daughter in the walk, and fourth place for both in the trot. I reckoned all the mothers (not many Dads there due to the rugby match) deserved rosettes too for their clear rounds over the poles. I’m going to have to get in training before the next show.. pony boot camp anyone?