• Gillian Keegan

I blame the Brownies

Do you ever think about what got you into horses in the first place? It was definitely not a pursuit that ran in my family. My grandad had ridden a kind old cart horse, Annie, on a farm he worked at a couple of times, and there is an old photo of me as a baby being held by my mum as I gazed at a heavy, sleepy looking horse over a five bar gate, but that was as far as it had ever gone for the Hectics.

It was the Brownies that sparked my interest, as far as I can remember. Brownies are the younger girl guide group, and I went every Wednesday evening dressed in a terrible brown and yellow uniform to jump over a toadstool, sing songs and do good deeds. We were also expected to work towards badges and I HATED this part! I have no idea why, in a recent corporate assessment my top skill was deemed to be 'learning', but this clearly wasn't on my agenda as a seven year old. The goal was to collect badges to sew onto your sash, and mine was looking pretty lame.

One badge stood out from the rest - the horse riding badge. I had no interest in orienteering, or puppet making, but this badge was different. From what I recall, all I had to do was show that I knew the difference between a forelock and a fetlock, and walk and trot in a straight line. I spoke to the Brownie pack leader, signed myself up, and was happily practising air dressage around our living room when my mum threw a spanner in the works.

She pointed out that:

1) I didn't have a horse;

2) I had never had a riding lesson; and

3) Whilst I could clear the clothes line propped up across two dustbins in the garden, doing this on an actual horse might be more involved.

It was a truly brutal moment. I had visualised that I would be able to borrow my neighbour's horse (she had walked him past our house a couple of times) but in reality, she was unlikely to hand her hot 16.2hh thoroughbred over to a seven year old, and I hadn't actually ever spoken to her! My mum called the pack leader and explained that I would not be taking the horse riding badge and I disappeared to my room to cry into my pillow.

It wasn't much later, however, that horses came into my life. On my eighth birthday, I got a card with the best present in the world - riding lessons! I could have a lesson a week at a local riding school, and my first was that day. I couldn't eat I was so excited.

Wearing bright blue C&A joggers, my school shoes and a riding school black skull cap with no silk, I was hoisted onto the back of a fat spotty pony called Spot.I walked and trotted my heart out (to the back of the line, of course) and I was in absolute heaven. Soon I graduated to a palomino called Honey, and I counted the hours down on a Saturday to when we could set off to the stables. We bought second hand cream jodhpurs from the local tack shop, rubber riding boots, and my mum knitted me a jumper with a horse's head and wool mane on the front.

I would have spent every minute I had on a horse if I could, but the riding school eventually closed. I moved to having private lessons with an amazing instructor, but because she was more expensive, my parents could only send me every other week for 30 minutes. But this was better than nothing, and I still considered myself a horse rider!

Having only 30 minutes to ride every other week, snow wasn't going to stop me!

My parents were definitely not into horses, despite my obsession. My dad called them 'a liability' (I suppose he was completely correct!) and would drop me off 500m from the yard so as not to drive through potholes and 'jigger' his suspension. Then, when I was picked up, I had to wrap each foot in a plastic bag and sit on a towel before fully stripping in the garage to avoid bringing fleas into the house or getting mud in the car!!

I carried on riding whenever and however I could, and eventually was asked to loan a wonderful pony called Soldier, a blue roan who was a dear old man at twenty-one. I loved that boy and he hauled me around many small showjumping courses, and trail rides.

The beautiful 21 year old Soldier

After him, I had the most wonderful pony (again on loan) called Sam, who was an absolute jumping machine. He hated dressage, but to jump he was unbelievable, and I competed successfully at a local level with him in showjumping and cross country. Jumps didn't feel big with him, I was so comfortable, and he made me brave. We flew, and he's still the best horse I've ever jumped.

Sam 'Red Alert' the jumping machine.

Then came university. I joined the equestrian team and competed against other universities in the area. It was a brilliant set up, no one needed to own their own horse - two people, one from each university, rode a horse, and you were judged on how well you got the horse to go, compared to the other rider. It was confronting, however, out competing a horse that you had never sat on before, and sometimes the jumps were a decent size (as in 1m 10, a very decent size to me!!).

And then there was life, work, travel and babies. Horses took a back seat for a while as I settled into life in Australia, met the Lawyer, and worked insane hours in a large Melbourne firm. It was after the Bear was born that something spoke to me again, I really wanted to get back on.

Sitting back on a horse after a few years off sealed the deal. I NEVER want to lose horses from my life again. One of my friends in Melbourne told me that for her, riding a horse everyday was like having a cup of coffee. She doesn't feel right without it. And for me too, horses fill a wonderful part of my mind, they are real, but a true escape. For the first time ever, I actually had the means to buy a horse, I couldn't actually believe it! Not being one to do things by halves, we bought our horse property before the first horse, but I was on my way, and now I wear my jodhpurs inside the house!

x Gill x


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