No Knowledge, No Lessons, No Clue – But Determined to Ride!!

It all started for me in the early 60s. I grew up in a small village in Wales where I knew everyone in the street. All my friends, parents, aunties, uncles, and all their families lived there. But nobody had a horse.

I was obsessed with horses and used to draw them all the time. I would ‘canter’ instead of walking and had horse wallpaper on my bedroom wall. The only books I ever read were horse-related – learning to ride, horse care, and horse stories. And a Pony Club annual every Christmas.

I would go with my friends after school to visit the gypsy horses on the waste ground, feed them, and try to jump on.

Then, at the age of around 12, I heard about a riding school a few miles away. In fact, there were two. One was owned by a very posh woman called Molly Falcon and was the one where all the convent girls went. And the other one, shall we say less posh and not very structured, was owned by a girl called Jackie James. She wasn’t very old, but her father seemed to help a lot.

I chose the not very posh one.

My first riding lesson, or should I say ride, went like this: they assembled all the horses on the lane and then allocated us a horse each. There were about six of us altogether. Then we bumped down the lane until I eventually managed to trot.

Each ‘lesson’ we went down that lane, onto the sand dunes, and off to the beach. Poor horse. It must have been agony for him having me bumping about and pulling on the reins.

But I loved it and bumped and bumped away.

Later on, I got myself an unpaid job there and would catch the horses, groom them and tack them up. I would take a bridle home with me regularly to strip it down and clean it to see how fast I could put it back together.

We would ride them bareback to the forge in the dark with the headlamps of a car behind us showing the way. Riding one horse and leading two or three. I was always told that my riding looked like a monkey playing the piano.

I then progressed to taking the rides out, when if the truth be told, I couldn’t really ride myself.

Then disaster struck.

The riding school was closing down and my favourite horse, Topper, was being sent to the slaughterhouse. He was 20. In those days, that was considered to be an ancient horse and of no further use.

I could not let that happen at all costs. I begged my parents to buy him for me. Nobody in my family had a horse. They refused. So I stopped eating and cried non-stop. I cried for a week and even used to sit in front of the mirror practicing to make the most appealing face.

After a week, they gave in and we went to see Jackie to arrange for me to have Topper. He was £100. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself as we arrived at her house. But when we got there she said, “Sorry you are too late, he’s gone.”

I was devastated.

Then, out of the blue, we heard about a mare that was for sale by a local farmer who was a horse dealer. He was also a renowned breeder of Shires and used to show them and sell them all over the world.

She was very thin, but he assured us she would be okay. We believed him. After all, he was an important ‘horseman’.

Her name was Tara, and she was a flapping pony. I found a place to keep her on a farm near my house. The farmer there was a breeder and judge of Welsh cobs. He was very serious and had a reputation for shooting people if they went on his land.

But in fact, he was very kind and had a great insight into human and animal behaviour. This was the time before scans etc and the local vets used to come to him for advice.

When he saw my pony, he was horrified. Then furious when I told him I’d bought her off Llewellyn Joseph, who he hated and said that “The Welsh Jew”, as he called him, was a rogue. I know you can’t say that now, but you could in the sixties.

He helped me worm her and get her back to condition. I’d go up to the field every night after school to see her or ride. When she recovered her weight and condition, she looked beautiful. She was a quality horse.

She taught me an excellent lesson in riding, as being a flapping pony she would go like stink. One hoof on the sand dunes and she was off!

Here I learned if you froze and panicked you would fall off, but relax and go with it and you will survive. To this day I say in my head, “I’m going where you are going.”

One day I went to see her, and I called and called but she didn’t come. I looked for her and there she was, lying on the ground, dead. Her mouth was open and I could see her teeth. I screamed and screamed and rolled on the ground hysterically. I was inconsolable.

Mr David and his wife took me home. He was so moved he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get you another horse.”

Weeks went by and I had made myself ill to the point I couldn’t go to school. Tara had a postmortem, and it turned out that the worm damage was too bad. I then heard from Mr David and he told me he’d found me the perfect pony. I was to come up to the farm the following day.

That night I was so excited and dreamt about this black pony with a white star. The next day, when I went to the farm, Mr David told me the pony was in the barn. He opened the door…

… and I screamed. I dreamt about him last night! The very same pony!

There he was, 13.2 hh black Section C cob with a white star. His name was Brenin (king) and it was love at first sight. He was three years old.

We started our next adventure learning together. Riding around the farm in a rope halter. Going to Pony Club dressed up like the dog’s dinner in all the Harry Hall gear. And eventually competing in the Prince Philip Cup.

And still, I had had no proper riding lessons!

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