The diary of the homemade livery yard: ‘Halfway through the lead-rein class he turned into a world class stealth ninja’

  • My children continue to fill me, in equal parts, with both enormous pride and enormous embarrassment.

    The farrier came recently and I took the opportunity to teach my toddler, Jasper, about the van, the forge and to be careful of the red hot metal shoes that come out of it. I taught him the name of the “fa-rri-er”. Then I repeatedly pointed at the van and reiterated, “Hot! Hot!” while performing an Oscar-worthy act of burning my hand. The poor boy got the two rather confused however, and spent the rest of the morning pointing at Chris, the farrier, exclaiming, “Hot! Hot!”


    The ‘hot’ farrier

    Now the farrier thinks that I am some sort of desperate, passion-starved man-eater using my toddler as a medium to relay my lust. Brilliant.

    Halfway through the summer I managed to convince my husband, Jerome, that ‘the yard’ needed a companion pony. So I immediately set about finding my six-year-old daughter, Ellie, a new best friend.

    Without too much searching I found Spice. He is a gorgeous little grey Welsh pony (section B) that a wonderful girl, Yasmin, and her mother, Tracey, kindly agreed to loan to us. Spice had a very successful showjumping career with Yasmin, winning medals at national championships and would happily jump 4ft fences.

    Ellie and Spice

    Ellie and Spice

    Spice made the transition from semi-retired competition pony to beginner lead-rein pony with the utmost patience and tolerance. Every day that this pony did not break my daughter, I loved him more and more. He quickly became a large and very important part of our family and recently we took Ellie to her first show.

    I chose a quiet, local showing show. Having not quite yet mastered rising trot off the lead-rein, dressage and showjumping were off the agenda for Ellie and I saw showing as the easy option. Surely you just turn up looking relatively clean, gaze sweetly in the general direction of the judge and have a little walk and trot around the track? How naïve.

    For a start, ‘relatively clean’ was a challenge. Spice is not a show pony. He is not clipped, he is turned out every day and by choice thinks that he best suits a grass-stain-green/mud-brown colour. I had recently hacked at his mane with scissors, giving him the equivalent of the classic ‘bowl’ hair cut and while spraying the soles of his feet with Foot Master purple spray, accidentally sprayed half of his lower leg. Purple spray does not come off. Ever.

    Ellie and I at the show

    Ellie and I at the show

    At the show, I soon came to realise that buying a brand new white numnah and girth had simply demonstrated just how comparatively dirty our pony was, despite having had his annual bath the previous evening.

    A ‘little walk and trot around the track’ proved elusive as, after warming up in saintly fashion, Spice found entering the competition ring far too exciting and performed admirable caprioles every time we passed the gate and western style spins every time we halted. Halfway through the lead-rein class he turned into a world class stealth ninja and managed to wriggle out of his bridle without me noticing, with the child still on board in the line up. I looked away for two seconds, looked back and I was holding a lead-rein with an empty, limp bridle attached to it, the reins around the neck of a naked-headed pony in the hands of a child who was none the wiser.

    Charming the judge became a lost cause when a nice lady who was assisting in the lead-rein class came over to help me dismount Ellie and re-dress Spice in his bridle after the Houdini incident. I bantered with her “What a little s***!” the pony was being, only to realise later in the day that I had been talking to the afternoon classes judge! Again, brilliant. The only saving grace being that I also mentioned how out of character it was for him.

    Ellie showing off her rosettes

    Ellie showing off her rosettes

    All was not lost as, while we were not lead-rein or first ridden material on that day, being 20-years-old and the most sprightly pony in the ring, Spice bagged first place in the veteran class with ease. There may or may not have been only two competitors. The judge that placed him first was the one I had grumbled to about our pony’s behaviour earlier in the morning. Possibly a sympathy win. Spice really calmed down afterwards and behaved beautifully, as he usually does, to win some more well deserved placings and plenty of rosettes.

    Continued below…

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    I was hugely proud of Ellie. She was so incredibly brave when her pony was leaping around and so philosophical about it, for a six-year-old: “Mummy, I think Spice thinks he is going showjumping! It’s very exciting for him.” And the look of pride on her face when they started to get placed and win will be etched in my memory forever.

    Ellie has informed me that she would like to have jumped for the first time by the end of half term this week. Seven days? It’s a challenge, but I know our (only very occasionally cheeky) superstar pony, Spice, is the man for the job.

    A Christmas show is on the cards for Ellie and Spice (if she wants to go every weekend, she will have to start looking for sponsors!). In the meantime I need to start convincing Jerome that ‘the yard’ needs a 17hh schoolmaster.


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