I can’t recall being alive without being fascinated by horses, and as a child, never missed an opportunity to pat one if I could get close enough. My happiness levels escalated if I was allowed to sit on a horse.
When I was in my mid teens, I used my pocket money to take riding lessons at the local riding school in Gerolstein in Germany. To start off with, I was enrolled in a vaulting class, which even led me to partake in my first competition. However, “real” riding was much more fun, even if it was only on school horses in an indoor arena, being yelled at by a nice but very military sounding gentleman and his helpers.
A couple of years later, I had annoyed my parents enough that they gave in and went in search of a horse. But not until after my parents found a small paddock to lease and my dad has spent many weekends building a small walk in/out stable with a lockable saddle area and hay storage. He also built a picnic table and bench, which our family used often for little Sunday picnics over the years. Anyway, we decided on a robust breed of horse, which essentially meant Haflingers, Fjords or Icelandics. The latter being rather more expensive meant that we ended up with a just gelded Haflinger named Afghan. He was also not started under saddle. We bought him from the breeder who had confidence in us taking home a young horse and gave us only the one piece of advice, being not to let him be the boss. Afghan wasn’t home for more than a day when I decided I needed to ride him. So I tied a rope to his headstall to make reins and hopped on. And the world felt great and having more luck than I deserved, all was good.
Afghan turned out to be a great horse, putting up with all my ineptitudes and follies. We went all over the forests and roads and fields in the area, we got dressed up as Knight or as Hussar or as one of the apocalyptic horseman (great fun at Karneval time), and we sometimes went riding with friends. I didn’t have a saddle for the first few months, so there were a few involuntary dismounts, but that upset neither Afghan or myself. When we finally did get a saddle, the adventures extended, although I continued to sometimes just go out with a blanket on his back, and I have happy memories of taking on a neighbor for a race in the forest like that.
Afte a year or so, by chance, we acquired another Haflinger, a mare. She had once been sold for a lot of money as a harness horse, but had ended up having foals and we rescued her from a shitty stall that she rarely ever got out of. So she came to live with us. While overall pretty sensible, Muitz had a different temperament to Afghan, and she posed me some new problems. She could get very bossy, and at times just didn’t want as I did, and I leaned a lot from her. But having two horses, and a friend to go riding with, meant a lot of alternative types of fun. Aside from racing each other (Afghan always won) while out riding, we would in winter hitch little bob-sleighs to the horses, and then have races sitting behind the horses, with clumps of snow whizzing by and the horse behind breathing down our necks. Plenty of tumbles, but snow is soft.
New Year’s Eve 1982, I was at the horse paddock, standing in the snow talking to my horses and watching the fireworks, knowing it would be the last time. My family had decided to emigrate to Australia and I had decided to also go. A friend bought the horses and all the gear, but it was very tough to say goodbye. By late March, we packed our bags and boarded the flight to Melbourne. I was devastated, but I was not prepared to forego the opportunity to come to Australia.
… to be continued…