As a child I grew up with part-bred Arabian ponies. They were loyal, strong and rarely had problems with their feet or legs or wind. Thinking of these four-legged friends reminds me of my parents, of family holidays, of times with my sisters, of fancy dress gymkhanas and the memories instantly lead me back down the vista of time to the rosy hue of childhood years.
I still have a beloved older mare bred from those ponies, but two years ago I also bought a new purebred Arab filly with whom to share my adventures. Arabs are one of the oldest breeds of horses. They appear in Ancient Egyptian art, in legend, in poetry and in tales from Bedouins from the deserts in which the breed developed. In recent centuries they have been crossed with many breeds of horses as a way of introducing speed and endurance, good bones and refinement.
Whilst I think Phoebe is very beautiful, above all she is very different from some of the other horses here. She really seems to want to co-operate and bond with people – to be my friend, to say hello, be patted and scratched, come in from the field and get ready to go off on a ride. She is very sensitive but also very level headed and calm. Nevertheless, this paragon decided that she is not having any sort of metal bit in her mouth and is clearly quite fixed in her view, so it is an apple flavoured rubber bit only.
Maggie (who helps me with the horses here) and I took her to Gary Witheford, a horse whisperer and friend who lives half an hour away in Devizes. He breaks in horses as well as working with difficult ones so I also send the thoroughbred fillies and colts there to be broken in for racing. The principle is one of partnership and respect. It took about 10 minutes in total before Nikki was not merely sitting on Phoebe’s back but standing up on her back as well. Nikki kindly hacked her out around the roads and helped Phoebe’s confidence before she returned home and it was my turn to ride her.
We have ventured out carefully. Steering is still a bit iffy and going forwards a little uneven. Unsure of managing a rider and her feet, we stumble on a regular basis through woodland tracks and she has lost a shoe on every ride so far.
Previous travellers have ridden on horseback through Highclere for hundreds of years, if not more. Horses have carried us away from trouble and into battle. They were our means of transport until the “Downton Abbey” era, when horsepower began to appear in a motorized form. I am however absorbed by the warmth, the sounds and familiar smells of my Arab pony’s mane, the way her ears are always listening back to me on our rides together. I am very lucky and these are magical moments in busy days. Unlike my childhood days however, I have taken to wearing a flak jacket when I ride: a protection from falling off given I am quite sure I will not “bounce” as I did in the past.
I think Phoebe and I will have a good life together, a sense of belonging both together and in the landscape through which we tiptoe on our way.