James and the Giant Gaff

1979 and my three eldest children share the same pony……a fat would-be Shetland called Willie. That is, until Mr Snow arrived on the scene. Willie was a black, rotund, hairy character with a most endearing habit of lying down to roll when the mood took him, even when being ridden. So dismounting was a skill the children learnt very quickly.

One Saturday morning on a Bank Holiday weekend and  ‘en famille’ we were looking at bedroom furniture in our local store. We knew the owners quite well. All was calm, no piped music in those days, just  the odd couple browsing beds and wardrobes, some flicking through carpet samples. Our friend James, the proprietor , wandering through his domain, spotted us deliberating over a new bed and came over to pass the time of day ( and hopefully secure a sale).

A quiet, respectful and gentle man with a kindly manner, he knew our children well and made small talk with them; hands behind his back rocking on the balls of his feet slightly.Willie I can see him quite clearly as he looked down on my small son and asked ‘ So, what are you going to do this weekend then? Are you going to get your Willie out?’





We thought we knew every trick in the book…….on how to box a pony for travelling. We had had everything from miniature Shetland ponies that happily hopped into the back of a Land-Rover to huge beasts that lumbered into a wagon without a glance behind, but sadly more than our fair share of obstinate and difficult loaders. But ‘Misty’ was a mystery. Misty was one of the ponies on our livery yard. She was a very fit and agile competition pony who had never enjoyed travelling, so my belief was that she needed a calm environment for this procedure. We were always there to advise or help when asked, but generally left the family to their own devices; and anyway, if it was a show day there was always plenty to do, we were usually run off our feet in any case.
Misty’s owners, the Grackle family, parents and two more than competent riders kept their three ponies with us and were successful show jumpers.

We tried to take a selection of different ponies and riders to competitions from the yard each weekend. The trouble problem?] was that Misty would hold us up.

The whole family would get more and more anxious as the preparations neared completion, voices would get higher pitched and I was often asked to complete the plaiting of the manes  and tails of the ponies going to the show as their ponies would not stand still,  their owners’ ‘joie de vivre’ rubbing off on them.
One particular week, we left the wagon available for them to quietly try the loading process without the buzz of an impending show. Every evening they would arrive with fresh resolve and sit for hours on the ramp feeding Misty; if she ventured in,they fed her and made much fuss of her. Hoping for a repeat success the following evening they would be heartened, but still they struggled.
Finally, when Sunday came around again and everyone else’s ponies were ready, rugged and booted for the journey,
Mr Grackle announced that a mate at work had offered him a great idea for loading a pony. You took the pony a little way from the ramp of the wagon, turned him several times until he was slightly bemused [and disorientated?] and then directed him or her at the ramp as sharply as you could. It worked a treat, he said. Never failed. Job done.
It sounded worth a try, so we asked bystanders to stay very quiet and well away from the area and let Mr Grackle have his first and best chance at a trouble-free loading. Taking the lead-rope firmly in his right hand under the pony’s head and the remainder loosely in his left hand he started the circles as described .Always walking the pony away from him to avoid trodden toes. It was going nicely and the pony was obediently doing what he wanted. Hope he wasn’t over-doing it, this was going on for quite a while! There was plenty room for him to straighten up and encourage Misty up the ramp. Still he continued circling.
Finally he took a look at the ramp himself and made towards it…………oops!. He was too dizzy himself, and fell flat on the
ramp.   Ah well!

A Prize Idiot

RosetteCarol was a member of our Riding for the Disabled Group and was chosen to ride at the Mini-Olympics one year.

Although she was a capable rider, she was very timid and chose to enter with somebody leading her pony. As she was small of stature her pony, Candy, wasn’t very big, which meant as we trained she could easily lip-read – a necessity, as she was hard of hearing.

She was a super little rider at the walk and trot so we were fortunate to have a ‘test’ to teach her which was not too demanding.

Week after week we practiced until we were foot perfect…synchronised, and Carol no longer needed any instructions from me. Finally, our dress code was co-ordinated. I would don my felt ‘showing’ hat, and the whole thing would be complete. Candy’s tack would shine like new, and our leather lead rein would glisten in the autumn sun-light as we daintily made our way around the designated area.

An extra special final lesson the night preceding our departure was organised. All was going smoothly, until to my complete and utter horror…idiot, idiot, idiot that I was….I realised that I had taught Carol the wrong test! I tried not to let the panic show in my face, as I uttered in subdued tones to my husband what I had just discovered. “I’ve taught Carol the wrong test”.

“What”, snapped Carol, from a distance of 10 metres. “The wrong test”?  Oh no, she’d just lip-read the conversation!

Naturally, I reassured Carol that I would learn the new test overnight and all would be well. Honestly. And pale-faced and anxious she was taken home. My insides were knotted  knowing that through my negligence  Carol was now worrying about her big day. And so was I!

The competition site was set on a wet and very windy hill-side. The rules dictated that the lead-rein had to stay reasonably slack, our shoulders parallel and we were both to look forward all the time. The rules dictated that she learn the test off by heart, with no prompts from me….ahem. But, I had to rely on her hearing me…. ahem.   So, this was my first shot at being a  ventriloquist.

“Gork on”, I try, hoping that that would be just loud enough for Carol to hear and she would nudge Candy  into the gork/walk as I had indicated, whilst not loud enough for the  judges to hear. I tried then  with my body to suggest that Candy turned to the right and then I proferred  “ And chwot”… ‘trot’. And later we had “shirkles” and “shtand”. And a final “shalute”. Well, no glaring faults. Carol was smiling.

What a surprise to be given a ‘shecond” prize!

Mother Hen ….Always

Hats off to Louise

Hats off to Louise

If you have a Pussycat, a Treacle, a  Candy and a Bridget, a posse of other  riding school ponies and oft times a box of Golden Retriever puppies, as well as an obligatory  tolerance for teenage hormones, you may be bestowed with  the honorary title of Mother Hen. I was.

In another life, starting around 27 years ago, I began with a potato field ,an enterprise that grew into a veritable monster, a  full blown  Equestrian Centre that began as a little Riding School. The clientele flocked and before long I could not leave the house without a string of children, from toothless to hormonal, at my heels.  Following me was a means to an end….. a pony.  Apart from my own brood of one son and three daughters, husband, and a live-in father, my maternal instincts and love of horses  assured us all of a constant presence of pony-mad children.

They were happy days  and special times for many people, including ourselves.

Enterprising is the word, for cash was short and ingenuity was never far away to stay ahead of the game.

We used to make an annual pilgrimage to the East Midlands County Showground;  the largest show solely for ponies and horses I know of. A whole week of indulgence, hoof oil, plaiting thread, timetables, brow-bands, successes and disappointments.

One of our livery clients with us one year,  Louise, hugely successful in her own right now, was struggling with her confidence and ring-craft. Her father asked me to be firmer with her when we  worked the horse before her class. Louise’s problem was she couldn’t stop her cob, Riff-Raff, after the obligatory gallop.  Duly encouraged and sent into the ring to ‘strut her stuff’. Well, she certainly did get to gallop, and the judge, fortunately, was looking the opposite way as she took some time to ‘pull him up’.  The end result was a place in the evening finale. Despite the horse’s exuberance  she certainly merited  her place in  the evening  performance.

We tickled around and beautified the horse, his tack was impeccable, his coat shone like no other and his rider…….didn’t have the correct top hat and tails! So we begged and borrowed  (we didn’t steal) and in the  final moments the hat went on……..and dropped over her eyes !  Yikes !

Louise was distraught. What could we do ? Can we find another one now, at this last minute?

I ran into our horse-box and pulled out the very thing to ensure a snug fit and not too much discomfort for her head. A lovely big night-time sanitary towel, ‘Always’.  Just the thing!  Oh what a fuss! No, she wasn’t going to wear the hat with that inside! What if it fell off and the thing came out. ‘Well’, I said, ‘they’ll say «  Oh, Pat’s here again »’ ! More encouragement from the sidelines, more lipstick, more rouge for the cheeks and a slap on the bottom ( for the horse) and away she went. No turning back.

Tense moments, and again, she galloped and showed her horse off so well we could applaud no more.  Such success is so sweet, especially when your hat stays in place !

When, in 2003, we decided to move on to a quieter life,  (Ha Ha) our clients, past and present, each presented us with a book of memories, ……. a wonderful  reminder of special times with some extraordinary and special people. More of them later.

At  the beginning of the book of photos of past livery clients and their horse/pony ,  is a lovely picture of Louise and Riff-Raff ready to enter the ring that evening….and the offending article inside her hat. The inscription is as follows………..

Those were the days, those Happy Days, when you were our ‘Mother Hen’.

 We will remember you ‘Always’.