I've never spoken about it here, so it may come as a surprise to some that the majority of my childhood and adolescence was spent on the back of a horse. As a five year old, I remember my Dad telling me that if I wished hard enough for a pony, my dream just might come true. So I wished and wished and wished my little heart out, and then one day the equine fairies gave me Samson. I couldn't believe my eyes - my very own pony! Can you imagine the joy on a little girls face to see such a sight? Samson was what they call a Shetland pony, he was small, cute, fluffy and... completely psychotic! He soon revealed himself to be my worst nightmare come to life. He bit me, kicked me and bolted at every chance he could. Once it (immediately) became obvious to my parents that I was clearly not enjoying this new recreational sport and didn't really appear to be 'bonding' with my mount, it was decided that we would send him back and look for something a little... more suitable.
Enter Goldie. Advertised in the local paper as a 'bombproof'* beginners pony, this gentle and elegant flaxen mare ticked all the right boxes...except the budget. When the seller refused to drop the price, she very nearly didn't make it home with us. I owe much to my older brother Scott who managed to convince Mum and Dad that 'with a free rug and feed bucket thrown in, she really isn't too bad 'a deal'. And so home she came.
Within weeks I found myself on the regional gymkhana circuit being led around by my Mum who was taking to this new country life like a fish to water. After each event, the judges would tie blue ribbon after blue ribbon around Goldie's neck - we were having so much fun that it didn't even occur to us to ask what they were for. It wasn't until the end of our very first gymkhana day that Mum finally (and rather sheepishly) asked 'Excuse me, what does blue mean?'. Our new friends laughed, 'Blue means you've won first place' they replied. '...Oh'. I guess you could say winning six blue ribbons out of a possible seven on my first day wasn't too shabby at all.
As a team, Goldie and I went on to compete in regional and state competitions for the next five years (I then moved on to a bigger horse, but that's a different story!). As I progressed to be quite a competitive and advance rider, Goldie adapted with me, performing at her peak in very competitive, high speed events. That pony went like the clappers - we were unbeatable.
When my younger sister Stephanie turned three, the cycle started again - and Goldie found herself once more being led around in the under seven's age group with my Mum by her side. Other families were astonished at how this pony could switch from being a complete speed demon one minute and straight back to 'bombproof' beginners pony the next. My parents were often labelled irresponsible for letting such a tiny tot on the back of a pony that was notorious for her speedy antics and jittery nature when being ridden by the older sister. But they didn't know Goldie like we did - she was safe as houses that little mare. She was good as gold.
My sister Stephanie went on to win countless blue ribbons (not to mention the trophies!) just as I did. Goldie offered Stephanie the same unconditional love and companionship that she had given me. They bonded just as we had.
The relationship between horse and rider is quite a sacred thing. There is so much trust. Eternal loyalty. There have been periods in my adult life where I have gone years without seeing Goldie. But without fail, she always remembers me. How could she forget the tone of the voice that has called her name from across the paddock literally thousands of times, or the breath that has tickled her fur-lined ears countless times with the whisper of 'Good girl, Goldie. I love you'? Just the same, I could never forget her smell - that salty, earthy, dusty smell that would completely engulf me each time I rode her. Or that gentle shuddering whinny that she would greet me with as I approached her with a slice of molasses-dipped bread.
The day that we brought Goldie home, I was six and she was twelve. Today she stands graceful and content at a ripe old age of 35 (that's extremely old in horse years - the equivalent of 100 human years). Last week Paddy, my sister Stephanie and I took Lalie to visit her - to feed her bread and to ride around the paddock being led by her Mum.
Everything was golden that afternoon - the iridescent sky, the wise old pony and our reminiscing hearts. As we all piled into the car for the journey back home, I was ever so aware of the salty, earthy, dusty aroma that would follow us there. And I was grateful.
*Top photo shows a selection of photographs of both my sister and I as youngsters riding Goldie. The second photo was taken by a family friend circa 1992. Photos below with me in them were taken by Paddy :)
*Bombproof suggests very calm, quiet and unlikely to spook (even in the event of a bomb exploding!). Such a silly term.
Posted by one claire day at 23:23