Goodnight – Tessa Waugh’s hunting diary: ‘Handy pony turns circus star’ *H&H Plus*

  • Complacency turns to terror as Tessa Waugh is left clinging to the reins of a rearing pony while her six-year-old gamely hangs on – before withdrawing from the ensuing handy pony class

    Sometimes I chastise myself for getting in a state before pony events; try to rationalise the churning stomach, loss of appetite and butterflies. This is not warfare or a difficult shift in A&E. Why get so uptight? And then something happens that justifies every dud emotion.

    Last weekend, Mary and Alec were doing their first proper cross-country course. Jack was entered for the side serving, a fun class for under-eights taking place beforehand. In my fevered imaginings, this should have been the most relaxing part of the day. Jack rides the old-timer, Josh, who is totally reliable in every situation. All I needed to do was lead him around some poles on the ground, complete a handy pony course and some mounted games.

    Complacency is never a good attitude. When it came to Jack’s turn in the “showjumping”, I didn’t even look at Josh as I walked forwards with the rope, expecting him to follow as usual. I was mildly surprised when my arm snapped backwards. Josh had rooted to the spot. “Come on,” I mumbled, tugging the rope to no avail.

    Looking back, something must have spooked him (the jury is still out about what –  yellow bag by the ringside, blue string fluttering in the breeze?) because his next move was to shoot backwards at a million miles an hour. I clung on and was completely bemused to see his front legs come off the ground, once, twice, three times and again.

    Now I was transformed from Mrs Relaxed leading kindly old campaigner to woman grappling rearing stallion in the Russian circus. The rears were getting bigger and while Jack was hanging on gamely, he wouldn’t manage it forever. In the background I heard a laugh and a jolly “well held” and saw red. This was not a floor show – the marvellous rearing pony and his six-year-old stunt rider – I needed help. “Can someone grab the child?” I spluttered.

    Fortunately, someone stepped in and grabbed Jack and it was all over as quickly as it had started. Josh cooled his jets sufficiently to go into the ring and Jack was cajoled back on to do his round, which was the usual steady affair. Josh behaved perfectly. He danced on his hindlegs again coming out of the ring – I still don’t know what caused it – but we’d got Jack off by that point. We didn’t risk the handy pony.

    Later on, I saw a pony bolt back to the trailers with its rider, jumping the collecting ring rope en route. Somewhere on the spot was another mother like me, sprouting more grey hairs, sealing in those frown lines. Call it schadenfreude but it was comforting, actually, to know that I wasn’t alone.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 17 September 2020