Like many people, I learned to ride at a riding school. I was given ten lessons for my 38th birthday and joined a beginners' class alongside my eldest daughter, then aged six. From that point on there was no turning back. I couldn't devour the information fast enough. I wanted to know everything there was to know about riding and asked my instructor if she thought I would be competent after the ten lessons! She replied solemnly that it takes a lifetime to be competent and even then there is still much to learn. I still cringe at my naivety.
Fifteen years later, horses are an important part of my life and I spend most of my free time at the stables where I first learned to ride. With increasing knowledge, however, I have also an uncomfortable awareness of just how much we ask of these riding-school ponies in order that we can satisfy our own pleasure. Although most are well cared for physically, I believe that many are living a life of misery. Depending on their personalities, they either become dull and lazy in an effort to save themselves from the lack of stimulation, or they gain the reputation of being difficult by resorting to nipping and scowling at anyone within reach.
This poem is dedicated to Meeling, whose photograph is at the top of this section. She was a very elderly, gentle mare and she taught me the very basics with a willingness that I then assumed was the norm for all horses.
Brought in and fed at 8.00, she stands
tied in her stall, head bowed down low,
the saddle slapped across her back
and grubby tack, all signs of things she cannot know,
She is a riding-school pony,
In luxury boxes across the way
grand horses gleam and shine and wait
while loving owners preen and clean them
safe in the knowledge that their own fate
Is not that of a riding-school pony.
Now tugged, untied, 'You are so STIFF',
passive she waits while heavy bellied boy
climbs on and grabs the reins with concrete hands
jagging soft flesh - to him - just a toy
And not a riding school pony.
Like circus beasts, they shuffle nose to tail,
while high above a heron soars and flies
then plunges into pools of shimmering light,
routine results in dull, unseeing eyes,
Those of a riding-school pony.