Reprinted from Fall 1993 USPC News
Written by Jessica Jahiel (former Chair of USPC Curriculum/Standards Committee)
Artwork by Sarah Baker, Moore County Pony Club
Johnny was seven, and he was almost too nervous to sleep the night before his first Pony Club rating. As soon as it was light enough to see, he got up and dressed quietly, putting on his blue socks for luck. He tried to not be nervous, but at breakfast he could manage only one piece of toast.
Johnny had been going to meetings of the Pegasus Pony Club for almost three months. He liked the instructors, he liked Mrs. Carson, who was the barn owner and the DC, and he liked the other kids and the horses and ponies. But he didn't think that he would ever know enough to get his D-1 rating.
In case he needed it, he took along a pencil for his rating test. And just in case it broke, he took along another one.
His father drove him to the barn. "Are you sure you don't want me to stick around?” his father asked.
"No, thanks,” said Johnny, "but you'll come and get me after, won't you? It's supposed to be over at two o'clock.”
"Sure thing,” said his father, and he squeezed Johnny's arm and said, "Go get ‘em, Tiger!”
Johnny didn't feel much like a tiger, but he smiled and waved as his father left.
When Johnny walked into the barn, he saw horses everywhere. There were horses being groomed, horses being tacked up, and a horse in the wash rack getting a bath. In the big outdoor arena, he saw two groups of riders.
Johnny looked in the arena to see who was there. The riders in one group were going for their C-3 ratings, and someone had come from another state to test them. They were riding at the far end of the arena. Johnny didn't know anyone in that group, but he did recognize two of the younger riders in the group at the near end of the arena. These were going for their C-1 rating, and they were all standing quietly as their tester gave them instructions. Just then something touched Johnny's arm and made him jump!
Johnny looked around and saw a pretty blonde girl he recognized from the last mounted meeting. Her name was Suzanne, and she was a C-3. She had given a demonstration ride on her horse, Grady, to show the Ds what kind of riding they would have to do someday when they took their C-3 test.
Johnny thought that Grady was just about the most beautiful horse he had ever seen, and he asked Suzanne where he was.
"Grady's at home, probably rolling in the dirt and having a great time. I'm not riding today. I'm just here to help out. It's so busy, with all the ratings going on,” Suzanne replied.
Johnny nodded. "I know. I'm supposed to take my D-1 test – I mean my rating. But I don't know where I'm supposed to go to take the test, or even when it is. I brought two pencils.”
Suzanne smiled. "Tell you what – put the pencils somewhere safe. You won't need them for a while. And let's go and get your pony ready – okay if I come along? I like Tweetie, for I used to ride her a long time ago.”
"Really?” asked Johnny. "Sure, I bet Tweetie'll be happy to see you, and maybe you can tell me about some of the rating stuff – not the answers or anything like that, but I just don't know what I'm supposed to know!”
Johnny went into Tweetie's stall. He greeted her from the door, then walked up and put his hand on the bay pony's shoulder. "Hi Tweetie, how are you? I've got your halter.” He fastened it, and led her carefully out of the stall and into the barn aisle.
Suzanne helped him tie Tweetie with a quick-release knot, and Johnny put his grooming box on top of a convenient hay bale. He took the stiff brush and began brushing the dirt and shavings out of Tweetie's coat.
"She likes the scratchy brush, doesn't she?” asked Suzanne. "I think she must be a very itchy pony.”
"Yes,” replied Johnny. "Look how she leans toward me – it must feel really good. She doesn't like the body brush as much, but it makes her look pretty and shiny. See? She really likes it.”
Suzanne nodded. "What are her itchiest parts, do you think?”
Johnny thought about it. "Well, just behind her ears, and just over her eyes, because she always wants to rub her head on my arm. And right in front of her withers. And the top of her neck, and her chest, and sometimes right in the middle of her forehead. And the top of her rump, just before the tail starts. But she doesn't like me to brush her flanks, so they must not itch at all!”
Johnny wiped the brush across the currycomb several times. "Did you know that you should never, ever use a metal curry comb on a horse? It's just for cleaning brushes, not horses. Betty told us that at the last meeting.”
He put the brush and curry back into the box, then took out his hoofpick. "I put a piece of tape on this with my name on it in case it gets lost. I don't want to lose it – I couldn't clean Tweetie's feet without it.”
Suzanne smiled at Johnny. "That's true,” she said, "but what if you didn't clean her feet. Do you think it would hurt her?”
Johnny looked puzzled. "Well, not exactly hurt, but if there was a rock or nail in her foot that might hurt her, I wouldn't know it was there and get it out if I didn't clean her feet! And it might make her lame, and Mrs. Carson would have to call the vet to give her some medicine, and it would be my fault!”
He had been picking up Tweetie's feet in turn and cleaning each carefully from heel to toe with the hoofpick. He put the last foot down and stood up straight. "Will you watch her for a minute, please, Suzanne. I have to get her tack.”
Johnny came back with a fleece saddle pad, an old saddle, and a bridle. "If she were my pony I would buy her all new things. But I'd keep this pad, though – it's pretty nice.” He put the pad halfway up Tweetie's neck.
"That's interesting,” said Suzanne. "Why don't you like her tack, and what would you buy instead?”
"Well,” said Johnny, heaving the saddle onto the pad and pushing both of them back behind Tweetie's withers, "I like this pad because it's really soft and nice, and it's white, so I can tell if it's clean.”
"Is that important?” asked Suzanne.
"It's very, very important!” Johnny replied. "The pad goes right next to her skin! If there's dirt and old hair and lumpy things, it will itch her and it might even make sores!”
"Right you are,” said Suzanne. "But what about the tack?”
"Oh, yes,” said Johnny. "Well, this saddle is really old, which is nice because it's all soft, but it looks sort of ugly. The pommel is too high and the cantle is too high and the seat is so big I can slide around in it. And the flaps – see? – have got all worn, and this one has a patch. I would buy her a new saddle, an all-purpose one like the one Sandy has over there, because you can do all of the Pony Club things in a saddle like that.
"But Mrs. Carson says that this saddle will last a long time yet, because it's good leather and it gets cleaned every time it's used, and that makes leather last longer. And she replaced the billets last month – see? These are a different color, but nobody sees them, so it's okay. And they're safer. But they're shorter than the old ones, so it's hard for me to fasten the girth now, especially if Tweetie holds her breath!”
Johnny had been talking so fast that he stopped for a moment to catch his breath. "The bridle is okay, I guess, but it's just flat leather, and it has laced reins. The bridle I want is at the tack store – I saw it when our Pony Club went there on a field trip. It's real pretty! It's really dark, almost black, and the browband and the cavesson – is that the right word? – are both sort of rounded and they have white edges. And the reins are plain leather to about here, and then they have rubber on them so your hands don't slip. It would look great on Tweetie.”
"What about the bit?” asked Suzanne.
"Oh, yeah,” said Johnny. "Well, I would keep this one, I guess, because I don't know very much about bits, and Mrs. Carson says that this fits Tweetie, and she's used to it. It's called an eggbutt snaffle, did you know that? And I have to wash it off whenever I ride so that poor Tweetie doesn't have a dirty bit to wear the next time.”
When Tweetie was tacked up, Suzanne suggested that Johnny warm up in the outdoor arena. He mounted from the mounting block, picked up his reins and then just sat for a minute, wondering what to do next and how much time he had before his test would begin.
Suzanne closed the gate and came over to him. "Would you mind doing some different things so I can watch? It's been a long time since I rode Tweetie, but I remember how it used to feel.”
"Oh,” said Johnny, "you mean like a lesson? Where we're told what to do and we do it?”
"Yes, just like that,” she answered.
"Great!” said Johnny. "But let's hurry before I have to go take my test.”
"Okay,” said Suzanne. "Let's begin with a walk, on the rail, to the left. Go ahead and walk around that turn, then trot, okay?”
Johnny walked and trotted, turned to the right and to the left, walked and halted in front of Suzanne. He lengthened his reins until they were almost loose, and he gave Tweetie a pat. "Good girl,” he told her.
Suzanne asked him to shorten his reins and sit up, then to walk across the arena, and go the other direction. "Super!” said Suzanne. "You and Tweetie really get along, don't you? Keep walking for a minute – I'm going to put a couple of rails on the ground here for you to walk over. Can you get into your jumping position?”
Johnny pushed down on Tweetie's neck for a moment as he came up out of his saddle and stretched his legs down. He leaned forward to keep his balance, took his hands off Tweetie's neck – and fell right back into the saddle.
"I'm trying, but I'm not very good at this,” he said. "We just learned it at the last meeting. Christie – she's a C-1 – taught me how to do it, but it's hard!”
"That's okay,” said Suzanne. "Just try, and it's okay to grab a piece of Tweetie's mane in one hand – that won't bother her – and keep your position while you walk over these poles.”
She watched Johnny. "That's not bad, really. You just need a lot of practice. Do you know why you need to be able to do this?”
"Yes, I think so,” said Johnny. "It's for jumping, so that I can keep my balance, and not bang on Tweetie's back. But right now I can't keep my balance, and I DO bang on her back, and we aren't even jumping yet!”
Suzanne smiled. "That's okay. You're doing a good job, anyway. Now why don't you just lengthen your reins again, sit up, and walk her around for a few minutes. Do you think she needs to be cooled out?”
Johnny shook his head. "No, she isn't even a little bit hot, and she isn't sweating or breathing hard or anything. Did you see that horse that just went by? It's really hot, and that girl will have to walk it for about two hours, I bet.”
"Well, maybe for a half an hour, anyway,” said Suzanne. "I think Mrs. Carson is calling us in for lunch. What will you do with Tweetie?”
"I don't know – maybe I'll have to ride her for part of my test or something. I guess if it's lunchtime, and I don't have to ride until this afternoon, I'll groom her and put her back in her stall, and then clean tack if there's time.”
Johnny thought for a second and said, "Oh, and if it's time to feed, maybe Mrs. Carson will let me feed her. She gets grass hay and hardly any oats at all, just one handful, but Mrs. Carson doesn't mind if I give her a carrot. Oats can make her kind of wild, I guess, and too many oats can make her sick.”
Johnny patted Tweetie on the neck and glanced around the arena. "I just wish I knew when the test will be. I'm afraid I'll be too nervous to remember all the stuff I need to know.” He halted and dismounted, ran up the stirrups, loosened the girth, and took the reins over Tweetie's head to lead her to the barn.
Suzanne said, "Come here a minute, Johnny,” and out of her pocket she took a Pony Club pin with a yellow felt back. She pinned it on his shirt and said, "Congratulations, Johnny. You're a D-1!”
Johnny shook his head. "But I can't be! I haven't had my test yet! All I have done is talk to you and ride Tweetie. All I've been doing is having fun!”
Suzanne smiled again and said, "Well, testing is supposed to be fun – it isn't supposed to be scary. And just what do you think you've been doing all morning? You showed me that you care about Tweetie, you know about tack and grooming and the parts of a horse and everything else you were supposed to know about. Your riding was just fine, and now you're a D-1! And isn't that your father over there?”
Johnny looked over his shoulder, and there, standing outside the arena, was his father with a big smile on his face and his hands clasped high over his head.
"All right, Tiger,” said his father.
Johnny waved to his father, hugged Tweetie, shook hands with Suzanne, and walked the pony back to the barn. His father and Suzanne watched him go. Both of them knew that on this special day, Tweetie was sure to get an extra carrot from Johnny, Pegasus Pony Club's proud new D-1.