When I was 12 I had a pony called Starsky. He was a palomino gelding, about 13.2 hands. He used to belong to a 16 year old girl, but she had outgrown him, so she couldn’t ride him anymore. She didn’t really have time for him either, because of school and exams.
I first saw Starsky when my friend asked me to come and see her pony’s new stable. The pony was a little Dartmoor called Beauty. My friend showed me around the farm. There were 3 small barns. Beauty and a flock of about 20 sheep shared one of them. A solitary plank of wood, nailed to 2 timber posts on either side of the barn, separated the pony from the ewes. Beside it was a slightly bigger barn with 2 stalls on either side of a narrow corridor, home to 4 ponies. Then there was an old farmhouse and beside it the last little barn, where the farmer kept a couple of cows. The farmer was – in our eyes at least – as old as Methuselah, and I remember he had a clubfoot, although at the time I just thought he walked funny.
Starsky was one of the four ponies in the barn. My friend told me that he was to be sold, but that in the meantime his owner was looking for someone to take care of him. My friend thought it would be great if I was that someone.
Livery at the farm was DIY. The ponies lived mostly out, but in the winter they were stabled at night to save the fields. The farmer fed the ponies in the morning, as long as we left the feeds out ourselves, measured into buckets with the ponies’ names on them. Everything else we had to do ourselves.
Starsky came with his own tack. It was old and not very good and the saddle was probably too big for him. Not that I would have known that at the time, but I did notice that he used to buck when I rode him in the saddle, and that he didn’t if I rode him bareback. So I usually rode him without saddle. I must have fallen off him a thousand times, but I did love it, because I could feel him underneath me and I loved the smell of him.
The farm had a very small sand arena and it was the scene of many harebrained ideas my friend and I tried out. To this day I am glad my mother had no idea what we were up to! The farm’s fields ran down almost to the river and in the summer when we were allowed to ride in the fields we had bareback races. Between the fields and the river was an old towpath. It was great for riding.
I have been thinking a lot about Starsky recently. Starsky never had shoes and I rode him everywhere. He never had a problem with his feet and he was never lame. Horses don’t need shoes to stay sound when they’re riding on the roads. I keep reminding myself of that when I worry about Minnie and Cassie’s feet. A lot of this worry is induced by other people’s reactions when I tell them I’m transitioning to barefoot. I have to trust my own instinct and what my horses tell me.
I have also been thinking about the relationship I had with Starsky. It was so easy. There was no planning ahead, I had no aspirations, I just went out to have fun with him. At that time, from a horse’s point of view, I was authentic and really ‘in the moment’ whenever I was with him. Qualities I seem to have lost to some extend somewhere along the way, and that I’m trying to regain.