My 1985 Instagram Project

1985 a life with horses alison kenward equestrian coach first pony instagram project social media toby Feb 06, 2022
9 year old Alison is pictured cuddling Toby a 13hh grey pony. Toby is eating hay with eyes on the camera.


Sorting through photo albums set me to wondering, what might it have been like to grow up with social media. Would I have had more photos? Perhaps a different view of my experiences? I can say with certainty I would still have believed fiercely in the brilliance of my friends. I set myself an Instagram challenge and expanded it to explore other forms of social media. Taking my images to Canva and playing with captions. I’ve read diaries from those times and I’ve always known my mind though who can tell if I would have shared my stories differently. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have no idea how to write this to be grammatically correct. I know that would not have been a worry at 9. Where I’m trying to recall my thoughts from the past I’ve given them speech marks. Step into my hybrid time machine! 

“It’s a grey misty morning and the phone call I’ve been waiting for has let Mum know to come to the stables where they think they have the pony just right for me. The stables are familiar because I’ve been hanging out here for a couple of years learning more about horse care and the difference between sitting and rising trot, hay and straw, caring for ponies at grass vs the needs of the stabled horse. The books I have been reading one after another, longing for the moment when it’s my turn to meet a suitable pony are coming to life in my head as I try not to get too excited. I’ve already looked at a couple of ponies and they weren’t for me. Yet I know as we get closer to the yard that this is it. He sounds just right and I’m willing us to get there now. We turn into the drive and there is a pony I don’t recognise (I know them all) he is standing on his hind legs with a cascade of mane and tail shimmering in the mist. The adults in the car are unanimous in their NO.
We have to give him a chance, he’s probably scared I reasoned. I’ll know when we talk if he will hurt me or not and he’s looking in the car he knows we are here to meet him. 
We waited at the car park for him to hack back along the drive and I willed him to walk calmly but quickly, I couldn’t wait. I fell instantly in love whilst my Grandad was trying to reason with Mum not to let me get any ideas about the pony he considered to be the wrong one. I announced that it was my decision and we agreed I could try as long as I was honest if I were scared. I made friends feeling like we’d met before and as soon I was onboard and walking around I couldn’t stop smiling.”

In later years that smile of connection would be my measure of whether or not I was going to bond with a horse or no. 

“Toby felt as though I only had to think and he would offer me just what I needed. Let me explain. He knew what I didn’t know and he was happy to fill in the gaps. He was a schoolmaster. Mounted games, jumping, hacking, dressage he had it covered and he was great to handle. There was only one thing he was having none of and that was turning left out of the drive . No idea why. Luckily I preferred the hack to the right anyhow.”

A first pony is a treasure beyond value. A best friend who shapes the future. A first pony is your entire world. I knew nothing. I had books to turn to and a sensible riding school caring for him.

“Toby knew what was required at our first RC show where some smart moves from him bought home a 2nd place rosette in a competitive can race that I had watched and still couldn’t fathom. I was taken to each relevant pole to collect and deliver cans and delivered to the finish line in a canter that I could cope with! “

Later on as we ventured further afield I entered a two phase with little to no idea what this was and feeling totally overwhelmed with the sizes of the fences. “Toby watched and learnt the course. I hung on and posted a double clear save for missing out the finish flags I think. I still don’t know if it was this or my lack of a hacking jacket that meant my score did not count. Either way the fences stayed up and I clung on to my brave and careful flying pony!”

“I love to hack out and Toby will go first or last. We can hack out on our own if I have permission- don’t ask me how he knows because if I’m breaking rules he bounces in tiny half rears just alarming enough to remind me I’m supposed to be riding in the field or the school. He knows exactly where the boundaries are that keep us safe. He would never hurt me but he’s in charge. I personally love to find any bit of grass or soft going I can to canter. Jumping might be my favourite thing but hacking comes a very close second.”

“Toby is quite fearless. There is not a Handy Pony Course he won’t master. At Meriden RC they have a bridge to cross, it’s more of a see saw and most won’t complete it but Toby figured it all out. At shows we mostly pick and mix from the classes I’m curious about. This year I decided to try a WHP class at a smart local hunt show. I was a little surprised to see the course and I didn’t have a clue what to do in the flat section when I was pulled in second from the group ride. The Judge had to explain it to me and I was relieved to watch the first in line. I realised that Toby knew what to do and it was quite a feeling to execute my first ever individual show in front of a beaming Judge. I’d taken my plaits out so Toby could be comfortable in the gymkhana games.. I did not know about the flat part of WHP until I heard my name called. I apologised to the Judge and explained myself. We kept the second place against all kinds of complaints. The Judge stood firm and said he’d seen the plaits earlier. Later when the prizes were handed out he told me I would have been his winner if the plaits had stayed in longer. I was not bothered and neither was Toby!!”

“This photo captures the look Toby and I shared oh so many times - mostly when I’d been told no. I wanted Toby to have a stable rug and spotted this beauty at Tower Farm. The grown ups said Toby would be too hot and hate it. He wasn’t and he didn’t … I knew he’d take it off if he got uncomfortable but he was proud of being treated like the smarter clipped horses. I think we share a stubborn streak. We seem to understand each other anyway. He is my best friend and were it not for school I’d be always at his side.”

17 year old me can’t believe how lucky I’ve been to have a pony who cared about me. A pony who probably rolled his eyes a million times a day at the things I did not know. Adult me is typing yet. I no longer have the guilt for the things I didn’t know as a child. I do know I gave him all the love and attention I could.

At 17 I know I need to pass my Stage 2 exam if I’m to become a Coach and Rider. I’m scared and the list is overwhelming. Clipping is a total nightmare and Toby is the patient friend who lets me worry over the lines. I bury my face in his mane often and wish I knew how to be more like the confident BHS AIs. 

Toby is with me in my heart still, though it’s years and years since he passed I’m crying as I type because the loss was and is so hard to process. However the tears are happy ones too as I remember my friend. I went on to pass tougher exams later on and whilst he was no longer by my side he will forever be in my heart. Giving me the courage and the nudge to trust my intuition when it comes to horses. To know that the right horse for me will always find me, I’ll know by the smile on my face that I’ve never been able to hide when I fall for a horse! 

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