Begin by fetching your grooming kit: a crucial possession for any horse-mad child. This unassuming blue tub contains the weapons you’ll need to defeat a dirty pony.
Don’t forget: Each tool has a function. Use it correctly. If in doubt, study your Pony Club binder (the one covered in stickers of horse breeds). Remember to label your brushes with your name. Especially the nice ones.
Next, inspect the victim, who dragged her feet the whole way in from the overgrown field with the creaky gate, snuffling and nudging at your pocket in search of polo mints. Let go of the inevitable annoyance as you recall that, on the way out to the field, she tows you like a team of hungry huskies and frequently treads on your toes. As you tie her up on the orange loop of hay-bale twine, she gives you one of those buttery looks. How was she to know that rolling in the sloppiest, slurpiest, most delectable puddle in the whole field would turn every inch of white hair a soggy brown?
Move the grooming kit nearer to you, but not so near that if the pony gets antsy and dances her hind end in a semi-circle, she might step on it and scare you, then herself, then the barn swallows perched on a nearby stable door.
Begin with step 1: How much mud? Is it glistening wet or flaky dry? If wet, take the reluctant pony to the hose pipe. (You will get at least as much water in your paddock boots as you manage to spray on her coat. Pony will act deeply offended by the process, yanking her head up like a giraffe, and maybe singing your skin as the lead rope whips through your clutched palms.) If the mud is dry, leave it for later, and move on to the next step.
Step 2: Tap the pony on her right foreleg to ask her to pick up her hoof. Enjoy the fact that she does this immediately, unlike the bigger horses who seem immune to your touch, and twitch their skin as though shirking a fly. With the hoof pick (point facing away from you), scoop out clumps of sweet-smelling mud and gravel. Get the angle just right, and the whole clod will pop out onto the concrete with a satisfying thud. Scrape gently in and around the v-shaped frog to check for lingering stones. Remember how much she limped last time you missed one?
Step 3: Move the soft, flexible rubber curry comb in concentric circles, to coax off the dry scales of mud, and begin to get the black-and-white coat clean(er) from the bottom up. Warning: Hair will shed. Have a tissue or a sleeve ready to capture sneezes. You will probably manage to deal with the right hand side of the pony before your arm starts to ache, or your mind starts to wander.
Step 4: With the hard plastic curry comb, attempt to brush through the wiry, mad-scientist mane, that flashes white and then black. Like an explorer of the New World, you will discover mud in places you thought uninhabitable. Frustration will transition to admiration, as you pull the teeth of the comb through the hair that’s thick as electrical wire. Two minutes later, you will realize the futility of the entire exercise, as you just created more tangles than before.
Step 5: Consider the tail. Despite yesterday’s scrubbing, the tail is caked with mud, full of burrs, and yellowish—except for the central streak of black, like a gutter pipe. Prick your fingers on 10 burrs, and then move on. You can return to this task later.
Step 6: Use the dandy brush, with the thick bristles, to attack remaining clumps of mud dried onto her legs from this morning’s roll. Once satisfied, switch to the body brush, with soft bristles, to brush gently across neck, shoulder, and then around the trusting eyes. If you find the right spot between her ears, your pony will lower her head and rest it just above your chest.
Step 7: Return to the tail, thick and defiant as a hedge of holly. Run your fingers between the strands of hair, separating them two at a time. Run the brush over the bottom, first, and work your way up. Your pony will begin to grow irritated; be sure not to get flicked in the face. Continue until the tail looks presentable and you probably won’t get in trouble from your riding instructor.
Finally, take a nearby broom and use the handle to prod the light switch amidst grey cobwebs. In the half-light of the single bulb, consider your work. If inclined, pull out a polo mint from your pocket, and watch the pony’s ears stand to attention. Smile, as her whiskered lips hoover it off your palm.
She’ll be dirty again tomorrow, but it doesn’t matter. You are a girl, and she is your pony.