I get up at about 5.30, just as it starts to get light. My clothes lie out ready so I get dressed, brush my hair and tie it up tight,grab some brekky (quietly) and am out the door by 6 o’clock.
This is my first proper gymkhana. It’s just up the road – where I do my riding lessons on Saturdays.
The ponies are all ready, lined up from biggest to smallest, their heads bowed and tails twitching.
“You can have Nugget today,” Mrs Simpkins points to the nutty little pony at the end with his ears laid flat and eyes rolling.
“If you get a bucket with some water I’ll help you plait up his mane.”
Mrs Simpkims glides easily between the ponies, her tall, boney figure hands out brushes as readily as she passes on advice, dancing into the tack shed then back onto the yard with a saddle on each arm and bridles over each shoulder.
Twisting and tying Nugget’s wiry mane into little plaited blobs makes my fingers ache. Finally the ponies are remade, polished and presentable, but their willful personalities are unchanged.
Saddle on, girth tight, bit and bridle checked, I’m up and on – and Nugget is off. Out through the gate and into the growing maze of ponies, girls in smart jackets and bright horse floats hung with hay twitches and littered with buckets of gear.
Nugget knows three speeds – full trot, stop and bolt. I rattle up and down, pull this way, lean that way. Trot and stop.
We get to the first event for novice riders. While the other ponies have ears up and eyes alert, Nugget does his awkward walk, a grumpy trot, into a reluctant canter. I hear Mrs Simpkin’s commands in my head, “heels down, sit into the saddle, hands down.” None of this seems to apply with Nugget.
The judge calls other ponies into the centre as they circle in neat little steps, their riders lightly tapping their whips.
Then we’re out of the ring and have to wait for the next event.
Two more events to go. The obstacle course is good. Nugget trots, stops at the right places, trots neatly over the cavallettis, stops at the drum, trots to the flag. We work like a highly trained team and get a second!
I unsaddle Nugget to let him cool down and stretch out under a tree to share my salad roll and icy sunny boy with a feast of flies and a spread of ants.
After lunch we have another event for ponies 13 hands and under. Nugget eyes off the competition. Some of the kids are only about five years old, their feet barely pass the saddle flaps.
Trot and stop. Off we go. But this time Nugget takes to the challenge and canters smoothly, stops to a light touch on the rein. Another second.
The day comes to an end too soon.
Tired ponies with low hung heads load into their floats. The smart girls change into slim boots and clean white shirts.
I take off the tight riding boots, put my gumboots on and wash Nugget down. He shakes all over and loosens the little plaits into a curly wave of mane.
I mix his feed and sit on the fence just to watch him eat his victory meal. I walk home with my two silky ribbons, dusty and worn out, but smiling.
It’s not so bad getting the smallest pony