Ponies past: memories of some of my favourite former RDA horses
I've had a few conversations recently about some of my group's past RDA horses of note, and have also realised that there's only one horse left on the yard, the legendary Mr Brown, who has been there longer than I have (my group has been running for 46 years, so we have plenty of people whose own original cast has been gone a long time already). It's been almost a year since we lost Speckles, probably the most irreplaceable RDA pony I will ever meet. What unites pretty much everyone in the RDA community are our fond memories of the equines who have shaped our experiences. I am thinking a lot about the present and future at the moment, so this week's post is a bit of a fun retrospective: memories of some of the most notable equines from my time with my RDA group. I would love to hear about your "ponies past" too.
|Brandy (left) and Luke|
I always think that Brandy, pictured above, is what an archetypal RDA horse looks like. He was a sensible 14.3hh, had a kind face with big dark eyes, was solid but remarkably graceful, and a patient, understanding educator. He had a beautiful walk and would produce the most workmanlike, accurate square halts when riders learnt enough to ask him nicely for them, and also a trot which split opinions between "rhythmical and a little bouncy" to "excruciating" (most were prepared to forgive him for it!). He was a regular at regional and national competitions with a record to rival Speckles', and was universally loved by children, adults, and even certified-non-horsey parents. He genuinely thrived in an RDA group atmosphere, which is never guaranteed for even the horses who are perfect on paper.
Perhaps Brandy's greatest flaw was that he could be cold backed, and sometimes liked to keep us guessing with quite how cold backed he was going to be on a particular day. During my first ever trip to Nationals in 2012, despite having been worked in at the start of the day, Brandy had a bit of a funny moment in a warm up arena with a young rider. A flurry of horse switching ensued and I was dispatched to sit on Brandy until he remembered what the title of "one of Abingdon RDA's very best horses" entailed. As the competition was in full swing, this meant a bit of a trek to find anything that resembled an arena where a non-disabled rider could ride, and the length of the walk seemed more than adequate for him to have a good think about what he'd done. The next day, with another young rider, he came in first in an enormous class (Carl Hester even presented the rosettes) and order was restored. We have been without Brandy for seven years now and I still think of him regularly. He was one of the good guys.
|Meg in her starring role|
|Mickey, shortly before "Fun Day splashdown"|
"Gentle giant" is one of the equestrian world's biggest and oldest clichés, but I've yet to meet a horse who lived that description more than dear old Mickey: the only mickey he ever took was his name. He was part Shire and all dependable soul, although in his later years his XL proportions did mean that he couldn't take any corners whatsoever in our indoor arena. He took on the world at a pace he deemed appropriate for himself and his RDA participant charges of varying sizes (I don't think he even noticed the weight of the under-10s who got to have a go on him, but he was conscientious nonetheless) and looked on sagely at smaller and/or younger horses overtaking him in gymkhana races. On my first ever Fun Day with my group, while negotiating an obstacle course as Mickey's Designated Helper Human, his rider stopped at a particularly fun obstacle which involved dropping things into a trug full of water, balanced on a large upturned barrel. Mickey's young jockey caught this with his foot and precipitated a veritable waterfall which soaked everything in its path: the grass (fortunately), and me (unfortunately). Mickey turned his head briefly to give me a wry "oh dear oh dear oh dear" sort of look, but was otherwise unmoved by the spectacle, and by the resultant screeches of laughter from all around the yard. Bless him.
|Charlie B with Laura at Nationals 2014|
Blue (dishonourable mention)
I had to end this post with a dishonourable mention for a pony who was a notable character, if not quite a favourite. Small, grey, and allegedly in his "slowing down" years, Blue (unimaginative but descriptive passport name: Little Blue, alternative name(s): Little B-insert what you would like here) on paper was a matching stable mate for our well-established Cheeky Charlie. In practice, he was not on board with the "quieter speed of life" plans and although I don't recall him being bothered by any equipment, sights, sounds, or unexpected things our riders did, he was equally unbothered about taking instructions from leaders. At about 11.2 hands, he was also the perfect size for crawling out of stables and under fences (electric switched on? No worries - an interesting challenge!). I have spent more time than is optimal chasing our current Welsh Section A, Bryn, around the yard or the wrong field when he's pulled one of his Houdini tricks, but he is a delight to use in lessons and, proportionally, Blue spent way more time dishing out those sorts of shenanigans.
Blue was only with us for a summer, just long enough to be involved in the annual Fun Day, when I was awarded the job of being his designated leader. Every small child allocated to him won every single gymkhana race, and despite several years of doing a sport involving lifting actual human beings above my head I have yet to experience an upper body workout quite like the experience of keeping Blue in an RDA-appropriate pace. I think that day made it very clear that he was not interested at all in scaling down to RDA life with our smallest riders - it certainly isn't for every horse! - so he didn't stay long term. We do still laugh about how he towed me about that day, though...
|Blue vs. India's arms in action... Charlie, right, looks decidedly more civilised.|