Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Magic of a Horse by Victoria Chatham



Most people have an interest or hobby about which they are passionate. It could be gardening, golf, quilting or fishing. For me, it is horses. My parents, as non-horsey people, never understood where my passion for all things equine stemmed, but I lay this lifelong love of horses squarely on my father’s shoulders.

After surgery that had nothing to do with war wounds at the end of WWII, my father faced a lengthy recovery period. His occupational therapy of choice was making soft toys for his then unseen baby daughter. He arrived home when I was two years old. I promptly howled at him but was quickly pacified by the beautifully made animals he brought with him—a pink rabbit, an elephant, two dogs, one white and the other black, and a blue felt horse with an arched neck and flowing mane and tail. ‘Horsey’ became my instant love and constant companion.

In the post-war era, we still had door-to-door deliveries, and I quickly learned the sound and names of the vendors’ horses and ponies. At six and seven years old, spending long summer holidays in Cornwall, I knew and rode every one of the beach ponies. At eight years old, I had my first formal riding lesson. At nine and ten, I spent the summer holidays with my grandmother and two cousins who were as horse-mad as me. It wasn’t long before we found riding stables where we worked all summer for our rides. We handled the most bloody-minded ponies imaginable, unaware at the time of the valuable lessons they taught us. When I was thirteen, we moved to an urban area with not a horse in sight, but I read about horses, drew horses, and hand-crafted horses from pipe-cleaners and wool.

 When I was sixteen and contemplating a career, my parents refused to let me leave home and take up the prized working-pupil position I so coveted, which would have earned me a horse riding instructor’s certificate. At eighteen, I left home anyway and worked in hunting stable until marriage and family ended that career. When my daughter, now a teenager, became interested in riding, we haunted our local riding stables. Most evenings after riding, we would go to the local pub, The Ragged Cot. It was here one evening that, after some quick calculations on a napkin, she announced, “You know, Mum, with what we spend at the stables, we could have a horse of our own.”

 My old dream of having a horse resurfaced. If we did this together, then having a horse became financially viable. Between us, we agreed on our criteria. Our horse would have to be of medium height and hardy as, having no stable, it would have to live out. It had to be good in traffic as we had the prospect of a lot of road riding before we got to bridle paths and other off-road tracks. Sex, age, and colour were optional. Versatility for combining our equestrian ambitions was essential. We started scouring the classifieds and travelled all over our county and two neighbouring ones, only to become quickly disillusioned with the vagaries of advertising.

 A horse described as ‘onward bound’ had no brakes. A mare described as a ‘good jumper’ proved it by jumping out of the paddock where we put her several times. After four days of a two-week trial and seeing the probability of numerous looming liabilities, we returned her to her owner. As summer came to a close and we had not found our dream horse, we decided to end our search for that year. Then, in the last week of September, I opened the local paper and was immediately drawn to an advert that read: ‘15hh chestnut gelding for sale. Six-hundred pounds including tack.’

 Right size, great price and, I thought, too good to be true. I put the paper aside but picked up the phone two days later. The young woman who answered sounded breathless, as if she’d been running, and said, “Oh, I’m so glad you called!” Did we know each other? But no, Diana was simply anxious to sell her horse as her wedding to a non-horse person was only weeks away.

“Could you tell me a bit about your horse?” I asked.

“Well,” she began, “his name is Paunt House Royal Lancer, and he’s a full-bred Arab and—”

I stopped her there. I didn’t want a full-bred anything, especially something as exotic as an Arab horse.

“But you must at least come and meet him,” she exclaimed. “He’s a lovely person.”

Now, the concept of a horse being a ‘lovely person’ was a bit beyond me, but I got swept up in her enthusiasm and arranged to meet her and her horse the following Sunday. She said to look for a white-walled house with a red-tiled roof beside a bus stop. We had no trouble following her directions. Paddocks and neatly kept flowerbeds surrounded the house. As my daughter and I walked up the garden path, the front door opened, and Diana greeted us like old friends.

“You’re perfect,” she said as she looked us over. “Lancer is going to love you. This way.”

We followed her around the back of the house, slightly bemused by her certainty that we would be Lancer’s new owners. We stopped at the paddock gate, immediately entranced with the sight before us. Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder, but here beauty stood almost knee-deep in lush green grass. 

Here was a horse whose coat glowed as brightly as the crust of a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. The graceful curve of his neck and head, the crescent-shaped tips of his ears and the flaring, questing nostrils declared him a true Arab horse, the fabled drinker of the wind. Behind the fringe of his thick forelock, we could see one full, round eye, gleaming with interest, intelligence, and unmistakable kindness.

We stood silent and stunned as he came toward us. His legs parted the grass soundlessly, making him appear to glide rather than walk. His warm and moist, sweet-smelling breath washed over us as he gently nuzzled us in turn. We drank in his greeting and called him ours.

We had so much fun with him for the following four years.We jumped him, sometimes successfully, I rode him in dressage classes and showed him in-hand. He became a much-loved part of the family and was as happy on our back-lawn as he was in his paddock. But then our lives changed and we had to find him a new home, as had Diana. For a while we kept in touch with his new mom, but even though that connection finally faded, the magic of a horse called Lancer never did.

Victoria Chatham



NB: Images from the author's collection.


  1. What a great story, Victoria. You must have missed Lancer afterwards. Thanks for sharing that touching experience.

  2. Thanks Vijaya. Yes, I did miss him. Belinda and I visited him twice in his new home before I came to Canada and each time he made it very clear he had not forgotten us.

  3. I feel in love with your horse in two paragraphs, then I read you had to give him a new home, and I felt sad you had to part with him. Beautiful memories. Was he the last horse you owned?

  4. Such a visual walk with you and your love of horses. Thanks for sharing.


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