I’ve always loved horses, so it was only natural when Kira expressed a desire to learn how to ride, that I enrolled the kids into riding lessons.

I have to go onto a bit of a side track here: if one kid did something, then most of the time, they all did it. Extra curricular activities were just too tricky to handle if all four kids were doing something different, so while they all did something they really wanted to do, they also had to do things that maybe they weren’t so interested in. In this case, Kira really wanted to learn how to ride and the boys were interested (and turned out to be great horsemen, just not interested in riding as a long-term prospect). Keeley, aged 2 or 3 at the time, just loved it.

Like anyone who’s been around horses for a while, we’ve had some complete doozies. There were horses who were great but totally unsuitable, there were horses that were great, but they didn’t like their owner. There were horses who were perfect in every single way. Most of the time.

Just occasionally, this perfect specimen would have a moment and do something completely unexpected. Like Ryan’s horse, Paddy. Jamie had a (totally unsuitable) grey Thoroughbred who was highly strung to the tips of his hooves. If a leaf trembled in the wind, Basil would take off like there was a tiger chasing him. If a raindrop landed in a puddle next to him, making a delightful ‘plink’ sound as it hit the water, Basil would leap to one side as though a horse eating crocodile was about to launch itself at him. To top of all this horsey angst, he had the IQ of a chicken.

If you’ve never watched a group of chickens, you may not know what I’m talking about here; let’s just say that if Chickens had the 5-second long term memory length that a goldfish has, it would be considered the Einstein of its breed. I love Chickens but they’re not the smartest of creatures.

One day, Ryan and I went out for a trail ride, I was on Basil, Ryan was on his reliable, trustworthy, down-to-earth mount, Paddy. We were lazily meandering through the trees, with loose reins, chatting away and I was keeping a weathered eye out for potential monsters (i.e. leaves rustling, a breeze drifting towards us, cockatoos above us (they like to amuse themselves by dropping gum nuts onto the horses as we go under them), and particularly that terrifying creature, the Kangaroo. It lies in wait, apparently minding its own business and grazing peacefully, but all horses know that in reality, when no humans are around, the Kangaroo turns into a vicious, flesh-eating psychopath whose sole goal in life is to terrorise horses. The Roo is second in the list of dread-inducing beasts only after the Emu.

Emus strike terror into the hearts of the bravest of horses, their beady eyes conveying in great details the torment and pain that the valiant steed will suffer should the Emu capture them. The first sight of an emu will compel a horse into a breath taking turn of speed in the opposite direction to the Emu. No barrier will stand in the horse’s way, all manner of barricades will be overcome in their rush to get away from this Dreadlord. The only thing that will make a horse flee with greater velocity, is the smell of an emu. If a horse smells an emu before it sees the emu… well, they say the speed of light can’t be broken; they’ve never seen a horse who’s smelled an emu.

So, Ryan & I were happily strolling through the trees, with me keeping a look out for potential dangers, when Basil & I both got the shock of our lives, both of us rooted to the spot in bewildered astonishment. Eyes wide, our mouths hanging open, we watched as the reliable, sensible Paddy leapt straight up in the air, again and again, Ryan hanging on to the saddle for dear life. Neither Bas nor I could see anything that may have caused Paddy to behave this way, and after a few more gigantic, four-footed bronco bucks, Paddy finally unseated Ryan, pivoted as though he was swivelling on a pole and took off back to his stable as though the hounds of hell were pursuing him. After landing with an undignified “whoof!”, Ryan picked himself up off the floor and dusted himself off, while Basil and I were still rooted to the spot in flabbergasted surprise.

Although Paddy was technically a horse (he was 14.3 hands high and his breed was a horse breed, not a pony breed. For non-horsey people, 14.2 hands high is the tallest a pony can be), he had moments where he behaved like his soul was that of a pony. Ponies may look like miniature and very cute little horses, but anyone who’s been around horses for any time at all knows that ponies are actually hell-spawned creatures.* The perfect descriptor for these miniature gremlins came to my mind: SOAP – S**t Of A Pony. And we’ve had our fair share of them. Actually, that’s not quite true; yes, WE’ve had our fair share of them, but apart from Paddy, who was Ryan’s horse, Keeley has been the rider of all of them. For her entire life, she’s had one little SOAP after another, and with one exception, they’ve all been the cutest, most gorgeous looking, little grey pony who looks like butter wouldn’t melt in its mouth…

To be continued…

* Let me say that I much prefer ponies to horses. Ponies are adorable, fun and absolutely essential for any child who wants to learn to ride or for anyone who wants to learn the full gamut of equestrian behaviour and talent. Ponies are unpredictable… naughty… evil geniuses… the devil in disguise. But ponies are never boring.

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