In 1952, I got my own horse. I was ill at the time, with quite serious “blight” (which nowadays is called bacterial conjunctivitis). Blight causes red and itchy eyes, but you also get sticky guck in them while you’re sleeping. One morning I woke up and my eyes were so stuck together I couldn’t even open them. I panicked a bit, thinking that maybe I’d gone blind, but mum cleaned my eyes and calmed me down and all was well.
Antibiotics weren’t widely used in 1952, so blight had much worse symptoms and it took much longer to recover.
Anyway, back to the horse. I stayed in bed all day, on my birthday, because of the blight. But, late that afternoon, mum came in and said there was something unusual on our front lawn so, quick, put on your dressing gown and come and have a look. I wasn’t keen, because I felt so crook, but mum was obviously excited so I did what I was told.
And, there, on our front lawn, was “Punch”. My very own horse. What a birthday present!!!
Punch was about 15 “hands” high (1 hand = 4 inches, so about 150 centimetres high at the base of the neck). He was a dark bay (brown) gelding, and he was all mine!
He was pretty old when I got him, but we became best mates very quickly. Mind you, he had a few idiosyncrasies. For example, he could be exceptionally lazy, so he got slower and slower the further you went from home. But then, miraculously, he would speed up as you got nearer and nearer to home.
The picture shows Grandad Dale proudly showing off Punch’s bridle and saddle.
We had five acres at the back of our house where we kept Punch, my older brother Max’s horse, and a milking cow. Max’s horse was much bigger (17 hands) and called “Gay Step” (in those days, the word “gay” meant happy, light‑hearted, or cheerful).
Max had taught me to ride (before I got Punch) in quite an exciting way. He put me up on the back of Gay Step (bareback) and told me to hold the mane tight. Then he slapped Gay Step on the rump, really hard, and the horse bolted across the paddock, jumped a wee creek, and only came to a halt when it reached the garage in the corner of the paddock. An exciting start to my equestrian career.
I did most of my riding with farming friends; mainly with Bradley McRae, whose farm was quite close (on Griffin Road), and Doug Snelling, who lived on their farm at the base of the Brynderwyn (opposite where Atlas Quarries are now).
My longest ever ride was with Doug. We started at their place, by the Brynderwyn Hill, and rode across the farm and all the way into Maungaturoto (about 10km). We took a picnic and I remember we stopped at a lovely little oxbow and ate lunch under the trees, listening to the babbling river and the horses munching on grass. Sixty-five years later I can still clearly remember lying on my back and the dappled light as I looked up through the trees. Lovely memories.
They also occasionally held “hunts” at the Snelling farm, although I just watched and never rode. A hunt in New Zealand is similar to English hunts, but there is no fox. Instead, someone goes around the farm beforehand laying a smelly trail for the dogs to follow. The dogs think they’re chasing something interesting, and the riders follow the dogs. It’s quite challenging, because the horses have to jump fences on the way, often on quite difficult terrain.
I also competed in gymkhanas for children. A gymkhana is like an athletics meeting, but for horses and their riders. This website has pictures showing some typical events: www.nzpca.org.
I don’t think I was particularly good at riding, but the photo on the right shows that Punch and I must have done reasonably well in some of the events. It’s really hard to see (because the photo is so old and faded), but there are a couple of ribbons wrapped around Punch’s neck. In those days, when you did well in a gymkhana event, they gave you a certificate and a ribbon to be tied around the horse’s neck.
By the way, that’s me (Grandad Dale) holding Punch’s reins and my sister (Lynne) in the saddle.
Domesticated horses have metal “shoes” to protect their feet and, in those days, many country towns would have a blacksmith who worked with iron (mending metal implements, like harrows, and shoeing horses).
The picture shows an old-fashioned blacksmith working on a horseshoe. The blacksmith would heat the iron “shoe” until it was red hot, then hammer it to fit the shape of the horse’s hoof. Then he would cool the horseshoe in cold water and nail it onto the horse’s hoof.
Yes, horseshoes are nailed in place, but this doesn’t hurt the horse. The hoof of a horse is a bit like an enormously thick toenail and doesn’t have any pain sensors. Here is a video showing a modern farrier at work: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUpDpFoSegw
I remember going to a blacksmith’s, once (somewhere near the Maungaturoto railway station, I think). It was quite scary, because of the fiercely hot forge in a dark smelly shed, and there were sparks flying and really loud clanking as he hammered a red hot piece of metal. The horse didn’t seem to mind.
Finally, a not-quite-a-horse story. When I was quite young, we kept a cow for milking and, one day, my older brother Max, who had obviously seen one too many cowboy films, decided we should have a bucking bronco contest. For a reason I can’t quite remember, he decided we should use our poor old cow as the “horse”, so he looped a rope around it’s flank and pulled tight, just like they do at rodeos. Unfortunately, the cow hadn’t seen the same movies as we had and it just stood there, refusing to buck.
We gave up and the cow went back to munching grass.
The pictures shows what Max had in mind and what actually happened!!!