My family wasn’t wealthy so the only way I could ride was to earn free rides or earn money at the stables and spend that on riding. Horses were my world and now in my retirement it’s almost come full circle as I rediscover what it’s like to love horses of my own.
My friend, who now specialises in tree surgery and has her own website: http://www.leicestertreesurgeons.co.uk, was once my partner in crime. She always loved trees and of course we used to jump a lot of hedges in the old days. I remember a beautiful old walnut tree at school. Such majestic trees and they rewarded us every year with a crop of nuts. Sally and I would scout round the tree at break time and fill our pockets with dropped nuts. I’d take most of them home for my Mum, who remembered them from her own youth and loved walnuts.
There was a particular day when the pickings were especially rich – probably only half a dozen nuts each, but this was good when we had to beat the other kids! We were feeling especially pleased that the lovely old tree had rewarded us so well when a teacher came along and confiscated them! I’m still bitter to this day! Why on earth weren’t we allowed to keep them? I suspect that teacher took them home and ate them herself!
When I was 17 I though the world was my oyster. I had my own car and was enjoying the world, probably riding a little less as I discovered my newfound freedom. Then came news that could have destroyed my world. Our little stables was closing down and all the horses would be found new homes! It was devastating. That little herd of fabulous ponies would be split for ever. And it happened because the land didn’t belong to the stable owner but to her American cousin – who now wanted to sell it for building.
A couple of the older horses had to be put to sleep because they were unsuitable for rehoming so a kind decision was made. Of the rest, Brandy was kept by the owner. He was in his 20s and had been owned by her since a 4-year-old. The little ponies were found new homes, though sadly Farthing was sent to another riding school, where she was unable to cope with the much tougher regime and didn’t live long.
The pony I had ridden a lot and shown for the last couple of years was Shulah. She was a gorgeous fleabitten grey, 14.2hh and really the perfect pony. I still loved Peter Pan but sadly had outgrown him so another girl took him on. I bought Shulah and all her tack for the princely sum of £100. She was the bargain of my life. She was 17 years old then and I had her for 10 years until she sadly was put to sleep because I was in America and we felt she couldn’t keep condition over the winter.
During those years we did everything together. We rode all over the place, along the beach, over the downs, saddled and bareback. Non-horsey friends and relatives had a go and she was always perfect. A lovely pony and we had a lot of fun together.
We loved to jump so we did the odd cross-country course and a little bit of dressage. In the right hands that pony could have gone a long way, but I was still really a happy hacker and could only long to be one of those natural riders who look marvellous on a horse and who have an easy way of become one with their steed. But we both enjoyed ourselves and I loved that old mare.