Posted By Ann

Animals have a special magic all their own, we can borrow their strength, be soothed by their powers of genuine relaxation but above all be warmed and uplifted by the special quality of their love. Never judgemental or critical and with an amazing capacity to forgive us for our failings and shortcomings, even when they are the victims, we humans can learn a thing or two about unconditional love from our animal friends.

Those of us who share our home with a pet, well know how the cares of the day drop away in the joyous welcome of an animal friend. When we lay our hand on the head of a beloved dog  or a favourite cat settles on our lap, our blood pressure and heart rate actually drop. With their ability to relax completely and live in the present they can teach us how to shed our own mental and physical tensions. They are good for us in practical ways too, we walk the dog when otherwise we wouldn’t walk at all. For those who have time, money and the inclination  to ride  equines have a magic all their own.

There is something truly  magical in the controlled might and strength of horses. Alan Marshall, whose father was a horse breaker, called his autobiography I Can Jump Puddles, because after teaching himself to ride on a friend's pony during the school lunch break he could do just that. Even though his father worked with horses all day he hadn't grasped that Alan, crippled by polio as a child could ride, even though he couldn't walk. In his book he speaks of feeling the power of the great horses when he touched them and drawing from it. For a crippled child who needed crutches to move at all  four good legs beneath him was magic indeed.

My first close friendship with a horse was with one of the work horses on the farm of my childhood. Tommy was what was known as a 'half-legged' horse which did not mean that his legs were cut off at the knees but that he was bred from a light, clean-legged fast trotting hackney and sired by a Shire. Most farms had one such horse to do the lighter and faster jobs. On quiet summer evenings my father would yield to my pleas and lead me round the quiet lanes astride his back but the really exciting trips I took were in the stable.

Each horse had his own stall and wore a huge leather collar attached to a chain which in turn went through a large iron ring with a wooden block on the end. This gave the horses freedom to stand or lie in their stall without the danger of a rope tangling round their legs. They were turned out in a large paddock at night and had Sunday off. The stable was two storey, the top filled with  loose sweet smelling hay which was dropped down into the rack in front of each horse. When I was older I loved to lie in the hay with a good book.  Before I could read I  relied on Tommy's broad back and my own imagination for entertainment.

I climbed the  ladder  attached to the wall of his stall, which was the end one,  till I could  grab his thick mane in both hands then hauled myself onto his  back. He always kept perfectly still with his head up while I completed this manoeuvre, which was just as well for he had only to side-step or drop his head  and I would have fallen to the cobbled floor under his large hooves. Secure on his  back my imagination gave him wings.

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