This past Saturday evening I put the hounds in the truck, and drove to Percy Warner Park for a walk. The steeplechase course seemed like a good idea. This time of year the air is cool, the grass is short, and the ticks are few. But when we walked up the hill on top of the field I saw it already taken, for this was the weekend of the Pony Club Trials. We would have to stick to the main drive and be content with a walk on the periphery.
The scene from above, looking down and over towards the fields and the stables was panoramic. Bruegel-esque.
Ponies jumping, well wishers cheering. An announcer announcing.
The dogs and I stopped. They sniffed. I looked, though I had neither camera nor binoculars. I had plans to move along, since my adult life has had little to do with horses, and horses have had nothing to do with me, but the dogs dawdled and I lingered for ten minutes or so.
At first the pony jumping seemed random, but then I began to follow it, and I found myself unexpectedly entertained.
A small person-too far away to be judged male or female-came trotting onto the course on a stubby pony called "Dudley Do-Right". Dudley looked as though he would be more at home in the hills of Scotland, but he was a game little animal with lots of spark. When it came to jumping he was a business man closing a deal. Over he went, short as he was, and when he trotted back to start, people applauded his earnestness.
Not so enthusiastic was another pony. He was bored. His trot was bored, and I am certain his little rider was at wit's end. This horse approached the jump as though it was a gate to be stopped at. And stop he did. His rider turned him around, and this time he deigned to trot forward. He hopped over the fence as though it was a puddle.
Restless dogs pulled me a long a bit,but we stopped again.
Here came another mini rider on a mini horse, and though they were a good distance away, they glowed like a Halloween pumpkin, for the rider was wearing a day-glo orange riding helmet. I would not have bothered to even note this,had the horse not been wearing some kind of orange matching boots on his front feet. I never heard the announcer announce the name of this flashy pony, but I hope it was not "Little Orange" or" Mr U.T.".( Some people's college football mania invades every corner of their lives).
We started to walk again, but then heard cries of "Help me! Help Me!.
Out on the edge of the jumping range a pony had taken off full speed in the wrong direction headed down toward Old Hickory Boulevard. He took his rider halfway down, but she stayed on, and at some point the horse's conscience kicked in and he slowed down and stopped. Down sped an official 4 wheeler, to make sure all was well.
This was enough for me. Dusk was coming, and we had to keep walking and away we went. We saw two turkeys in the woods that came up and crossed the drive, and this set the beagle howling.
We turned and came back, but the meet was over and the ponies were going away in their trailers. When we walked back out there this evening a small tractor was carrying the jumps away.
Lucky are girls whose parents let them have a horse, and deep must be those parents' pockets.
I have said I have little to do with horses, but when I was twelve, owning one was my greatest hope. I bicycled after school up to a stable owned by a man named Bill Hall. I mucked out the stables in return for riding lessons. I learned to take small jumps.During a dry spell I helped bring the horses down to the Little Sugar River for water.
One night I rode a placid old trainer horse-half Percheron draft horse. He was big and white and his back was a wide as a sofa, which was a good thing , because when he smelled the river he took off with me riding bareback and bouncing un-mercifully. Fifty years later I can still see those giant feet beneath me, big enough to crush my head.
My horse dreams did not last.
We moved. We had little money. We moved again. My enthusiasm leached away, and when, later in life, I could have afforded a horse, I never thought of it, for for me had been a "phase", and young girls have their phases. They want to be horsewomen or they break it to their parents that they want to become a nun. They want to be an ornithologist or a world explorer.
How relieved their mothers are when these girls come to their senses and settle for less-