When I moved up to Lincoln, I was desperate to find a riding school to help out in. The prices were noticeably cheaper there than in Surrey, so my parents were able to afford for me to have lessons. I started at one yard, but it really wasn't for me. Without wishing to offend anyone, it was very 'BHS' and far too concerned about health and safety for my liking, even in those days. I soon moved on and found a yard that was much more suitable. There were only about 15 horses there, but it was fun and there were kids my age helping out and looking after the ponies, so I thought it would be good.
I rode there for about a year, helping out at weekends and then the following summer, had the most fantastic holiday. There were about 6 of us, all about the same age, all with the same passion for horses. As you would expect, we each had a different 'favourite' pony, and heaven forbid anyone would ever have the same favourite as you. In our eyes, they were OUR ponies. My favourite was a little Fell pony called Dalmore. She was only about 13.2hh but was stocky, so I didn't look enormous. In my eyes, she was perfect. I would have spent every minute with her if I could. What I loved about her, probably more than anything else, was that other people didn't like her. She was awkward to ride and used to jog persistently out on hacks. She wouldn't jump unless she felt like it, and she generally didn't!
In those days, my confidence was sky-high and I would have done anything on Dalmore. We had jumping lessons bareback, with no reins and holding cups of water in both hands, we rode bareback in a headcollar down to the field, we took part in gymkhanas and little local shows and we went on endless hacks around the local common. What I learned from her has stayed with me ever since. When other people used to ride her, she would get excited on hacks and start jogging. As a result, the rider would then shorten the reins and tense up. She would then shorten her neck and jog more, followed by more jogging and more tension. This is why no one really liked her. I dodn't mind her jogging. In fact, being a teenager, I thought it made me look pretty 'cool' as my horse was 'feisty'! Because I didn't shorten my reins and tense up, Dalmore stopped jogging.
I used to ride her all round the common and by the river holding the buckle of the reins. People were amazed that she didn't jog with me, and this was my little secret! It taught me very early on that we often blame horses for problems we have caused ourselves. If you don't react to something, the horse forgets it quickly. If you tense up, they think there is something to be worried about. I had to show Dalmore that I wasn't tense, which meant that she had no reason to be either.
It was on Dalmore that I had my first experience of competing. OK, they were only tiny local shows, but she was brilliant. Or terrible, depending on her mood. There were a couple of times where she ran backwards out of the ring, mowing down the steward, or where she would dig her heels in at the first fence. I soon learned that if she jumped the first fence, we would have a clear round. Otherwise, there was not a chance that she would go over anything!
As far as I know, Dalmore is still in the riding school - she must be well into her twenties now. I saw her a few years ago when walking my dog on the common. She was jogging away as usual, but looked happy and healthy and I very much hope she still is. She gave me so many good experiences and so much of what I want from Echo stems from what I got from Dalmore. I have only just realised that all but one of these profiles/stories are about mares. That probably says something about me, but I'm not sure what!