The best days of our lives

Horse & Hound|July 02, 2020

The best days of our lives
Mobile phones, tack and jods may have reshaped our riding culture, but is a Pony Clubber’s lifestyle so very different? Andrea Oakes compares the 1950s with today
Andrea Oakes

The fifties

“I REMEMBER that day clearly,” laughs Sarita Perkins, referring to an old photo (pictured above) from the 1956 Pony Club interbranch championships. “Look at the jump – it’s tied up with string over an old bathtub. I was riding a tricky horse called Punch. He was a devil; he did a lovely cross-country round but wouldn’t go over the first fence in the showjumping. I was so disappointed!”

Sarita, now 75, enjoyed rallies, camps, and competitions as a member of Cornwall’s Western Hunt branch. Her elephant-ear jobs were typical of the time, worn with a tweed coat and – for cross-country, but not always at home – a velvet hat with an elastic strap.

“We didn’t have a clue what a dressage saddle was,” she says, explaining that riding skills were largely developed on the hunting field. “We had a choice of two bits, a snaffle or a double bridle, and as nobody had transport we hacked to rallies. We used straw bales for fences or we’d jump the banks and stone walls.

“We had no fear,” she adds. “We knew the local farmers, so if we wanted a gallop we’d jump our ponies into a field then out again.”

While none of the instructors was qualified, Sarita explains that the coaching was excellent. Summer camp was a highlight.

“We slept on camp beds in a rhubarb shed,” she says. “The ponies were either turned out or tied in lines, but the main difference to now was that there were so few organised activities. We just played and were free to ride anywhere without the horror of traffic – and we’d hack to the woods, tie the ponies up and swim.”

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July 02, 2020