Pony Club was an important part of my childhood. My Father encouraged and supported us, having learnt his skills as a horseman working on properties in South West Queensland and the Snowy Mountains. He had also learnt the essential bush skill of leather working and we, along with many other members of Molong Pony Club had bridles and harness repaired or made by Joe Higgins. Molong was 10 kilometres from the property of Gundawanna where we lived, and we would ride in each month on Pony Club day with the other children along Belgravia Road. If we walked the horses, it would take about two hours. If we went a bit quicker, it meant our horses were fitter or we had less to talk about on the way.
We learnt how to ride and care for a horse and the equipment at Pony Club. The Pony Club Association of New South Wales still has the list of proficiency certificates that could be gained on their website, http://pcansw.org.au/coaching/rider-certificates. For the “C Certificate”, the one I achieved in 1966, they state:
C CERTIFICATE – 12 YEARS+
Independent seat required, with correct aids and a degree of competence in other aspects of riding. General knowledge of horse care and parts of the horse.
I was never an outstanding rider, either of the rough variety or the show. My Father was a great rough-rider, having successfully ridden a horse in his youth that no other Snowy River Horseman on the property at that time could ride. He only acknowledged me as a rider the day I rode a horse who did his best to buck me off, without success. We would compete at all the local country shows in Central West New South Wales, with my sister riding Prince and I would ride Goldie. This is us at Pony Club with two impatient horses that are clearly not happy with posing for photos!
As I got older and taller, I also rode Prince at Shows. He worked during the week as the Stock Horse at Gundawanna, an equine multi-talented creature. Here I am on Prince on the right waiting for my turn to show my skills to the judge with his back to us on the left, who is watching another rider on his work-out. Prince seems unhappy to be asked to keep so still, dropping his head in impatience.
In riding events at shows, the “Ring Events”, all competitors ride in a circle around the Judge who chooses people to come into the centre and line up so they can be assessed on an individual work-out ride called a “Figure of Eight”. To complete that work-out you must walk your horse directly away from the judge, begin a trot, then a canter, then complete two circles in the pattern of a figure 8 at the canter. As a rider, you are judged on your riding position, control of your horse, and the ability to complete the task preferably without breaking out of the canter. The hardest part is controlling the horse, because that is the real judge of horsemanship, the ability to have your horse trust you sufficiently to do exactly what you ask. They are independent creatures and you have to build trust with them as a rider. Only my Father, my Sister and I could successfully ride Prince. He just took over and played up with everyone else, a very intelligent horse.
My memory today is of the last competitive ride I had on Prince, a ride that has stayed in my memory for fifty years. It was at Cumnock Show, a small town near Molong and I knew it would be my last riding event at a local Show because I was not going to continue with Pony Club the next year. I was called in by the Judge and waited with the other riders for my turn to complete my “Figure Eight”. Being an independent spirit, Prince had never really responded perfectly to my commands on work-outs. In particular he had never done what is called a “flying change” at the canter at the crossover point of the two circles of the 8. That is where the front leg of the horse leads on the inside of the circle you are on, and as you change direction, so should the leading leg change. Prince used to always break into a trot for a few paces, then lead off again on the correct leg, if he really felt like obeying your signal of the pressure from your inside leg. A “flying change” is where the horse changes his lead foreleg in mid-stride at the canter. I was relaxed this day of my last ride and felt I just had to make it the best I could. I remember thinking:
Come on Prince, one last time!
I wrote a poem about what happened that day and called it simply:
He knew – he lifted under me,
Head bowed, rocking gait,
This was special.
Was it the subtle changes in pressure
From my thighs, my legs, my hands?
Was it that he sensed the occasion,
This last ride?
A flying change at the crossover!
He’d never done that before!
This was glorious – an uplifting experience!
Time slowed, everything was clear, everything was sharp,
There was nothing else, just the two of us.
Something to remember for my last competitive ride,
On that beautiful black horse, Prince!
The horse totem symbolizes freedom. People with this spirit animal will consistently find themselves on a new journey. This totem will teach you to ride in new directions and discover your power and liberty. (https://www.spirit-animals.com/horse-symbolism/)
Thank you Prince.