My father worked on farms when I was growing up, which allowed me to have quite a few adventures as a child. I’ll never forget the day he’d arranged for me to have my first horse or the times where I would ride to school on the back of a pony. Yet there was also the day I’d arrived home early from work only to see my beloved horse travelling in a stock crate behind a stranger’s vehicle — my father had sold him without my knowledge.
It was a sign of what was to come. My resentment towards my father grew.
I’d been at the tail end of his trashings, but the mental cruelty he’d shown in disposing of my ‘best friend’ was inexcusable. We had moved from Waikato, New Zealand to a small district between Morrinsville and Te Aroha on the North Island. My father had told me at the time that Jackie, my horse, couldn’t come with us, but I was to learn later that these words were lies.
When I learned of the mistruths he’d been spouting, I got myself a job as the manager of the transport department of a dairy factory 3 miles away at Waitoa. There was no bus service in that area, so I withdrew money from my savings account and bought a bike. It was the first bike I’d ever owned. I remember it being quite beautiful and it had three gears! No one in New Zealand was riding a bike with gears on it in 1953. I was as proud as punch!
I soon got to know the tanker drivers and one of them owned horses. How fortuitous! He often roade from his home in Tahuna to Waitoa where we worked, a distance of about 20 kilometres. I managed to get a ride on his horse one day and we got to talking. Peter was his name, and he told me if I could find somewhere to graze a horse he’d happily let me borrow one of his. It didn’t take me long to find a suitable paddock and Peter brought ‘Chum’ with him the next time he went home for a couple of days off.
My friendship with Peter had other advantages. He’d go hunting in the winter and had a friend with a truck who could carry Chum as well. I’d never really ridden over jumps before — Jackie wouldn’t even jump the height of an apple box and they were only about 30 centimetres high. On the first hunt I went on with Peter, I was having a great time jumping over the spars and hedges.
I’d been using my father’s old semi-stock saddle to ride, but I wasn’t aware of how rotten it was. Though the saddle had fit Chum quite well, I’d made the jump and was heading to the next paddock with no girth attached. People were yelling for me to pull up. I had no idea what all the commotion was. One of the straps that held Chum’s girth to the saddle had broken, but the saddle had stayed in place. I shudder thinking about the injuries I’d have suffered had the saddle come off at the speed I was travelling.
Someone leant me a surcingle (a strap made of leather that fastens around the horses girth) to keep the saddle safe and I continued with the hunt. I knew nothing of hunting etiquette, but it was the the best time of my life, being involved in the hunting season.
When, three years later, I heard my father was on the move again I started to question his farming abilities. He’d found a pig business that was for sale, so I guess that meant he wouldn’t lose his job again. In addition to the piggery was 7 acres of land and I had high hopes of being able to transfer Chum to our new home. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
My father became unwell and he wanted me to leave my job and return home to work for him – I wasn’t best pleased to have to obey, or leave home. He said he’d need my bedroom for a worker if he had to employ someone else. I bravely stood up to him and said I would only work for him if I was allowed to keep a horse on the land he’d bought. He reluctantly agreed and I went in search of a horse to buy.
I found a retired racehorse for £25. I hoped he’d be better than Jackie who had cost the same amount 12 years earlier. The horse had raced as Enri, but he was nicknamed Henry. I fell in love with Henry, but didn’t get much chance to ride him. Days were filled with carrying 4-gallon buckets of whey to feed the pigs, by the time I’d done one round of feeds, it was time to start again. On Sundays when I could have gone to pony club, my father played outdoor bowls, so I had his share of the feeding to attend to as well.
Then I met a man who worked at the dairy factory opposite the piggery. He saw my father knocking me around, a cuff here, a shove there and something he didn’t see because we were hidden behind a high hedge, the fact that he had a nasty habit of causing me to fall into a deepish puddle of mucky water. It happened on a regular basis. However, this guy, Colin became my champion and informed my father that if he ever saw him treat me badly again, he’d kill him. I knew he wouldn’t have done, but bullies are cowards and my father was cowardly enough not to try knocking me around again in case he was seen.
Colin and I became an item and two years later we were standing before a minister, joined in holy matrimony.