Summer Camp at the Stables, from Carolyn Ward
Once a year, in August, Stourton Stables had a summer camp. Fifteen lucky kids were invited to spend a whole week with their pony, grooming, tacking up, and riding every day. There would be a jumping competition and picnic hacks, a visit to the three counties showground, and a swim at the leisure centre.
I was allocated Heidi, a grey mare with a snotty attitude. Literally. One of her tricks was to toss her head about whilst being ridden and flick massive globs of snot and foam backwards into the rider’s face.
Aside from the snot, she was zippy and responsive, pleasant enough to ride; but her main problem was she was evil to groom and tack up. She was a biter and a kicker. Hence I gave an audible groan when they announced we would have to wash our pony’s tail. Drat!
She was particularly mean when I tried to pick out her hooves. When I was bending down trying to get her to lift her front leg, she would lean around and try to bite my bum. A little treasure she was.
When it came to her back legs I was reluctant to get kicked. So I asked one of the other campers for some help. We thought it over and came up with what we thought was a cunning plan.
First, the camper lifted up her right front leg, and then I lifted her opposite back leg. Our theory was that she wouldn’t kick as she’d be worried about falling over (!)
It did kind of work. Until the mean riding teacher caught us and told us severely that a horse would kick out no matter how many legs were on or off the floor and could we please get on with it and stop wasting time.
We had to wash and bandage the tail – like I said, rather nail-biting with a kicker. I managed it though, and it looked neat. Feeling proud I was tidying up my bucket when one of the stable girls wandered past and spotted I’d but a leg bandage on the tail – very bad, apparently as the tail could overheat. Sometimes I think these horsey people made it all up as they went along.
Then we had to comb out and plait up the mane – that was fine, I just relived all my days playing with Barbie dolls and My Little Ponies. Now it was the turn of my best friend Clare to get in trouble – she was using her can of hairspray on her palomino pony, Zellor. The mean teacher called it an ‘unfair advantage.’
Camp was great. We all learned so much. The picnic hack saw me swapped onto Custard, a raggedy old chestnut nag; to give her camper a nice change riding Heidi. Custard was a very strong puller, so I was tired after riding for 2 hours in the humid heat. Suddenly, there was a problem at the front of the ride, and the front 8 horses bolted off. The teacher behind me, who was riding on itchy old Zebedee yelled at me to ‘Hold in Custard!’ but sadly, the ask was just as impossible as if it had been to hold in a bowlful of the yellow stuff itself. That stubborn old mare yanked her head down and thundered off around a dangerous bend to chase up the others.
When we got to the picnic site I gulped down a litre of squash with my sandwich, and was promptly sick. This threw them into a quandary as they obviously had no back-up plan for any riders taken ill or injured; but I was fine and rode home again no worries.
The three-counties showground was a fab day out, we queued up for free samples all day – chocolate ice cream, special fruit juice, but not the snails or frogs legs. We watched the show jumpers and ooohhhhed at the cart horses, and ahhhhed at the Fallabellas and Shetlands.
On the last day of camp, in the afternoon, they took us all swimming in the local leisure centre. Upon hearing this my mum promptly laughed herself silly.
‘All 15 of you had lived in a stable all week and then came for a bath in the swimming pool!’ she roared. ‘Bet the water was black!’
Those summer days, drifting away… at the other end of my riding career was in Manchester when I used to hack out alone about once a week, in the beautiful Sale countryside around the River Mersey.
The bridleways were tranquil and green, and ran alongside the river. After walking past a golf club, you had to ride over a narrow metal bridge. The horses’ hooves clanged loudly on the metal, and every so often a horse or two would decide they wouldn’t cross, meaning you had to dismount and lead them over, then clamber back on. I had to half climb up a fence then clumsily scramble back up into the saddle as the horses up north were rather tall.
One beautiful chestnut mare was named Wilma. She was usually quite sensible, and a pleasure to hack out. My friend had asked if she could come, so I was a bit distracted making sure she was OK behind me.
Suddenly this crazy old couple shot past on these handmade tricycles; with full sized flags flapping about at the back of each one. Wilma took one look and totally freaked out. Before I knew what was happening, she was slowly reversing backwards down the river bank, towards the fast-flowing grey river… my life flashed before my eyes as I leaned right forwards over her neck to counterbalance her weird almost vertical position. I seriously thought I was going to end up in the river with her on top of me. It could have been a disaster. Luckily she decided she didn’t fancy a swim and she clambered back up. My friend sat on her pony open-mouthed, and (still shaking) we headed back to the stable.
If you have unusual cycling equipment – please don’t clatter it along a bridle path – especially one right next to a river.
That yard in Manchester had some very interesting horses, one gelding I rode was totally black all over, I can’t remember his name except that he would never walk over the bridge alone, so I could only ride him if there was someone else to hack out with. Big cowardly boy!
He used to get his own back on me by swerving under low-lying branches to try and knock me off the saddle. He was the Liam Gallagher of the horse world.
Chestnut – kind of reddish-hued coat
Fallabella – tiny weeny breed of horse
Liam Gallagher – Mancunian singer (ask your mum)
Mare – female horse
Palomino – literally means any pony or horse with a lighter-coloured mane and tail than the coat. (Zellor was cream with a platinum mane and tail, very pretty mare.)
Shetland – small kind of horse. Notoriously evil-tempered. In horse-world smaller does not = sweeter