I’ve been riding since I was eleven, earlier if you count the donkeys on the beach at Sandbanks. Being small I was always given the ponies to ride and I have to admit I longed for the day I would be big enough to ride a horse. Riding school ponies are fearful creatures.
They shuffle along usually with one intention, to show you that you can’t ride. I have met one or two very special ponies. Mischief earned her place in my affection by winning just about every gymkhana race going and Folly who beat Mischief on odd occasions. The day they came to put Mischief down I caught her and led her up into the van. I still have what is left of her tail. No one else was going to betray her I loved her enough to want to be there. I was heart broken.
Since growing up I have ridden racehorses by the hundreds. Some of the most amazing and beautiful horses that have ever graced the world. Maori Venture, who won the Grand National, Fact Finder who won the Lincoln riding him was like sitting in an armchair a real gentleman. Lettuce whose children, Mighty Fly, Mighty Flutter and Mighty Falcon have earned their place in racing history.
Jack the Dolphin, a large and gentle chestnut gelding, who was my charge in Chantilly he was so strong he had to be ridden in a Kimblewick bit. Emiline, an incredible lady with the speed of a rocket and the manners of a saint. She had gears and brakes, a joy to ride. Then there was Mr. Shut Eye, a loveable dark brown gelding who was 4th in the Kim Muir one year, he moved like silk. There was Dudie, and Juven Light, the list is endless. Above all I love the, grace and speed and size of the Thoroughbred.
The intelligence and the nimbleness, Maori Venture was the only horse I’ve ever met who could jump sheep. Then one day a friend of mine asked me if I would like to go out riding with them. I do occasionally get offered a ride on the odd pony I usually mumble an excuse. This time I couldn’t really say no. She’s twenty-seven they explained and had several foals. My heart sank. She’s only 13.2hh I was told, my heart sank further. Then to make matters worse the day we decided to go riding it was raining. Not so hard that I could have got out of it but a gentle misty rain which penetrates everything. Of course I didn’t have a waterproof. I groaned inwardly. Ponies Ugh! When we arrive they let the other two horses out of the field and they behaved like a pair of well-trained dogs. Monty Roberts would have been impressed. They obviously had great confidence in their owners.
Then they fetched a small brown appaloosa out of the field, my mount. I looked at her, yes every bit an old pony. Her back was a bit dipped, she had uncommonly nice eyes, they were large and intelligent. Her quarters were rounded so she obviously ate well. She reminded me of a small version of Dually, Monty Roberts’ s quarter horse I’d ridden out in California a few weeks back. Her name was Cheetah.
I saddled her up, led her out and threw myself into the saddle. As we set off it suddenly dawned on me that first impressions can be deceptive. She gave me the feeling of being at least 14. 2hh, she held her head so well. I didn’t need to touch her sides, or the reins come to that. She sped out in front of the other horses with a comfortable easy stride that reminded me of a thoroughbred not a pony. Had I been mistaken? We crossed plough and grass her behaviour was impeccable. We opened gates. We trotted. I didn’t need to rise to it such was the ease with which she moved. Then we set off up a narrow lane at a canter. Cheetah went like a rocket, but oh so smooth was her pace that my legs did not move a centimetre on the saddle.
Blimey I thought. We hacked for miles, I didn’t notice the rain, and the cold, I had eyes and thoughts only for this little old pony who would have been the envy of any rider, my friends knew what a gem she was and were quietly laughing at my delight. We crossed the Harewood estate. Cheetah was well named with a stride that ate up the miles. I hardly touched her mouth, except to slow her down at the canter for she was a little unfit and far too keen. We galloped across the rising grass parkland it was as if in a dream.
We covered the ground in an effortless flow. She would have left her two larger companions standing. We came to a steep decline. few horses like to go downhill. She was gone like a racing car, her shoulders swinging out in front of her no sign of the stiffness that normally accompanies old age.
I have never ridden such a wonderful little horse, for that is what she was. She communicated to me her intelligence and thoughtfulness and courage, she would have taken you to the ends of the earth had you asked. I had just about the best ride I have ever had on any horse on that twenty seven year old pony. We were out riding for about four hours, yet the next morning I was not stiff, nor did I have a single rubbed patch on my legs, usually par for the course when I ride.
I learnt that she was quite uncatchable when young, and was left to breed foals until she was about twelve, when she was finally broken and backed and then turned away. Her present owner lent her to the people I was riding with and they took her on, green and awkward at fifteen years old, having done nothing at all. They took great pains with her, teaching her little by little, learning to read her signs and not pushing her too fast or hard. She had no idea what a jump was when they got her and Alice who rode her for years gradually turned her into the best small show jumper around.
As for gymkhana events she was a rocket that made mincemeat of her opponents. So now she lives in semi-retirement and I would fancy has a good ten or so years left. Why? Well – because she was lucky enough to have been left to mature! And lucky enough to fall into the hands of some people who without pretensions to schooling and books have developed a horse sense that Monty Roberts would be impressed by.
Thank you Cheetah!