Continuing the popular series by Carolyn Ward.
In Part 5 our horse-mad heroine discovers at the age of 14 years that she has what every girl dreams of… an uncle with his own riding school and racing stable!
With much (moaning/begging/pleading) encouraging from myself, we went to Yorkshire to visit other family members, and I engineered a few full days to visit the stables. It was literally heaven – he had about 30 horses, and was breaking a baby race-horse. They fed that beautiful boy raw eggs for protein. It was fascinating.
He had a huge indoor school, and got me straight in the saddle on a chestnut pony called Copper. I joined in a large lesson of about 20 kids all bombing round, it was great. At the end of that he asked me if I wanted another ride – of course I did, so he chose a bigger mare called Muppet. This time we had a jumping lesson, and Muppet was lovely to ride and easy to jump. Very ‘forward-going’ as the horsey people say.
Finally, he told me to come back tomorrow to join in a beach hack. What a dream come true, I had never ridden on the beach before.
That day was one of the best of my life. He chose a beautiful chestnut mare for me, called Carillon – which means ringing bells. The girl who took us out shared her chocolate with me in the morning sunshine as we rode through Saltburn-by-the-Sea, and down the quiet lanes onto the beach. In front of us stretched miles and miles of empty sand, and off we galloped. I leaned forwards into Carillon’s stride, and soon the horses were racing along, kicking up sparkling salt-water with their hooves. The air was cool and fresh, and it was literally like riding in heaven. I will never forget that day. We jumped over large puddles of sea water and it was like flying. Eventually the girl laughed and shouted across that we had better slow them down.
The next day was the last of our holiday, and I went back to the yard to say goodbye. Before I knew it Uncle Gordon had two horses ready and he said that he’d take me out on a last hack.
I mounted, and looked back to see that 60 year-old Yorkshire man, who hadn’t been on a horse for 20 years, nimbly leap up onto a massive horse called Bronze Head. The rest of the yard had gone quiet as nobody could believe he was riding after all that time!
We went out on a very refined hack through the peaceful green lanes, and he showed me the sandy gallops where the race horses were exercised every day.
Those few days of that holiday gave me more valuable memories than any other.
Uncle Gordon was a bit of a family legend; he taught Yul Brynner (ask your mum) to ride for a cowboy film, and himself rode in the Grand National. Unfortunately he fell off at the first fence; but he was a brilliant horseman and a kind-hearted one too.
One horse I noticed in his yard was all alone in a separate field- when I asked Uncle Gordon what he was called, he said ‘Danny, and it’s sad as nobody can ride him because he’s got epilepsy.’ Gordon couldn’t bear to part with him, so Danny got to kick up his heels in a big field and enjoy a happy retirement.
Uncle Gordon died a few years later, and the yard was sold for a big housing development. I’m glad I got to meet him and ride with the great man one time.
As a teenager holidaying with my parents, I would always ride abroad whenever I could. In the south of France at a huge campsite there was a small riding stables in the heart of the site. It was fantastic and I was there every day helping out. My favourite was an iron grey gelding called Petit Lune. He was a love. Little kids would pay the stable to be led around the campsite, and the horsey teenagers like myself would help out and lead them round.
One day, the family that owned the stable had a van in the yard, and asked if I would get in to help lead back some horses from the pastures. There was a German girl I recognised already in the van, so, unthinking, I leapt in and off we drove. After about half a mile it occurred to me that I had willingly got into a stranger’s van in a foreign country just on the promise of leading a horse. Idiot!
Luckily for me they were honest and the German girl and I each collected a horse and enjoyed a lovely stroll back to the site along spectacular country lanes.
Mum was a bit shocked when I admitted that I had done that… Never ever get in anyone’s vehicle if you don’t know them.
The tallest horse I ever rode was also in France, a massive beast called Onco. I could barely get on him even jumping up off a mounting block!
If you have never tried riding, on holiday is a good idea to give it a whirl, as long as
- they know and accept that you are a beginner
- the facilities look decent and safe, and people wear riding hats
- any roads nearby are quiet
- your parents agree
If you aren’t sure – don’t. My husband tried riding when he worked for a while in Egypt. He rode a horse around the pyramids, and suddenly it threw him off and tried to roll on him. The guide said it was an African hornet under the saddle; my husband decided to walk the rest of the way.
Another friend rode for the first time in Mexico, through the jungle. Her husband had never ridden before. They were not offered a riding hat, the guide shrugged and said ‘the ground is soft’, and they galloped most of the way. She said it was very uncomfortable and quite scary.
I see being able to ride as a valuable life skill, and if you get a chance to have a riding lesson – go for it. My daughter is now 5, when she is a little older (with legs long enough to reach the bottom of the saddle!) I will encourage her to try it.
Breaking a baby race-horse – I mean getting him used to wearing a bridle and saddle, and being handled and controlled by people.
Forward-going – speedy horse
Petit Lune – Little Moon
Yul Brynner – Russian film star, famous for The King and I