A Novice Child in Charge of a Pony? What Were They Thinking?

When I was five, my parents took me, my younger sister, and two of our friends to the riding stables in the village. I do not know what prompted this. All I remember is being ushered into a large stable containing a strawberry roan pony called Amigo. I was picked up and plonked on his back, where I then burst into tears. Despite that, I immediately fell in love with horses and wanted lessons as often as possible.

I do not know how old I was when my parents allowed me to cycle to the stables at the opposite end of our village – eight or nine, I guess. Daylight allowing, I cycled there every evening after school to help groom, feed, muck out, and ride the school ponies.

These were the days of velvet hats with elastic straps, putting a 50p under your knees while riding to ensure you gripped hard. Heels rammed down and sitting ramrod straight. No mention of feel, or give and take with the reins. Just pull round a corner and sit tight.

The riding school had a small yard in front of the five or six stables, with a stony track round it for lessons and a muck heap in the middle. Most riding was done with the ponies plodding one after another around the village.

I recall one day mounting up with a group, only to be told that I would not be hacking out with everyone else. Instead, the owner, Miss Riggall (yes really) took me to the vicarage field. She grabbed hold of my pony’s bridle and started running flat out. Eventually Peter the pony finally deigned to canter – with no input from me, I should add.

At this point Miss Riggall shouted “kick, kick” and I obliged to carry on cantering around the field. There ended my lesson to learn how to canter, which was never repeated, and riding resumed as before, walking around the village, or trotting around the small track in the yard.

One day, I arrived at the yard to find a new head poking over a stable door. A bright bay 12.2hh Welsh Section A cross called Sherry. They bought him from a local family as he bucked, which stopped them from riding him. If you tried to mount him, he would lie down. If you entered his stable, he would turn his bum to you, ears back, threatening to kick.

I fell in love instantly.

I started going to the stables morning and evening to feed him. I would groom him and generally bestow every ounce of love I had on him. Eventually, he would allow me in his stable, call to me and let me ride him. I was the proudest girl alive! He still rolled if anyone else tried to get on him. As a shy, awkward kid, I found being chosen by this beautiful pony to be the most uplifting experience of my young life.

I was lucky to live in a house that had a small paddock. As the riding stables had no land, they gave the horses turn-out breaks in fields around the village. We offered our paddock for use.

Sherry arrived for a summer break perfectly timed for the school holidays. My visits to the riding school stopped as I spent every waking hour brushing and playing with him. Obviously, riding him was not part of the plan while he was in our paddock. But I would sneak out and climb aboard with no tack; no head-collar, bridle, or saddle.

This is not Sherry. But it is me aged 14 (ish)

I built jumps (which in hindsight were quite big!) and we rode around our very uneven up hill, down dale field jumping fences as we went. It never occurred to me that this was not on. My parents paid little attention, so were clueless.

I was distraught when Sherry went back to the yard to resume riding school duties. Even though it was still just me riding him in payment for chores done as no one else could get on him.

Sometime later on my 11th birthday, Sherry reappeared in our paddock. I was told that £200 had changed hands. He was now mine, including tack.

To this day, I have never seen a happier kid than I was then. My parents knew nothing about horses or their upkeep. I had learnt stable management looking after the riding school ponies but at 11 years old, there was an awful lot I didn’t know.

Despite that, my parents advised it was I who knew about horses. I had to look after him. I had a mountain of pony care books that became very well-thumbed, trying to decide what to feed and when. Thank goodness things such as rugs and boots didn’t even enter the equation.

Sherry had a long, flowing mane that had never been tamed. I would gaze enviously at the smart horses with their short, pulled manes as the posh farming families rode them around the village. I did not know how this look had been achieved.

So one day, kitchen scissors in hand, I set about cutting Sherry’s mane to a length of about 6 inches; and perfectly straight. I was so proud of my achievement. Although, I could not work out why this created a wedge of thick mane when the horses I had seen had light, wispy ones.

But to an 11-year-old, I still thought I had done a great job. This was in the 70s when going near a horse’s mane with scissors was a cardinal sin. Not that I knew that. I only found out when I entered the local gymkhana and walked into the ridden showing class. I was promptly advised that my turnout was not to standard and asked to leave!

I realise in hindsight (thankfully I was blissfully unaware at the time) that I was that Thelwell kid with the fat pony. The one who bucked me off regularly or just point blank refused to jump at a competition, despite sailing over huge fences at home. The kid who other horsey folk joked about and looked down on.

I recall one snowy winter’s day when we had real snowdrifts, thinking it was a great idea to take my pony and jump the drifts. We had hours of fun only to be pulled up by the local farmer, sternly asking if my parents knew I was out riding in such hazardous conditions? And did my pony have frost nails to stop him from slipping and breaking a leg?

I did not know what he was talking about, but it makes me shudder now, thinking about it – I was only 12 by then and had no one to tell me any different.

I would ride for miles. Out all day with a rucksack lunch and no one any the wiser on my whereabouts.

My childhood, in every other respect, was not a happy one. Sherry was my family, my friend, and my soul mate. He looked after me despite my serious lack of horse management knowledge. I loved him with every ounce of my being.

Who knows why on earth my parents thought it was appropriate to hand over the sole care and responsibility of a pony to an 11-year-old, but I am grateful to this day that they did.

4 thoughts on “A Novice Child in Charge of a Pony? What Were They Thinking?”

  1. “I would ride for miles. Out all day with a rucksack lunch and no one any the wiser on my whereabouts.”
    Yup. That’s how I grew up. First on a Shitland, and later a Haflinger.
    Good times.
    I wanted a helmet so bad, because I thought they looked smart lol. Not to protect my head or anything, just because I thought they looked cool.

  2. love this , so reminds me or me, parents couldnt afford a pony so I rode anything and everything I could. I am of the generation with the velvet riding hat, no strap and didnt think twice about riding without tack back then

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