Tuesday, 7 August 2012


Every girl should learn ride, after the Olympics and seeing Great Britain win two golds and a silver in the Equestrian field. Zara Phillips, daughter of Mark Phillips and Princess Anne, look beautiful  when she won a silver medal. She gave hope to every rider in England.  I remember seeing her mother ride cross country many times.  There is something exciting about horses and their riders.  Few countries offer such good teaching. I learnt with some of the best teachers in the country among them Betty Skelton.  She must have died ages ago, but she was a brilliant teacher. I would go every Summer. I learnt to be fearless with a wonderful woman called Lady Jeffreys, (Annielou) which is funny as she will not realise what influence she had on me.  She took me jumping once and I could not believe that I did it.  I was a nervous rider due to a fall out hunting, when my horse, Merlin landed on me. 
As a sport for all ages, you can start at any time. Obviously it is better to learn when you are young. It is something you never forget.  The Queen still gets on a horse. The test I use on anybody when I first meet them is " What was the name of your first pony?'  If they had one I will know they have a steely inner strength that only comes with "mucking out"  and caring for an animal.  Cleaning their tack can take 2 hours and was one the most pleasurable and rewarding things that I did as a child. Preparing a horse for riding one or two hours. It is hard work.   Riding has a skill and beauty that for me few other sports have,  I never get bored of watching it. The Olympics has come just at the right moment when Great Britain was going down the plug hole.  There is a lesson to learn from this though.  Why is it that nearly 40 percent of the participants have had private education?  Shouldn't the boarding schools open their playing fields once a week and help the local schools as charitable organisations?  Anyway I know some do.
Back to me.
I loved my pony Merlin. He was a beautiful black show Welsh Cob from Cornwall. He came from the Moors and had a wildness that no horse in the home counties had. He was never formally broken in. He had a  flowing mane and tail, I was not allowed to cut. 
When he was interested he flared his nostrils and arched his neck.  He was a character and easily bored. At The Tedworth Pony Club camp he used to sigh loudly at the droning fierce teachers. He only loved me, I pinched him, bit him gently, and he would do the same back to me. I used to starve myself and starve him, dieting together, we were both rather chubby. It is a sport that you have to be fit for, we used to talk about "riding fit".  We did everything together and he never seemed to mind. Of course he only liked me riding him.  I used to lie all over him and he was very happy. If I tickled his tummy he used to nudge me for more. It gave me a freedom that nothing since has given me. Riding on the Marlborough Downs for two or three hours was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. He was more human and a better friend than anybody I have ever met since. He had an ability to close and open stable doors, and I used to wonder how the sack of oats would disappear so quickly. He was always escaping. I remember he had to go to an Aunt's house for some training, apparently to learn some manners. Personally I thought he was well behaved. I caught her assistant with a crop beating him accross the head because he was head butting her. Horsy women are fit, earthy, tough and brutal, inevitably sexy.  Everybody was always running off with the stable girl. However, if you have a daughter and can afford it buy them a pony or share one.
 I stupidly lent Merlin to a friend who over fed him, not understanding his greed and he died of a twisted stomach.
I can spend hours talking about habits, bits, saddles, quality of hay and all other weirdo things, if somebody gets me onto the subject my mind swiftly goes back to the real things in life..
The girl who looks best on a horse in England is Martha Sitwell, glamorous and spectacular, side saddle, there is no one better.

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