Ep2. My Story: Horses, Horseshoes and Storytelling
I was 5 years old when I was first hoisted up into a saddle. My parents weren’t horsey (my Mum’s allergic to horses). We were visiting my Aunty and Uncle from out of town and my teenage cousin offered me a ride on their little grey 12.2hh pony, Lanky.
I’m pretty sure it was that very day that my cousin then whipped the saddle off after my short ride, got someone to throw me up behind her bareback (at this point my parents must’ve been inside having a cuppa tea blissfully unaware), and then giggling her head off instructed me to ‘hold on tight’ while kicking Lanky into a flat out gallop down the grass verge of the semi-rural cul-de-sac they lived on with me bouncing uncontrollably up and down and side to side clinging on for dear life!
That was it. Talk about adrenalin. I was hooked.
It was 3 years later that our family moved to the same town as my cousin's and it didn’t take long to discover that my two new friends at school both had ponies AND happened to live down the same cul-de-sac (there were only 6 houses in that cul-de-sac) as my cousins. With my friends as motivation, and with their help, I started teaching myself to ride Lanky. Before long my friends and I were known as The Three Musketeers - riding everywhere together on our little ponies.
If I’d had a fairy Godmother at the time my one wish would’ve been riding lessons. But with my dear Dad working long hours at a furniture factory just to pay the bills and put food on the table - riding lessons were a luxury our family couldn’t afford.
And so I gleaned every ounce of horse knowledge from the school library AND by attending the odd Pony Club rally that fell on a Sunday afternoon - morning rally’s were out of the question as my family attended Church.
I was too young at the time to understand, but learning to ride and spending almost all my spare time after school biking to the paddock to be with Lanky and ride with my friends was not just the highest form of enjoyment. It was also therapy.
You see, during the later of my primary school years my Mum suffered from debilitating anxiety, depression and agoraphobia. There were days on end when she couldn’t even get out of bed. I remember it reaching a point that my older sister who was 12 at the time, was pulled out of school for 2 weeks to be there for Mum and look after the household chores and getting my brother and I organised and off to school. During that time, she took over the cooking with Dad, and we ate sausage casserole for dinner every single night. For the six months following, my sister Emma continued to help us make our school lunches and helped us get off to school each day.
And so riding Lanky provided a wonderful sense of *escapism*. He was an absolute trick, with a wicked streak. A true Johnny rebel. He would rub my legs up against barbed wire fences, put his WHOLE head under the water when swimming at the river (ears and all), and I remember a couple of occasions when he really got the better of me.
After school one afternoon, my wise 11 year old self decided to ride him from his semi-rural paddock to my family home which was located on one of the busier streets of our country town. He was actually pretty bomb-proof, I don’t remember him shying at anything. We made it all the way to my house, I took off his gear and tied him up in our backyard to our clothesline so that I could go inside for a drink of water and a quick snack.
When I returned to the backyard Lanky was nowhere to be found (I’d forgotten that he was a bit of a Houdini). I ran down the drive in a panic and looked up and down the street but there was no sign of him. I remember feeling sick to my stomach. How on earth would I find him?!!! I’m going to be in so much trouble! What were my Aunty and Uncle going to say??? I shouldn’t have ridden him to town in the first place. What was I thinking!!!
After searching for him on my bike I returned home completely deflated.
Little did I know that Lanky was tied up in the backyard of a house at the very end of our street. They’d managed to catch him and then they’d phoned the local Council to report the missing pony. Embarrassingly the Council was where my Uncle worked...and upon hearing the description of the little white pony missing on Church Street he put two and two together and worked out it was Lanky. He never did tell me off for that, my Aunty and Uncle were very kind.
Another time, I recall riding to meet my friend Emma (one of the 3 musketeers) who by that stage had moved to the neighbouring town a 10 minute drive by car, or 40 minute pony ride.
It was the weekend and Lanky and I had been invited to stay the night at her house and so I saddled up and put on my backpack filled with overnight essentials.
Emma and her Mother were riding down to meet me half-way - it was a very busy road that they lived on (the main road between the two towns, with lots of traffic, so it was safest if they met me before the busy road).
I was just under half-way to their house and it was a stinking hot day. I was thirsty and my eleven year old brain reasoned that poor Lanky must be thirstier because he was carrying me!
And so I stopped at a little creek, jumped off and led him to the water. At that point he swiftly pulled up his head and catching me off guard he clean ripped the reins right out of my hands, and with that glint in his eye, knowing he was now free of my grip he started trotting off down the road toward Emma’s house swinging his head from side to side as if to mock me as he went. The trot soon turned to a canter that gave way to a bolt - heading down the grass verge of the road leading straight to the main highway.
I remember sprinting as fast as I could after him, but soon my lungs began screaming and I ran out of steam. I was hot, frustrated and worried sick. My head hung in shame. The road was flanked either side by a golf course and I remember a few golfers stopping to check I was ok and letting me know they saw my pony flying in that direction (arms flailing).
I had probably walked for a good 10 minutes having all the worst visions you can imagine, when an on-coming car pulled a u-turn in front of me, the driver wound down his window and asked, are you looking for your little white pony? It’s ok, your pony is ok. Your friends have got him - he was flying down the middle of the state highway, lucky he didn’t get hurt. Jump in, I’ll give you a lift to him.
Despite all that Lanky put me through, I LOVED that little pony.
He gave me my very first gift of equestrian partnership, a means to experience independence and freedom, a sense of focus and achievement of which I’ll be forever grateful to him and my kind Aunty and Uncle.
I was 13 when I moved off Lanky and onto Toledo - a striking golden 13.2hh palomino pony I had the privilege of leasing. She was 27 when I got her but she was no grandmother! She was more like an 8 year old. I kept Toledo at a paddock 6kms from where we lived and would bike there and back almost everyday to look after and ride her.
During school holidays, I’d work in the upholstery room at the furniture factory my Dad worked at, usually on the button machine - making upholstered fabric buttons for dining chairs. Sometimes, I’d be called in to work in the sanding area - putting chair and table legs through the sanding machine. I hated it. It was loud, dusty, monotonous work.
The holiday job did however, pay for everything Toledo needed - including $5 a week paddock rent, her food and half her shoeing costs (Toledo’s owner paid the other half).
All the work and bike riding was worth it!
Toledo was an awesome, versatile little pony who built my riding confidence. I had a LOT of fun with her, we competed at local Pony Club shows, one day events and we were even members of my High School Polo-Crosse team. I had Toledo until she was 30 and I was 16 and had sadly outgrown her. She was still sound and in great shape. Toledo lived for a further 2 years at her new home before the time came for her to be put to sleep at the grand age of 32.
When I think back now on Toledo and the endless amounts of fun we had together, I also credit her with instilling in me responsibility, dedication and work ethic (as well as a little sneakiness for bunking school to ride every now and then).
Which brings me to Bindy or Bindy-utiful as one of my friend’s affectionately nicknamed her. I started riding Bindy for my friend Julia when I was 17. Bindy was one of those lovely, uncomplicated cross-bred types. She was bay with all the chrome (4 white socks and a big white blaze).
And if she was advertised we would have written the old classic, great to shoe, float, worm, handle, bombproof you get the gist.
She did however have a sprinkling of mare sass and she knew her mind when the moment called for it. It was a rare occasion - mainly during a round-the-ring show hunter course, when she’d slam on her brakes for no apparent reason at the veeeery last minute into a jump. She never stopped out hunting, she’d fly anything, but for some reason she just didn’t dig show hunting - where were the hounds anyway?!
She wasn’t an overly affectionate type, she was a business woman. She knew her job and loved it.
Her passion was hunting. There wasn’t a fence that she wouldn’t take-on, she was fast and loved hunting up the front of the field. She would watch the hounds working, and instinctively know when to go and when to pull up (never passing the master).
I remember unloading her at hunts and her muscles would be quivering all over with the excitement!
After riding Bindy during semester breaks and university summer holidays and in between working stints overseas in London and Sydney, I eventually purchased her off Julia when I was in my late 20’s.
I always joke that Bindy was my most expensive purchase EVER. And that wasn’t because of HER price tag.
At the time, I didn’t have a place of my own to keep her so shortly after purchasing her, I bought a 10 acre block of bare land to keep her on. I had some fencing put in and together with my Dad and my brother we built a 5-bay hayshed and some yards to make life a bit more practical (ok, my Dad and brother did most of the work, while I hammered in the nails). I then picked up a lovely little cross-bred 18mth old mare to keep Bindy company and give me a ride for down-the-track.
Can you see NOW why Bindy was an expensive purchase?
In time, I grew tired of the commute to-and-from the block and so I had two of the bays in the hayshed built into a small but perfect place for me to live - to be with my horses.
I called my new dwelling ‘The Tack Room’, it was pretty basic. I didn’t have hot running water in the kitchen, or a washing machine. I had a chemical toilet and the shower was lined with corrugated iron - but it DID have the best views!! Out over my horses and paddocks. Plus their yards and tack room were literally right outside my back door.
It was precisely what my 11 year old self’s dreams were made of!!
Overtime, I acquired a couple of rabbits, a goat (that often escaped down the road to the local country school), and a clever little kune kune pig called Trixie. Who I trained to do tricks and would often come inside and hang out. As well as my cat and dog. I was living my best life!! Corporate Marketing Manager dressed in suits and heels by day and down to earth equestrian living in a hay shed by night and weekends.
I lived there on my own for a couple of years before I met my husband Kaleb. In that time, I hadn’t put a driveway in and during the wet winter months there was a bit of an art to ‘getting up enough speed to enter the gate and make it up the slight rise to the hayshed - without losing it completely and spinning out or getting bogged in the mud. Kaleb still laughs about this today. As well as me feeding out in a rush to get to work, tip toeing through mud in my high heels!
One of my earliest dates with Kaleb we rode up into the hills on his friend’s farm in Kaikoura to take in the view of the peninsula down below. It was breathtaking. And also a bit of a pinch myself moment, that I’d found someone who understood my love of horses and wanted to share it with me.
Christmas Eve soon rolled around and Kaleb suggested we should load the horse’s up and go for an early Christmas morning ride down the beach before the chaos of the day. It didn’t take much to twist my arm! The next day as we were riding quietly in the early morning sun down the beach, Kaleb onboard Bindy proposed (ring in his pocket). He almost dropped the ring in the sand as he pulled it out of his pocket to give to me. The moment was perfect.
11 weeks later my younger brother walked me down the isle (yes, 11 weeks!!). Kaleb and I had an outside ceremony (on a bit of a chilly day) in Kaikoura with our loved ones and friends gathered around us - including Bindy who was tethered to a tree close by.
Our wedding photos were shot barefoot on the black sand beach just a short stroll from where we exchanged our vows. Some of our favourite photos are of leading Bindy and my friend’s horse Woka down the beach. I did get on Bindy bareback in my dress for a couple of photos (I’d practised with her at home draped in a sheet).
Fast forward a few years to me being 6 months pregnant with my second child. I had loaned Bindy back to Julia for the hunt season and she was having a fabulous time. But that’s when Julia saw it happen in the paddock. Bindy convulsing, having a seizure and almost landing on the fence. Fortunately Julia was there to witness it, it could easily have been missed.
I called the vet and after a consultation she was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder. I made the devastating decision to put her to sleep. She’d been so good to me and I really didn’t want to run the risk of her hurting herself during another seizure. The hardest thing was marrying the fact that she was unwell with the fact that she was fit, clipped and looking beautiful. She looked the picture of health.
Bindy had been part of my life for 17 years, since I was a teenager. She’d been a part of so many of my life’s milestones. We ‘got’ each other. She’d been my shoulder to cry on (and distraction), when I’d suddenly lost my beloved Dad 4 years earlier and now I was having to say goodbye to her, my sweet loyal friend.
After the vet had been, I can remember holding her tail hair as well as the last set of horseshoes I had ridden her in...with the dawning realisation that this was now all I had left of her. Her horseshoes carrying the worn toes and steel nicks from our final rides together. Tangible memories of precious hours spent together, shaped by our journey’s.
I instantly knew I wanted to do something special with them, as a way of dealing with her loss and me wanting to have a personal lasting memory of her to hold forever and have in my home.
My creative brain kicked into gear and I started experimenting with her front shoes, polishing them, exploring different methods of engraving and with the expert’s help, precious metal finishes.
After creating Bindy’s memento, I thought to myself, I might not be the only person who would appreciate a memento of their horse or pony. And that was the birth of Horseshoe Mementoes.
Two years later I experimented with braiding tail hair and setting it into the groove of horseshoes. The first Horsehair Horseshoe Memento I created was Bindy’s. I still had her tail hair in an envelope – it was as if I knew that I would need it for this purpose - I’m so thankful I had kept it.
Every Horseshoe Memento I create is part of Bindy’s legacy. And it gives me great joy.
Now that I have created a number of Horseshoe Mementoes for horse riders, owners and trainers around the world. Each with their unique ‘horseshoe story’ and reason for wanting a lasting memory. I wanted to share their stories with you and that’s what has led me to this very point, starting The Horseshoe Storyteller podcast.
I hope you come along for the ride on this storytelling journey with me.
If you’ve enjoyed my story and would like to hear more, please subscribe to this podcast. And if you would like to see some photos Bindy and our Framed Wedding Horseshoe Memento go ahead and check out the show notes here
Thanks so very much for listening to The Horseshoe Storyteller podcast where I believe EVERY horseshoe holds a story.