If Stacy Westfall lived on a council estate in the 80’s…

I can’t even remember how old I was when I first rode but I was young when a few of us started riding a couple of knackered, barely broken horses an old guy owned and kept in a shitty field behind the crummy council estate house where I lived.

Everyone within a five mile radius of us was incredibly poor so when I first found a love of horses, it didn’t involve regular visits from a farrier or expensive tack. It was a frayed head-collar and lead-rein and the luxury of one brush to get off all the dried mud before you jumped on bareback.  One brush.  Looking back, those poor horses weren’t looked after at all well and had a crap diet, probably never saw a farrier their whole life and must’ve been achy and fed up but I used my spending money to buy them treats and did what I could.  😦

Anyway, I rode like that for about five or six years and learned how to jump fallen trees and brooks and generally ride / control a horse mostly with the use of body movement and voice.  I couldn’t tell you how or why I could but over time, I developed a knack for getting the horse to  understand what I wanted from him.  I’d just know what he was thinking, if he was a bit dubious to jump or whether he’d picked up on my vibes and was going for it.   Sounds ridiculous to say but the best way of describing it is that there was an almost telepathic way of communicating.

Sussing all this out meant I fell off a LOT and was threatened with being stopped from ever going near a horse again by my Mother who still reckons the A & E department must have more pictures of my head than she has.

The falling or being thrown off meant I soon learned how to not fall off or easily be thrown so in time, I became a good rider although I didn’t realise how good until later when I accidentally met a chap in his 50’s or 60’s called Harry.   Harry was one of these rich, landrover driving, wax-jacket wearing blokes that probably owned half the land in Britain but argued the price of fresh air.

When he learned I was poorer than a shithouse rat, couldn’t tack up and hadn’t had a single riding lesson my whole life. Harry let me ride his / his daughter’s horses (proper ones – stables, decent feed, tack and shoes) With that came an introduction to his daughter Linda, who was the epitome of a  “Daddy’s girl” and hated me from the outset really although I was probably oblivious to it at first.

Next thing you know, I’m sat in a saddle with a proper set of reins in my hands riding a horse that was actually well schooled.    Took a bit of getting used to but over time I was introduced to other “proper” horsey folk, most of whom were initially friendly until they discovered how and where I’d learned to ride.  “Woodlands and Playing Fields” and “Some disused land near the scrapyard” didn’t go down at all well.  Apart from the odd one or two,  the vast majority were just awful to me. Absolutely horrible, snobby, unpleasant people.

To make matters worse, I was a good rider even though I didn’t ride “properly” – as in know the finer details of riding etiquette but I was still better with horses and it riled them.  They looked down their noses and talked amongst themselves about how I was a charity case and loudly tutted and said things like “She takes ages to tack up” or “She doesn’t even sit properly if you look closely”

There was this ridiculous element of shame involved with me having never had a single riding lesson but even then I thought “Yeah but I still ride better and can get more from your horses than you can so what does it matter how I do it?”   

Even though some tried making me see it as something I should view as my motivation or positive, I was just too young and lacked the self-assurance and confidence so after a while it wore me down and I stopped going to shows or hanging around with any horsey people at all.

I’m now older, wiser, with more money and a love of horses now as I did back then but guess what I learned this weekend?

Apparently, my former (and still sometimes preferred) way of riding is a “thing” which has meant a decent living for the select few.

Honestly.  It’s now described as “Natural Horsemanship” and is no longer seen as being sinful, shameful or against the law in the world of horsey people.  It’s a sodding skill.

If and when I see Linda again, I’ll mention this to her and see what she says.

But Stacy Westfall & Co –  Where the hell were you lot when I needed you back in the 80’s???



2 Replies to “If Stacy Westfall lived on a council estate in the 80’s…”

  1. I love the video with Stacy Westfall, I saw it a few years ago (many times!).

    I used to prefer bare-back riding and learned it in the opposite order … I started with proper riding lessons on riding schools and then my friends and I progressed to bare back riding, partly because it was more fun, and partly because we found a trail riding place on the edge of a big forest, where most of the ponies did not have saddles, so we just had to get used to it… and then discovered it was more fun.

    The place was called “grand pa’s riding school” according to a home made sign which looked like a kid made it… probably the grand kid. It was a bit similar to what you describe: mainly just a field, a few saddles only for the larger ponies, and we had to bring our own brushes. After we paid for the ride, we just had to bring the ponies back after 1 hour or pay more if we spent more time. There were no trail guide with us or any supervision at all (which was what was great about it). That was in Denmark.

    My husband and I have done trail rides a few times here in Australia, but bare-back riding was not allowed:-( it is a rule they all have for insurance reasons, apparently. Before we you rode out we also had to sign a contract saying that we are aware & accept that the ride can lead to our injury and/or death, plus we had a trail guide with us and had to ride with others in a line, limiting the risk of doing something stupid but also limiting the fun.

    I think riding bare-back gives a much stronger connection with the horse and its moves and preparation for what happens next. Without a saddle it is obviously harder to stay on if the horse freaks out, but with a saddle there is much shorter preparation time between sensing that something is “up” and the horse freaking out, and less time to counter it peacefully before it is too late. So I am not sure I think it is necessarily always safer to ride with a saddle as people say.

    Although the sensitivity goes boths ways of couse… if I am scared and there is no saddle between me and the horse, then my panic is likely to infect the horse much quicker and stronger than it otherwise would, making the horse panic too.

  2. Hello! Despite how I did it, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to attempt riding without the use of full, decent tack (preferably with extra safety options), a proper riding hat, someone for company and a mobile phone for use in case anything happens.

    Even the best riders in the world will still come unstuck at some point whether through misreading a situation or something else totally unforeseen and beyond their control. When that happens, you need something sturdy to push your legs into whilst you work on stopping the rearing / bolting / full-blown freak out dead in its tracks.

    When I think back to a nine year old me on a barely broken horse, hacking for hours and without a soul knowing where I’d gone, it’s frightening. One farmer had a young horse on the lunge and went “Oi lass – come ‘ere and lean over back of him. He’ll try chucking ya though so get ready for it and jump before you’re thrown” – so I actually did and not just once. It was a regular thing where I’d lean over, jump off. Lean over a bit longer and then jump off. Sometimes I got the timing wrong and ended up thrown before I’d time to jump and would go home covered in cuts and bruises.

    After I’d sussed out a horse’s way, it gave me a distinct advantage for riding in the saddle as my confidence and assertion seemed to transfer itself so if I wasn’t worried, neither was he. Once I knew he wasn’t worried about that jump and was geared up and ready to go – I wasn’t worried either.

    That positivity meant I was better with unruly, highly strung horses and flew round cross-country courses at phenomenal speed. Looking back, this was probably what riled the posh horsey girls so much 🙂

    But yes – tack, hat, company and a phone is the way forward. Absolutely. 🙂

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