When I was a kid, maybe 7 or 8, my parents moved us from a suburban home to a small acreage plot in a small country town about 50 km from the major centre. It was a financial decision on their part as much as it was lifestyle. They’d built a house on a block and found that maintaining the mortgage was too hard and so they opted for a more rural lifestyle.
The house they bought was an old one, built of weatherboard and fibro on 8 acres. Once a servants/farm hand’s home, built on the lands of a once great property called Round Hill Station, it had the remnants of a fancy english garden and the grandeur was evident in the building.
By the time we bought it, it was old and a little run down but it afforded my parents to get out from under a mortgage they couldn’t service and became a fixer upper…
There were many moments I remember about the place, the old chip heater in the bathroom over the bath which you lit to make instant hot water in the shower because the house wasn’t plumbed with modern conveniences like that. It was the 70’s, and shit like that still existed.
The house was riddled with white ants and a lawsuit ensued after purchase because both the seller and the agent had acted dishonourably. The place needed a lot of work. Over the years my parents renovated as money allowed.
Many, many childhood memories come from that place:
- climbing the almond tree and eating until our teeth hurt from cracking the outer shells
- getting our fill of mulberries before turning on each other in a playful food fight
- bragging to the nosy neighbours that we had a pool, only to see them stroll down the driveway with towels slung over their shoulders, finding us paddling in the old fashioned cast iron bathtub- our fancy pool
- trailing dad on our bikes while he cut the grass in haphazard tracks, until he got sick of us and finished the job
However during the original purchase negotiations, there was an old horse living on the property. He was an ex pacer, not a trotter. He had learned to synchonise his legs to move in unison on each side. Not the natural gait of a horse but how they ran when harnessed to the sulky running around the track.
His name was Jim. He was about 14 hands high, a flea bitten grey and pretty much bombproof. Exactly the kind of horse you want to teach little kids how to ride.
When the sellers ripped off the window coverings and air-conditioner, it was negotiated that he would sweeten the deal and be left for us.
We had arrived!
We lived on a farm and had a horse.
Now Old Jim was a cunning old thing. When we inherited him I suppose he was about 28 or 29. He’d seen a thing or two and was old enough to negotiate his own terms. They had left an old bridle and stock saddle for us to use.
The first trick was catching him from the paddock to ride. If he saw the bridle he’d just walk away but if you took a slice of bread he’d let you catch him. Sugar cubes were his weakness but too much sugar isn’t good for horses and so mostly it was bread or a handful of chaff in a bucket. The bridle hidden inside of course.
Old Jim could tell if you were wearing appropriate footwear or not, and if you weren’t he took great delight in lifting his hoof and placing it on your foot and leaning all his weight on you. A punch or three on the shoulder would shift him, but there was always that twinkle in his eye… crafty old shit. We learned not to wear thongs (flipflops) around him.
Naturally we joined the local pony club which met at the showgrounds on a sunday. The show grounds were about a mile away straight down the stock route which ran between our property and the local common: council land which was agisted or just used for stray stock. There was one main road to cross, the thoroughfare through the town, but with the town population totalling 1500, it wasn’t a very busy road for the time.
Because we were young, my mum used to walk beside as we rode down to the showgrounds to show off our prowess of doing barrels and jumping the cavallettis which were the training ground for kids to learn how to show jump.
Inexperienced and small by comparision, Old Jim regularly took advantage of whomever was on his back. Mostly me, as I was the avid equestrian of the family.
He lead us on a merry dance on more than one occasion… I’ll tell you about those next time…