To All the Boys I've Loved Before
Updated: May 24
“Memory is not what the heart desires. That is only a mirror.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Thank the Lord, I have only ever owned one mare in my life. Aside from that near disaster (more on that in another blog), I have only ever owned geldings. My introduction to horses began at the tender age of 5. I was one of those horse crazy aberrations born into a thoroughly non-horsey family, and after a fair amount of begging and cajoling finally got my parents to buy me a pony. The pony in question was a 13hh grey Welshie that we found on a local farm. We were clueless, and the farmer obviously saw us coming. Welgemeend Nel (his Welsh stud name) was an absolute sod! His favorite trick was to spin in circles until I came off, and I must admit that in my early riding career I spent more time with my tender little derriere on the ground than I ever did with it in the saddle. My father would periodically get on him to sort him out, driving him around the garden, switch in hand, his feet trailing along the ground. This would work for a short time, but then he would quickly revert to his old tricks.
A knowledgeable horsey friend of my parents finally took pity on me and persuaded them that I needed a more suitable mount. She found me the most marvelous old show jumper who was ready for a life of semi-retirement in a less competitive environment. El Camino was 14.3 hands high, not much to look at, and of undetermined breeding, but he was the most wonderful school master a child could wish for.
I had rather an idyllic childhood, growing up on a farm on the coast, and spent many wonderful hours riding on the beach and swimming with my new best friend in the ocean. My entire pony club experience was also spent trundling around on El Camino. He was fantastically fun to jump, especially against the clock, and we pulled some hairy stunts in our day.
My parents had paid the whopping sum of R200 (the equivalent of $20) for El Camino, which included his tack. They were reluctant to invest any more money (on an admittedly expensive sport that tends to be a bottomless pit), so I used every birthday and Christmas to gather the rest of the supplies that I needed. However, when I entered the competitive
arena it presented them with a new challenge - how to transport the two of us to pony club rallies and horse shows. A horse trailer being out of the question (and being a resourceful farmer) my father rigged a frame to fit on the back of his truck. He would back the truck against a handy bank, El Camino would hop on board, and off we would go. Needless to say, I was mortified to arrive at horse shows in this manner, but it didn’t stop us from winning ribbons!
Moving up from children’s classes (in South Africa, children 13 and under may only ride ponies up to 14.3hh) into the junior league was a big transition for both me and my parents. For me it signaled the end of my pony club era and a move into the more serious world of competitive show jumping. It also meant that I needed a bigger horse. As we began our search my parents resignedly came to the conclusion that since this crazy horse obsession was obviously here to stay, they might as well embrace it fully instead of fighting it. And if there is one thing you should know about the horse world, it is this, horses are not a hobby, they are a life. The best life to be sure (I may be biased in this regard), but an all-consuming life none the less.