A COUPLE of weeks ago my daughter celebrated her 40th birthday, which prompted me to look out some old photographs depicting Vicky through the ages. One, in particular, made me smile. It was taken back in January 1991, with snow on the ground and featuring Vicky sitting on a pony called Cherry.

With her 11th birthday approaching, Vicky had been pleading for a pony of her own and her very “un-horsey” father had eventually relented, on my reassurance that one hard winter would more than likely put her off for life. So Cherry, a pretty 14hh Welsh Cob came to us on loan for a year while her owner was on maternity leave.

An accomplished showjumper in her day, Cherry had hunted, worked in a riding school, in fact, she was a school master in every sense of the word.

Not surprisingly, her impressive credentials did prompt my husband to ask why there wasn’t a queue of people willing to take her on, people eminently more qualified and experienced than a prospective, first time horse owner such as myself.

“Because she is 31,” I explained “She has also had tendon surgery on both front legs and is not supposed to do anything more strenuous than trot for the next twelve months.”

I suppose these facts would have put a lot of people off, but in my eyes she was perfect.

Kind, wise, good in the stable, big enough for me to hack out on, but sensible enough for both Vicky and her brother James to ride in the school.

She was perfect for small hands to groom and to apply hoof oil and leg bandages when necessary.

She was also ideal for learning how to recognise the difference between a normal leg and one where the tendons were a bit puffy and needed hosing.

Patient enough to lower her head and wait for a child to put on her head collar and sensible enough to walk quietly by their side as they led her to the field.

It was a hard winter that year with snow, frozen water buckets, biting winds and chilblains; but there were never any complaints.

Cherry taught us all so much in the time that she spent with us, not that she didn’t have the odd moment, but fortunately that was only ever when I was on board.

There was one bright, frosty morning in particular which will, I am sure, stay with me for the rest of my life.

We had gone out for a hack with a friend and we had taken a popular route, down through the village, along the main road and back up the other side in a loop, leading back towards home.

The grass verge at the side of the main road was very wide, the sort of verge that some folk might use for a canter, but I have never been one for cantering along a roadside, besides which Cherry wasn’t supposed to be cantering, as she was still recuperating from her tendon operation.

Now I did know that Cherry had been stabled in this area in her youth, but what I didn’t know was that this particular grass verge had been known, at that time, as the “galloping stretch”.

Cherry obviously remembered. As we rounded the corner, I was chatting nonchalantly to my riding companion as Cherry’s head came up. We danced sideways for a few steps and then we were off. I can honestly say that I have never travelled so fast on a horse in my life.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see cars whizzing past and I was very much aware that we were heading straight towards a roundabout. On our right was a tall hedge and I knew that somewhere along here, there was a cut through to a small green but I wasn’t sure where.

Cherry, on the other hand, knew exactly where it was and just as suddenly as we had started, she came back down to a lovely, sedate trot, before calmly turning in through the cut and towards the green.

Needless to say that winter didn’t deter either of my offspring. My daughter now has two daughters of her own and between them they have four ponies. My son and his wife are both accomplished equestrians and at the end of this month, James will be in Australia judging Show Hunter Galloways at the prestigious Royal Canberra Show.

Bless Cherry, she taught us all so much and in the process gave us the very best introduction to horse ownership that anyone could have asked for.