You know the age-old story: girl meets boy. Boy likes girl, girl likes boy. Girl happens to be secret pony girl, and boy turns out to own multiple horses. Match made in heaven and they both literally ride off into the sunset — perfect. Or is it really?
Many horsey people often wish for a horsey partner, but over the last four years I have learnt having an equine element in a relationship can lead to some rather ‘interesting’ situations...
Everything was going well, and we had been going out for a few months when He suggested that I came along to his next polo match. While He did other types of riding, polo was the real focus of the family with matches most weekend in the summer. I, however, was a complete polo newbie.
“Since you know horses,” He said, “would you mind being my groom for the day? I hate to ask but it makes life so much easier.”
I had aided friends competing at national showing competitions and one-day events, so I was delighted with the idea — what a good way to score good girlfriend points! Plus, polo — a day of long floaty dresses and champagne — would surely be a doddle compared to my keeping grey ponies grass-stain free before their show class, or getting a brood of children that didn’t belong to me to the right dressage arenas on the correct pony on time.
Sadly, it wasn’t as straightforward as I had hoped. Having successfully arrived at the polo grounds with three ponies, I first came unstuck when looking at the pile of leather on the grass that was supposedly a bridle. Struggling to discern which part was the noseband, I tried to recall whether any of these bits had featured on the Pony Club tack poster that once hung in my room. They hadn’t.
He came over to add running reins to the pile, at which point I had to admit defeat. After being relegated to saddles (I didn’t even offer my services with the bandaging) He appeared looking worried.
“I’m really sorry to ask, but the match starts in 10 and we’ve been summoned for a team talk — please can you plait the tails? I know you can do it — just like when you do your hair.”
I paled. Plaiting four horses tails in 10 minutes? I couldn’t even remember the last time I had plaited one horse. I didn’t want Him to be the laughing stock of the match if I muffed it up. Why did polo ponies even need plaits — it could hardly be for turnout reasons like dressage and showing? But before I could protest, He was off, so I gingerly set to work.
Ten minutes later, one horse had a plait that even Valegro himself would be proud to sport. He came over to the lorry looking confused.
“What on earth is that?” He exclaimed.
“A plait… You asked me to plait the horses’ tails,” I replied.
“That’s not how you plait! THIS is how you plait a horse.” And with that, He grabbed the tail of the next horse along, just below the dock, simply dividing the hair into three sections and doing a basic, non-Pony Club, non-French plait.
Adding to my humiliation, He even had the audacity to look up at me like I was the mad one…
With plait-gate partially resolved and three ponies finally tacked and ready, I was sent to change into my jodhpurs and hop on the horse needed for the second chukka.
I must say, when I accepted the invitation to the match, I thought I’d be cheering Him on from the sidelines, drink in hand, generally looking fabulous. The reality couldn’t have been further from that.
Despite feeling a capable groom for other disciplines, polo is different due to the sheer amount of horse you need to deal with the whole time. I spent the duration of the 40-minute match being dragged around the pony lines with a horse in each hand — one sweaty beast cooling down which had just played a chukka and was determined to use me as an itching post, and one pony being warmed up for the next chukka who was keen to get going and on its toes.
In between skiing round the pony lines, I took the ponies to the pitchside for the swap at the end of every chukka, where He would leap from one horse to the next and berate me for again not “bringing the 53,” whatever that meant.
As the last chukka played, I went to hose off two ponies (realising I had seen no more polo than when I arrived). An older woman was also there, looking bedraggled as she tried to manage four horses. Sweaty, tired and stinking of horse, I noticed we were both staring at the group of glossy girls sunning themselves next to the pitch, looking fantastic.
“They,” my new companion said, “are the non-horsey polo WAGS. You made the same mistake that I did, of letting him know you were horsey. Bad luck…”
Later, when the ponies were all sorted, and I learnt from a non-horsey WAG that His team had in fact won. He came rushing up to me beaming.
“Thank you so much for your help. There’s drinks in the clubhouse and you must come and meet everyone — I’ve brought your make-up bag and dress. There’s a portaloo over there where you can go and get changed.”
It’s lucky he dashed obliviously back to the clubhouse at that point, because after a long and hot day the thought of trying to look respectable and having to stand next to glam girls meant my sense of humour was dangerously close to failing me at that point.
As we drove home in the lorry He was in a cheery mood.
“Wasn’t today fun? I’ve got a match in two weeks’ time when you’re next staying so we can do the same again. Won’t that be great?'”
As happy as I was for Him today, I realised then that any hope of being a glamorous non-horsey WAG were firmly off the table. Mentally, I made note to call the club the next day and book some lessons — if I was destined to rush around in jodhpurs being the horsey-girlfriend-groom, then I would jolly well learn how to play so that at least He could one day return the favour!