Have you had to learn new things because of your children or grandchildren?
Horses have never featured much in my life. Not since, as a boy, I was put on one and sent off onto the beach at Cleethorpes. The horse ambled into the middle of a tidal puddle and sat down. I fell off into the cold water and the horse ran away.
Someone caught the animal. I arrived, out of breath to remount. The stirrups were too high for me so I was lifted up like a baby. Oh, the embarrassment of it.
Horse racing seems to be a haunt of the vacuous and the villainous. The only intelligent people being the bookies. Does it really matter which of several horses crosses the line first? An acquaintance decided he could make money from racehorses if he studied them carefully. After 3 weeks he was asking for loans.
Just once I saw the most wonderful event quite by chance as I walked along the Cotswold escarpment one bright frosty morning. On the plain below a foxhunt was in full flow. Horns tooting, hounds baying, horses galloping with red-coated riders. The grass was golden in the sun and the world was relaxed and having fun. Two fields ahead ran a fox, even he had an air of confidence that he could outwit the huntsman.
New Forest ponies are shaggy and dusty and look bored, dejected even. The horses one meets along country lanes look uncertain whether to rear up and plant a hoof on your bonnet or just pitch their riders over the hedge and bolt. Their riders look as though they know this only too well.
My granddaughter recently acquired a pony and I am required to take an interest in him. It has been a revelation. A fat dusty chestnut arrived in the field, anxious and frightened by the new situation and totally alone. He ran up and down by the fence, whinnied, shook his head and trembled as we approached.
There has been a transformation. He now has a companion grey mare in the field by arrangement with a friend. He is a gelding so there is a limit on how far this will go.
Grannies are great
Grandmother on the other side of the family has developed a new lease of life. It turns out that she was a horsewoman of some repute in her youth, a friend of Harvey Smith, he of the two-fingered salute, and the rest of the horse jumping champions of the 1960s. She was one of the first female riders to appear on the TV show-jumping programme.
Grandmother even mounted up, ignoring her spinal surgery, replacement knee and a few other problems her age. She said she did it to check the saddle; I think it was to check the nostalgia. I am told dismounting was an undignified spectacle but it was not the first time she has fallen off.
Learning to ride
The pony is now sleek and slim; his coat shines like a real horse-chestnut just out of its husk. He has an affinity for his 10-year-old owner and she has a deep understanding of the animal and is rapidly learning horse husbandry. I was impressed how she could lift a foot and clean the sole beneath. She really pulled hard at the girth to tighten it and, once ready, mounted lightly into the saddle.
In the training ring she is clearly in control, most of the time. The pony (a horse standing less than 14.2 hands, the cognoscenti will understand) was made to walk, trot and canter. No gallop yet but a few gentle jumps have already been accomplished. Afterwards she enjoys rubbing him down and giving him some well-earned hay and carrots. All was not completely smooth. There seems to be a battle of wits going on between what the horse wants and what the granddaughter wants.
Did I know that ponies would spend 23 hours a day feeding if they got the chance? No I didn’t either. Now I do and I guess I am going to learn a lot more about these animals in the coming months.