My own horse. My very own horse. That has to be one of life’s great moments; the first time you have your own horse. I was 11. I lived in Vancouver BC. I had my own horse and my life was perfect.
The barn I rode at was managed by an Irishman by the name of Paddy Boals. I think Paddy had come up through the school of hard knocks so there was no nonsense tolerated. The safety and welfare of the horses came first and heaven help us if it did not. This was in the early 1960s and on Saturday lesson days we had to line up in the center of the arena and if our tack was not clean, horse well-groomed and our attire correct and boots polished we would be excused from the lesson. No matter that our parents had paid for the lesson. Standards had to be met and maintained!
Paddy was something of a horse trader and horses came and went in the barn. We had no idea where they came from and my first horse was one of them. Willie was the name I gave him. Will Be was his show name. I have no idea how old he was, probably quite young. If Paddy knew about his background he did not tell me. The only information he gave out was that Willie was a Mustang.
Willie was a little fellow of just over 15 hands and he was a sort of palomino roan. His legs were palomino and his body was a cream color with flecks of palomino. He had very little tail and his mane was roached. He was perfect!
The riders at Paddy’s barn were all jumpers. Willie was a brave jumper who was very neat with his feet and he would go like the wind. I absolutely loved him right from the start.
Initially he was nervous when anyone would go into his stall and he would cower against the back wall. This told me that something in his past had not gone well. But Willie was smart and he soon learned I was the person who came with carrots and he would walk up to me right away. That was the beginning of our friendship.
There were lessons and jumping and local shows and also hacking across the endowment lands of the University of BC to the beach at Spanish Banks. We always timed it so the tide would be out and we could gallop along the beach. It was absolutely marvellous as we thundered along the sand, our eyes watering with the speed.Willie loved it and although he was small he was the fastest It seems that young riders are still doing this.
When I was 15 I was sent to school in California. The reasons for that are convoluted and do not really play a part in the story of Willie. What mattered was that Willie came with me! There were two other Canadians at the school and they were also riders. We rode at Pebble Beach. This was my introduction to Eventing! I remember in my first month at the school we were taken to an event. All three elements, dressage, cross country and stadium jumping took place on the one day. To be honest, at that time, the dressage was a joke to me. What a waste of time I thought! At that first show Willie and I were in our dressage test and had to execute a turn on the forehand at E. The letter had some floral arrangement to decorate it and Willie reached down and took a big mouthful. I laughed out loud. I have no memory of our score so I don’t know what the judges thought of that. On the cross county Willie flew round the course. In the jumping all three Canadians went clear. It was a great day and I still have a small silver bowl that I won on that day and although I have lived in various parts of the globe that silver bowl has always come with me.
I was having a hard time adjusting to the school in California. To me it was a foreign country and I felt like I just did not fit in. But when I came back after that show and the word went out that Willie and I were winners it seemed that the other students accepted me, the Canadian rider. I thanked Willie for that.
At the age of 16 life, as I knew it, changed dramatically with the death of my father. I came back to live in Vancouver with my Mother. Willie was sold. I was not part of the conversation about selling him. On the day I walked him from Paddy’s barn over to the barn where he would have his new home I felt very low. I felt bad that my time with him had come to an end. I felt bad about the fact that his new owner was a polo player. I was suspicious that this man would not love Willie and look after him as I had done. Polo players have lots of horses I thought and they don’t really care about their horses. When I walked back without Willie I was in tears.
But I was wrong about that polo player. Patrick Oswald was a wonderful owner for Willie. After university I moved to England but I heard updates about Willie from a rider friend in Vancouver. Willie was a polo pony in the summer and a field hunter in the winter. He was Patrick’s favourite.
Many years later, about sixteen years at least, I met Patrick while I was visiting in Vancouver. At this point in time I lived in London, England and was not riding or involved with horses. Patrick told me that Willie was still going and was now being ridden by a young 12 year old girl. . He had come full circle. Patrick talked about what a wonderful horse Willie was. As we said goodbye he said to me: “You taught Willie everything he knows.” I thanked him but I knew that was not true. The truth is Willie taught me everything.