It might surprise you to know that, when I was a child, I wasn’t much into people. Nope: horses were my thing!
I adored those of the large four-legged variety, and anything to do with horses and ponies I would literally inhale… apart from the actual animals, of course. Annie Owns a Pony and Jill’s Gymkana books, Horse and Pony magazine, any bit of literature that the Pony Club (yes, I was a member of the Pony Club) would send me. I loved it ALL!
The highlight of my year would always be the August Pony Club camp. One whole week of horses, horses and more horses, Pony Club camp was heaven for little girls like me who just wanted to be the next Zara Tindall. We’d sleep in tents and not brush our teeth for a week as a wild act of rebellion against our parents (I mean, when you’re 12 not brushing your teeth feels totally edgy), and spend our days whipping between dressage, cross-country, show-jumping and grooming. It was such a lesson for independence for all these girls who were able to get grubby and enjoy the company of each other and their horses.
Elfie has started to enjoy riding, and that’s something I’m so grateful for. I think it’s such a formative hobby for little girls to choose – it teaches you so much, including fearlessness, as those animals are bloody big! – and I love that she’s getting into it as enthusiastically as I once did.
For a start I think it’s a great way to learn about the health and biology of an animal. I still remember the lessons I learned about the horses I’d look after at camp: how they must eat a certain way so as not to twist their stomach (a condition that can be fatal), how to tie them up completely safely (I can still do a quick release knot like a boss) and how to spot the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome (This helpful guide can give you more information on Cushing’s in horses.)
It’s also such a great way to learn resiliance, responsibility and hard work. Horses and ponies take a hell of a lot of looking after, and require a great deal of exercise too. Having to muck out my pony every morning and night, turn him out to grass and make sure he was warm, fed and happy at all times was such a great lesson in caring for something bigger than me.
If only my children were as easy to look after as Gertie, my little pony who I rode as a kid!
I’d recommend riding for any child growing up. Many local stables have initiatives where you can experience looking after a horse without actually owning one – ‘own a pony’ days they’re often called – very smart on their part as they get their horses looked after and have people pay for the privilege. I did this so often as a child and have the fondest memories of days in the stable.
In fact, I might be 34 but I reckon you’re never too old to spend some time with your four-legged friends. If you need me this weekend, check the stables…