Sep 15, 2016

Before "Then"

By Maggie Dana

Night before show. Remind Mum about snacks. Tell Dad not to worry like he always does. Obsess over whether bits and stirrups are shiny enough after using all of Mum’s metal polish. Get knickers in a knot when you discover you’ve run out of saddle soap and have to use Neatsfoot oil on your saddle. Will stain your jods, for sure, but nothing to be done. No stores open after 5 o’clock and it’s now 9 p.m. Not that any of the local shops would carry saddle soap, anyway.

Lay out show clothes: cleanest shirt you can find, stain-free tie, buff jodhpurs with baggy thighs, brown paddock boots with buckles and straps (zippers are so much cooler). Sigh over tweed jacket and wish, yet again, you had a black or navy one like the rich kids did. Steam brown velvet hunt cap with kettle one more time. Set alarm for five o’clock.

Next morning: Surprise sleepy pony with grain and hay before dawn. Brush him like mad. Attempt checkerboard patterns on his rump that all fancy show ponies have. Give up. Pick out his feet, brush them with gucky stuff that gets all over your hands. Plait (braid) his mane and wish they didn’t look like the sausages you’d have eaten for breakfast if your stomach wasn’t already in a massive twist.

Check leather school satchel (1950s version of a knapsack). Load up with snacks (thanks, Mum), brushes (mine and his), show schedule, lead rope, and flashlight. It’s still dark. Race back into house, swap grubby togs for show clothes. Bang on parents’ door. “I’m off.”

Tack up more-or-less clean pony. Remember to put halter on top of bridle. Set off—alone. It’s a seven-mile hack to the show, but at least it’s not raining. Not too much traffic, thank goodness. Negotiate center of town. Bus drivers toot their horns and wave. Risk a brief canter on the A-40’s median strip with cars zooming past on both sides.

Eight-thirty. Show grounds ahead. Find secretary’s tent, get number, and meet up with best friend. She’s hacked in from the other direction. Compare snacks, then swap. Her pony eats my orange. Glare at riders with horse trailers, grooms, and spindly-legged ponies that look like miniature Thoroughbreds.

First class: Best Rider. We lose. Then comes Best Show Pony. Lose that one as well. Trot into ring for Best Turned Out Rider and Tack . . . and win it! Good grief. That Neatsfoot oil is amazing. Happily ignore stony looks of show pony riders and their grooms. Parents show up with lunch. Watch jumping, then mount up for gymkhana events (had no idea at this point that I’d end up in the States where gymkhana isn’t part of all horse shows).

Best friend places second in (pole) bending; we manage third in apple bobbing race. Not a bad haul. Red (first in England) and yellow ribbons. Pack up and head home. Another seven-mile trek. Dad worries, of course.

Ten o’clock that night. Light wavers in the distance. Dad is out there, worrying, in the middle of the road. Assure Dad you are okay. Untack pony and brush him off; feed hay and grain. Kiss wonderful pony, then stagger into house and remember you’ve forgotten to do your homework.

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Maggie Dana was a British teenage Pony Clubber, circa mid-1950s. She's the author of the Timber Ridge Riders series for young readers who love horses.