Whilst mumbling and musing in the tack room the other week it became very apparent that there are some things you can only talk to other horsey people about.
Now you could argue that there are many things that can and should only be dicussed with other like minded horsey people and you would be correct. After all, which of your non horsey mates would spend hours debating the pro’s and cons of a single jointed bit ‘v’ a double jointed bit ‘v’ a no jointed bit ‘v’ no bloody bit at all? Who else could you have a 40 minute conversation with only using the letters A K E H C M B F and it make total sense (or some sense at least), and who else will appreciate the complete devastation of travelling to a competition just to go and mess up your 20m circle or not finish on a square halt at X, nope not your non horsey friends. So as much as your mates ask after your beloved horse, I hate to break it to you but they really couldn’t give two hoots about what supplements he/she is on and whether he/she is losing his/her winter coat yet! So yep, point well argued that there are a million things you should only talk to other horsey people about.
BUT, there’s one topic in particular that you really can only discuss when you are in the company, and only the company of other people that feel so strongly, remember so clearly and can still recall with such passion the often misunderstood and trivialised subject of…..imaginary horses!
I can’t remember exactly how we got on to discussing this the other day but before we knew it, there we were, 4 professional women in our 30’s comparing the imaginary horses we tamed, loved, rode, groomed and successfully competed on when we were children (I think we were distracting ourselves from our real life equestrian failures of that particular day)
I think most children, especially little girls, go through a “I want a pony” phase, usually after their “I want a puppy” phase and before their “I want to wear mummy’s high heels and make up” phase. For most of these children this phase will consist of a few weeks of begging mummy and daddy for a pony (ideally ebony black or dazzling grey), then when those requests are met consistently with a “no don’t be ridiculous darling”, they moodily canter around the living room swishing their pony tail in the air whilst banging two coconut halves together and stopping to paw the ground occasionally.
If you were lucky, your constant whining and whinging about wanting a pony would lead to a compromise, this compromise would be to attend a few lessons at the local riding school, where it was quickly discovered that learning to ride isn’t about cantering through open fields in the sunshine with your bonnet blowing in the wind and your immaculate trusty steed reading your mind and rescuing you Lassie like from sticky situations. It is in fact discovered at this cold, dark, muddy riding school that shaggy ponies have a devilish mind of their own and they will throw you head first into the ground rather than be your knight in furry armour. You also discover the sun rarely shines and you will spend an hour teeth chattering, unable to feel your fingers, wishing you were at home playing in the warm with your friends. This is often more than enough proof to most 8 year old girls that horses are creatures best kept on the television and rummaging through mums wardrobe is a much more sensible past time.
However for some little girls (and boys I’m sure), this doesn’t deter them and they take matters into their own hands and rather than be defeated by the parental “no’s” or unsatisfied with the riding schools standard of equine offering, they delve deep into their creative core, taking the imaginary horse to a whole new level and before they know it they are galloping full pelt on a wild, chestnut, Arabian stallion (called something like Blaze, or Fire), jumping hedges and ditches, winning endless competitions, thundering across open fields and rearing majestically into the sunset. Bareback and bridle-less.
It is in the level of detail in which you created your imaginary steed that determined just how ‘horse obsessed’ you really were. Did you have a specific breed? What markings did your horse have? Tempestuous mare or untamed stallion? What colour was it? Were you the only person that could ride it? (of course you were, admit it) Did you tie your horse to imaginary tie rings? Did you pick your imaginary horses imaginary feet out? Did you scold your imaginary horse with a tree branch crop when it refused a fence? (sometimes hitting rather painfully the back of your bare leg. Ouch) Did your imaginary horse get frisky and flighty and snort like a thing possessed? Did your imaginary horse rear and nap? (bucking was a bit tricky with only two legs). Did you sail round Badminton Horse Trials on your imaginary horse? Could your imaginary horse piaffe and passage perfectly at the drop of a hat and half pass effortlessly across the kitchen floor? If yes to most of the above you were most definitely in the ‘I am pony crazy and will not give up until I get my own even if I am 30 years old when it happens’ club.
I was lucky enough (or spoilt enough some might say) as a child that my persistent begging and pleading did lead to being the proud owner of a beautiful little black pony, Timmy was more Thelwell than Black Beauty but he was my pride and joy. But he wasn’t an easy ride *C’mon you bugger, so when getting to grips with this wise old 12.2hh Dartmoor pony became too much I would abandon him and his bad attitude and go tack up my impetuous 16hh Arabian stallion and career off into the distance, horse and rider in total harmony, poetry in motion, while Timmy stood in the field consumed with regret and jealousy (I love the power of imagination)
What I loved about our tack room recollections the other day though was the seriousness in which we all still described these horses of yesteryear (one of us, naming no names, could still demonstrate with much vigour her imaginary horses canter) and the fact that even though we could now laugh about it, and all had our own living, breathing horses standing outside, we were still so fond of our first equine friends and spoke about them in such detail, with such loyalty and as if it was the most natural thing in the world (and not at all weird or verging on autistic). It did turn out that the majority of us in the conversation happened to be only children, so that may also have had a large part to play in this introverted, self indulgent activity. But either way, these imaginary horses, I believe, helped shape our adult equine lives in one way or another.
It also goes to show we are only ever a conversation away from rekindling our carefree youths and awakening our chestnut stallions from our minds like the Phoenix rising from the flames.
So the next time you get off your horse feeling deflated, disillusioned or down right infuriated all you have to do is head to the tack room and say to someone “remember when it was all so easy as a kid before we got real horses”, this will without fail get everyone discussing (and if you are lucky, demonstrating) their imaginary horses with passion, genuine fondness and without a second thought about whether it was normal behaviour or not.
This trip down memory lane wont make your real horse behave any better when you go back outside, it definitely will not make it jealous that you are cantering around the tack room on a fiery steed *C’mon Peter Pan and were you ever to come face to face with a 16hh chestnut Arabian stallion I suggest you keep your horse whispering talents to yourself and leave it to the professionals but it will take your mind off of your present pony troubles, raise a few giggles and take the topic of conversation away from wibbly wobbly 20m circles and overstepping the mark at X….again.
* if you have never seen French & Saunders ‘ponies’ sketch 1) you are not as horsey as you think you are, and 2) you have missed out on a classic piece of British comedy at its best – below is a reminder