Sam's First Show


Margaret Hall

Sam and Sarah"The next class in ring two is the children's leading rein." The loudspeaker's tinny voice echoed over the field, "Will all entrants go into the ring. All entrants..."

"Mummy, I want to wee-wee."

Mum and I looked at my five-year old brother in horror.

"Oh, not now!" Mum gasped. "Can't you wait?"

David shook his head.

As they scurried over the grass to the toilet tent I turned to watch the more organised competitors entering the ring. A couple of minutes later Mum rushed back, threw David onto Sam and hurried into the ring, towing the pony behind her. She arrived just as the judging was starting.

Same kept trying to eat grass and when the judge was looking him over, he nuzzled her and left smudges of green froth on her cream-coloured jacket.

I don't suppose it helped that David's clothes were borrowed and slightly too big for him. His jodhpurs were all wrinkly around the knee and though Mum looked very smart in her trousers and hacking jacket, the other women seemed to have strayed from a garden party -- all lilac and pink dresses and matching hats with flowers. The little riders could have stepped straight out of an advert for riding clothes.

Of course we didn't get a rosette.

We consoled ourselves with an ice cream until it was time for my first event, the twelve-two and under jumping.

As I waited in the collecting ring I wished I hadn't had the ice cream. I felt sick. To make matters worse, Sam was beginning to get excited. He loved jumping, but he was still young and inexperienced. Now he jigged and fidgeted as we waited for our turn.

I checked the girth for the millionth time and then the announcer was calling my name and number. I trotted Sam into the ring and kept him moving steadily, waiting for the bell.

I headed for the first jump, sat down in the saddle and asked for canter. Sam gave a snort and a little squeal and bounded forward eagerly. We cleared it with about two feet to spare and I don't quite know how I stayed in the saddle. Sam landed bucking, almost pulled the reins from my hand and was into an excited gallop before I could do anything about it.

We missed the next three jumps completely then jumped the wall. It was quite a relief when I heard the loudspeaker announcing that we'd been eliminated for taking the wrong course.

After that fiasco we all retired to a quiet spot by the Landrover and trailer so that Sam could graze on the lead rein and calm down again. "I think you two will have to go up to Mrs Bridges for some more lessons," Mum said.

We watched Sam cropping the grass. Just at that moment you couldn't have imagined a calmer and more angelic-looking pony. He paused between mouthfuls and raised his head slightly to look at us.

"He's very good at jumps separately," I said defensively. "It's just that he hasn't got the idea of carrying on and jumping a course yet."

"Mary's daughter got a clear round of course," Mum said dismally. "I'll never hear the last of it."

Mary, Mum's friend, rode really well and showed hacks. She had bought a very expensive experienced pony for her daughter Gemma, who was in my class at school. She has always said that we had been mad to rescue Sam...

...It was over four years ago and I was only young at the time, but I can clearly remember the horse sale where we bought him. There were crowds of rough men and excited, frightened ponies which seemed huge to me then, but were probably no more than 13 hands. We hadn't intended to buy a pony, but Mary wanted to look at some Anglo-Arab young stock and Mum had gone along just to see what a horse sale was like. David was in the pushchair and though he still couldn't talk, he had waved his arms and pointed at a pen of little, furry foals. Mum pushed him over to see better and I followed.

The foals were terrified. They milled in panic as the men leant over the sides of the pen and prodded them with sticks. For a moment, a little muddy-brown foal was separated from the rest and stood alone in one corner.

Although he was frightened, he was less panicky than the others. I felt that he was a nice little pony and my heart went out to him. Mum's must have done as well, because she said, "Oh, Mary, I must have that foal."

"But they're only meat ponies," Mary said scornfully. "And you don't want a foal. You want a nice little schoolmaster for Sarah. Mrs Bridges says her riding is coming along very nicely."

But Mum didn't listen and so Sam -- as we called him -- became ours.

When we eventually got him clean, he turned out to be a very pretty bright bay, with one white sock and a narrow white blaze down his face. I carried on with my lessons at Mrs Bridges, but at home I helped with Sam and together Mum and I taught him how to lead quietly and stand to be groomed.

Last year, with lots of advice from Mrs Bridges and a heap of riding books, we broke Sam in and I started to ride him. We had taken him to a couple of gymkhanas, just to watch and get used to the atmosphere, and this was our first show.

"Perhaps we shouldn't have entered the county show this year," Mum said mournfully as she tightened Sam's girth for our last event. "Perhaps he is still too young."

"It's all experience," I said through gritted teeth. "That's what you always say. It's not the winning that matters..."

"All right, there's no need to be cheeky," Mum snapped.

I swung up into the saddle and headed back to the collecting ring. I found I was waiting next to Gemma. Her mother swept up to mine and began gushing about Gemma's latest achievements.

I judged Sam forwards as the music started for the musical sacks, the only gymkhana class I had dared enter. Sam was an excellent gymkhana pony. He was not too tall and I had been practising at home.

Before too long there were only four of us left, then three: a tall, lanky boy on an excitable chestnut, Gemma on her pony and me on Sam.

Round and round we went and then the music stopped. I turned Sam into the middle, kicked him on towards a sack and flung myself from his back to land squarely in the middle. The boy almost cannoned into me, but I was there first and now it was between me and Gemma.

"Please don't let me down. Please," I whispered to Sam as I sprang up onto his back. I risked on quick glance at Mum. She was standing by the ropes, both hands clasped in front of her face, biting her knuckles. David was bouncing up and down screaming, "Come on Sarah! Come on Sam!"

The music started again and Gemma and I circled the one remaining sack. I kept my eye on the sack and my ears glued to the loudspeaker. The music hiccupped, as though someone had jolted the record player and Gemma turned inwards, but the music went on. Angrily, she swung her pony back onto the circle. And then the music did stop.

Almost without my aids, Sam turned in and cantered for the centre. Gemma, flustered by her earlier mistake, reacted more slowly. I was off Sam's back and standing on the sack before she was even halfway there.

Sam canteringWe were all completely overcome. We hugged Sam, kissed his nose and fed him all the titbits he's usually not allowed to have -- ice creams and chocolate.

The loudspeaker was calling all the major prizewinners to assemble for the parade round the main ring. The prize bulls ambled stolidly between elegant hacks and fiery Welsh cobs. The heavy horses were entering the ring as Gemma rode by, clutching and silver cup that looked almost as large as herself.

I think she waved to us, but we hardly saw her. We didn't care that she'd won the someone-or-other's cup for best show pony, for fluttering on his bridle was Sam's first red rosette.


Created on ... April 23, 2007, which was International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day