My Instagram Project 1988Feb 13, 2022
I nurtured a dream to compete in affiliated showjumping competitions and I was getting too tall for Toby who was happier jumping in the Under 12 competitions.. I worked out a budget for how to keep two ponies and the day came to start looking . I tried a JA pony who was fast and capable and seemed to me to be bored and rather grumpy. Another young pony was there peeping at me over the door. I wanted to try him and he felt right. I jumped a couple of logs and the feeling he gave me was simply wonderful. He was green and uncertain but he felt like he was going to be calm. Besides he looked rather forlorn, had no name and was considered not very pretty. I remember thinking he was coming home with me. I knew I’d have to wait on my BSJA dreams. I decided to call him Solitaire after one of Josephine Pullein Thompson’s “Six Ponies”.
He came home, he was a bit of a thug who was not that keen on Toby and that nearly broke my heart. I was not putting up with any nonsense though and explained to him that whilst I’d put up with him occasionally putting his ears back, if he wanted to stay then he would need to be kind and preferably friends with Toby. That was my non negotiable and Toby kept his place in the pecking order. Solitaire was not happy to go anywhere without him as time went on.
Our debut competition was a lesson for me in the importance of preparation. I was naive enough to believe that Solitaire would behave at competitions just like Toby and was so looking forward to taking him to Walsgrave ARC. I walked the course and once on board warmed up only for him to stop at the first fence and suddenly fences that had looked tiny on Toby appeared impossible. I did not know what to do as I hadn’t encountered a refusal like that before. Next time I represented him he ballooned over the fence and this was captured on camera. I was really scared now and left the warm up to think. I was called back to the arena and persuaded to have another go and was relieved that Soli jumped more calmly. I couldn’t get the feel of the stop out of my head and decided we needed to scratch. My dream of clear rounds and feeling him ping over fences the same way as logs faded and I only knew that there was no point in making it worse in the arena. I resolved to go to other Riding Clubs where the fences were smaller. It was the end of the season and I spent the winter over thinking before I discovered that I could go jumping indoors at clear round evenings on a Thursday after School.
Fast forward 18 months and a breakthrough during the summer clear rounds and we were starting to go consistently clear. It helped that Solitaire stepped up to being my mounted games pony. I also read a great book called Showjumping by Judith Draper. I learnt about flatwork exercises and we practised several times a week at home. A typical week saw me riding Monday to Wednesday at home with a mix of the flatwork exercises, jumping a few fences and finishing with games practice often in walk. We’d go jumping on a Thursday night and on Sundays I went to either Exhall & Bedworth or Meriden RC with perhaps an open show once a month. I often hacked to Pony Club Rallies. One summer we went to riding and road safety every single week. By the end of the course Solitaire knew all of the rules and remembered this training his whole life. Whenever he escaped to eat the vegetables from our neighbour’s garden he Always looked both ways and waited for the road to be clear!
Meriden Riding Club
I learnt a lot by attending shows here. For me it was a magical place to go and ride. Friendly faces and top support from people whose kindness I will never forget. This day of cross country most definitely helped to further my partnership with Solitaire. I had loved him from the start but in the early days it was hard to like him when I didn’t know how to communicate with him. I made him a promise to never give up. Days like this taught me so much and gave me hope that we were making progress.
After a few moves to different livery yards we settled at a yard with a full course of showjumps that happened to be easier to get to after school! I had a lot of fun and though I missed hacking I was able to ride in the fields and link fences together. I’d had a couple of showjumping lessons the year before and learnt what a good canter into a fence should feel like as well as how to leave him alone when we were in a good rhythm. Suddenly fences seemed possible and I thought I’d have another go at a Hunter Trials. I remember it as being big and looking solid. Solitaire was happy to get going and pulled a lot. I know now that was the feel of being up to the bridle but at the time I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t sure if I liked the feeling. Maybe with some more practice and training.. I got diverted at a Pony Club Rally and it really did change the course of my life!
I loved receiving post about horse events as a child. Pony Club newsletters were especially exciting and in my secret dreams I used to imagine being good enough to be asked to join the showjumping or mounted games team.. A stop press item asked riders who enjoyed games to come and try Polocrosse with no equipment needed and I signed up. There were no pictures nor description and I was curious. Picking up the ball was just like the litter race. I learnt to throw and catch very quickly and Solitaire was not phased at all by being in close contact or having the ball fly overhead. We got a phone call to join a Pony Club team. The competition was in Clun which was a long way. That was 1991 Solitaire and I knew each other pretty well by then and shared a competitive drive to get to the ball first. I practised every day and as soon as I left school and started to train as a Riding Instructor in 1993 I began to train seriously for Polocrosse.
Solitaire went on to compete for our new Pony Club at a couple of National Championships. I mostly hacked him because my next horse was rather fearful of everything. Solitaire meanwhile used to let me hack him along the A5 to get to work at the Riding School in the months before I passed my driving test.
After 13 wonderful years at Yardley it was time to move in to our new house where we were able to finally have the ponies at home again. I was so very sad to leave and yet so excited to be starting my next chapter. I had retired from Polocrosse and passed my BHS II and had for the time being stopped “commuting” to New Zealand. I hadn’t travelled Solitaire or George or Ginty for that matter for years. William I felt certain would load and I prayed that the youngstock I’d purchased to produce on would remember their loading lessons .. so I booked a transporter to take the fabulous four to our new home. William loaded first and Ginty was polite and eager to follow. George was not being left behind and Solitaire loaded first time and surprised me. I cried to leave and felt the wrench for months, typing this now I feel tearful. The boys settled and so did my routine. The following summer Solitaire and George started to feel their age and it was time to let them go. They went together and my heart broke again. It was at the time the most difficult decision and of course the right one. The youngsters were all the better behaved from knowing Solitaire and I like to believe that the manners he had learnt from Toby were passed on to them. I know every ounce of resilience I have been able to call on in my career I owe to knowing and loving Solitaire.
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