I developed an obsession with horses at the age of 8, as is quite common with 8 year old girls. I got my first pony at the age of 10 when the riding school I went to closed down and all the ponies were sold. I broke my heart so much over my favourite pony that even my non-horsey parents did an unbelievable U-turn in their attitude to pony ownership. My favourite pony, Blanch, was mine!
We learned a lot together over the years. She learned how to scrape me off by running under low bushes. My mum would say ‘Oh there’s Blanch come home on her own again!’ I never did learn how to stop her from doing this but I think the novelty just wore off for her in the end. At our first gymkhana games she set off at a gallop diagonally across the lines of posts, scattering other competitors as she went. Disqualification! Two years later we always trotted home with rosettes on the bridle.
As a teenager I was obsessed with jumping and had some success in local competitions. Shows were everything to me, and yet now, competing doesn’t interest me at all. Over the years my interest has moved towards equine behaviour and more natural, horse friendly management systems. In modern zoo keeping, environmental enrichment is considered vital, allowing animals to perform natural behaviour as much as is possible. Sadly, traditional management of horses has put human needs above the natural behaviour of the horse, because horses have been used by humans in ways other species have not. But it’s an interesting time to be a horse keeper. In recent years there has been a growing movement of people challenging long accepted methods of horse keeping and I’ve been following these new ideas with fascination, adopting what’s seemed to make sense for me and my horses.
So now, for instance, my horses live out all year, with shelters they can use at will. They don’t wear horse shoes and they live in a long established group. No one is ever sold, although sometimes someone is bought! (or born!) As a teenager I wanted to be a horse trainer and dealer when I grew up but the only problem with that was that although I had no problem with the buying, I never could do the selling bit! For many years I had six horses and ponies but when their number naturally decreased to three, there was a change in the dynamic of the group. It was no longer a herd, but a group of three. I bought myself a Welsh pony and hey presto four made it all interesting again! When I ride I do dressage with them, not for competition, just for enjoyment in the field. It’s been a learning curve, with much to find out about how to best feed and manage for hoof health, to make metal shoes redundant. I would say that my focus is to make sure they are happy. I might not have square miles of rough grassland for them to roam over but I try my best and I’m still as horse obsessed as that little girl, 49 years on!
If you share a love of horses and want to know more