Grateful Thanks to a Grey Pony Who Shaped My Life and Made Me Who I Am

I had my first pony, Breana, an Arab Connemara cross when I was fourteen. I was born into a non-horsey family, and the £350 Breana cost was the beginning and end of their involvement in her life.

However, it was a purchase that shaped the rest of mine.

Horses have been and will continue to be an integral part of my life. From the moment Breana arrived, she was entirely my responsibility. By necessity, like many of my generation I suspect, I developed a strong work ethic because it was me who was financing her.

I earned money any way I could; babysitting, paper rounds, shop work, all my money went towards her upkeep. I had no access to a trailer, no lessons, no stable, no new tack, no arena, nothing.

But none of this mattered, I had Breana and my life was complete.

I was proud that I’d found a field to put her in. I’d achieved this by walking miles one weekend, knocking on every farmer’s door I could find. They all said no. Farmers didn’t want horses.

Walking away with my head down from one such property, I heard a car drive up behind me, and the kindly farmer, Mr Alvis, wound the window down and said, “You look so dejected I feel sorry for you. Go on then, bring her here.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – and he gave me a lift home.

She arrived and shared firstly an orchard full of apple trees, (she never got colic) and then a scrubby paddock accessed over a rickety wooden bridge which was bordered by a railway line on one side and a deep meandering stream on the other boundary.

We called them reans in Somerset, deep drainage channels – I can’t find the correct spelling.

She was three when I got her. I had zero help or input from anyone. I used to cycle the four miles to see her with a feed bucket slung over the handlebars of my bike.

She had two rugs – a green “New Zealand” with a surcingle, and a jute stable rug. I was desperate for a rug that looked like a string vest, an ecru-coloured one that they always advertised in Horse and Hound. It sounded very posh.

I saved up for one and was so proud of it

My method of breaking-in and schooling Breana consisted of tacking her up then leading her to a point on a ride where she knew it was quicker to carry on round the route rather than her preferred nap, spin, and hotfoot home. I clambered on and that’s how she learned to be ridden.

Me in my 50s

We progressed and I discovered a fiercely competitive side to my personality. Gymkhanas were the thing then. I used to hack miles. Perhaps eight or so, along major roads to the outskirts of Bristol. I would spend all day at a show then hack back, sometimes carrying trophies.

On one memorable day, I won four.

I got back on to ride home and the noise they made clanking together freaked her out. As she bolted down the road, I had to throw them into a hedge and come back later to retrieve them.

Then one day I went down to the field to get her in, and she wasn’t there.

I panicked, as I couldn’t see her anywhere. Finally, I saw a head sticking out of the stream. Her eye was rolling back in her head; she was nearly dead.

I leaped into the stream screaming her name, my only thought being to try and save her. I discovered that the bed of the rean was like black quicksand and her legs were stuck. It was sucking her in!

She was exhausted from trying to extricate herself and had given up on life. I clambered out sobbing, dashed to the kindly farmer who called the fire brigade.

They arrived in a big red fire engine, rumbling across the field. I had got back in with her and was holding her nose up out of the water so she could breathe. The burly chaps climbed in with her, threaded their hoses under her body, and pulled!

The quicksand eventually gave her up with a big plop and she landed in a heap on the bank. She was down for a while before instinct brought her to her shaking feet. Eventually, she recovered, with minimal lasting injuries.

I doubt the fire brigade would be so helpful these days. I see risk assessments, mission statements, maybe I’m wrong …

She survived to the age of 23, and she came with me as I joined the Police Force at 19. I couldn’t go to university as there was no money to be made. I needed a job to support her.

I had a foal out of her, and she continued happily right to the end. I only threw the photos of her away as I moved to France. They had become manky due to age.

When I look back at some of the horsey things I encountered as no more than a child, I know it would never be allowed, possible or acceptable today.

Did the purchase and ownership of a three-year-old 14.2hh grey mare shape the adult I became?

Definitely.

It was meant to.


Helen P Gale is the owner of the fabulous Beauregard Equestrian situated in Asnois, France. I have had the pleasure of riding the amazing cross-country course that Helen and her husband have created. For further information follow this link to her Facebook page.

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