Adventures with horses, a hard lesson

February 22, 2015

Horses, big, powerful, fast, beautiful, scary creatures with a mind of their own. Some people reading this will agree with all of this description, whilst others will scratch their heads and mumble, “Scary? What does this guy know about horses?” Truthfully not that much but I do have a history and history is where knowledge and experience develop.

Like many Scottish working class children in the the 60s and 70s my sole experience of horses was of a pony variety. Seeing them on the beach at Ayr or at a School fayre (not my own school I have to add) and horses on the TV. Horse racing, Folly foot farm, the Lone Ranger, the High Chapperal and Black Beauty. These four legged creatures were exotic and exciting and beyond my reach. I was a young reader and began to devour the westerns of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour where the villians were obvious and heroes, brave, handsome and would leap aboard a horse with scarcely a thought. Who wouldn’t want as a child to be a cowboy or an indian brave on his trusted steed? The horse rider inside of me ached to leap aboard and gallop into the sunset like my heroes.

The opportunity, when it arose, came as a surprise. I lived in a post war prefabicated house, a prefab as it was always called. Living on a short road where there were only two cars. At the end of the road was a field and beyond this a coal bing and a brick work. I remember the field especially as I would often play there. I remember walking there with a puppy who liked to find old broken bricks from the brick work and carry them around in his mouth. He was unpredictable and prone to violence, I vaguely recall but my dad gave him away in the end as a guard dog to a man who owned a scrap yard. So I wandered the fields without him again.

One day I went to the field to cross over to the brick works. I liked to sneak into the cooling areas where the bricks had been fired and the air was hot and shimmered with the disappating heat. In these days of health and safety and security I am sure these things are unheard of, but then I seemed to wander at will. As long as I was home for meals, and bed noone seemed to mind much. That day when I climbed the fence I saw the horses grazing in the middle of the field. I walked towards them, wondering where they had appeared from, sure that they hadnt been there the previous day. A plan began to emerge in my mind about riding around in the field on the back of one of the horses but the lure of the hot bricks was too strong and a good plan takes time, right?

Days passed and I asked around about the horses. A boy I knew told me that someone had told his dad that the horses belonged to some gypsies who were keeping them there for a while. How long I asked, but no one seemed to know. So I would walk in the field handing the horses grass, which they cautiosly took from my hand, ready at any moment to bolt. A good plan takes time but how long did I have?

The day arrived quite by chance. I’m not sure what made that day any different but the plan was to feed a horse some grass, walk around to it’s side, put two hands on and somehow leap astride. I mean that’s how it’s done in the movies, right? As a plan it might have been flawed from the outset by a few things. At age 7 or 8 I wasn’t the same height as my film heroes, oh and the horse had no idea that the plan included him standing quite still whilst this little upstart tried to leap higher than his own height on to his back. Flawed from the outset! However, the plan swung into action quite smoothly, some grass was accepted with nose and neck pats, then round to the side, two hands stretched up and a few big hops. Failing that let’s grab some mane. Of course I had chosen the leader of the herd, who reacted by stepping aside and back a little to show he didn’t want to be jumped on.

Now any good plan should include a fall back position, what do you do if things go wrong? The fallback plan of try again wasn’t really a plan at all. But once made I followed the plan. Of course the horse had given me fair warning that he didn’t want to play at all so a renewed effort lead to a headbutt and a floored, would be rider. Perhaps that should have been the end of the lesson, but my teacher wanted it to be clear with no misundestanding. He reared majestically over me, perhaps his nostril flairing and eyes wide, or maybe this was an addition that I imagined later. He seemed huge to me as his hooves thundered towards my head. I could only close my eyes and wonder if the explosion I seemed to hear was my head being crushed by those hooves.

I heard shouts, screams, (from me I think) and a neighbour chased the horse away. He had reared again (another warning perhaps?) but the man had been watching events unfold from his window and tried to stop it. “Quick before he comes back”, he shouted in my ear and half lifting, half dragging took me from the field. The man was shaking, I was crying, it was awful.

It took me a long time to understand that the horse himself had been afraid. Afraid and perhaps angry with this creature who tried to dominate him. His reaction might seem excessive but I have no way of knowing what had happened to that horse before and whether my actions triggered a memory. I do know that had he wanted to his hooves would have damaged my skull beyond repair, so his intention was to frighten not to kill. Of course I didn’t know that at the time, I only knew fear. Shortly after the horses were gone from the field, to where I don’t know, but his actions changed me a lot. It was a strange Summer, my friend broke his collar bone when we were playing batman or superman games. The brickworks were declared out of bounds when an elderly man was found dead among the bricks. I remember talking to him and sometimes bringing him sandwiches or fruit. He told me that it was dangerous among the bricks but I thought I knew better. Soon after my grandfather died and we moved to the other end of the village. Houses were built on the field and my life changed in lots of ways.

Horses, big, scary horses. My dreams of riding one seemed to die that day in the field. I could still look at them, feed them from my hand as long as they were firmly on the other side of a high fence. I still thought, they were amazing, beautiful animals, but though I was through with horses, were they through with me?

of their own. Some people reading this will agree with all of this description, whilst others will scratch their heads and mumble, “Scary? What does this guy know about horses?” Truthfully not that much but I do have a history and history is where knowledge and experience develop.

Like many Scottish working class children in the the 60s and 70s my sole experience of horses was of a pony variety. Seeing them on the beach at Ayr or at a School fayre (not my own school I have to add) and horses on the TV. Horse racing, Folly foot farm, the Lone Ranger, the High Chapperal and Black Beauty. These four legged creatures were exotic and exciting and beyond my reach. I was a young reader and began to devour the westerns of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour where the villians were obvious and heroes, brave, handsome and would leap aboard a horse with scarcely a thought. Who wouldn’t want as a child to be a cowboy or an indian brave on his trusted steed? The horse rider inside of me ached to leap aboard and gallop into the sunset like my heroes.

The opportunity, when it arose, came as a surprise. I lived in a post war prefabicated house, a prefab as it was always called. Living on a short road where there were only two cars. At the end of the road was a field and beyond this a coal bing and a brick work. I remember the field especially as I would often play there. I remember walking there with a puppy who liked to find old broken bricks from the brick work and carry them around in his mouth. He was unpredictable and prone to violence, I vaguely recall but my dad gave him away in the end as a guard dog to a man who owned a scrap yard. So I wandered the fields without him again.

One day I went to the field to cross over to the brick works. I liked to sneak into the cooling areas where the bricks had been fired and the air was hot and shimmered with the disappating heat. In these days of health and safety and security I am sure these things are unheard of, but then I seemed to wander at will. As long as I was home for meals, and bed noone seemed to mind much. That day when I climbed the fence I saw the horses grazing in the middle of the field. I walked towards them, wondering where they had appeared from, sure that they hadnt been there the previous day. A plan began to emerge in my mind about riding around in the field on the back of one of the horses but the lure of the hot bricks was too strong and a good plan takes time, right?

Days passed and I asked around about the horses. A boy I knew told me that someone had told his dad that the horses belonged to some gypsies who were keeping them there for a while. How long I asked, but no one seemed to know. So I would walk in the field handing the horses grass, which they cautiosly took from my hand, ready at any moment to bolt. A good plan takes time but how long did I have?

The day arrived quite by chance. I’m not sure what made that day any different but the plan was to feed a horse some grass, walk around to it’s side, put two hands on and somehow leap astride. I mean that’s how it’s done in the movies, right? As a plan it might have been flawed from the outset by a few things. At age 7 or 8 I wasn’t the same height as my film heroes, oh and the horse had no idea that the plan included him standing quite still whilst this little upstart tried to leap higher than his own height on to his back. Flawed from the outset! However, the plan swung into action quite smoothly, some grass was accepted with nose and neck pats, then round to the side, two hands stretched up and a few big hops. Failing that let’s grab some mane. Of course I had chosen the leader of the herd, who reacted by stepping aside and back a little to show he didn’t want to be jumped on.

Now any good plan should include a fall back position, what do you do if things go wrong? The fallback plan of try again wasn’t really a plan at all. But once made I followed the plan. Of course the horse had given me fair warning that he didn’t want to play at all so a renewed effort lead to a headbutt and a floored, would be rider. Perhaps that should have been the end of the lesson, but my teacher wanted it to be clear with no misundestanding. He reared majestically over me, perhaps his nostril flairing and eyes wide, or maybe this was an addition that I imagined later. He seemed huge to me as his hooves thundered towards my head. I could only close my eyes and wonder if the explosion I seemed to hear was my head being crushed by those hooves.

I heard shouts, screams, (from me I think) and a neighbour chased the horse away. He had reared again (another warning perhaps?) but the man had been watching events unfold from his window and tried to stop it. “Quick before he comes back”, he shouted in my ear and half lifting, half dragging took me from the field. The man was shaking, I was crying, it was awful.

It took me a long time to understand that the horse himself had been afraid. Afraid and perhaps angry with this creature who tried to dominate him. His reaction might seem excessive but I have no way of knowing what had happened to that horse before and whether my actions triggered a memory. I do know that had he wanted to his hooves would have damaged my skull beyond repair, so his intention was to frighten not to kill. Of course I didn’t know that at the time, I only knew fear. Shortly after the horses were gone from the field, to where I don’t know, but his actions changed me a lot. It was a strange Summer, my friend broke his collar bone when we were playing batman or superman games. The brickworks were declared out of bounds when an elderly man was found dead among the bricks. I remember talking to him and sometimes bringing him sandwiches or fruit. He told me that it was dangerous among the bricks but I thought I knew better. Soon after my grandfather died and we moved to the other end of the village. Houses were built on the field and my life changed in lots of ways.

Horses, big, scary horses. My dreams of riding one seemed to die that day in the field. I could still look at them, feed them from my hand as long as they were firmly on the other side of a high fence. I still thought, they were amazing, beautiful animals, but though I was through with horses, were they through with me?

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