Updated: Jan 21, 2019
My nickname as a child from one of my uncles was "Spinderella". I was skinny, gangly and growing at the rates of knots. Always above average height for my age, but a bit weak. I seemed to outgrow my strength fast and often had growing pains in my legs.
By the time I was nearly 13, I could almost wrap my legs around "Fella" twice and so it was with a heavy heart, the decision was made that Fella was to be sold and I needed a bigger pony.
I had very mixed feelings as I loved Fella with all my heart, but I also wanted to progress with my riding. A very nice forever home was found for Fella with a petite lady who would take him for rides in Bushy park, and wasn't really interested in competing, so it was that my first love was going.
Living in Surbiton, suburbia, we had by now moved from the lovely lady Molly, who had started me out, to a livery yard nearer home. I used to watch the girl next door flying around jumps on her ponies, she seemed much more professional than me, but I did notice she seemed a bit impatient with her ponies at times. However, far be it for me to criticise, she was a lot more proficient than I was.
One of her ponies was a very pretty palamino, with a body the colour of a gold sovereign. He had a long white mane and tail and a broad white blaze down his face I found him spellbinding and admired his beauty and grace. She asked me whether I would like to ride him, which I didn't have to think about too hard, and before long we often used to ride together. She had decided that "Suede" was not really going to cut it for her as a jumping pony. Although capable, he often would refuse at spooky fences and wasn't always very brave, however, he was breathtakingly beautiful, every little girl's dream pony. He had a flowing mane and tail, "Soft Suede", as he's show name was, came up for sale, and it seemed a natural progression for him to come to me.
I was instantly "in love" with him and so the next phase of my education with horses was about to begin.
The livery yard where we kept him was owned by an ex-jockey who had turned to eventing and show-jumping. He bought and sold horses and there were always lots of different horses and a busy yard environment. I used to love watching him school and ride horses and I soaked it up. I was included in many things that I probably wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity or experience to do. I accompanied him to shows as a groom and went for rides in groups with the young horses.
Suede was a totally different character to Fella. He was forward going but not strong and could be quite spooky. To get to the bridleways and Oxshott woods we had to ride in quite heavy traffic. Suede was good unless a double decker bus was coming, then he would spin and turn tail and I would often end up in people's front gardens, which didn't make me very popular, it was also very dangerous, but I suppose ignorance was bliss, we were still quite novices, its not something I would want to repeat now.
I would go out for long rides to the woods, sometimes in company, sometimes on my own. There were no mobile phones in those days, and I often think now of all the near misses I had with traffic and flashers. I believe someone was definitely looking after me. It was during these long rides though that Suede and I developed an understanding of each other. He and I were both quite nervous in personality. I began to be able to anticipate his reaction to some scary monster in the hedge, and I could feel his tension in my stomach often seconds before he spooked.
I now know the link that horses read people emotionally from our bodies synchronising a felt emotion to embody an emotion, from my work as an Equine Facilitator of Human Development. It is how it keeps horses in the wild safe from predators and we also have the "flight/fight" response as humans. This feeling often happened seconds before he spooked, like an early warning sign. When I felt him tense, I would speak to him and stroke his neck and if a handy lay by was near, I would make use of it to get us both out of harm's way. He began to trust me, and I him.
I joined the Pony Club and began to get some instruction and we did lots of activities like camp and rallies, which all helped to further our bond. Jumping was never really Suede's forte . He could be very inconsistent, sometimes flying round clear, and sometimes putting the brakes on where I would go flying over his head.
Almost by accident, we discovered he was really good at dressage. I didn't really know what it entailed and we entered a Pony Club competition, where I learned the set moves going along in the car. More by luck than judgement, he won it. No-one could have been more surprised than me. Together we went on to represent the Pony Club at Goodwood, which was quite an achievement and because he had nice paces and was a very eye-catching pony, he did very well.
Suede came on holiday with us to the Kent coast and he loved the beach and paddling in the sea and I seen many idyllic days with him riding across Romney Marsh. I was a young teen by now and still very unsure of myself. I was tall, gangly and had a train track of braces on my teeth. I had an abnormality in my mouth where I had an extra sack of baby teeth, which didn't allow for the adult teeth to develop properly. This resulted in several operations and years of orthodontic work, which I was lucky to have from a very gifted orthodontist, the late Harry Orton, who did pioneering work in my case. Needless to say, this didn't do much for my confidence at the time, I was a sensitive girl, who hid her deepest feelings, but when I was with Suede, I could just be myself and he was a very affectionate pony.
Suede taught me empathy and feel, he was sensitive too. He could tell when I felt low or upset and he would just stand close to me and be a very comforting presence when I couldn't make sense of my emotions. I found great solace in moment by moment routine activities. There is nothing quite so comforting as the sound of a horse munching on hay, or the sweet, pungent smell of a horse in close proximity.
Suede was with me for two to three years, I can't exactly remember how long, but by the time I was 14, I was almost adult height and my legs kept on growing.
Life was about to change again with a family move out of the suburbs to the Kent countryside. Suede was sold to a girl who I hope loved him as much as I did. I will never forget him and the love he gave me.