I came across a beautiful poem entitled 'When I am an Old Horsewoman' and being an 'Old Horsewoman', it stuck a delightful cord in my heart.
As a child I virtually grew up at Leander Riding School, up the Old Esigodini Road, to the top of the hill before Country Club and there on Crouch Road was the most enchanting place in all the world. Run with an iron fist by Lionel Archell and his supportive wife Lily, Leander Riding School was so called because it started initially in Leander Avenue, Hillside, and as it grew, the main stables were moved to Crouch Road in Matsheumhlope.
Here was paradise for a nine year old, which is when I first started riding horses. Riding lessons, show jumping, dressage, dozens of beautiful horses, stables, dust, sawdust, oats, bran and molasses all rolled into one delightful childhood.
I had a pair of brown ankle length boots and two pairs of khaki riding pants, hand-made by a sweet tailor whose name escapes me. Then as I grew in riding stature Mom bought me the most elegant second hand, knee-length, black riding boots and a pair of white jodhpurs, suitable for the show ring. Together with a black jacket, a black velvet riding helmet and a cravat, my dreams came true when I was good enough to enter the showring!
My father then bought me my first pony, his name was Hobo, sold to me by Roger Hill. Hobo was a bay gelding, pretty ordinary, but to me he was the most beautiful pony in the entire universe. Days of drill in the hot, dusty, disciplined, corralled school, supplemented by sublime cross country rides across the glorious Matsheuphlope veld. In those days somehow the veld was soft and spongy with many rainwater seeps, sadly today, the drought is creating an insidious desert which is creeping slowly across Bulawayo.
My second horse was called Thunderclap, a beautiful dapple grey pony sold to me by Malcolm Sargant - Thunderclap and I attended many shows at the old Hunt Club along the Esigodidni Road, just before CBC School. We also learnt polo there and then I really felt in the Big League.
The 'Riding Crowd' as it was called, comprised some wonderful characters. Lionel Archell of course was one of the stalwarts of the riding world, complete with his signature black bowler hat!! Names like Henry Gratten-Bellwe, Anton Elliot, Jill Davies, Gaye Wild, Cherie Leper spring to mind as I cast my mind back to those halcyon days.
And then of course there were the 'Paper Chases' the Rhodesian equivalent of a fox hunt!! Many a blissful Sunday or Public Holiday was spent tearing across the Circular Drive area, before the advent of houses, following a paper trail. Up hill and down dale, for many strenuous miles, at a fast gallop, jumping across fallen logs and ditches. The hunt was preceded by a 'Stirrup Cup' and usually ended at someones home where lunch was provided and often times, on my return home, Mom would have to pull my boots off as I was just too exhausted to even twitch a muscle!!
The riding school Combi would collect Gavin and I on the corner of Selborne Avenue and Livingstone Road, and the friendly driver would transport us to the riding school almost daily in the school holidays - transporting us to a childhood that was the most perfect in all the world.
When I am an old horsewoman
I shall wear turquoise and diamonds,
And a straw hat that doesn't suit me
And I shall spend my social security on
white wine and carrots,
And sit in my alleyway of my barn
And listen to my horses breathe.
I will sneak out in the middle of a summer night
And ride the old bay gelding,
Across the moonstruck meadow
If my old bones will allow
And when people come to call, I will smile and nod
As I walk past the gardens to the barn
and show instead the flowers growing
inside stalls fresh-lined with straw.
I will shovel and sweat and wear hay in my hair
as if it were a jewel
And I will be an embarrassment to all
Who will not yet have found the peace in being free
to have a horse as a best friend
A friend who waits at midnight hour
With muzzle and nicker and patient eyes
For the kind of woman I will be
When I am old.
-By Patty Barnhart
Originally published in The Arabian Horse World magazine in l992