When I first learnt to ride, I remember it being one of the happiest times of my life. I’d always loved ponies, my mum’s best friend had two and I used to love going to see them. So the time when I could actually start riding couldn’t come quick enough for me.
I remember I was seven and it was during the summer holidays when Mum and Dad took me and my sister to our local riding school to take part in a stable management week for beginners.
I learnt so much and I started going to the riding school for regular lessons where I would meet up with the same group of girls. We all became friends and by the end of the summer, we all had our fave ponies and would have them on loan during school holidays.
My favourite was a 12hh dark bay gelding called Snip. He was gorgeous, with his dark shiny coat and just the tiniest amount of white on his nose – cute! Snip had the most comfy canter, just like a rocking horse and he taught me how to jump. He really looked after me – he was a great confidence-giver. He was a happy soul, always willing to please and very affectionate, nuzzling me and looking for cuddles whenever I was around.
I rode him for about three years, until I was too tall for him and my feet were practically dangling on the ground! At about the same time, all my other friends at the riding school had been allocated different ponies to ride, but there was no one left for me, except Beany.
She was a 14hh bay mare, but she wasn’t one of my favourites – she had a reputation for being tricky. For example, she’d bite when you girthed her up and she was pretty stroppy when you tried to pick out her feet – she’d snap her feet back quickly and would end up treading on your toes.
She always seemed to have her ears flat back and was never pleased to see anyone. I didn’t want to ride her – she was moody and I was scared of her.
But my instructor tried to encourage me and I must admit that after a couple of lessons, we suddenly clicked – much to my amazement!
So after a few months, I took her to a local show and was really excited about it. I bathed her the day before and groomed her till her coat shone. We were doing a 2ft 3in jumping class and I couldn’t wait. After all, we were getting on like a house on fire – or so I thought…
Once, I remember trotting around the arena feeling very proud and then the bell rang for us to start our round. I trotted up to the first fence, but the unbelievable happened – Beany refused and planted herself, she wasn’t going anywhere! She must have sensed that I was a bit nervous and she’d made up her mind and wasn’t playing the game, no way!
I’d taken Snip to shows before, but Beany was totally different. I was devastated – my moment of glory was ruined. I burst into tears and decided to go home, even though I’d entered a couple of other classes.
All the hard work we’d put in together was undone in just a few sad minutes. After that, I vowed I would never ride Beany again, but after a couple of weeks, my instructor persuaded me to have another sit on her – we had to get used to each other, she told me. So I agreed and to my delight, we really started to understand each other.
Beany’s bad moods and grumpy looks were soon replaced by a happy, alert face and co-operative attitude, and her ears would prick up whenever she heard my voice. She also stopped trying to take a chunk out of me every time I girthed her up! She was a different pony altogether – were we finally beginning to like and trust each other?
Mum and Dad let me have Beany on loan for the summer holidays, and we had the time of our lives – we’d become firm friends and had, after a shaky start, developed an inseparable partnership. I rode Beany for about three years, and during that time we entered lots of local shows and were quite a successful team.
When I eventually got too big for her, another young girl – Kelly – started riding her and her partnership with Beany went from strength to strength, just as mine had done. In fact, Beany went to live permanently with Kelly and her family when she was retired from the riding school.
She had been a really special pony and had taught me that ponies have feelings, too. Like us, they need to feel loved and wanted – and she taught me that the most rewarding relationships take time to flourish and grow.
One thing’s for sure – I shall never forget her…