"There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse; no amount of hard work a faithful horse will perform for you when they know there is work to be done.
As an ardent reader of history as well as having been born in the Chinese Year of The Horse, my affinity with this noble creature shall never wane. I know that there would be no history ever written had horses not helped write it. From the time of the Crusades up to the 'First World War', horses led the battle charge and were among the first to fall. The farming of the world during the Agricultural Revolution, up to and beyond the Industrial Revolution could not have been daily performed without the strength of the horse ploughing the field and later hauling barges along the canal side filled to the brim with grain, coal and other commodities. Even in my days as a boy in the 40s and 50s, horses were the common power for hauling milk carts, coal carts, fruit and veg carts. Indeed, anything that required hauling, a horse did it. Build a racing track and a horse would run it, erect a fence and a horse would jump it; indeed provide a horse with any possible task and it is done without a whimper.
Today, there is no economic sense for using horses to provide the bulk of manual work since the invention of tractors, combined harvesters and motorised high-powered engines. I often imagine a beautiful Shire horse passing a tractor ploughing a field and saying to the machine, 'We can both do that, but you'll never give birth to a colt, mate!"
My advice to any child who would like to persuade their parent to allow them to have a pet kitten and fears they might refuse, is to first ask for a horse. That way, the parent will feel let off!
Access to a horse is the ultimate gateway to freedom. It is a gift to mankind's better self. My love of horses started in my early twenties out in Canada. It was impossible to be anywhere out west without coming into contact with horse riding and I quickly became fascinated by them. I've ridden across plain, on the beach, through woodlands and down country roads and I can honestly tell you that I never came across an experience that could thrill and exhilarate me as much as being on the back of a horse in the midst of a gallop. I find horses as being no less than creatures of nobility without an ounce of conceit in their body. They are a friend without envy and when in full flight, they're the most beautiful of beasts without a shred of vanity.
After an accident as a child left one of my legs a few inches shorter than the other leg, I initially found horse riding a constant challenge in maintaining my balance in the saddle. My stirrups needed adjusting to compensate for this imbalance of body, yet I was always more prone to slip the stirrup during a gallop than another rider. Subsequently, keeping straight in the saddle was often nigh impossible for me to achieve and during my earlier years of learning, falls were often too frequent and resulted in numerous broken bones and bruised backs.
I was never destined to own a horse, yet would have missed out on life greatly had I never ridden one. I have always been smaller in height than the average sized chap, yet always felt as tall as any other when in the saddle. I think that horses are magnificent creatures to elevate ones's perception of character and that people on horses always look better than they really are. Today, horse riding is used to help children with many types of handicap improve their own self image. I have often marvelled how strange a thing it is that so huge, powerful and intelligent an animal as a horse should allow another, and far more feeble animal such as man, to ride upon its back.
Some of the most feisty women I have ever known wore riding breeches. I have always found that a woman who owns a horse knows what she wants, goes where she wants, does what she wants to do and decides when she wants to do it! When woman rides a horse, she reaps the whirlwind of her unbridled passion and desires. Upon the stallion between her knees, she feels empowered as she takes control of her beast. In a corruption and alteration of Lord Byron's words in his works, 'Mazeppa's Ride' : 'With flowing hair and flying mane, she'll not be stretched by bit or rein; nor have feet that iron did ever shod.
Whenever I rode a horse in the past, I knew that I borrowed freedom for an hour or two and whenever I saw one in paintings who'd been worked to the end of endurance ploughing hard rocky ground, I cried to see such fallen grace. Between the ages of twenty one and fifty five, I spent many of my leisure hours horse riding and the remaining time, I just wasted. Then towards my mid 50s, my arthritis became so bad in my legs that each time I tried to ride above a canter, I was in dire risk of falling off my mount. I finally had to accept that my horse riding days were over after falling off a galloping mount in County Galway, nearly breaking my back and confined to bed for three weeks.
During my childhood days when I was unable to walk for three years after a bad traffic accident, I would watch the horses prance around a nearby field with a freedom and movement of majesty I feared I'd never have, and today, I watch this noblest of creatures move in an unfettered freedom of action that I know I will never again possess.
I have always believed horses to be clever creatures and once heard about the cleverest horse of all called Alfie. One day Alfie fell down an open well which the farmer had been in the process of retopping with better stone. The well had long since dried up and had over the years been part filled with loose soil. Alfie fell about forty feet and miraculously, the soft landing on soil saved his life. Unable to get his horse back up out of the well, and believing it to be half dead, the owner decided to take the route of least hassle and started to bury the horse alive by getting six of his farm hands to shovel dirt down on top of the poor creature and thereby snuff out all remaining breathing of the creature. Every shovel of dirt that hit its back almost suffocated the horse, but Alfie thought positively, just shrugged it off and took a step up. As the farm hands could still hear Alfie snort, they quickened their pace and doubled their efforts to put him out of his misery, and shovelled more dirt down on top of the trapped creature. But with each spade of dirt cast down on him, Alfie stayed positive in outlook and continued to shake it off and take another step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as Alfie stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off to a nearby field.
Now, as it was my late mother who told me that tale as a child about a Portlaw pony, I never more than half believed it, but in my heart of hearts, I always wanted to!
I am off into hospital now for another blood transfusion. The doctor saw me yesterday afternoon and is referring me to a chest specialist with a view of finding out if I have developed emphysema, as that could account for my repeated chest complaints. Having smoked for fifty years before having incurred two heart attacks and giving up thirteen years ago, it could be a possible indicator. Bye until tomorrow." William Forde: June 8th, 2016.