Friday, November 14, 2008

Ashley and her horses

Ashley and her horses.

Ashley fell in love with horses when she went to visit a pony club at five. Sensing her love for horses, her school arranged for her to volunteer at the local pony club. Her interest continues, and she learned show jumping and became a horse riding instructor.

The Crawfords lived in Kendal, a small town in the picturesque Lake District in England.

Dad worked in the local post office and Mum, Moira stayed at home with five years old Ashley and baby Paul.

At five, Ashley went on her nursery class field trip to the local pony club. Moira went with other mums and younger siblings. Moira didn't like the smell of the stables and the dust of dry hay. She was afraid that the hay would give hay fever to Paul. But for Ashley, it was love at first sight. She won't leave when everyone moved from the foal stalls out to the arena where the pony owner had put up a dressage show for his little visitors.

"You coming or not? The show is starting," shouted her teacher.

"Coming right up!" Ashley ran to catch up with the group.

Ashley's jaw dropped through out the show, she watched in awe as a young girl on a chestnut horse rode into the ring.

"Walk and trot, walk and trot, walk and trot."

"Canter pirouettes." The instructor told the girl on the horse.

"Walk and trot, walk and trot, walk and trot. Canter pirouettes,Canter pirouettes," parroted Ashley on the way home in the mini bus.

"Walk and trot, walk and trot, walk and trot.Canter pirouettes, canter pirouettes ," Ashley kept muttering and muttering to herself when she got home.

Ashley made up a chant with these words. It was like a broken record stuck in the grove and it was driving Moira crazy. Ashley was talking and breathing and sleeping horses. It didn't stop there. Grandma Carolyn rang and Ashley told her about her trip to the pony club and how when she grew up she wanted to ride a horse and compete in show jumping .

On her sixth birthday, Grandma gave Ashley her the old classic book Black Beauty: The Autobiography of a Horse by Anna Sewell. Moira was upset; she thought Ashley was too young to read it. She didn't like her Mum encouraging Ashley by giving her horse books.

"Mum, you know Ashley is too young for the book."

"There is nothing wrong with the book. It is a classic children's book of all times. And as for Ashley's craze for horses, it is just a phrase, just a phrase."

Now, Moira had to read the book over and over again, and Ashley kept the book under her pillow when she went to bed, and she took it to school to read.

Ashley's teacher Mrs. Edwards thought she was too young to read Black Beauty, and was very surprised that Ashley had memorized the book from back to front. Mrs. Edward thought she was blindly memorizing the book, but was pleasantly surprised Ashley answered her questions accurately. After that, she didn't bet an eye when Ashley brought the same book to read every day.

Ashley sat glued to the television. She was watching the European Eventing Championships. Her idol, Princess Anne was in the lead after the dressage and cross country. There was only the show jumping left to go.

Ashley knew all about the equestrian sport which comprised of dressage, show jumping and eventing.

"Mum, can I have a horse?"

"You know we don't have the money for a horse. You dad doesn't get paid much, you know.'

Ashley began to have an imaginary black horse, Ebony. Some days, Ebony went to school with her. Some days Ebony stayed at home. Ashley didn't play with anyone and Mrs. Edwards was a bit worried. The teachers thought she was an autistic child.

Mrs. Edward rang Moira, "What is Ashley like at home?"

"Why? is she in trouble?"

"In school, she talks and "plays" with Ebony all the time. And she doesn't play with any of the children."

"Yes. she is so obsessed with horses that I too am getting a little worried."

"I will ask the school counselor to have a little talk with her if that is ok with you."

"Please do, all these horsey talk started when we visited the pony club."

The counselor, Mrs. Reed had her interview. She found that Ashley was a normal little girl who just was a bit obsessed with horses. Ashley really wanted a horse.

"Your little girl just likes horses,"

"What can I do, I can't afford anything to do with horses, You know, it is a rich man's game."

"I can arrange with the pony club's manager Mr. Thompson if he will take her in as a volunteer. It will either increase her interest or kill it all together." Mrs. Reed told Moira.

Moira went that Saturday morning to the pony club with Ashley.

"Welcome, so here's my biggest fan." Greeted mr. Thompson.

"Mrs. Edwards said I can come here to help in exchange for some riding lessons."

"Well, that depends on how well you like the other things about horses. Working in the Pony Club is not just riding, you know. You need to start from scratch."

"I will do anything, just tell me."

"Jill, come over and meet Ashley."

"Hi Ashley, I heard you really like horses."

"Yes, I can't wait to start."

"First you will have to help Jill muck out stables, and give the horses some hay."

"So you got a new apprentice and I am promoted so I can have more lessons?" asked Jill.

"You have been a great apprentice, but Ashley might need some help from you."

Ashley wore a pair of Wellington boots and started her work. She took to cleaning the stable like a duck to water. She didn't mind the smell of the muck. She sang along as she worked and was such a happy leary that the manager was wondering how long she would last.

"Don't worry, ninety percent of the girls don't make it to show jumping. Seventy per cent don't even last to get to ride a horse, and forty per cent don't come back after their first visit and ten per cent don't last the morning.. We deliberately work them hard so only the keenest and the most commited remain." Mr. Thompson told Moira.

"Time for lunch break," Mr. Thompson called the workers.

"You are a good kid," said Jill.

"When do I get to ride?"

"At the end of the day, you will if you continue to work hard. Are you certain you still want to work here? Not many kids like this kind of mucky work," encouraged Mr. Thompson.

Ashley was unfazed. She had never been happier before. At 4.30pm, Jill told her she could have her lucky break.

"Here, choose a pair of boots that suits you, and I think this hat is just right for you."

'Jill helped Ashley to mount, using the mounting block at the side of the yard.

"You hold the reins and I will lead the horse. This horse is Honey. She is an old retired race horse and is gentle with new riders."

Jill led Honey round the arena.

"When are we going to canter?"

Ashley was getting impatient of sitting on the horse passively as they walked round and round the arena.

"You canter when you are ready!"

Ashley felt tall, and the wind blowing about her hair. It just seemed so quickly when Jill said, "Time to go home, are you coming again."

"Wild horses are not going to keep me away, sorry about the punt."

"We are going to be good friends, I love horses just like you."

Moira was waiting with Paul anxiously wondering how the day got on.

Mr. Thompson said with a wink. "Ashley has a great future in horses, you are coming back next Saturday, are you?"

"Yes, I am, Mum, I wish you were here to see me on the horse, I wish you brought the camera so you can take a photo of me for Grandma."

"Sorry, Ashley, you knew I couldn't stay in the club the whole day with Paul. I promise you next week, I will come earlier and take a photo of you."

Ashley proved to be a real enthusiast of horses. Mr. Thompson gave her longer and longer lessons. She didn't require Jill to lead the horse. She could walk and trot, and canter. Soon she was promoted to lead the horses of children who came to ride the horses. Mr. Thompson could see that Ashley was a natural with horses, she talked to them, and she was so tender with them. He also saw that she had a flair for show jumping.

"Hi Ashley, you been with us for three years, how do you like it?"

"Oh! Mr. Thompson, I love it."

"You served your apprenticeship well. What about you come on Sunday and train for show jumping?"

"You are not kidding are you?"

"When have you seen me kidding?"

So every Saturday, Ashley came as a stable hand. On Sunday, she came to be a student. She was proud to be entrusted with a good horse. She imagined that silverbell was hers and hers alone. Now, she was the rider to be admired by children who came to visit the club.

Mr. Thompson chose her to go for county competitions. She loved the clothing when she dressed for formality. She was as proud as a peacock when she wore white breeches, and a white shirt and white gloves. She felt a million and she wished Grandma was there to see her first competition.

Ashley didn't win her first competition,

"Never mind, this is your first competition. You have done very well," said Jill and Mr. Thompson.

Unfortunately, Ashley was never good enough to win many competitions in show jumping. But her years in the pony club paid off. She got her certifications and qualified to be a horse riding instructor. She didn't have to pay for the expensive lessons. She learnt this skill through hard work of muck and grime. But it was a job she loved. She was only sixteen.

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