By the time I was 12, I desperately wanted to learn to jump.
It all started when I went on a day ride with Offington Hall. It was a wonderful day, unlike anything I had experienced before. And the lady who took us let us pop over a small pile of logs that a fence repair company had left in the woods.
It was probably only about a foot high but so exhilerating and the ponies loved it. They hadn’t been allowed to jump so it was exciting for them too. But unfortunately the riding school didn’t like their horses to jump and anyway there was nowhere to erect wooden poles so I had to go elsewhere to learn.
That’s when I came across Pat’s riding school for children. It was a small place, run by one lady who had no children and lived for her ponies and her black labrador called Sam. There were only about 10 ponies, but I came to love them all and stayed there for 6 years – which was a lifetime then of course.
My first jumping lesson in the little sand paddock was on Peter Pan and I fell in love with this little 13.2hh hogged bay pony. He was fast, zippy and full of character. He loved to jump – as long as you didn’t take him to a show, when he simply refused to go forward in the ring. So we learned to specialise in Chase-me-Charlie events where you followed each other over an ever-increasing jump. We loved those because he couldn’t wait to fly over a jump when he was following someone else.
What a wonderful time I had at those stables, where I spent every day in the holidays and each Saturday. We’d start off the day by fetching the ponies from the field and riding them back to the stables in a headcollar. I can’t imagine that being allowed these days! But we never came to any harm and we learned to ride bareback and stay on.
I used to have Peter on loan during the holidays when I saved up my weekly rides to take them in one go. How wonderful it was to ride every day and to go off as we liked along the beach or on the downs.
Highdown was a lovely ride that took about an hour and a half. We’d ride to the bottom of the hill, go through the gate – and off we went flat-out. Such fun and there was a seat at the top that we’d jump.
And we were only just round the corner from the beach, so whenever the tide was out we’d ride along the sand. Nowadays, of course, that’s not allowed. We even used to take a few small oil cans down and make a school on the beach.
Sometimes we’d go to pony club rallies if they were local. We had no means of travelling other than riding, but we went far and wide, explored the whole area and rode through countryside, town and beach.
And it all started when I wanted to learn to jump