Okay, so it’s looking like Oliver loves horses. Our mornings begin something like this. I lie in bed listening to him make noises in his cot. “NEIGH! NEIGH! NEIGH!” His Majesty is awake. I walk into his room, he looks me in the eye. “THHHHH! THHHHH!” (Translation – Flirt) “CEEEEEEE! CEEEEEEE!” (Translation – carrots). These days, unless we are literally about to get in the car and go to the stables, Michael A Tweedie and I avoid the following trigger words – Flirt, Horse, Pony, Stables, Carrots. Oliver’s 19 months old and we can’t even spell out the word carrots in front of him, he’s WORKED IT OUT. I love that kid more than cupcakes but he has a purple passion for ponies that’s intense even by my standards. Interestingly, it is this very passion that posed our first real challenge as parents, the first time we had to really get on the same horsey parenting page.
Picture this, Sunday at Marine Park. Flirt had been unceremoniously dragged out of retirement and tacked up using a borrowed saddle, a smart little Pessoa jumping saddle (thank you Laura Darvall). We are on the arena, Michael A Tweedie has the reins and I plonk our very excited toddler on his pony. “Feet in the stirrups Darling”. He does it. “Pay attention, both hands on the reins Darling.” Oliver’s tiny hands reach for the leather strap running from one side of the pommel to the other. He loops his little fingers under the strap and closes both hands. Michael A Tweedie turns to me “Did you see that?” he says. I feel an overwhelming maternal warmth swell and fill my chest, I turn to Michael A Tweedie and breathe “Oh my God, he’s GIFTED.” Michael A Tweedie shoots me the side eye he reserves for when I say something absolutely ludicrous and because he knows me inside out, responds; “Do not go crazy and buy him loads of expensive horse gear because we don’t want him to be SPOILT.” He follows it up with “Also, Nick Skelton just won an OLYMPIC gold medal riding in a 35 year old Stubben, so you know, THERE.” As we walked round and round the arena, listening to Oliver say “GAIN” (Translation – again) and occasionally “NEIGH” we negotiated. The outcome? Oliver’s getting a Wintec.
However, the whole thing made me think. How did my horsey childhood shape the horse person I am today? Let me start by saying, my pony club days were not salubrius. They did not involve fancy gear or devoted horsey parents chauffeuring a coiffed pony around to various championships. I attended the Eastern Suburbs Pony Club in the early 1990’s. At the time, it was run not by parents, but by the owner of a local riding school. He had the physique of a Christmas pudding with arms and legs and I never did see him ride a horse. He was the Mrs Trunchbull to my Matilda and I was utterly TERRIFIED of him.
I vividly remember my first rally. I had pestered my parents mercilessly until they let me rent a horse from the Eastside Riding School to attend. Custer was a kindly gelding, a dun horse with a beautiful dorsal stripe, about 15 hands tall. I was delighted to be attending and I remember strapping on my Hot Tuna backpack (does anyone remember Hot Tuna? Or Stussy for that matter? LOL) with my packed lunch and riding out of the gates of the old Sydney Showgrounds with my friends, into Centennial Park and down the horse track until we reached the Gymkhana ground. I don’t remember anything much about the rally, but I remember the end. The Christmas pudding with arms and legs pulled me aside. “I’m really sorry, but you do need to hear this.” I stared at him blankly. My 13 year old self had no way of anticipating what was coming next. “You can’t ride. You’re not a good enough rider to come to Pony Club.” My body was flooded with embarrassment and horror. “Bbbbbbuut” I stammered. “I can walk, trot and canter? I can even rise on the right diagonal? Isn’t that enough?” The Christmas pudding was unmoved and so, TRUE STORY, I got kicked out of Pony Club for not being able to ride. FOR REALZ.
I wish I could tell you a rags to riches story. A story about beginning Pony Club on a riding school horse and working my butt off until I rode Grand Prix and competed at National Championships but actually that’s Michelle Baker’s story. I did eventually go back to Pony Club and the year after the Christmas pudding was ousted by a group of parents, I was Supreme Champion at our annual championships against La Perouse Pony Club so, anyway, you know, OVER IT.
However, the one thing that has stayed with me, after all these years, is the memory of being the kid on the outside, looking in at all the horse people. Like her or hate her, I get why Katie Price started her own Pony Club. I think it’s the reason I love my own Pony Club clients. I can spend hours talking to them about basic horse care, the different types of hay, why we worm horses, why we get their teeth done. Honestly, for me, it never gets old and I don’t think it ever will.
If Oliver does end up riding in any real sense, I hope I can teach him to be a good competitor. To lend a hand to the kids around him, especially the ones that look like they need a bit of help. The fact is, he WILL be the kid with a devoted horsey Mum who will cart him around to championships with a four wheel drive and his very own horse box BUT although it might not count for much, he’s going to learn how to turn out his own horse and trust me, he’ll be one of the kids riding in a Wintec.