Character building and soul-destroying in equal measure, surviving a naughty first pony is a rite of passage. The Horse & Hound team recounts some of their early memories of life in the saddle...
Pippa Roome, magazine editor
“I had this pony called Fly (pictured above) on loan and he was a total saint except that he did have a wicked buck and drop shoulder manoeuvre which he used to drop me a few times. Mum and I spent a good deal of time chasing him across the common after I’d fallen off and I learnt never to let go of the reins if you fall off, which I’m pretty good at to this day.
“He also wasn’t shod at all when I first rode him and later only in front and he used this as an excuse to walk as slowly as possible at all times when on any sort of hard or stony surface. I remember going to my first show — me, a friend and Mum — and hacking there and back, which took about 90min each way for a pretty short ride.
“At the end of the day we were so exhausted and after we’d left the pony at his home (he still lived with his actual owners in our village at that point although he later came to live with us) we walked to my Gran and Grandad’s and basically collapsed into their house and they gave us drinks and food and drove us home. Grandparents are the best.”
Madeleine Silver, features editor
“Oh it’s all so humiliating, I’ve tactically deleted most of the memories of my childhood ponies. There was the Exmoor who would only reach the other end of the bending poles if his field mate was standing at the opposite side of the ring — a logistical nightmare — the New Forest who would put her head down to eat grass mid-canter so I would slide down her neck in slow motion, and the Connemara whose only reliable characteristic was that we could be certain that every show would begin with the commentator calling ‘loose horse’ as she made another break for freedom from the trailer.
“Piecing all those early ponies together 20 years on, I can’t help now wondering if these recurring blunders might have been more to do with my own Thelwell rider status… On the plus side, by the time I was in my mid-teens and had graduated onto a horse who vaguely did what I wanted him to do, I felt like I had been gifted a Badminton-winning prodigy. He was God.”
Carol Phillips, website editor
“I remember riding a beautiful chestnut pony with white socks and a flaxen mane and tail called Fly, who used to always have to be rear-file in the riding school because if another pony got too close behind him, he would spin round and charge at it teeth bared.
“Being rear file was fine until the exercise required the lesson to do something like cantering from the front of the ride to the back. I remember falling off him four times in one lesson when he spun around before vowing to never ride him again.
“Taking pity on me, my instructor agreed for a while, before deciding to stick me back on him much to my distress some months later. My riding must have progressed so I was slightly less of a passenger at this point, as he proceeded to be a total angle and I had the most brilliant lesson, including jumping a row of barrels for the first time. I was then hooked and asked to ride him every week until it was decided that I really was too tall for him and I had to move on something larger.”
Rachael Turner, news writer
“My first pony, Pippin, was a very pretty 12.2hh New Forest mare. She looked like butter wouldn’t melt but was an absolute minx. Her tricks including dashing out of the trailer backwards, galloping home on hacks and pulling off her bridle in showing classes. I wouldn’t hear a word against her though and was beside myself when I outgrew her.”
Martha Terry, sub editor
“Harlequin was a really zippy 14.2hh, thoroughbred x New Forest. I wish we’d had pony racing in my day because he was so speedy. He used to gallop everywhere, the moment he set foot on grass he’d tuck his pretty head in and charge off, which was great fun, until I took him hunting. I simply could not stop him overtaking the master.
“My hands were rubbed raw with blisters and I was crying with embarrassment and aches. I was finally asked to take my pony home, but couldn’t get him to leave the party, when a lovely master, the late Sir Willie Aldous, came alongside me, and took Quin and me hacking round the fields for an hour to try to get him to calm down so I could rejoin the hunt. He never did, but I remember that kindness 25 years on!”
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Alex Robinson, showing editor and features assistant
“After moving from my first pony who was the ultimate little gem (an Irish bog pony called Sydney we bought from a dealer), I got a 12hh chestnut Welsh section A gelding called Cosy, who was anything but.
“He might have been small (and so was I at the time) but he was the strongest thing I think I’ve ever ridden in my life. I will never forget going in the Nursery Stakes at the Ponies UK Summer Championships, jumping the first two fences and then getting tanked off with a flat out gallop round and round the arena. A man who was standing at the side of the ring had to jump under the fence and grab him before leading him out, with me crying.”
Gemma Redrup, online journalist
“My first pony was called Treasure. Never was a pony so poorly named. My late grandparents left me some money, and aged six, I paid £600 for the 12hh chestnut mare. She was wonderful in many ways but had a real ‘character building’ streak.
“Her greatest accolade was being banned from our local Pony Club, the Burghley. The tipping point was at my first mini Pony Club camp in Burghley Park in 1996. Treasure had a fantastic knack of rearing up and falling over backwards (I hasten to add, there was no veterinary reason for this). When she did it twice on the final day of camp, her pièce de résistance being dumping me in a thick patch of nettles, the powers that be said enough was enough. And rightly so. Despite some great days with us and plenty of rosettes (usually for improving/trying rather than winning), she went on to teach countless tots to ride in our local riding school, where she fully lived up to her name.”
Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound magazine (7 June 2018) for our pony special, where top riders remember their naughty first ponies, and we find out how to find the dream child’s pony
For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday