‘I wasn’t like the other kids who used to ride their bikes to school’

Jun 24, 2019
Annie used to ride her horse to school while the other kids had bikes. Source: Getty Images

I remember my father had made arrangements that the pony he had bought would be delivered on a weekend and I was told to stand on the front porch and watch for a surprise. You can imagine just how great that surprise was when I spied the pony and two children by the road gate at our house. They made their way down the paddock and by the time they arrived at the house I was standing by the little gate that led out to the paddock, jumping up and down with excitement. I thought I might be able to have a ride on the pony while they were visiting.

My joy knew no bounds when I discovered they weren’t just visiting, but they were actually delivering the pony and I was going to be the new owner! No one had said a word about a new pony. It was sheer jubilation.

After my grandmother thanked them for delivering the pony, the two children departed, but I didn’t see them go. I was too engrossed in the pony. My grandmother helped me mount up and we spent a long time riding round in circles on the front lawn. Poor old Nana, she must have been exhausted. Eventually I was persuaded that Jackie (that was his name) should be put in the wee paddock beside the house so he could have something to eat. No doubt it was really so that Nana could go in and have a sit down and a cup of tea.

Jackie, the pony, was four years old, just the same age that I was. I learned he got his name because he had been broken to ride by an ex-jockey named Jackie Short. Jackie the ex-jockey made a living out of breaking in horses, or sometimes re-training a horse that had got out of hand.

Of course there had been no preparation to accommodate a pony, there was no saddle and only a halter to lead him by, so the next time the family went to Pukekohe, the closest town to our home on the North Island of New Zealand, to do their weekly shopping, my grandfather went to the saddler’s and bought a pilch (that’s a wee leather saddle-shaped object with a girth and stirrups attached). Jackie was too fat to wear a proper saddle, but a pilch suited him perfectly.

I pestered to ride my new pony every day and my grandmother obliged. I never made an ounce of progress though, Jackie was far too cunning for that. If my grandmother didn’t lead him, he didn’t go anywhere. By the time I turned eight and travel to school on the public bus was no longer free, it was decided that I should ride Jackie to school.

By then, my aunt and her daughter were also living with us. My uncle had died of a brain tumour and they had nowhere else to live, so with a house like ours, with walls that seemed to expand to cater for all, Auntie Annie and Barbara joined the household.

It was well known by then that Jackie was a stubborn mongrel of a pony. My father must have regularly wished he’d never bought him, but he had never seen any of that behaviour. He had bought the pony in good faith, unfortunately he had not been sold in good faith.

As long as Barbara was riding her bike beside me, with a great length of stick off the apple tree as a whip, he would reluctantly plod along at snail’s pace and we’d eventually arrive at school where he was contained along with several other horses and ponies in the school horse paddock. Home-time would arrive, we’d saddle him up, and once out the gate I could give him a good whack with a stick and he’d actually canter.

This was the only time I could ever get him to canter. I’d devised a method of taking him to the far side of the front paddock, with me on foot, leading him, then I’d climb up on the fence, manage to scramble on, and set him for home. He’d canter for a few yards, but his eyes were on the numerous scotch thistles that dotted the paddock, and as soon as he saw one, he’d veer off towards it, screech to a halt (usually depositing me over his head to land with a thump) and proceed to eat the thistles, complete with prickles.

Then the day came when my aunt bought a house in Pukekohe and she and Barbara were moving out. The two sisters shed tears that they were parting, in the following weeks I shed tears that Jackie would no longer move for me, so from the home gate, to school, three miles away, I would walk and drag him behind me. If there was a horse in a paddock near the road, that was curtains for me arriving at school in time. He just had to stop and have a conversation with it. The only consolation was that when I was saddled up and ready to go home in the afternoon, he would canter as far and as long as I wanted to go, except that eventually I guess I wore him out, and he slowed to a trot, then to a walk, and that was the end of my canter for the day.

You’re probably asking why I didn’t ride a bike with the other kids … The fact of the matter was that I didn’t own a bike that was of a size that I could manage, and my father was far too stingy to buy me a bike when I had a pony to ride. Meanwhile, the other kids were envious of me, owning a pony when they had to ride a bike. If only they knew.

Life continued this way until I was possibly nine or 10, when my father announced he had to get rid of one of the horses. There was his lovely horse Bobby, no longer needed now that the war was over or there was Jackie. He gave me the option of selling Jackie, and I could have ridden Bobby, but I refused. I loved Jackie, he was my go-to when I was in trouble, and that was a state I was very familiar with. I never seemed to do anything right and the result was always a hiding with my father’s broad leather belt.

I’d go and tell Jackie all about it, and although he didn’t talk, he gave me comfort. I said I didn’t want to sell Jackie, and they never attempted to persuade me to think otherwise. I know now that Bobby would have been worth a lot more than Jackie anyway, so that arrangement would have suited my father down to the ground.

After a few years my father and I were driving towards the railyards at Pukekohe. When we arrived we were greeted by the sorriest looking horse I’d ever seen. She was going to live with us. Kit was her name and we’d been given her by one of my father’s friends. The old saying never look a gift horse in the mouth certainly applied with Kit.

As soon as he saw the condition she was in, my father said I’d have to walk her home. All seven miles. I was used to walking with a horse/pony in tow. Kit and I set off, she had very sore feet, I had to stick to the grassy tracks where there was one and coax her to walk when it was hard going. I was tired, thirsty and hungry. It wouldn’t have occurred to my father to make sure I had something to eat or drink. I guess the same thing applied to the horse, she probably hadn’t had a drink either, but I was too inept to think of something like that.

We finally arrived home and I was told to put her in a paddock of good grass. She stayed there for several weeks until she had picked up a bit in condition and I was told I could now ride her. Jackie was now owned by my sister, but as she didn’t seem interested I doubt he was ever ridden again. I discovered Kit wasn’t a bad old moke and even considered I’d made a mistake when I refused to let them sell Jackie a few years earlier.

The day came when my father no longer had a job on the farm where we lived and we moved to Waikato. I assumed that Jackie would go too, even if Kit didn’t. However, I was walking back to work (I had left school by then) and my father’s car came down the main street with the stock trailer behind, and in it was my beloved pony. Jackie had been sold and no one had said anything to me about it.

What pets did you have as a child? How did you make your way to school?

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