It’s over. My first experience of a Pony Club camp. All I can say is that I’m sorry I had to wait until the grand old age of twenty four. I always wanted to be in the Pony Club when I was young but a lack of transport and club popularity (I think it had a decline in the 90s) meant I never got to experience rallies or sleeping under the stars with my pony…
This week I’ve been teaching at the Vale of Aylesbury Hunt Pony Club, in Buckinghamshire. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but thankfully I didn’t have to say it many times!
Monday was a nerve racking experience; driving a new, unknown route to work, meeting hundreds of new people and ponies, and teaching the unknown (children, ponies and parents!). I was introduced to the instructors, and learnt a couple of names (with the help of our personalised polo shirts) and then met my ride – the Maltesers. There were six giggling, aged six(ish) girls sat on a variety of ponies. They looked as nervous as I did! I introduced myself and started learning their names – never mind about the ponies at this stage – and checked their tack. Impressive! Their mums had obviously been busy scrubbing because all tack, ponies and riders were immaculate!
We went off to dressage and my first task was to get them all trotting as a ride. They were all over the place at first, but we got there. Individually they practiced their tests and then after lunch we went showjumping. There, I lost one. Into the only pile of poo in the field! She got back on without a fuss and we finished up riding a steady course with good lines to the fences (I mean, poles on the ground!) I’ll be honest, at that point I was considering turning to alcoholism before the end of the week, it was so chaotic.
Tuesday came and I got a bit tougher. They’d all cleaned their tack with me on Monday afternoon, so the tack and turnout was more interesting. I tried to reward them all for trying to do it themselves, especially their plaits. We marched to the Handy Pony ring in pairs, attempting to stay next to our partner, and then commenced a lot of wriggling, huffing, dismounting, scrambling on, grabbing flags and moving cups around. They all had a blast, and one particularly memorable moment was when the youngest tried to mount on the offside. She put her left foot in the stirrup, hauled herself up and then realised she would be sitting on backwards if she swung her right leg over. So with a flash of inspiration, she balanced on her hands and took her left foot out the stirrups, right one in, and swung her left leg over to grin at me. One of the other girls realised she could mount without assistance and didn’t stop getting on and off all week! Another girl persevered with her green pony and methodically worked out how to get her mare as close to the scary fish as possible so that she could reach over and grab one. I was impressed by her technique and determined attitude.
Exhausted by laughing, we returned for some stable management, where we learnt the parts of the pony by sticking labels all over one poor pony. I was impressed that they managed to learn so many and retain half the information.
Lunch came and went, with the instructors having a mature game of “how many maltesers can you fit in your mouth at once”. I can only manage twenty …
After lunch my little group had great fun playing mounted games, and showed a lot of support and tram spirit. One tubby pony stepped on his riders foot, and she, understandably, began sobbing. So her friend, who had crossed the finish line just before her came over and told her pony to kiss it better. Then I tried cheering the invalid up by saying she’d come a close second and the friend said “no she definitely crossed the line in front of me, so she won.” How sweet is that?!
I hadn’t turned to the bottle by Wednesday, although I suspect some other instructors may have with the number of accident forms they had to fill in! On Wednesday morning we had to practice our musical drill ride. I hadn’t planned very much as I wanted to see my ride’s ability before trying to mimic the household cavalry. I had picked the song “I’m a Believer” from Shrek so they had good fun dancing away on the ponies. I kept the routine quite simple, trotting the easy part and then walking the complex crossover. Riding in pairs and keeping level with their partners, and riding past each other. It wasn’t bad, and we finished when their concentration started to ebb, and moved on to the treasure hunt.
That is, once I’d found the correct mother who had my treasure hunt instructions! We had a paddle through the water jump in the cross country woods, and I held back the girls from cantering up the hill. Maybe next year girls! We found the treasure in the end, and made the hunt into more of a hack.
On Wednesday afternoon we went swimming. I was prepared, after another instructor had been thrown in by her kids, and wore my bikini. I like swimming anyway, so when the girls asked me to go in I readily agreed. We splashed and raced, paddled and floated for an hour. At one point in the deep end I had six limpets attached to me! It’s a good job my feet touched the bottom otherwise I’d have sunk. They loved it though, and the other instructors were impressed I’d gone in.
By Thursday we had a good routine; walking everywhere in our pairs, staying next to each other, and we could trot in a ride! First of all we practiced our musical ride, which was getting better, and then the dressage tests, which improved a hundred times. Finally, we worked on the showjumping ready for Fridays competition. Again, I lost one girl when her pony gave a big jump with his hind legs and her heels shot up. Grinning, she got back on and remembered to have “heavy heels” over the next few cross poles. The girls rode much better lines today and stronger jump positions, which was great to see. I’d taped their reins so there was much less flapping around too.
After lunch was their dressage competition, and they all rode very good tests, with a close result. I tried to watch whilst judging another ride. Here I realised that cutting the corners is a bug bear of mine, as well as flappy limbs and the incorrect diagonal. I’d like to point out here that I didn’t address diagonals with my lot otherwise I’d have been shouting diagonal every ten seconds when the ponies dawdled. I was very pleased with my rides dressage tests anyway, and they all had very positive comments. After the dressage tests they all cantered up the little hill, declaring it to be the “best gallop ever”.
The final day dawned bright and sunny, and I think i was as excited as the kids. I stopped to buy them a bag of chocolates on the way, and in the shop I suddenly remembered one of them didn’t like chocolate … Or was that sweets???
Armed with five bags of chocolate bag one bag of sweets, I arrived at camp to spend all day eavesdropping to see if I could find out which of the girls was fussy. About thirty seconds before I gave out the treats one mum confirmed it was her daughter who didn’t Iike chocolate – phew!!
The morning was spent doing the showjumping competition, which I judged on style and approaches to the fence as opposed to speed. The girl who had fallen off on Thursday took this to heart and rode beautiful lines. She had another wobble, but her homing device worked! They all jumped lovely rounds and smiled the whole way. Another girl rode her friends pony as a confidence boost as she was worried about her mare over jumping (thus was the girl who fell in poo). After the first jump she relaxed and started folding into her jump position more.
After that was round two of Handy Pony, which they all did unaided, and I judged on technique, accuracy and perseverance. Again, they all did brilliantly and their parents were impressed with their skills.
Back to camp and we untacked before running through our musical ride. Well, that was the idea anyway. I was soon jumped on and squashed beneath six surprisingly hefty girls, and not allowed to get up. Eventually I wriggled free and ran away, dropping my walkie talkie in the process. One of my cheeky children picked it up and announced over the radio “the maltesers are chasing their instructor”, complete with evil cackle. At this point I considered withholding all rosettes and prizes.
After lunch everyone gathered to watch the musical rides. There were minions, mutant ninja turtles, school kids, and of course my Shrek and Princess Fionas.
We were second to go, and complete with green ponies, they trotted down the centre line with the music. They divided and trotted down the long side before joining in pairs for the centre line again. This time they divided and then went into the cross over on the diagonal. But they forgot to walk! I closed my eyes, but they scraped through the first cross over, much to the delight of the spectators. Then they came for the second one. And it was perfect! No stopping or chopping off of noses. Everyone applauded loudly, and they came round for the centre line again, halting as the music stopped. I almost burst with pride! They had pulled it out the bag!
So here ends my week of fun. I had a brilliant time, and can’t wait for my next camp in a couple of weeks time at another pony club. The girls gave me a lovely card and photos, with some maltesers (obviously) and wine, which was a nice surprise too. I just hope they carry on having gun and enjoying their fab little ponies!