I was pony shopping earlier this year, combing through endless adverts, and to me of all the reasons people give for selling a pony, the saddest is the phrase “child lost interest.”
It conjures up an image of a distraught mum sobbing into a box of Kleenex at the kitchen table with a pile of unopened schedules, which would once have been seized upon and pored over, lying neglected beside her.
Or the same mum walking backwards towards the stables, calling her child’s name, with all the fried eggs from a bag of Haribos on her outstretched palm. The child, engrossed in Snapchat, looks up and hesitates for a moment, tempted, before shaking her mane of hair and trotting back to her friends online.
To me, the concept of losing interest in horses and riding is totally incomprehensible, but then I was a deprived pony-mad but pony-less child, and have spent my adult life playing catch up.
I appreciate it could just be me who feels this way, projecting ahead to the inevitable day in our own household (although I have heard credible stories of desperate mothers paying their children to keep riding, so suspect I am not alone).
There are probably thousands of parents who breathe an audible sigh of relief when little Amelia or Freddie announces that ponies are no longer for them, and immediately start pondering what they can do with all the money they have saved. The sporty convertible, the villa in Spain, the new kitchen. Or simply the luxury of lying in on a Sunday morning.
Up until now I have always had a “spare” child coming along behind as each of the older ones has reached the point where they want to consign their jodhpurs to the recycling bin. But whenever my youngest, my last remaining rider, decides to quit that really will be it. I will finally have to confront the question of what people who don’t ride do with their weekends.
In some cases of course “child lost interest” covers a darker truth. The child has actually lost interest, but only because the pony has bolted/bucked/dumped them on the ground so many times that they would have needed the perseverance of a single minded salmon, working its way upstream to its mating grounds through a particularly violent stretch of rapids, to keep getting back on.
There comes a point when the alternatives — ballet/cricket/bungee jumping/skydiving/parkour (that so-called sport that involves jumping unimaginable distance between high rise buildings without the help of a pony) — all seem like safer leisure options. It is therefore important that, when you see this tragic claim in an advert, you are on your guard.
But if you ever find yourself at the ringside asking the mum next to you: “Which child is yours?” and she replies, on the verge of tears: “Oh, none of them. Mine have all given up, but I just can’t help myself”, try to be sympathetic and offer tissues and chocolate. Heaven forbid, it could be any one of us next.