Whenever we went visiting my grandparents on the farm in the Kalahari, I would spend the entire day waiting for the horses to arrive for their feed in the evening. But seeing them wasn’t enough. I needed to be near them, stroke them, touch them. When we did go riding, it was bareback a lot of the time. I do miss those days…galloping up an down undulating sand dunes with nothing but God and a quiet desert breeze to echo our breathing…
I also had my first fall amongst those sand dunes. There was no sympathy though! The horse just looked at me as if to say: “That’s not where you are meant to be”. And then, to add insult to injury, he turned around and began to walk away at a leisurely pace, grazing on the sparse bushes as he went. When I got my wind back, I was unceremoniously told that that would have to be the first of many falls before I could consider myself a good horsewoman.
But holidays on the farm always ended too soon…And then it was back to real life.
I think once I started riding lessons, it didn’t take my parents long to realise that this was not going to be a “phase”. We moved to a small-holding outside the city, and so I got my first horse: Colihei N’ Pollie. She was a Nooitgedachter. Only four years old and already in foal with her second foal. But she was a kind horse. She put up with a rather ignorant 9-year-old girl.
Luckily, Nooities are hardy little things and she had her foal one night without any help, interference, or even any expectation from us. According to the man we had bought her from (who had by that time moved away) she was only due a month later, and so when one Saturday morning I came around the corner to say good morning to my horse and ran smack-bang into a little bay colt, it took me a few seconds to figure out what had transpired the night before!
Before he left to become a stallion in charge of his own little her of mares on my uncle’s farm, I did in my own hap-hazard little way teach him to be ridden and I spent many happy days on his back while he was quietly grazing, or riding him up and down in his field in a halter. Now that I think about it, I was practicing “natural horsemanship” way before the term had ever become popular!
Pollie and I did little bits of everything. We jumped, evented, did dressage, showing, and most of the time, just did wild things with my other horsey friends. We spent many afternoons and weekends (even some nights) on our horses, exploring all the surrounding farms.
Three times a year we would all pack up for a few days to Pretoria show and again the Horse of the Year and the Rand Easter Show.
I loved that little horse, in a way that you can only love a first horse. She was no push-over though! She could be a stubborn as a mule when she chose to be…Sometimes when we went to shows, it was really quite embarrassing; all the other ponies would soar over the jumps like they were nothing, while I had to pray at every single jump that my horse would jump today. But eventually we did start speaking the same language. I will actually never forget the day: It was my first-ever graded jumping show. There weren’t enough junior competitors at the show, so we had to compete with the adults. I was so nervous…but ever so determined. I didn’t stop to think about the height of the jumps and Pollie didn’t even hesitate once! We FLEW over those jumps! It felt amazing.
But my joy was not to last. It all happened so fast…all I can remember is all the pain and confusion. I noticed that she was unwell and suspected colic. We called the vet who came over and treated her, but she just didn’t get any better. My friend and myself rode in the back of the horsebox as we drove her to Onderstepoort. I lay down in the stable with her, not knowing it would be the last time I ever saw her…
They called the next day, saying that when they started operating, they found cancer…so bad that they don’t know how she could still have been eating…which she had been.
I cried for two weeks non-stop over losing my best friend. She had graced my life for 5 short years, but in those 5 years, taught me more than any human could about all the basics of owning and riding a horse. She never complained, she took care of me and then taught me the most painful lesson that all of us have to learn: that nothing lasts forever.