Popcorn, the strawberry roan pony who would not be passed
One day the Saltersgate hounds were in full cry running up Newton Dale. Popcorn and I were galloping along the valley floor and one or other of us, I forget which, decided to take a short cut as we veered to the left. Not a good move; we were galloping over a rabbit warren at top speed when we fell. I hit the deck and rolled and rolled, over and over, the pony also rolling behind me, flying hooves coming dangerously close to my head. Luckily I rolled faster than him and we didn’t entangle a hoof with my face. We were both a bit pale and shaky when we eventually stopped. The adults quickly checked us over, there were no bones broken, so I was tossed back on board and away we went again, hurrying after hounds. Despite the scare, the fall didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for cross country riding. Many years later and many kilometres away on the other side of the world the enjoyment of galloping across country remained. But this was the start.
My very earliest memory is of fox hunting. We were following hounds in the car, Mum and Aunty Jessie were there, it was down Westgate Carr Lane near my home in Pickering, Yorkshire and a fox had gone to ground in a drain. It must have been the Sinnington Hunt pack as the terrier man was Caffeline. He had put a terrier down the drain but the men also had to dig out some of the dirt. I was standing so close that my Wellington boots were filling up with soil. I would have been about three years old.
It was inevitable that I would want to learn to ride. So when I was four I went along to The Hall Hotel Riding stables in Thornton-le-Dale. Joe Thompson owned the horses. My first ride was on Popcorn, a 12 hand high strawberry-roan pony. Joe led me on foot but lesson number two saw him ride Patience and lead me from her. I can’t remember how many lessons I had before I was allowed to ‘go solo’.
By this time my parents both decided that they would join me, so Sunday mornings saw us all go along to Joe’s stables for a couple of hours ride and it wasn’t long before Uncle Bob was coming too. After the ride we’d adjourn to the Hall Hotel for a bite to eat before going back home to Pickering.
The photo shows Uncle Bob on Beth, me on Popcorn and Mum on Smokey.
Of course several friends were subject to the many tales of sore legs, unbalanced seats and the inevitable falls. We reckoned Mum has seen a horse, particularly the grey Smokey, from every possible angle.
One day my father received a poem anonymously in the mail.
The tale of Ronald Ford
This is the tale of Ronald Ford, of driving haulage trucks got bored;
Likewise the spreading of the lime binds the best of folks in time.
This daily driving through the snow gets you down in time you know.
So he thought he’d try a change and be a ‘Rider of the Range’.
So to the Country Club he hied, determined now to learn to ride.
Heaven help his tutor Joe to have to teach this ‘So and So’.
Each Sunday morn he goes to ride with his daughter by his side.
He, adorned in splendid dress, the like of which you’d never guess.
In Wellington boots and trousers long this daring horseman canters on.
The folks all stare and slyly snigger “There’s that Rogers guy and Trigger.”
When on this splendid scene they gazed the Pickering people were amazed.
“Who is this cavalier?” they asked, with thoughts of their historic past.
Old men said “Ah tell thee Ben, t’awd Castle’s occupied again.”
When at last he got to Joe, Joe said let’s see you ‘have a go’
But his antics had Joe tickled, in fact they had him ‘Wilfred Pickled.’
He mounted on his fiery horse, complete with Wellingtons of course.
T’was then he realised that slacks are not the thing to wear on hacks.
For when he mounted on the horse and trotted gaily down the course
He found the going rather tough, when the Gee-Gee cried “Enough!”
And stopping with a sudden jerk nearly drove our friend berserk.
To counteract this sudden check he put his arms around its neck,
And searching vainly for the gears, realised a horse has ears.
These he held with all his might to help to put himself aright,
For you see the poor sap was caught up in his saddle flap.
So now this guy who used to fly and do his antics in the sky
Will find he needs a tighter girth to do his antics on the earth.
And now I trust this piece of prose will prove a warning folks, to those
Who would be on a horse admired, to see they’re suitably attired.
Then you’ll improve in leaps and bounds and one day you may ride to hounds.
But should you fail dear sir, well then get back to spreading lime again
At this at least you’ll prove your worth and be the whitest man on earth.
Eventually both my father (always known as Pop) and uncle decided that their riding had improved in enough ‘leaps and bounds’ to think of going hunting, so we had to find appropriate bowlers, boots and breeches for them to wear. My father’s boots were so tight round the calf that he couldn’t wear socks but he found ladies nylon stockings provided him some bit of warmth for his feet.
By now I had also been hunting a while on Popcorn; my first day was with the Saltersgate Farmers Hunt when they met on Rawcliffe Bank Top near Newton. Mr Hesling was the Master of Fox Hounds and Angela the whipper-in who rode a black horse called Paddy. If she had to go up a steep bank or hillside Angela would dismount and hang onto Paddy’s tail so he could haul her up the hill.
Popcorn was a very cheeky pony who hated to be overtaken and I had to be really careful not to allow him to duck immediately in front of the bigger horses trying to pass us, especially if we were cantering or galloping…. he was a determined little beast too!
After the fall that day when hounds were running up Newton Dale, and Popcorn and I decided to take a short cut through a rabbit warren, it was several minutes after I was tossed back on board when I realised that I’d left my riding crop behind and Pop had to go back to retrieve it. His mare Beth was most upset about leaving the other horses, and hounds were in full cry. Pop eventually found the offending article, but then had to remount the excited mare. Beth set off as soon as his belly landed across the saddle; if only we’d had a camera to see the scramble it must have been to regain the seat and stirrups in one piece… elegant? Definitely not!
Pop enjoyed his hunting, usually on either Beth or Duchess from Joe’s. However he decided he’d like to get a horse of his own. Mr Hesling had one for sale, Zampa, a beautiful big brown hunter over 16 hands high, who had been replaced by a younger horse.
At this time we had no land or stables. We leased stables from the Forest and Vale Hotel which had been Pickering Low Hall, home of the Kitching family, and our field was up Whitby Road behind the cemetery. It was here that we cut our first lot of hay, and haymaking became a special time for me over the next dozen years… memories of homemade elderflower champagne still linger!
Zampa was a horse used to being up at the front of the field; I’m not sure how Pop really coped with this enthusiasm. Mum only rode him once and decided never again. I think Zampa may have been fed considerably more oats than when he was with Mr Hesling. Whatever the reason he didn’t last too long, the convenient excuse being that we could only afford one horse and I had grown longer legs now I was a bit older, so I needed to move from Popcorn onto something bigger. By this time it was also obvious that a pony of my own was going to be better than a once a week ride at Joe’s, so we started to look for a suitable pony to buy.
I was sad to leave Poppy, he was the typical “Thelwell” pony and gave this small girl so much enjoyment, but a pony of my own would be something to treasure.
Our Pony Club diary for every year had a verse from an Ogilvie poem at the end of each week. I used to love them. Here is the full poem relating to hunting, very appropriate when I think of Zampa and Popcorn.
The Huntsman’s Horse by Will H Ogilvie
The galloping seasons have slackened his pace,
And stone wall and timber have battered his knees
It is many a year since he gave up his place
To live out his life in comparative ease.
No more does he stand with his scarlet and white
Like a statue of marble girth deep in the gorse;
No more does he carry the Horn of Delight
That called us to follow the huntsman’s old horse.
How many will pass him and not understand,
As he trots down the road going cramped in his stride,
That he once set the pace to the best in the land
Ere they tightened his curb for a lady to ride!
When the music begins and a right one’s away,
When hoof-strokes are thudding like drums on the ground,
The old spirit wakes in the worn-looking grey
And the pride of his youth comes to life at a bound.
He leans on the bit and he lays to his speed,
To the winds of the open his stiffness he throws,
And if spirit were all he’d be up with the lead
Where the horse that supplants him so easily goes.
No double can daunt him, no ditch can deceive,
No bank can beguile him to set a foot wrong,
But the years that have passed him no power can retrieve—
To the swift is their swiftness, their strength to the strong!
To the best of us all comes a day and a day
When the pace of the leaders shall leave us forlorn,
So we’ll give him a cheer – the old galloping grey –
As he labours along to the lure of the Horn.