Jane, aged approx. 6 with Puddin the Poddy Lamb
On an Australian farm, because our paddocks are so big, horses are vital to the farm’s smooth running. Yes, I did have five horses but not all at once. I was a pesky little toddler and I constantly was asking my Dad if I could ride his stockhorse, Marianne. She was so big that I could walk under her tummy without having to bend over. I loved it when Dad and I rode her together; me wrapped snug in his strong arms.
Finally, just to shut me up, they bought me Bimbo, a tiny black Shetland pony with a vicious temper. He hated me especially when I made him go too fast. He would turn his head around and nip at my legs – boy it hurt. Whenever I walked behind him he would kick his back little legs at me. That Bimbo was a horrible nasty little pony didn’t put me off at all. I would dream that I was a famous rider winning prizes at the Melbourne Royal Agricultural Show.
Mum and Dad finally realised that I was serious about riding and they drove up to Melbourne, which is about 220 kilometres from where we lived, and found Tango. I was so excited when the truck finally arrived and he was led down the ramp. It was love at first sight. He was pure white with a long flowing tail and mane. His eyes were so big and so very brown. From then on it was just like that nursery rhyme about Mary and her little lamb but it was “everywhere that Jane went Tango would to follow”. We sold Bimbo soon after that.
I rode Tango to school each day and he would wait patiently for me to ride him home again. School was a little country cottage, which looked more like a shed. It was about 5 kilometres from our farm. There was only one teacher and 12 students ranging in age from 5 to 12 years. Mr. Binks, our teacher, was a tall skinny man with a lovely warm smile. He made sure that Tango had enough grass to eat and water to drink and that I put him in a shady spot in the summer when it was very hot.
Tango and I had to work hard too. We helped Dad round-up the sheep and bring them to the shed at shearing time at the beginning of summer. In the spring we would spend hours in the paddocks making sure that all the lambs were OK. If they were sick or their mums, the ewes, did not want to let them suckle for milk I would hop off Tango, pick up the lamb and put it over the front of my saddle and take it home for Mum to look after. Every lamb was precious to us because when they grew into sheep their wool was sold at market and that was how Mum and Dad had money to buy Jane more horses! I found out at a very early age that if I was good, worked hard and did all my chores I would be rewarded, not only, with lots of hugs and kisses from my Mum and Dad, but every so often they would buy me a special present.
Tango taught me to ride. He was a born Show pony even though he did not have a very good pedigree. The first Show (only a little local Show) we went to I was riding in jeans, we could not afford jodhpurs, but Tango could not have cared less what I wore. We rode into the Show ring and he curved his head down, picked up his little dainty hooves and fluffed out his tail. Yes we won the blue ribbon for best pony! Can you imagine how proud I was?
Mum and Dad got caught up in the excitement of riding. They knew nothing about horses or the finer points of equestrianism, but they went to the library and read heaps of books. They made friends with the “horsy” crowd and very quickly learned. It was now very serious. Every night when Tango and I got home from school we had to train. In the winter Dad would turn the lights of the tractor on so that I could see what I was doing. They made me ride without stirrups for what seemed like hours going around and around in a circle so that I would learn how to sit in the saddle properly. Then they would take the reins away from me so that I learnt how to use my knees to guide Tango in the right direction and make him walk or trot or canter with just the slightest pressure. Lochie, my Silky Terrier, was Tango’s best friend and he would keep us company. Either sitting patiently in the middle of the circle or, when Dad wasn’t watching, up on the saddle with me.
After just one year, Tango and I were winning all the prizes. I had ribbons on all the walls of my bedroom and Mum proudly displayed the Silver Cups we won in our front lounge room where the visitors always sat.
When I was eleven, we bought Goblin Gold. I called him Gobby and he was about 30 centimetres taller than Tango, who was now too small for me, but I still kept riding him for another year. Gobby was a beautiful chestnut colour and he just glowed in the sun. Now it was Tango, Gobby, Lochie and I and, when Buck, my pet kangaroo, was big enough, he too joined our merry crew. Can you imagine the spectacle as we all trooped off to visit the creek or the dam? Me riding one of the horses bareback with no reins, Lochie in my arms, the other horse following behind and Buck always hopping ahead – he loved to be in front and always won our pretend races. I was so happy that I would sing but very off-key.
Our entire family were now a very professional team at all the Shows. We had a proper horse float that we towed behind our old Holden. I had all the right clothes and my saddles (a small one for Tango and bigger one for Gobby) and bridles would glisten with oil. The other competitors dreaded our arrival, as they knew we would leave with all the blue ribbons.
At last, when I turned twelve, Mum and Dad, thought that I was ready for the big time and they entered me in the various competitions for both rider and horse at the Royal Melbourne. That was May and I had to wait until September! I would only be riding Gobby as Tango was now way too small for me. We trained every morning and every night. Gobby was put on a special diet of barley, oats and wheat so that his coat would be at its shiniest best.
Two weeks before the Show Mum, Dad and I went to Melbourne to visit my brother Hugh who was at boarding school and to pick up my new riding outfit. I was so chuffed with my new jodhpurs, long sleek riding jacket and knee-high black shiny boots, that I didn’t mind having to watch Hugh play cricket. We did not get home from Melbourne until just before midnight. I was asleep on the back seat of the car so they didn’t wake me; Dad just lifted me up and carried me to bed and Lochie and Butterball soon joined me.
The next morning instead of Dad waking me up at the usual time of 5:00am it was Mum. She sat me on her knee and told me that she had some very sad news for me. When we were in Melbourne, Gobby had escaped from his paddock and could not get back in. He was very hungry because he could not get to his special mixture. Not knowing that the tree near his paddock was poisonous he ate its leaves. By the time Dad found him at midnight there was nothing they could do for my darling horse. Dad phoned the Vet who drove out and gave Gobby an injection that put him to sleep and took the pain away. Yes, Gobby died and little part of me died with him. I cried and cried for days and days. That is life when you live on a farm, the animals you love so very much are, eventually, either sold or go to heaven.
We buried Gobby on top of the only hill on our farm so that he would always be able to look down at us. Dad helped me make a cross for his grave and Mum, Dad, Tango, Lochie, Buck, Butterball and I prayed for him.
I can hear you saying that is only three horses Jane, you told me that you had five! Well within a few months Golden Glory arrived. She too was a chestnut – tall beautiful and proud but she could not replace Gobby in my heart. I no longer wanted to ride the Show circuit but eventually I did and gradually Goldie and I became friends.
At one of the Shows at the back of the area where all the cars and horse floats were parked, I met an old racing horse. He was a horse, not a pony; I couldn’t even reach his saddle! His name was Sputnik and I called him Spooty. His owners could no longer afford to feed him so I pleaded with Mum and Dad to take him home with us. So now there was Bimbo, Tango, Gobby, Goldie and Spooty.
Just a few short months after that Dad and Mum sold the farm. Goldie and Spooty were taken to Melbourne and sold. Dad promised me that they had both gone to families with lots of children who would love them both to bits. I never did get to ride at the Royal Melbourne.
Tango died when I was twenty-one. He too was twenty-one, which is so very old for a horse but he was still the prettiest white pony in the district. Until then, every time I visited my old home I went to see him. After a few years he no longer recognised me but by that time I was old enough to understand and not to be sad.