One of my most vivid childhood memories is standing on the decking in the garden of our old house, clutching a purple dandy brush. I’d just finished an ‘Own a Pony Week’ at my local riding stables, and received a rosette and a brush as prizes. I carefully placed it with the rest of my grooming kit – all purple, of course. The brushes still had that tack-shop smell, slightly leathery and plasticky. The week was my first experience of having my own pony. I’d mucked out, stuffed hay-nets (poorly), turned horses out (even leading two at a time), and learnt about rugs. Every day, I’d groomed my pony, ridden her, made up her feed (I knew it off by heart), and put her to bed.
And now it was over, with nothing left but my spotless dandy brush. The sadness I felt that day was unbearable. Even now, over a decade later, I can still feel that heart-wrenching realisation: tomorrow, I’m not going up to the stables. I’m not riding ‘my’ pony.
I wasn’t lucky enough to own my own pony when I was younger. Instead, I had to settle for riding lessons every two weeks, reading every single horsey book I could get my hands on (Heartland, Sandy Lane Stables and The Saddle Club were my favourites), and leaving the Classifieds section of PONY Magazine open on strategic pages around the house.
But my unwavering desire to own a pony helped me a lot. It taught me how to use Excel (trying to budget my pocket money into horse ownership); it got me through GCSEs, A-levels and university (want a horse = need to be rich = need a good job = need to do well at school); and it gave me a fairly decent seat (saying yes to anyone who started a sentence with ‘I’ve got a pony you could ride…’*).
And it also taught me about sacrifice. Many friends moved to London and have incredible jobs and lifestyles. For my career, working in London would open more doors than DPD drivers after an ASOS sale. But London (on my salary) means no horses. Other friends travelled for years, still occasionally taking extended breaks from work to jaunt around the world. But travelling for so long meant no horses. And even normal things, like going out every Friday and Saturday night was a big no. There was a horse to get up for in the morning, and driving to the yard for 8am after getting in at 6 was never going to happen. That’s among all the other things: once-yearly haircuts; no new clothes or shoes; rarely going out for drinks or dinner; not having any savings for a house deposit.
I’m perpetually poor. My hair is made up of more split-ends than actual hair. And I’m always flogging my nicer clothes on eBay to raise funds for something Floyd needs. But would I change any of it?
Never. Not in a million years.
It’s been a tough couple of weeks recently, with my boyfriend leaving to go travelling. It’s sapped away my motivation to ride, write, or to do anything really. And it hasn’t helped that someone swapped my eager-to-please, cheery chap with a snake-headed beast with an attitude problem. This is the closest I’ve ever come to regretting my decision to buy Floyd instead of that plane ticket to Australia.
Then this morning, when he was well and truly knackered after a jump lesson the previous evening, he was quiet (and therefore behaving). And on the way to the field, he paused and put his nose up to my face, breathing out clouds of steam in the foggy air. Yes, I know he was just trying to bite my coat, but in that moment of calm, I realised I needed to channel my younger self.
I needed to look back at the sheer desperation I had to own my own horse. And I needed to use that feeling to re-motivate myself. Ten, 15, 20 years ago I would’ve sold my brother for the chance to muck out my very own horse in the pouring rain**. Now I have that opportunity nearly every day, and I can’t forget how hard I’ve worked for the privilege
He’s challenging at times. And he’s always going to have an attitude***. But he’s intelligent, talented, cheeky, bold and athletic. I mean, he went out to his first BD competition, showed the judge his belly (scoring a 3 in the process), and still won the section.
He’s caused me blood, sweat and tears. Many, many tears. And I’m sure that sitting his bucks has ruined my back. But then I think how proud my stubborn, sad ten-year-old self would be, and I’m ready to keep going. Because she didn’t care about boys, or parties, or getting a tan. She just wanted a pony to love and a reason to have a grooming kit.
* Usually followed by ‘…because my children are too scared to ride it anymore / because he’s a known child-destroyer and no-one in a 3,000-mile radius will buy him.
** Now taking offers: will now exchange brother for trailer or 3.5-ton lorry. (Sorry pal).
*** But in all honesty, I wouldn’t feel safe going around a cross-country course without that spark.