Saturday, 16 February 2008

The Age of the Horse


I grew up at the very end of the Age of the Horse. That's back in the 1950s and early 1960s, when certain deliveries were still made by horse. We had our milk delivered in a horse-drawn cart. Brown and Harrisons were the Dairy, and they had their stables a couple of miles from where we lived. I remember taking carrots across to their horses, who were very gentle. When they finally "went mechanised" they sold their horses and several of them ended up in the local riding schools, where we made our acquaintance all over again as we rode them on a Saturday.

There was a little corner shop at the top of our road, who had a dark brown pony who lived in a wretched hovel of a stable at the back of the shop. I can remember peering through the gaps in the slats of his stable walls, looking at his sad eyes as he rested a hindleg and swished his tail at flies. Not long after I remember him, he was put down because he had Navicular (an incurable bone disease in the hoof).

The rag and bone man had a pony called Susie. She was chestnut with white splotches on her tummy, a matted mane and tail and a very greasy coat. I don't think he ever groomed her.

Opposite me lived the old gypsy matriach, Queenie Goddard, in a wooden pre-war shack with tall pine trees at the front of it. Regular as clockwork, her sons and grandsons would come visiting, with the docked dark bay cob Mandy pulling the flat cart. They would take Mandy out the back and tie her up whilst they went in to see the old lady. I was scared of Queenie Goddard, who had so few teeth so I was convinced she was a witch. She had a soft spot for me though, and would give me little packets of biscuits, well past their sell-by date. I ate them all the same! I was even more scared of Mandy, who was vicious and when tethered in the long meadow, would attack anyone within reach of her teeth. We learned to give her a wide berth.

If we ever went through Shirley, which we did when we caught the bus to the riding school on a Saturday, we would see the Corporation Dust Carts, all pulled by magnificent Shire horses, in beautifully-polished harness.

Not many people had horses that they ploughed with, but the one I mainly remember was Bill, another horse who would attack on sight. He ploughed a field at the back of the Cemetary, though how his owner ever caught him and lived to tell the tale I'll never know. He lived with a fat piebald mare called Judy (who we always tried to ride!) There were many occasions when we had to flee from Bill and run for the Safety Tree, an apple tree which had fallen in the orchard part of their field, and which offered refuge, growing hungry until Bill grazed out of sight and we could make our escape. The photo below is JUST like Judy.

We lived for horses and at every opportuntity, would be in the New Forest, trying to stroke the ponies which were owned by the Commoners who lived on the Forest and had grazing rights. Some were remarkably tame - others pulled faces and tried to threaten you into giving them food - some kept well away.

We used to ride at a Riding Stables in Lyndhurst High Street in the early 1960s, and would ride out of the stable yard (it was at the back of a pub) and hold up the traffic in the High Street if we road down the road towards Bolton's Bench. I couldn't resist this photo of New Forest ponies at Bolton's Bench:

In those days, ponies would lurk in shop doorways in Lyndhurst and Burley, and stand in the road, catching the breeze. There was less traffic then, and it was slower. Nowadays the ponies are kept out of the villages by cattle grids and fencing, and the darker coloured ponies often wear reflective straps around their necks so they will show up after dark. There are still road casualties even so.

We knew every horse and pony for miles around by name. We walked miles to see them. There were always ponies. They were always someone else's . . .


Kelli said...

What wonderful stories of the horses and ponies of the past. I love all of the pictures, I will be sure to show them to Grace!

Bovey Belle said...

Tell Grace that the beautiful Arab at the top is my very own Fahal (Fahly for short). I hope she enjoys.

Kim said...

Beautiful pictures, BB. You know I have a soft spot for those lovely foresters. We had a rag and bone man in Portsmouth, when I was a child. I loved your stories.

I have a little gift for you over at my blog, a little virtual hob nob for you to have with a virtual cuppa :)

Love from

Kim x

Bovey Belle said...

I always had Foresters until we moved here to Wales, so I have a soft spot for them too. They have such biddable natures (as a rule!) and seem to be born traffic proof. . . Ooh - could do with a virtual hob nob this morning Kim!

Strawberry Lane said...

What a wonderful story of a place I have never been, and things never seen ... and that I wish so much I could have.

Thank you so much for a little taste of fantasy.

Wonderful photographs!