Horse tales

Enough of the pity party – you can all come back now!  Thank you very much for the comments though.  On to more fun things …

I think I had my first ride on a pony when I was about three years old; a small black Australian stock pony owned by the farmer’s kids a looooooong way up the road from our farm.  Jedda, I think she was called.  I rode her again, properly, several years later and she was a firecracker, brilliant fun.  For the next several years I had occasional pony rides at fairs, and even a few lessons when I was eight; we were living in Kent, England at the time.  Then when I was twelve my mother finally gave in and let me have lessons, thinking the horsey-bug would soon wear off after a few falls and a lot of dust and muck.

Quite the opposite, unfortunately.  I progressed in lessons relatively quickly, moving up through the ranks, changing riding stables a couple of times, riding once or even twice a week until I was eighteen.  As well as riding stables I helped out at an agistment place, feeding, mucking out and exercising horses owned by other luckier people than I.

I got to know some amazing characters in that time – human and horse, but it’s the horses I remember best.

Cementing forever my love-hate relationship with Shetland ponies was a little brown and white paint[or “skewbald” as they were known way back then – “piebald” is black and white splotches] called Peter Pan.  Small, shaggy, cute, cheeky and evil incarnate, that was PP.   I got to ride him a lot because [and this is a recurring theme] I was so small for my age and about a foot shorter than the other kids/adults in my group.  PP was not above putting in a buck or two during a canter, or deliberately lying down and rolling in the middle of the arena.  I also had some brilliant rides on him, a wild bush ride in a storm where the horses were all galloping flat out and PP galloped harder than them all; fording a river that was up to most of the horses’ chests, and PP swimming for it with my knees up on his neck a la race jockey.  I learnt a lot from that pony; namely to never trust Shetlands.

Shadowfax was a fairy tale pony, a light grey Welsh Pony with pretty Arabian dished face, huge dark eyes, a silvery mane and tail.  I’d read Lord Of The Rings by the time I was twelve and to me, he was the lord of all horses.  Riding him was a thrill because he was so responsive and unlike the other riding school ponies, who were so bored [and boring], had “dead” mouths and even dead-er sides.  Commands to go, stop, go faster, turn, etc, are directed through leg and hand signals; if a horse has a hard mouth and sides then riding becomes a frustrating experience.  Shadowfax on the other hand required the merest twitch, the slightest pressure and he was off … heady stuff.  To a certain extent a good horse helps make a good, or better, rider, and I got an inkling of that closeness of contact and communication with Shadowfax.

Then there was Blobby, who I used to exercise and muck out, groom, feed etc for an agistment stable.  Blobby was his stable name, he had a long posh pedigree name worthy of an enormous black thoroughbred stallion.  He was 17.3 hands high [horses are measured in hands from ground to the withers – where the neck meets the back – and one “hand” = four inches] which equates to Blobby’s back being about six feet up.  Given I didn’t stop growing until I was 28, and barely made it to 5’2”, as a 16 year old I was around 4’10” … that’s a long way up, a long way down. 

Fortunately, even though Blobby was a three-day eventer in training he was very gentle, and a bit dumb.  Riding him I felt like the proverbial pimple on a haystack, or whatever that proverb is – perched up there on this massive beast.  Like riding the Trojan Horse.  But wow the feeling of power and speed even at a walk … Whew.

My absolute favourite, most beloved of horses, the equine love of my life, was a paint pony stallion called Picasso.  Re; those hands I talked about just there, well “ponies” are differentiated from “horses” by breed and by size; an equine of 14.2 hh and under is a “pony”.  Picasso was of unknown breed, probably had some Welsh cob in him from the look of his build and his feathered feet, and hadn’t been gelded until he was about six years old; he was about eight when I met him.  Stallions are a different thing altogether;  they are built differently as all that testosterone goes into building up huge neck muscle and a flaring tail, they strut and tend to be aggressive to other male horses.  Boy horses are usually gelded at 1.5 to 2 years of age unless being marked for stud duties.  I don’t know how Cassy slipped through the net!  At eight he still had the stallion build and mannerisms, the strut and the single-minded interest in mares.   

He was a delight to ride; perhaps most delightful was that he didn’t “go” for everybody, and I was one of the humans he got along with.  I learnt a lot with that little guy [whose back was still higher than my head despite the “pony” designation!], the waltz rhythm of a canter, a glue-like seat, strong legs … We loved to jump, and would go gang-busters over the small course set out, then lap the others in the class for another go!  He was wasted as a school horse, and I knew he wouldn’t stay there long … I so wanted him for myself, by then I knew he was a one in a million animal, I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else near him let alone buying him, as for never seeing him again, wah … One day I turned up for my weekend riding lesson to find my Picasso gone.  I hadn’t even said goodbye.

I can’t wait to get to know the new horses in my life; they’ll be different, I know that, being special horses for special people, but I hope there’s one or two I can develop a connection with, feel that responsiveness, the power and glory.    

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Comments

  • Katie  On Monday 17 December 2007 at 10:24 am

    Horses are beautiful creatures. I have never owned one but my childhood friend had a few on her farm and we’d ride them around. I used to be scared of them! I’m sorry that you didn’t get to say goodbye to Picasso, it’s hard to just turn up and have him gone! 😦

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