Some of the first words I uttered were to ask for a horse. I never did get one, though horses have featured in my life. While other children were reading the Famous Five I was reading pony books, the three Pullein-Thompson sisters wrote about children from a completely different world who all had their own ponies. I knew all the parts of a horse; I could catch, bridle and saddle a lively horse – in my dreams. My favourite gifts were book vouchers with which I bought new volumes of Kit Hunter Show Jumper; my most precious volume was The Observers Book of Horses. My parents knew nothing about horses though they did love watching show jumping on television. In the school playground and in the street we played horses, a skipping rope round the shoulders of whoever was being the horse, while the ‘rider’ galloped behind gripping the rope reins.
Real ponies came into my life in junior school years, my friend and I spent our pocket money on half an hour once a fortnight lessons at the local stables. Bored ponies carrying children were led in single file down old lanes and through new estates by teenage girls. Exploring on our bikes one day we discovered a cheaper ‘riding stables’, an old pig farm and teenage girls with horses. Our mothers were naively unaware of the dangers of riding; we never possessed the proper cloths or riding hats, we went armed only with sugar cubes, most of which we ate ourselves.
One school morning at breakfast, when I was nearly eleven, my mother had a surprise announcement; considering that I was always sent to bed early and lay awake eavesdropping on parental voices from downstairs, it is amazing that I had no inkling my parents were planning on emigrating. When Mum asked me if I would like to go to Australia there could only be one response – ‘If I can have a horse.’
We stayed in the New Forest for our last English holiday; still blissfully unaware of my lack of riding skills, my parents found stables and arranged for me to have an hour’s ride. My eleven year old self was sent off with a young chap, a complete stranger, I clung on for dear life as my pony followed his. I was doing quite well till the end of the ride; my pony’s speed increased and he took a sharp turn down to a stream. I fell off but remounted, the horse repeated his manoeuvre twice; thee falls, hatless, but unharmed.
In Perth, Western Australia my best friend and I used to cycle off to Forestfield, where Perth International Airport now stands. We spent most of the ride urging the hired horses to do more than walk, only for them to gallop out of control when we turned back to the stables. On one memorable occasion we took my younger sister out with us as a birthday treat. She had never ridden a horse before and hers bolted; helpless we watched as she disappeared down a dusty track, fortunately the horse came to a wire fence and halted.
Then my friend and her sister acquired a horse. Their mother, with little equine knowledge, went off to an auction, bought them a stumpy palomino called Sabrina and found a paddock to rent. But it wasn’t quite the stuff of pony books, one pony to share. We all soon realised that looking after Sabrina wasn’t as easy as in the books, we couldn’t even catch her in the paddock, let alone get her saddled up.
For teenage girls and women it is not just the horse they admire. When we watch historical dramas or Olympic Three Day Events , men in riding breeches astride large horses are bound to set hearts aflutter.
When we went to the New Forest Show recently I still got a thrill. Pony club children living my childhood dream and beautiful show jumpers pounding the turf.
In my new novella one side of the love triangle is a fine grey stallion hunter called The Major. Read his story in Ralph, one of two novellas in Someone Somewhere.