For the love of horses

I have loved horses for as long as I can remember. Where this came from I don’t know, we lived in a terraced house with a small backyard and the only horse I saw belonged to the rag and bone man. The first book I can remember reading on my own was Black Beauty, borrowed from a neighbour, reverently wrapped in tissue paper and with old-fashioned colour plates. I loved it and was about 7 or 8. From then on I read everything I could get my hands on about horses and ponies: all Ruby Ferguson’s books, ‘Silver Brumby’ books, ‘Flicka’ books. I drew horses all the time, had a model stable and a subscription to ‘Pony’ magazine, though I had no pony.

Every birthday and Christmas, I hoped against hope that THIS would be the year I got my dream. It never happened, despite me telling my parents what I would be prepared to give up to have one and how we could keep it in the garage and ket it graze in our tiny back garden! I never knew at the time, but every year they were working out how they could afford a pony for me, but with a younger sister and brother, it was never possible.

I can still remember the excitement of my first riding lesson, the smell of the leather and the ponies themselves. I had a black velvet hard hat and cord jodhpurs, they were the only items of riding kit my parents could afford on top of the cost of the lessons. I was instantly hooked and looked forward to my weekly riding lessons, progressing from being on a leading rein to tackling cavaletti to small jumps, cantering and galloping, it was all so exciting. I would cycle two miles to the stables at weekend and spend all day there, mucking out and cleaning tack and occasionally being rewarded by being allowed to ride bareback to a nearby field where the ponies grazed. I would cycle home tired and happy, with my Sunday roast dinner having been kept warm over a pan of boiling water. It tasted like the best meal in the world after spending all day outside!

Still my love for all things equine grew. I started to make up and write and illustrate my own books about horses. Any school project where there was a choice of subject was manipulated to include them. I subjected the whole family to the Horse of the Year show on tv annually (this was in the days when families only had one telly). I managed to go with a friend on a pony trekking holiday in High Wycombe – very posh for a girl from Cheshire. We spent the week pretending the ponies belonged to us. It was heart wrenching when the holiday came to an end, and we had to leave ‘our’ ponies behind.

Back home, we found two ponies in a local farmer’s field and, fuelled by Jilly Cooper storylines, we went and asked if we could ride them in return for looking after them. Surpisingly he agreed. I think they must have been bought for his children who had since grown up and/or lost interest in them. They were mother and daughter, Bonny and Lindy, had no shoes, their hooves were overgrown and hadn’t been ridden for years. They had no tack, except halters, (he would pay for saddles if they were just out to grass. We went down to the farm at every opportunity, grooming them and trying to ride them, goodness knows what health & safety would have said, although both ponies never managed more than a trot!

I can’t remember why we stopped going, I think it was when my friend moved away and I couldn’t manage both of them on my own (we were both about 12 at the time). For a couple of years though, I almost had my own pony. I still love horses and ponies and it would appear that my first grandson does too, that also, seems to have come out of no-where. Perhaps if he’s ever lucky enough to get a pony, I can share it with him and fulfill a childhood dream?


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