"No creatures comprehends us more than dogs and horses, and while I have owned many a dog, I have never owned a horse. Come to think of it, the two things which I have loved most, but never owned, have been a horse and a woman. Never having had a horse of my own is undoubtedly one of the few regrets I have, especially as they are my lucky birth sign, having been born in the Chinese Year of the Horse.
When you look at a horse in its stable and it comes to you unasked and rubs its head on yours, that is when you know you are loved. Their speed is born in a whisper of the wind, their heart is grounded in the bosom of Mother earth and their soul surfs the river stream. Many horse lovers believe them to be no less than nature incarnate. Their strength comes not from their sheer might and physical capacity, but from their indomitable spirit to live naturally in nature's fields, whatever the weather.
When you climb into the saddle, be ready for the ride as every horse reacts differently to things out of the ordinary. Because of one of my legs being shorter than the other, I always needed each stirrup positioned at different height, to compensate for any imbalance of posture. When I first started riding, I found it difficult to sit upright in the saddle and it took me ages to be able to canter without falling off. Even though I may have seen myself galloping into the jaws of death as I imagined being one of the 600 in 'The Charge of The Light Brigade', somehow I knew I didn't quite look the part. It's hard to lead a cavalry charge when you look funny on a horse.
I eventually developed sufficient rider skills to be able to move from canter to gallop without falling off my steed, yet always believed it a miracle to manage an unbroken ride. Because of the constant danger of being unseated, there was always that fear at the back of my mind and I knew that when it didn't happen, I'd become part of another miracle.
Those was the times when I chose to recall my mum's advice; 'Billy, if you don't believe in miracles, then they'll never happen!'
During later years, I used horse riding as an escape from some of the bigger things in life; making my moments in the saddle a time to think things out. I always saw life more clearly from the back of a horse. Sitting comfortably in the saddle gives one a different perspective and once the horse gets into its stride, its just like poetry in motion. One's thinking assumes a clarity that is unobtainable out of the saddle and the essense of what truly matters is never lost. Not only do you borrow freedom when you ride a horse, but by the time you next dismount the steed and rejoin the world, you discover that you have unburdened yourself from whatever troubled you when you initially mounted.
When I was a young boy, on the estate where I lived, the milk man, coal merchant, the rag and bone man and the man who sold fresh vegetables, all had a horse and cart to pull their produce. Some of the horses were so used to their round that they would stop at the correct spot without being instructed to do so. The most special horse that I considered my favourite was a chestnut Shire with a white blaze who was getting on in years and who was also going blind. The coal man was the horse's owner and when his faithful horse went totally blind, instead of putting her out to grass in more leisurely retirement, to minimise his overheads, he still continued to use the Shire on his rounds for another two years. He use to say that his horse did not require eyesight to continue the daily round it had done for fifteen years and that a mere movment of the reins would suffice.
Occasionally, during the school holidays, the coal man, who worked alone, would pay a few boys a shilling for an hour's hard work, filling the sacks and loading the cart before he started his daily round. I remember performing this task twice when I was ten years old. At the time, and having learned that the horse was indeed blind, I foolishly asked the coal man one morning how it could do its round. Being 1952, a time when men outside the roles of father or teacher did not bother answering the questions that boys are not supposed to ask, he gave me short shrift. He simply looked at me with his blackened face and said, 'I'm not paying good money for you to waste on idle thought. Don't you worry about the horse being blind, Lad. You just get a move on and load the cart!' Those were the days." William Forde: July 25th, 2016.