For years, I dreamt of having a pony of my own. Although we live in the middle of the New Forest with semi-wild ponies all around, my parents and brother prefer sailing to riding – can you believe it!
At least Mum and Dad realised I couldn’t live in the New Forest and not ride, so they let me join the Saturday Club at our local riding stables. This was great fun and I learnt masses.
Each week, we had a riding lesson or hack, and a chance to groom the school ponies, muck them out and clean their tack.
But I still really wanted a pony of my own, especially as most of my friends had their own. And Mum was sympathetic – as a child, she too had dreamt of having a pony, so she knew how I felt. But she explained that my friends with their own ponies had mothers who were horsy, and knew how to look after a pony properly – but she didn’t. And I couldn’t look after a pony, because I was only nine years old. I would have to wait until I was grown-up.
My best friend was very understanding. We would ride her ponies bareback around the field, feed them and spend many wet rainy afternoons in the stables grooming her pretty Welsh cob and Connemara.
Then last year, several amazing things happened one after the other . . .
First, the riding school started a mid-week club for ladies – a riding lesson followed by some stable management. Some of Mum’s friends were doing the course for fun and persuaded her to join in. Suddenly, there was Mum learning how to ride and look after a horse!
She also discovered that the riding school had liveries and that basic grass livery for a pony didn’t cost loads of money!
Second, Dad came to watch a small show at the riding school, with me competing in a jumping class on a school pony. He had a great time and realised what fun having a pony could be because several weeks later, he gave me the weirdest birthday present ever – a lead rope!
“Dad, what do I want a lead rope for?”
“We thought it might be useful one day!” he grinned. Then Mum smiled and said words I never thought I’d ever hear…
“Darling – we’ve decided to buy a pony.”
“So you’ll need a lead rope,” added Dad.
“Yippee, I love you! I’m so happy,” I sang as I leapt around the room. I couldn’t believe it – my parents had changed their minds. I was going to have a pony soon.
My birthday is in the middle of winter – which is not a good time to buy a pony, as few people are selling – so I had to wait until spring before we started a serious search.
We wanted a pony that Mum could ride, so she could help exercise it during term time. We needed a tough breed, such as a New Forest, so it could live out in winter. And it needed to have a calm temperament, get on with other ponies and do everything I may want to do in the next few years – such as Pony Club, jumping, dressage and cross country.
After a lot of searching, my friend saw an advertisement in our local tack shop – for a shaggy-looking, chestnut, 13.2hh New Forest gelding. He seemed to fit the bill perfectly and the owner kindly allowed us to have him on two weeks’ trial at the riding school. It was ideal.
I had a few lessons on him, the vet made sure he was healthy and the instructors at the riding school checked out his temperament, saying that he was very laid-back.
And the owner checked us out, too – she wanted to be certain we would care for her pony properly. He had been with her family for many years, but her children were now grown-up and she didn’t have the time to exercise him anymore.
Thankfully, everyone passed with flying colours and after two weeks, the pony was mine.
I’ve now had him for six months and he is perfect. As he was born and raised in the Forest, he is completely laid-back about flies, wide open spaces and lots of ponies, which are all common in the Forest.
But he can be cheeky and loves rolling in the dust when I turn him out – especially after I’ve spent ages grooming his coat which, by the way, has turned from shaggy to sleek!
He was beautifully behaved at Pony Club camp and was very popular. What’s more, he loves jumping and has even won a first rosette in a walk/trot dressage test. There is one thing, though…
Whenever I tell people my pony’s name, they always smile – he’s called Nigel!