When I agreed to steward for the pony classes, I thought it would be a fun thing to do. I didn’t realise I was signing away my August Bank Holiday ad infinitum. That, however, has been the case. I’m actually quite scared to say: “No, sorry, no can do.” I plan to duck and dive a bit instead…
Showing classes, or rather the people who show their horses, have rather a reputation for competitiveness. Even – or should I say, especially - the tiny tots on the lead-rein: the determined mothers dressed in tweed matching their adored little one’s jacket, the toning ribbons in the child’s hair (it’s usually a girl) and the pretty Welsh pony and its tack polished to within an inch of their lives. “You’re on the wrong diagonal!” I heard an anguished father hiss at his daughter as they trotted passed. When I was that size, I had no idea what a diagonal was.
Then there are the Arab owners. There are two types of people who buy Arabs: the jolly hockey sticks endurance types and those with a desire to show their exceptional equine in-hand. The in-hand Arabs arrive, their dished faces adorned with traditional rolled leather Arabian bridles, their heads held high and their pixie-like ears pricked to attention. They are usually accompanied by the most unhorsy horsy people you would expect to see in a show ring. If it wasn’t for the leather cane carried under the arm, the flat shoes for running, and of course, the horse, you could be forgiven if you thought they were supposed to be somewhere else.
They appear perfectly lovely, hair piled high, immaculately dressed and made up – until something goes wrong. Like when they’re late and the class has started – and finished - without them. Then they’re not so sweet. As they argue with the judge, you think: “You’d have made it if you hadn’t spent so much time in front of the mirror.” But you don’t say anything.
You don’t know whether to speak up, either, when the judge bends down to examine a pony’s hooves .. . and leaves her tweed skirt around her ankles. You bite your lip to stop yourself laughing, then wonder if you should dash to her aid. The competitor standing nearby prods you. “Steward! Don’t you think you should be helping your judge?” As you traipse across the field, you hope she’ll notice before you get there. She doesn’t, but fortunately she has a sense of humour.
As you leave after the last class, you cringe as you hear her tell the reporter from the local paper: “You’ll never guess what just happened to me …”