My First Love


I’ve always been one of those pony obsessed girls. That’s sadly not me but a 12 year old Elizabeth Taylor starring in a horsey film called National Velvet.

Even when I was a punk, aged 16 and falling out of Damned gigs or fresh from seeing The Ramones at the Roundhouse in London, my ears remained finely attuned to the sound of horses’ hooves clopping on concrete. And I am so old we actually had rag and bone men with a horse and cart that came plodding down the street, the man shouting. in what can only be described as ancient cockney. something like; “Aa-aa Bo’!”


What I don’t understand is how anyone can resist them. Their delicious smell, their velvety noses. I’m talking about horses here not rag and bone men….

But I never had a pony of my own. I read a story in one of my Christmas annuals – where the girl pulled open her bedroom window and there was a pony outside the house and wished so hard that would happen to me. But it was never going to happen.I lived with my teacher Mum and tailor Dad in a terraced house in North London. I spent my whole childhood as one of those sad eyed girls who hang around riding schools desperate to do anything – muck out, clean tack until my fingers bleed – just to be around ponies.

I think I fell in love when I was very small. My grandparents lived on a small holding in a village in North Wales so tiny there was only one road in. But they moved to a landless bungalow in a slightly bigger village when I was too small to have a share in my cousin’s grey Welsh mountain pony, called (very original this) Smoky. I nursed that grievance for years. As my Mum was a teacher we spent the long six weeks every summer in Wales. Every time I heard the blacksmith at work, the sound of the hammer ringing out (this is the late 1960s not 1860s, honest) I would run out of the house and offer to do errands for the blacksmith in return for watching and sometimes, occasionally, sitting on the horses. The errands mostly meant fetching pipe tobacco  -‘Y Bwythyn’ brand – from the village shop. I know! Imagine, in those days you could sell a six year old pipe tobacco! In those days you’d let a six year old out of the house on their own…

I loved the forge. It was black with soot and grime an the fire glowed red. The sound of the hammer on the anvil, the rythm of it. Then the clouds of smoke as the hot shoe was fitted to the horses hoof. The smell of burning and the hiss as the smith cooled the shoe in a bucket of cold water once he was sure he had the shape.

The old blacksmith retired when I was about 10. His son took over and only made gates. Gates! I was sad for a bit but then started helping out at the pony trekking centre in the village and got my pony fix that way instead.spangles

When I got old my dream came partially true. I had a share in a pony (called Spangles if you must know) we kept at Hackney City Farm and rode her in London Fields and later – this really was a dream come true – Hampstead Heath. This is a photo of me and my daughter on Spangles in Victoria Park, Hackney.

My first ever (and not very good) novel was a pony book. Maybe I’ll write another one day. But I have just written a TV script with a smith as the hero. It’s set in the past of course, but those memories have been very useful.

And since I’ve moved to the coast I’ve started riding again. Which prompted this post. Here’s my new friend, Summer, who spookily, is piebald too. Can I just say that everything – bluebells, butterflies -looks better from up on a horse. But maybe that’s because I am short.IMG_20150423_181655

See you next month!

Catherine Johnson

My last book Sawbones, won the Young Quills award 2013 for best historical fiction, but sadly there are no ponies in it at all. My next book, The Curious Tale of The Lady Caraboo, does in fact have a small amount of galloping. But not half as much as Poldark.

3 thoughts on “My First Love

  1. I was lucky enough to have ponies when I was younger – few friends who didn’t want my pony rather than me – but that didn’t matter when I disappeared into the countryside with just my four-footed friend for company. Think of a Thelwell cartoon and that was me!

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