My lovely riding school, Nine Acres Equestrian, recently expanded to become a Pony Club Centre. The nature of the school – Hazel only admits students of eleven years and older – means that the Centre, rather than focusing on young children the way many riding schools tend to, can pitch its training at older students. This also allows us to participate in activities that Centres with only young children might struggle with – so when we were invited to perform at the Mattishall Village Celebration at the end of September, we jumped at the chance. We didn’t, however, quite anticipate just how much work this might entail.
Despite agreeing to the display months in advance, we began working for it around four weeks before the fete. We decided to show off the horses with a drill ride, during which a number of horses and riders perform a series of choreographed movements, often mirroring each other or riding in sync. Drill rides are immensely popular in the Pony Club, with teams even competing at the National Championships with their themed, costumed musical rides.
Following one early morning practice up at the village primary school field, where the celebration was to be held, it became clear that some of our horses would struggle to cope in the new environment. As such, we cut our original six riders down to four so as not to stress out the horses by tasking them with something they’d struggle with.
Time crept up on us, so with a week to go before the celebration we met three times for practice – twice in the paddocks at the riding school so we could adjust to having a little more space to work in, and, the day before the fete, we hacked back up to the school for a final run-through.
The fete was due to start at ten-am, so we aimed to ride up to the school at eight in the morning. Grant, resident photographer (ALL photos here are courtesy and property of him) and problem-solver, was sweet enough to give me a lift and spend the day helping us out. We donned our brand-new bright blue PC jumpers and coincidentally-matching hat-silks, gave the remarkably clean ponies a brush off and hopped on board.
The ponies were a little taken aback at the huge space in front of them, as well as the hustle and bustle as people and companies set up their stalls. Grant and Hazel set up a makeshift paddock with electric tape and poles, so we untacked the ponies and spent an hour meticulously plaiting manes and tails. Parents of the kids at football practice on the pitch behind us wandered over to watch; one brought her eighteen-month-old son. She gestured to her two older boys, already playing. “He’s always been fascinated by horses,” she told us, “but I don’t think it’ll last.” I glanced at Grant, who has ridden only twice, both in the past two months, affectionately rubbing Solly’s forehead. You never know, I thought.
Once the ponies were ready, we had a final practice – on foot…
…before it was time for the first of two performances. We’d managed to drum up a little audience, so we mounted up and hoped the horses would focus.
from left: me and Solly, Jess and Bellamy, Chloe and Sky, Afnan and Noble Colin (“Nobby”)
The ride ran like clockwork – even we were surprised at ourselves. We gave the horses a walk-off and I spotted Mum, who had arrived just too late to see the display. No matter – we had another in a couple of hours. The ride had encouraged more people over to our stall and picking up leaflets, so I suggested we took the horses off the large football pitches and onto the small field behind the school, which was an even bigger hive of activity with food stalls and art stands lining the grass. A pair of donkeys were available for rides next to the gate and, at the far end, two huge bouncy castles towered over the fence. Nobby and Sky were a little uncertain, so Hazel popped them back in their paddock, but Jess and I took Bellamy and Solly through to watch.
It wasn’t long before they attracted attention, and we started handing out our info cards. Kids would run right up to the ponies until they came within a metre of them, when they would suddenly freeze in awe of their size and power. It was strange to watch people be so wary of Solly, whom I trust completely.
Jess and Bellamy, me and Solly, with Hazel, Afnan and Lauren
Eventually we made our way back to give the ponies a break before our second ride at 1pm. Mum, Grant and I wandered around the fete and found something to eat before it was time to hop back on board.
The second ride went just as well, with a very enthusiastic audience who applauded after each maneuver.
We were going to leave straight after the ride, but the ponies proved very popular so we wandered around for a bit as visitors provided carrots and strokes and we chatted to potential customers. Eventually, however, it was time to make our way home, so we rode onto the back field and past the bouncy castles, which were terrifying (to the ponies, at least). Grant drove ahead, whilst Mum followed behind.
We quickly untacked, unplaited and turned out, before handing back our lovely jumpers and deeming our first public outing a definitive success. Hopefully it won’t be too long until the next!
my two favourites.