After School 

The last couple of days I’ve been racing against nightfall to teach. Tonight wasn’t so bad as they have floodlights in the arena, but yesterday’s clients unfortunately don’t.

As we finished the lesson the bats were coming out, and it reminded me of our after school races against time.

In the spring, summer and autumn, there used to be lessons after school so we’d either join them or hack, and there wasn’t as much pressure, but at this time of year we used to fight the losing battle against darkness.

My comprehensive school finished at 3.25pm so we would meet and walk half a mile to a house – the one of the girl who lived the closest – get changed, and take over the living room, watching kids TV – Balamory was a favourite because of the catchy theme song (…what’s the story in Balamory? Wouldn’t you like to know?…) – until 3.50pm when we would be picked up by our riding instructor in her discovery. We’d all pile in for the short journey to the yard, where we would spill out like worms out of a can at 4.05pm. I’ll always remember watching the older girls tumble out of the car when I was in primary school, yearning to be like one of them!

Then we would throw our school bags in the tea room before hurtling up the fields. And I mean fields, not these silly paddocks we have nowadays, we had 40 acres to scour for our ponies. 

In the summer we would often be allowed to ride in the 4.30pm lesson, which meant we really got a wriggle on to catch, groom and rack up in 25 minutes. We daren’t be late though!

So in the winter we’d try and do the same, riding at 4.30 because at least we had half an hour in the outdoor before being consigned to the small indoor. We also had bigger feeds for our ponies, which meant we wanted to have finished riding and be feeding them by 5.30pm in order to be picked up by 6pm. When the horses were stabled we would usually have at least one more stable to do, usually for a friend, and we all used to pull together to muck out and carry waters before 6pm.

My parents were notorious for being tardy though, so I used to ride for longer. I can remember still being at the yard, albeit up the house with our instructor, at 9pm in January because my parents were late closing the shop, collecting my brother, and running errands.

Another poignant memory I have was one February when the bugs were rife. Instead of eight of us being picked up there were only two of us. We still rode for half an hour, caught everything before dark and mucked out ten boxes by 6pm!

Things got easier when our school changed its timetable and we finished at 3.10pm, and the house we’d used was no longer available so we walked to a corner shop and got picked up earlier – giving us an extra ten minutes at the yard! Later on we got picked up from outside school and were much earlier at the yard, but I don’t think I ever lost that feeling of racing against time.

One of the best feelings when we were on the way to the yard was the announcement by our instructor that “so-and-so had followed her in” which meant that if our pony was indeed so-and-so, they had been in for a few hours, had a feed and were dry! If we were lucky we’d sit, grinning like a Cheshire Cat, knowing we didn’t have to run up the field!

From my after school experiences I never understand how kids can faff around and end up riding in the dark and cold. But I think unless you have those pressures you don’t learn to walk quickly or to be efficient.

By the way, are you singing the Balamory theme tune? I’ve had it in my head all day, since I drafted this post in my head!

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