‘For the love of horses: My childhood obsession is still alive today’

Jun 16, 2019
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Just a girl and her horse. Source: Pexels

I imagine my very first word would have been ‘horsie’, I was so besotted by the magnificent animals. Apparently I was a pain in the proverbial. Every time we went out when I’d sit with my nose pressed up against the glass of the car window, looking for horses.

It didn’t matter how large or small they were, how young or old they were, my request was always the same: “Buy me that horse Dadddy”. He must have been ready to throttle me.

I was born in February 1939, just before World War II started, so by the time these requests started, the war was well underway. My father’s mind was far from purchasing a horse or pony to satisfy his young daughter’s wants. I can actually remember asking for every horse I saw to be bought for me, but to no avail.

We lived on a dairy farm and draught horses were the only means of assistance with the daily farming chores. The first job of the day was to take the cream cans to the front gate. My father, or grandfather, would catch one of the horses, attach a collar, then hitch it to the konaki (a thing like a sledge, but with wheels at the back which made it easier to pull). The horse would be driven around to the cowshed and the cans would be rolled out and lifted onto the konaki.

I would be waiting by the back door for him to drive past, and I’d race out to get a ride to the front gate, knowing that if he was in a good mood, my father would throw me up onto the horse’s back and I could ride back to the shed. It was the highlight of my day.

By the time I was four years old I was able to go and catch one of the horses ready for my father. There were three horses — Bess, Mac and Jim. I usually caught Bess, she was the oldest, quietest one for me to handle. If only I could actually get on and ride, but she was much too tall.

Jim didn’t get used much, I don’t know if he was getting to be too old, or what the reason was that he languished in the paddock, but I knew Mac was young and frisky. I’d been there when my father started to break him in and he didn’t take to it easily. One day, when he’d refused to stand after being tied up, my father tied him to a power pole with a stout rope. He pulled back, then pulled and pulled some more. Then his feet slipped from under him and he sat on his bottom. My father put a rope under his tail, then took that rope and tied it to the pole, and told him “pull ya b*****d”. He pulled. The rope slid up under his tail and gave him a fright. He leaped forward and didn’t pull back again.

Haymaking started. In those days the men worked on all the farms in the district, helping each other to get their hay in ready for winter feed. They spent about a week preparing for the event, getting everything ready. The main thing to get absolutely right was the pole that held the gears for the grab. That pole had to be secured so it didn’t wobble. Ropes held it fast in four places. There was a pulley at the top, and through that ran a rope that held a large spider-looking contraption that opened up wide, was lowered onto a pile of hay, then as the rope was pulled, the finger-like prongs would close again on the pile of hay, the rope was pulled forward, the grab rose in the air, and eventually was taken hold of by a man on the top of the stack where he pulled yet another rope to release the tines and the hay was deposited onto the top of the stack. From there it was forked tidily into place to form a waterproof pile.

The exciting thing as far as I was concerned, was that the rope was pulled by a horse, usually Bess. I was allowed to ride her. Forwards and backwards she’d walk, operating the grab all day without complaint.

My father was a member of the home guard and a group of men were working on ‘Red Hill’, a bluff not far from where we lived. They were digging trenches to hide in if the Japanese arrived. Every morning he would ride off on his new horse Bobby and he’d reappear in time to milk the cows. Bobby was so named because he had a bobbed tail. I was later to find out that he was a multi-talented horse, one that should have been kept at all costs, but he was sold on gain.

One day my father noticed a pony trudging up the hill, carrying three or maybe four children. Behind the pony a cream truck was also labouring up the hill and on the tray at the back, a canvas cover was flapping. My father called to the father of the children to alert him to what appeared to him to be a certain accident about to happen. “Hey-up Dick”, he called. “Those youngsters of yours look to be in trouble with that pony and the cream truck.”

Dick glanced up, shook his head and replied that they’d be okay. My father watched, expecting the pony to shy as the cover flapped, but he just plodded on.

“By gum, Dick, that pony has to be worth twenty-five quid of anyone’s money, he’s a little champion.”

Soon after, Dick approached my father and told him that he was thinking of selling the pony, he was too small to carry all the children, he was going to put them onto a bigger one, more capable of carrying them easily. He wondered if my father would be interested in buying him.

He was and enquired the price. Dick replied that he’d been told by an expert that the pony was worth ‘twenty-five quid of anyone’s money’. The deal was done and it was arranged that the pony would be delivered that weekend.

Did you have an obsession or intense interest in something as a child?

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