The yard is abuzz. After the shock of the Referendum and the catastrophe of the Euros 2016, they had someone new to cheer on — tennis player Marcus Willis, who stormed through his first Wimbledon match despite being the lowest-ranked competitor in the men’s singles.
The little television was on a shelf at the end of the barn and was constantly tuned to Wimbledon. “Won’t the batteries run out?” asked the Show Pony. The others rolled their eyes in unison.
“Lovely to have something to be happy about,” said the Cob, who was a generally cheerful soul anyway. “I even rather like strawberries!”
“That cream stuff is rank, though,” said the Hack, raising her upper lip in a classic flehmen response.
“Talking of rank, he plays Federer next, so we should enjoy it while it lasts,” said the Hunter, gloomily.
“Don’t dismiss him too quickly,” argued the Cob, “no one expected Iceland to win the footie.”
“That’s because it’s a supermarket,” said the Show Pony, looking puzzled and triggering another collective eye roll.
“Anyway,” said the Hunter, slyly, “we should show our support for Marcus by taking off a shoe, like they did at Wimbledon yesterday. The farrier’s coming this morning, so we should wait until about 10 minutes after he leaves…”
1. Your horse looks immaculate. He’s been fed, his box mucked out, and he’s out in the field, contentedly munching. You, however, have been up since 5.30am, your hair is scraped into a Croydon facelift, you’re wearing pyjamas with a fleece and yard boots, and you haven’t even had coffee yet.
6. Your best friend suggests meeting up for a cocktail or two in town. It’s ages, she says, since you’ve been out. You protest that it wasn’t that long ago, but she reminds you that her children have started school since you last met — at their christening.
15. You’re going to a wedding so you dust off your posh frock, find an old summer hat and figure your three-year-old sandals will do. You’re invited to judge at a show so you buy a new dress with matching jacket, fancy hat, new shoes and white cotton gloves.
18. Your car is a wreck, with a back seat full of empty Coke bottles and burger wrappers. Someone has written “I wish my wife was this dirty” on the back window, and it’s held together with rust and gunge. But the horsebox is sparkingly clean.
Have you ever wondered what horses and ponies make of spring? We have the scoop…
Gah. Poppy the pony pulls one tiny, perfect hoof out of a puddle of muddy water and shakes it, delicately, like a cat. She’s not cold, exactly — she’s rugged up like a lagged boiler — but this relentless rain and howling wind are getting her down.
She has loved these weeks of being outside with her friends in the field, galloping and romping about, but the novelty of being up to her neat little ears in muck is beginning to wear off. It may be spring, but the weather gods didn’t get the memo.
So she’s quite pleased to see her human, Lucinda, walking towards her holding out a handful of pony nuts and cooing enticingly. Shaking her hoof again, Poppy takes a tentative step forward, but out of the corner of her eye she can see Billy glowering.
She can’t let the side down. When Lucinda is about two paces away from dropping the headcollar over her face, Poppy wheels round and canters away. Honestly! She didn’t realise Lucinda knew that kind of language…
Acknowledging Billy’s approving glance, Poppy trots in a wide semi-circle around Lucinda, keeping out of reach but with one eye on the pony nuts. There are standards to be upheld, but she likes pony nuts, and she likes the idea of a warm stable even more.
Having been just difficult enough for form’s sake, she allows herself to be caught and led back on to the yard. There, pointing nose-first at the gate, is the lorry, complete with haynets.
Lucinda’s full grooming kit is on the ground outside the stable. This can only mean one thing — and Poppy is delighted. She likes feeling pretty, and she loves going showing!
Connor can’t believe his luck. As a well-built Irish cob, he only has to look at a feed bucket to put on weight — his human says he “could get fat on concrete”. Cheek. But he will admit that he does sometimes carry a little bit too much, ahem, condition.
The saying goes that a cob should have the head of a duchess and the backside of a cook. Connor snorts. A duchess, indeed! He’s all man (well, almost all), and his head is handsome rather than beautiful. But he is rather proud of his rump — his substantial quarters are his engine, powering his gallop when he lowers and stretches out across the arena. The dash of pony blood in his heritage gives him the ability to turn on a sixpence, as sure-footed as a Connemara.
But the showing season is well and truly over, and Connor has been “on good pasture” — as Oscar the hunter pointed out — since October. If Connor stands next to Petunia, the elegant hack who is also an unmarked bright chestnut, they look like a “before and after” advert for WeightWatchers. Unfortunately for the cob, his human, Thomas, seems to ascribe to the weight-watching ethos — Connor is perennially on a diet.
But in the last ten days or so, there have been lots and lots of lovely treats. Carrots, Polos and apples have all appeared in his feed (not to mention the two pieces of deliciously sweet fruitcake he managed to purloin at the Boxing Day meet), with not a mention of his expanding waistline.
It’s that time again. We all vow to do better, be better, look better and feel better when the new year dawns, even though, with the best of intentions, most of what we pledge to do is abandoned by mid-January. Here are ten New Year’s resolutions that horsey people should make.
1. I will spend more time with my family
There are several of them in the house who look vaguely familiar, and they seem like nice people.
2. I will socialise with my non-horsey friends
Though not on the evenings when it’s light enough and dry enough to ride. Or the day before a show. Or before a lesson. Or if I’m too tired after riding, or if I can’t be bothered to get done up…
3. When I’m at work, I won’t bore my colleagues with talk of bits, the next show, the funny thing that my horse did that morning, or my recent lesson
It’s not their fault they have the wrong priorities, and I hate it when their eyes glaze over.
4. I will pretend to be interested when people show me pictures of their children
Even though everyone knows that children are just horse substitutes.
5. I will clean my tack every time after I ride
Or at least every second time. OK, at least once a week. Or before a show.
6. I will not nip to the store dressed in my horsey gear, with bits of hay in my hair and reeking of “horse”
I appreciate that not everyone thinks eau de cheval is the best fragrance in the world.
7. I will always, always, wheel the barrow up the plank to the top of the muckheap, rather than dumping it at the side
Unless I’m really in a hurry.
8. I will not allow my horse to get away with tanking, broncing, shying, napping, refusing or putting in a flying change when he feels like it
Though sometimes it is kind of fun…
9. I will persuade my other half to try riding lessons again
And I promise I won’t laugh this time.
10. I will spend more time with my horse
This is the only resolution likely to last beyond 16 January 2016.
If you’ve ever judged a supreme championship, you will know how hard it is to choose between a hack and a hunter, or a riding horse and a cob. Pity, then, the poor mountain and moorland judge at Olympia, who has to pick a champion from nine breeds — from Shetlands to Welsh section Ds. It’s a tough decision… but what do the breeds themselves think?
As one of the UK’s oldest native breeds, the Shetland was very proud of his heritage. “One of the earliest laws on Shetland said that if a man cut the tail of another man’s horse, he’d be fined £10,” he boasted.
“A tenner, LOL,” laughed the New Forest. “My human spends about that a week on Polos for me.”
“I don’t what you’re boasting about,” said the Dartmoor to the New Forest. “People buy your type for that much, if you get my Drift.”
The New Forest looked downhearted. “Not the really good ones, like those that qualify for Olympia. Anyway,” he cheered up, “at least we’ve won Olympia!”
“You,” said the Dartmoor to the Shetland, “have no hope. No Shetland has ever won the Olympia title, and never will.”
“Don’t be so sure,” snorted the Shetland. “I may only be little but I am super-cute and so is my rider. I plan to do a storming gallop. The crowd will love us.”
“YOU might think you’re galloping, but your little legs just twinkle faster,” smirked the Exmoor, joining in. “If you want to see a real gallop, watch me!”
“You guys are amateurs,” butted in the Welsh Section D. “Everyone wants to watch the Welsh Cobs — we’re famous for our movement.”
“You’re all torque and knee action,” giggled the Welsh Section A.
“You think you’re funny, but a Welsh A has never won Olympia and we’ve won it twice,” pointed out the Cob, causing the little grey to sulk.
“We’ve been reserve three times and second reserve twice,” she pouted.
“Oh, who cares about reserve?” scoffed the Welsh Section C. “Welsh Cs won it two years running — that hasn’t happened often.”
“Well, actually,” said the Highland, “we won two years running as well, then we gave someone else a chance because it seemed only fair. But we won it again the year after.”
The Welsh Section B preened a little, as well he might. “I am the reigning Olympia champion,” he pointed out. “And Welsh Bs have won it six times.”
“It isn’t about the quantity, it’s about the quality,” chorused the Dales and the Fell. “We may have only won one each, but they were vintage years.”
“Ahem.” All the other ponies fell silent as the Connemara pushed her way through. “Connies have won Olympia more times than any other breed, with two ponies winning the overall title twice, one two years running. Beat that!”
Angus is fed up. All the other horses and ponies on the yard have either been to the Horse of the Year Show, or hunting, or are going to Olympia. But him? Stuck in his stable or in the field. To make matters worse, when he told his mate Benji that he was “feeling a bit low”, Benji fell about laughing, and told all the others. It’s not Angus’s fault that he only stands 38 inches at the shoulder…
Depression, that’s what he’s suffering from. He should said he was feeling “a bit depressed”, rather than “a bit low”. Angus snorts in disgust, and kicks his stable door in protest.
“Angus!” This is Daisy, his human. Angus cringes, thinking he’s going to get told off for kicking; he knows he can be a bit bad-tempered — though he prefers “depressed” — but he doesn’t want to upset Daisy. However, when she appears at his door, she’s smiling from ear to ear and her eyes are sparkling with excitement.
“We’re going to Olympia!” she tells him. “Someone’s dropped out so we’re going to be racing in the Shetland Pony Grand National final at the London International Horse Show, just before Christmas. What do you think of that!”
Angus thinks it’s the best thing he’s ever heard. He dimly remembers a race back in the summer when they came a very narrow third, but he’d forgotten all about it. Now he gets to go to one of the biggest, most exciting horse shows in the country, at the most wonderful time of the year.
Santa may be making his list and checking it twice, but naughty or nice Christmas presents just won’t cut it for a horsey girl. Don’t fall into the festive trap and buy her one of these…
1. Perfume. She spends her days up to her knees in muck and covered in sweat — both her own and her horse’s. Do you honestly think she fancies some Chanel? She’ll be the first to tell you that her favourite scent is Eau de Cheval.
2. Earrings. They’re not allowed in the show ring, so there’s really no point, is there? In fact, veto all jewellery as impractical, unless it’s something woven out of her horse’s tail hair. Good luck with that one…
3. Chocolates. She has to keep her weight down because she doesn’t want to overload the horse. Besides, you can’t eat chocolates on horseback.
4. Lingerie. Chances are that what you think is sexy she’ll think is tacky, tacky, tacky. And seriously uncomfortable. Have you ever tried galloping a horse while wearing a cheese-cutter nylon thong? Actually, best not to answer that… (A word to the wise, chaps: NEVER buy a girl “sexy” lingerie, whether she’s horsey or not.)
5. A onesie. Ridiculous garment. You can’t get jods or breeches over it.
6. Shoes. Your average girl might be thrilled with a pair of Jimmy Choos, but for the horsey girl you’d be better off buying something from Dubarry.
7. An M&S voucher. They don’t sell riding gear, silly.
8. A handbag. Some women, granted, love their arm candy, but horsey girls aren’t usually among them. However, if you want to buy her something leather, a new saddle wouldn’t go amiss. Though it might cost you twice as much as a Mulberry.
9. Gloves. They might seem like a good idea, but not elegant ladies’ leather ones — the reins will slip through them like a greased weasel.
10. Any horsey book by one Nicola Jane Swinney. Your girl already knows all this stuff.
Petunia is just outraged. There she was, all comfortable in her nice warm stable, when she’s yanked out, a blanket — a blanket! — is thrown over her and a nasty nylon rug slapped on top, then flung out in the field with the rest of them. Honestly.
She’s got nothing against Oscar, the hunter; he has very nice manners, but he is just the teeniest bit common. Benji the pony is all right, if rather excitable — he never stops bouncing — but Angus the Shetland is just so beneath her (almost literally — he’s very small).
At least, Billy has stopped wittering on about Horse of the Year Show. Petunia herself was at HOYS this year and won her hack class, though unlike Billy she didn’t go champion. There’s no accounting for judges’ tastes these days…
Now she’s in the field, rugged up, and it’s chilly and overcast and she wants to be back in her cosy stable. She thinks of her lovely deep straw bed, with its banked sides, and her full haynet with longing…
“Come on, Petunia,” shouts Billy, cantering away from the gate. “This will warm you up!”
Well, honestly. As if Petunia needs warming up; she’s a hotblooded Thoroughbred.
“Come on, Pet,” Oscar’s deep rumble beside her ear makes her jump slightly. Pet? “If you have a little canter you’ll soon be warm and it’s fun. Stretch those long, beautiful legs of yours.”
Ah. Petunia peeks at Oscar through her extravagant eyelashes. He really is rather handsome. With a last (but slightly less longing) look in the direction of her stable, she wheels around and sets off across the field, humping her back and letting off a volley of huge bucks, with Oscar hot on her heels. He’s right. This is fun.
Christmas looms large on the horizon and you don’t know what to buy for your horsey girl? Don’t worry, we have it covered! You know you will always come second-best to the four-legged love of her life, but if you present her with one (or all) of the following, she’ll be yours forever. Well, until the New Year anyway…
1. Another horse
2. Another horse
3. Another horse
4. Another horse
5. Another horse
6. A luxury six-horse lorry with first-class living accommodation and all mod cons
7. A luxury pop-out horse shower for the lorry
8. A six-berth horse-walker
9. A brand new yard, with stables, floodlit arena, indoor school, feed room, tack room, wash-down area, paddocks and off-road hacking. Oh, and a sweet little cottage (perfect for one person)
The party season fast approaches and it’s time to raise a glass or two. But supposing horsey folk had their own cocktail mixologist — what would he recommend…? Here’s the perfect cocktail for every rider:
Anyone who has ever decided that “jumping for fun” is a good idea will undoubtedly have found that, at some point, the horse doesn’t agree and slams on the anchors at the approach, so that you — flying without wings — clear the obstacle on your own. Cocktail: Diving Header
Horses are delightful creatures, but they can be stubborn, particularly when you’re trying to get some new movement into their thick skulls. Cocktail: Moscow Mule
Bling is all the rage now, but you like the traditional way of things. So your hunter is immaculately turned-out, plaited, tail just above the hocks and plain tack. You are smart in a dark coat, light breeches, tall boots polished to a mirror shine, hair tucked into a hairnet, and smart beagler. Cocktail: Old-Fashioned
There is nothing quite so exhilarating as a good gallop — whether it’s across fields or a pipe-opener after a schooling session. Cocktail: Woo Woo
He is having one of his “moments”. The darned horse has forgotten everything he’s been taught, he can’t even canter, and every hedge holds a terrifying monster (or carrier bag, to you and me). Cocktail: Diablo
You are absolutely knackered. You’ve schooled the darned horse, skipped out his stable, taken the wheelbarrow to the very top of the muckheap, groomed him to within an inch of yourlife, cleaned all the tack and swept the yard. Cocktail: Zombie
That awful feeling when you’re just about to head out with the horse — to a show, to a meet, to a hack — and he throws a shoe. Every time… Cocktail: Rusty Nail
You’re going hunting for the first time ever. For both you and your horse, who has never seen hounds. And whose brakes can be somewhat unreliable. Cocktail: Kamikaze
You did not enjoy this morning’s schooling session. Howling gale, lashing rain and a jumpy horse who saw monsters everywhere. Oh, for an indoor school! Cocktail: Hurricane
Against your better judgment, you’ve looked at your credit card statement. The darned horse is costing you a fortune! Rugs, tack, shoes, vet fees, insurance, training, feed, straw… It’s highway robbery. Cocktail: Rob Roy
At last! After months and months — possibly even years and years — your horse has perfected the flying change. When you want it, not when he just feels like it. Cocktail: Perfect Ten