Yattendon and I at our first Dressage show. A lot still had to be learnt!
A couple of days ago we had a visit from some "horsy friends" that we hadn't seen for some time and, as usual, the conversation moved over to horses and opened a flood-gate of memories for me.
When we moved to our smallholding in 1975, my life-long dream of owning a horse was realised, and when I acquired my first horse, a Chestnut mare, Starlight, it started a love affair with these wonderful creatures which lasted many years. As teenager, when I was besotted with them, and would spend hours drawing them. The head, the hooves, the nostrils, the tail, the legs, the eyes, and in different stances - running, standing, rearing, jumping.
Soon we were heavily involved with horses, we each had our own - myself, my daughter and my husband. Show jumping, dressage and endurance. We even acquired a vintage Phaeton horse carriage and trained two of our horses to pull it, often going out for short trips on Sunday mornings. In the photo above, on one such outing, Jericho, the Grey, decided that he'd had enough and refused to budge. However, a little bit of encouragement and leading soon got him back into the swing of things!
A few years ago, I went through a stage of sketching and painting horses again, and as I was sketching, I could feel Yattendon's silky mane, the softness around his nostrils and the bristle on his chin when I used to cup his face in my hands, the look in his eye as he queried my command and the comfortable hollow of his back. Oh, what beautiful days those were, saddling up and flying through the fields with your trusted friend! He was my second horse, a fiery C-grade Chestnut jumper, with white socks and a white blaze on his forehead, who taught me about trust, friendship and companionship.
There is nothing more satisfying than a warm nuzzle and a grunt from a contented horse. Spending quiet time with my horse, perhaps a brush-down with a soft brush and tending to his tail and mane, was what I found most relaxing during my horsy years.
I was often asked why I liked horses so much. Look into one's eyes. There you will see generations of horses who have served the humans for thousands of years faithfully for nothing in return. Beaten horses, starved hoses, horses who no longer possess a spirit. They deserve to be loved and respected as much as humanly possible. Let them run free again. Let them no longer be a faithful beasts, but embrace them as you would a dear friend, for that is what they are.
Yattendon with Little Mare and her foal
One day, while visiting a brick yard that had some horses for sale, we saw a small black mare, who immediately came up to us for a nuzzle and I was totally shocked at her condition. Skinny and with a staring coat, I decided I just couldn't leave her there and we immediately bought her from the owner.
A couple of months later, we woke up one morning to Little Mare's neighing at our back door, only to discover that she had foaled during the night. We didn't even know she was pregnant! It was the most gorgeous little black stallion and he soon crept deep into our hearts.
We used to spend hours watching the foal frolicking about on uncertain legs, picking itself up after each ungainly fall and gaining strength and confidence with each leap and bound. They actually are very playful and will spend hours chasing butterflies or fleeing imaginary enemies, often heading straight for mother, seeking shelter at her strong and comforting shoulder, shivering in anticipation of the impending danger. Foals will always hold a special fascination for people - beautiful, gangly, oh so cocky! and frolicking on uncertain legs - they represent the next generation of horses who have served us humans for thousands of years faithfully for nothing in return. They deserve to be loved and respected as much as humanly possible.
Here a few more of my horse sketches:
'Trotting up a storm' - one of the most comfortable positions while riding a horse is trotting
A Tribute to the Horse
Every year, at the end of the 'Horse of the Year' Show in England, the arena lights darken and a solitary horse enters. A hush falls over the crowd as a single spotlight illuminates the magnificent Horse. Over the loudspeakers the following is heard:
Where, in this wide world,
Can man find nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy,
Or beauty without vanity?
Here, where grace is laced with muscle,
And strength by gentleness confined.
He serves without servility.
He has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful,
Nothing less violent.
There is nothing so quick,
Nothing more patient.
England's past has been borne on his back,
All our history is his industry.
We are his heirs,
He our inheritance.
I haven't been on the back of a horse for many years now and I now have the urge to just once more feel a saddle beneath me, the swaying motion of a relaxed walk through the veld on horse-back, even the wind flowing past me in a fast canter. Maybe one day...