In just a few weeks time, it will be 4 years since an opinionated but gorgeous little 6month old Finchcroft Mabel was delivered to me – and how time has flown since then! The last couple of years have been challenging on a personal level and this little pony has been solidly by my side through thick and thin, keeping my smile in place and making me even more proud of her each passing day.
I’m a big believer in taking things slowly with young horses but I also believe that they tell you when they are ready too. Last year when Mabel was 3, I had her in the stable on a rainy afternoon waiting on the farrier to come and trim her feet. I was doing my usual desensitising work with her (leaning over her back and flapping my arms around her sides and over her rump!) when I realised that for the first time, she wasn’t taking the slightest bit of notice. I tentatively slid my leg onto her back (I was stood on some steps!) and before I knew it, I was sitting astride Mabel for the first time! All of my flapping and leaning over throughout her short life had clearly paid dividends as she stood perfectly still and calm for a minute or two and then not wishing to push my luck, I slid quietly off of her. Little was I to realise that this was the start of our beautiful ridden relationship!
In January of this year when Mabel was 4, having sat on her in the stable a few more times since that first instance, I decided to get on her outside. I started off with her at the mounting block in the school and with me leaning over her, encouraged her to walk on with me lying over her back. Again she didn’t seem particularly bothered about this situation but before I sat up for the first time on her, I asked my good friends Penny and Ruth to be around as this can sometimes be the “make or break” point for youngsters. Needless to say, by late January 2017 I was sitting up on Mabel and walking around the school and riding up and down the lane to the yard without needing anyone on the end of a lead rope…my opinionated little Exmoor pony seemed to be of the opinion that ridden work was ok with her!!
Mabel has continued to surprise me this year with her willingness to learn and her ability to take things in her stride (literally!). By May – I told you I believed in taking things slowly! – we were out hacking happily alone and in company in all three paces and I had enough confidence in her to let some good friends get on board when they visited to see how Mabel behaved for someone other than myself. My super little pony didn’t disappoint and left us all with huge smiles on our faces!
In August, I decided the time was right to take Mabel to her first show under saddle so I entered the Walk/Trot dressage test at a local Riding Club’s Open Summer Show. This was a day of many firsts for Mabel – first time in the trailer by herself, first time at a big horse show with a rider on board and first dressage test. Whilst she was very vocal in the warm up area, she did settle down and produced a lovely test for me to take 3rd place overall in a fairly sizeable class! I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried tears of joy coming down the final centre line, it was such an amazing feeling to be finishing that very first test on a pony that is completely home produced and who means so much to me – its a feeling I will never forget. With that first show ticked off and firmly under our belt, we tried a local fun ride as our next outing. We went with Penny and Mabel’s yard mate Ringo and met some other friends at the ride – Mabel soon let our 17.2hh nanny horse know who was boss when he got too close at the start (typical mare!!) but soon settled and we had a lovely relaxed ride around the gorgeous North Somerset countryside – even popping over a little log or two on the way around! We finished the ride and again I was beaming from ear to ear.
In September we did a team dressage evening with Penny and Ringo and our other Exmoor friends Rachel and Hawkwell Valentine. This was the first time that Mabel’s crown slipped slightly as we were at a venue which was exceptionally exposed to the wind and it seemed to have everyone on their toes! Mabel was very tense in the warm up and even had her first buck with me on board! Nothing seemed to be helping me to settle her (even my fit of the giggles at her bucking!), I tried lots of transitions from halt to walk to trot to halt to trot to walk and so forth which usually helps me to get her brain engaged and get her listening to me…but the sheer volume of horses thundering past her coupled with the howling wind was just becoming too much for her to cope with. I decided to take her in to do the test (another walk/trot test) as I figured that whilst it would still be windy, she wouldn’t have all the other horses to worry about and I hoped she would settle. The first half of the test was really tense but then my instincts were proven correct as she settled and did a beautiful second half! Given how nicely she had settled, after the test I took her back into the busy warm up arena and rode her around for 5 minutes amongst the other horses whilst she was relaxed so that she had a nice memory of it. The final dressage test we had entered was an indoor walk/trot test at another local venue who run winter dressage championships with qualifying shows each month from Sept. Despite her again being exceptionally vocal (she REALLY wanted to keep Ringo informed of exactly what she was doing!), Mabel tried her little heart out for me and we ended up with 2nd place (on joint marks with the winner!) out of 11 entries and qualified for the walk/trot test finals in December!
I knew that from the end of September I would be giving Mabel a proper rest so before I went on holiday, having finally passed my trailer test (hurrah!!), I drove Penny and I with Ringo and Mabel to Badminton Estate for their annual fun ride. We met Susan with Kildary (another Exmoor friend!) and her daughter with her Connemara when we got there and we set off for a beautiful ride around the estate. Mabel found this ride exceptionally exciting and jogged most of the way! She didn’t ever bolt or try anything naughty so I was really pleased with her behaviour given this is a notoriously fast and busy fun ride!
I’ve been absolutely blessed to have had such fun this year with such a baby pony, she’s truly a wise head on young shoulders to have taken to her ridden life so effortlessly and I’m such a lucky and privileged owner to have a pony so trusting of me. Mabel is currently still on holiday whilst I recover from a recent operation but I’m hoping to start her winter routine in another week or so which will focus on losing weight (both of us!) and starting to prepare for some ridden novice showing classes next season. I’ll keep you all posted with her progress!