It’s Easter, which brings the first big competition weekend of the year. I am bracing myself for one of the occupational hazards of competition life — the Pony Club tack inspection.
In one of my “life’s too short” moments a couple of years ago I booked myself and my daughter into a ranch holiday in Colorado. We had a fantastic time.
I did, however, suffer one indignity during our stay. Instead of following instructions to dismount like a cowboy by keeping my left foot in the stirrup until my right had hit the ground, I tried to dismount English style by taking both feet out, leaning forward and swinging my right leg over back of saddle to slide down.
I suddenly found myself hooked to the western pommel by the underwire of my bra, with my feet dangling about a foot off the ground. I was completely helpless.
Too far down to get back on, unable to stretch to the ground to get off. I tried to appear nonchalant, as though I had done it deliberately — a bit like Boris Johnson waving to the crowds from his highwire in the Olympic year, or Winnie the Pooh humming while stuck in the doorway of Rabbit’s house — until a female wrangler came within calling distance and helped me to get down.
This was of course my own stupid fault and not especially life-threatening. My horse was clearly used to his hapless English clients getting themselves into a pickle and stood like a rock.
I once witnessed a rather more dramatic and dangerous wardrobe malfunction while we were waiting our turn at the ringside in a big working hunter class. The fences were on the big side, to say the least, and all the waiting competitors already had an unhealthy, greenish tinge to them.
We watched a Welsh cob make his way round the course. He was coping but obviously finding it quite a stretch. He turned, blowing hard, into a fence that faced the collecting ring. As he took off, his girth snapped completely. He kept going straight on while his jockey flew to the right and the saddle flew to the left. We all gasped.
I try to bear this incident in mind when faced with the rigours of a pony club tack inspection. There really is a point to them!
While they vary in intensity between disciplines, the prize for the fiercest one of all must go to mounted games. Every stitch on every strap is inspected with a fine tooth comb. We Pony Club mums have all gnashed our teeth at having to sprint 500m back to the lorry to scrabble around for a replacement stirrup leather, because the one we were foolish enough to put on the pony has the tiniest wisp of thread sticking out.
However, mounted games is a high speed, quick-turning, adrenaline-fuelled and therefore potentially dangerous sport, and we are all quite fond of our children, so we have learned to take it on the chin.
But as tack inspectors up and down the country start to limber up for the weekend, I would just ask them to remember that we mums aren’t getting any younger. Last year’s high-speed mission to find a missing Pony Club badge in 80 degree heat with seconds to spare before the area dressage nearly finished me off.
One horsey dad I know told me at a recent competition that he had just achieved a personal best — three inspections in a row passed first time without a single dash to the lorry park. Respect!
Have a very happy Easter everyone. And thank you to Swang Pony Club Centre for this week’s photo.