Thursday, 7 February 2008

My Life with Horses - How did I go from a city child to a riding instructor - Episode 1

During recent visit to my parents I dug old photo albums in hope of finding some pictures of my first horse - a black Trakehner stallion called Fetas. I tried to search for those photographs before but to no avail.
This time, however, I was lucky! I knew that there were barely any photos from that time but I vaguely remembered some being taken. And voila! I found some! Encouraged by my discovery I kept browsing the albums and came across a bunch of pictures I completely forgot existed. They span my whole life with horses leaving gaps here and there but they woke up a lot of memories. I also found my old diaries in which I meticulously recorded my sporting struggles and competition endeavours. I had a good laugh reading through them :)

Having found those little snippets from old times I decided to put together my story with horses up until now...

Episode 1: In which I tell you about my first equine experiences, the fear and the passion.

The very first time I sat on a horse was in the summer 1983; I was 4 years old. It was at the entry to a fun fair/Zoo and I don't really remember much of it apart from the fact that I didn't want to get off ;) I was supposed to just have a quick sit on that pony for a photograph but apparently sat on it for ages.

My family didn't have a horsey background although grand grand parents on my father's side used to own a bit of land and lived from farming. I remember spending summers at my grandparents holiday house and running wild on my uncle's farm. There were cows, chickens, goats, various types of very expensive Homing Pigeons (breeding them was my uncle's great hobby), tens of dogs and cats...but horses were always at other people's stables.
I saw them pulling vegetables or milk carts, waiting in front of a village shop or stopped on the side of the road while the owner chatted to a passer by, and I would always go and stroke their necks, have a word with them or just stand and stare somewhat hypnotised by them.
I was a city child but those summers in the country, raw and wild, were something my brother and I waited for impatiently throughout the year. Since I didn't have a horse I pretended the dogs were just a small version of them. My own dog was a princess and she wouldn't want to hear about my antics. I would therefore ask my brother to help me and we would set off 'hunting' early in the morning; by afternoon we would have a couple of stray dogs to play with. I trained them to pull whatever vehicle my brother managed to built. Once they stayed in order and were more or less obedient we would set off for 'missions'. Various ones - we were 9 or 10 years old then so you can imagine that all the undertakings were mega important. My grandmother, who was our carer during those wonderful summer months, did not always agree and we must have been a source of constant worries when we disappeared in forests for all days.
I am so glad my childhood was spent in the eighties; there was this freedom and confidence then that is no longer present...

I haven't sat on a horse again until I was about 11 or 12yrs old. To my knowledge I have no pictures from that time but it was when I started to learn how to ride properly and not just to sit on a horse.
This equestrian education had an interesting beginning. My father, who is a retired policeman, found out about this man who 'owed him a favour'. It happened that this man was also an instructor at one of the best equestrian centres in our area - Łódzki Klub Jeździecki (photo - stables).

A big Thoroughbred gelding called Wek was assigned to me and my first memory of that day is of fear and excitement so great that it was incomparable to anything I had ever experienced before. The lesson, on the lunge, took place in a round pen in a wood. The trees created a natural fence, I remember everything being green and lush.
The lessons continued for a few months and I grew in confidence. I recall being so excited about the lessons I would sit in a car shaking all the way up to the stables! I learnt how to groom a horse, tack up and put a bridle on. Most of my memories seem to concentrate on everything being big, heavy and strong. I felt powerless and totally dependent on Wek.
I loved the smell of the stables. I would enter the corridor with inquisitive heads popping out to see me and it made my day. The funny thing was I was constantly afraid of horses in those early days yet they were like magnets. I couldn't stop thinking about them and counted days from lesson to lesson.
Those early days of my riding education left me with a massive hunger. I wanted to ride better, I wanted to be able to jump big fences and be the best rider in the world.

The paradise didn't last long. After about half a year of regular training, Wek succumbed to horse flu and died after a long period of illness. My father's friend didn't get another horse which he could use for me and my parents couldn't afford a full price of riding lessons.
I was back to dogs.

To be continued...

Episode 2

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