Ziggy

 
A Tribute to my best friend
 
Naturian Happy Wanderer April 1976 - April 2011
 
I begged my parents to get me a pony for two years before they gave in. My now lifelong friend Jane helped my mum to choose him; they both recognised that he was a good sort who would look after a young rider. On the day before my 11th birthday my parents hid excitedly in a stable while they watched me walk towards the horse I thought I was having a riding lesson on. There was a card blu-tacked to his saddle. When I opened the card it was from Ziggy, telling me that he was my Horse. I was so overcome that I had my own horse after being told it would never happen because it was too expensive, that I promptly burst into tears and threw my arms around his neck. And so began a tradition. Whether it was an excited happy hug after good news or a good cry over some teenage crisis or more recent hard times, for 20 years Ziggy was there for me.

Ziggy was 14.2hh, a liver chestnut with a thin white blaze and two white pasterns. He was an Anglo Arab x Welsh bred in Falmouth and had one blue eye from an injury when he was a foal which gave him jip when the flies were bad in summer. He liked ready salted crisps (as a kid I didn't realise they probably weren't very good for a pony!) and sherbet sweets and carrots but he was never very pleased with an apple. If you asked him to he would plant a kiss on your cheek, but he canny, he would only do it if he knew for sure there was a treat about your person! He never bit me, not once.

Because it was a little cheaper and less responsibility for my horse shy father and returner rider mother, he was on half-share with the riding school from which we had purchased him to start with.  He was quite switched off and didn't show his character at first, a product of having streams of riders on and off his back day in, day out. But slowly, over time, he started to understand that he had a family, that he was loved and that the same little girl arrived everyday to brush him and ride him and sleep with him in the stable when he was tired.  My mum wanted him to have his own things so he understood that he was owned and for the first time he had matching numnah and girth and later a saddle which fitted so well it could have been made for him.  That saddle sits proudly on my bannister upstairs now, I will never sell it.  For my mum and I then he went from being a rather ordinary looking, nicely put together horse, to being one of the most handsome creatures on the planet.  We found then something that all of the people who have loved Zig along with us over the years have found - he creeps up on you. The more you realise how special he is, the more lovely he becomes to look at.

A year of sharing him was enough. My Dad fronted the money to make him entirely ours. We moved him to Jane's yard on Haldon Hill and the then 15 year old horse was given a brand new lease of life, romping along forestry tracks and helping to train Arab racehorses. He never felt old to me back then. He never put a hoof wrong unless I deserved a little reminder that he wasn’t a robot and couldn’t jump all day!
 
At every hunter trial and show we competed in, he looked after me. Where I would have taken the wrong course, put him into the wrong stride or unbalanced him with my clumsy eagerness, he always took charge and got us round. He found showing classes boring, round and round in a ring, but I loved jumping best too so we were well suited. As I got older and more confident, he became a more challenging and a more exciting ride. Ziggy always looked after his rider, never gave them more than they were capable of.  He would be quiet as a lamb with a toddler at his feet or a nervous rider on his back, but was an exhilarating ride for someone who he thought could handle some fun. I used to vault onto his back and lay my head down on his neck in his field, he never moved off quickly and always started to shift his weight gently to wake me and let me know he wanted to graze again.
 
During the first few years we had Ziggy he was intermittently lame. He was diagnosed without x-ray with Navicular and his future looked uncertain and bleak. It was suggested I find another horse because as a riding animal he was unlikely to be of any use. But even after that short space of time Mum and I were adamant we couldn’t sell him to endure some unknown fate. He was so sweet and never bad tempered about the pain he was in with his foot. Sometimes when we thought he was ok and appeared sound, it would become apparent he wasn't right after a few minutes riding and I would get off him and take him home, wondering why he hadn't refused to go or been difficult in some way to let me know he wasn't right, but he never did.  Regardless of his own discomfort, he was always right there ready to do what I wanted, he was so stoic. Eventually his lameness reduced and then disappeared with rest and willpower.  It was his honesty and eagerness to please that meant even at the time when girls my age were selling their first ponies and moving on to the next horse, I still couldn’t part with Ziggy and kept him with me as my horse until he was 35 and time caught up with him at last. 
 
No matter what life chucked at me, I always had Ziggy, he was a constant in my life which never felt like a chore, always a pleasure. Early winter mornings, mucking out, trudgeing through mud, mountains of feed in his later years - the financial and time burdens he placed upon me never felt like burdens, it was always simply an honour to look after him. At Willhayes Jane gave Ziggy the name Uncle Zig. He was a great hacking companion for a nervous horse or youngster because he never really shied at anything.  If he did come across something he really didn't like, he would simply give the offending object a disapproving sideways glance before continuing on his merry way, tail slightly lifted, ears always pricked. Ziggy usually had a weanling in his field with him, he was so gentle with babies, keeping them in line with the subtlest of reprimands, never a bully, he taught them so much in his easy solid way.  The only time he was ever silly and lost his head was if he fell in love with a mare.  Despite being a gelding and largely ignoring the sex of his companions, if a special mare came along and caught his eye he would refuse to leave her side and have a jolly good go at trying to get her in foal!!  Faye, Jane's daughter, and I would ride Ziggy and Kyser, her then pony, along the forest tracks for hours.  We would jump them in the fields and snooze on their broad contended backs. We did shows together and cantered through the shallow waters at the abandoned quarry, soaking us and them and cooling us down on hot summer days. I always felt like Ziggy was the adult. He put his foot down if we were being too reckless and he would instinctively run after Kyser if he ever got loose. The four of us won the Pairs class at Oaklands Hunter Trial, their ability to jump perfectly together borne of all those hours spent bonding and having fun. My Dad also rode out many a Sunday with Zig and I, cycling alongside us while we chatted, Ziggy never worried about the large and sometimes noisy pushbike, and he grazed or snoozed next to us while we ate lunch. Dad and I had a holiday on Exmoor with Ziggy, we took him to a hotel which allowed you to bring your horse and it was truly the best holiday I ever had. I worked for Jane while Ziggy was kept at Willhayes, helping to ride out the racehorses and helping to bring on Beej her own Arabian youngster. I learnt so much from Ziggy, the trust of horses he instilled in me still stays with me now, and I understand very deeply the importance of trusting them in order to ask them to afford you trust back. When all the yard jobs were done I would fetch Ziggy from the field, hop on him, often bareback, and we would have our time together.
 
After many happy years at Willhayes, Ziggy and I moved to Orchard Cottage near Dunkeswell with his company shetland pony Lofty. There we met Nichola and her horse Pharoh and Helen, who had recently lost her own horse, started to come and stay.  After a while Beej came from Willhayes and Lofty moved on to a family with children who adored him. Those were such happy days, Ziggy was so well and happy and Nichola and Helen were such fun to ride and spend time with. They both have horses again now and they both attribute their return to horse ownership to times they spent with Ziggy. Beej wasnt always an easy ride, but Zig always helped to bring him back down to earth. We did a few local shows and Zig was a gentleman as always. Zig and Beej were at my 21st birthday party and I remember being told off for constantly leaving my guests to run up to the field and cuddle my horse! Its funny the things that stick in your mind, Nichola and I had been for a ride and we had left a little too late and ridden a little too far and the sun had set on us. We said goodbye at Nichola's house and rode on the rest of the way home alone. It was pitch black and rather irresponsible really, it would have been quite dangerous if we had met a car. But my overwhelming feeling as we trotted along the lanes, his head up and his sense of direction and night vision so strong, was of being totally safe. It sums up how I always felt on Ziggy - like the world was no match for us when we were together. He pulled me up if I deserved it though! On a beautiful summers day Helen, Nichola and I took him into a freshly mown hay field. Helen and then Nichola had a turn of cantering him around the large flat field and he was good as gold. Then I got on him and tried to take him around again, he clearly felt he had had enough and I could have cantered him any other day, so he proceeded to tuck his head between his legs and broncho, whilst napping, all the way round...even then I was laughing, he always did tell me off!
 
Unfortunately circumstances dictated, as they often do, that we had to leave Orchard Cottage.  Beej went back to Jane's and Ziggy and I moved to Bridge Farm.  Zig was a bit disorientated to start with, but soon I had Beej's daughter Ella on loan and Beccy, Helen and Jayne came riding with us.  The time I kept him there alone with only the cows for company was such a close time.  He relied on me for everything and our bond strengthened, but I was pleased when after Ella left, Liz moved to the farm with her horses Sam, Kyser (Faye's old Pony) and Rosie and he had horse company again.   Liz very quickly bonded with him and we had many a ride with her and Kyser, reunited with his old pal, plodding along the lanes chatting about our horses.  We both appreciated having each other to talk through a lameness or a skin problem.  When he was 28 I took him to a local show.  He was a complete star all day and won his class and then came fourth in the jumping with an extra rossette for being the oldest horse placed.  It was commented on that day that we appeared as one, not a horse and human but a single entity.  I decided then that it would be our last show, we went out on a high and I will always remember that day as such a happy one despite the air of sadness at the end of an era. I continued to ride out with Liz and plod bareback across the farm's many acres with him though and he enjoyed deciding where we went and being allowed to set the pace.  It was while we were at Bridge Farm that I realised I wasnt going to cope very well when fate decided Ziggy had spent enough time on this earth.  He was by then almost 30 and although still very well, I knew there would be no miracle immortality - he couldnt live forever.  Mum, my then husband and I came up with a plan, I had always dreamed of getting a youngster, to bring on myself and to live alongside Ziggy and learn his calm and solid ways.  I found Shiny on the Roslin Stud website.  I had always been told Ziggy was quite Quarter Horse-like and their breed characteristics seemed to match the things I loved about Ziggy. From the first moment I saw Shiny's baby picture on that website, I knew he was going to become part of our little family.  When I first went to see him he was quite shy and a little bit awkward, but five years on he is the horse of my dreams, and I would like to put that partly down to me but I cant take the credit because I am sure a lot of his personality and what a pleasure he is to work with and ride is down to Ziggy.  I am so grateful to the Roslin Stud for trusting me to take him on and now for their incredible generosity because in the time since Ziggy has passed, Shiny has been of such comfort and is so solid and real, I really wouldnt have coped without him.
  

Three years before I lost Ziggy we were incredibly fortunate to have found Ferndale with its paddock and room for stables, and he had three wonderful years living here with Shiny and I before he left us. He was so very relaxed here, he slept like he didn’t have a care in the world and loved his open fronted stable (he always got very indignant about being shut in!) and his routine. Shiny picked up his mannerisms and learnt so much from the wise old boy and he will live on in Shiny now. In the last 6 months before he went he had Tess in his life and she adored him too, he gradually showed her the horse he was and I am so glad he had "two grooms" again for the last stage of his life as he did really beam when he had two people working on him, like he was some elite show horse. But he didn’t need to be an elite show horse, because in his own right he was every bit as valuable and somehow more special, with his dodgy eye and his questionable leg and his ability to put his foot down and be as stubborn as I am if he felt strongly enough about something!
 
I could carry on writing this forever, there are so many memories I have of Ziggy because he was such a huge part of my life and my progression into adulthood, he truly made me who I am. I just wanted to tell his story, to get down on paper some of the ways he was special and pay tribute to a magnificent horse. Losing him was the hardest thing I ever had to go through, but even in getting through this, Zig has once again made me stronger and taught me life lessons which will never leave me.
 
I will always miss him and he has left a Zig shaped hole in mine and Shiny's hearts, but I will always celebrate him. He was a true gentleman, a character and my very best friend in the world.  My overwhelming feeling, even as I cry writing this, is how incredibly lucky I am to have had a horse as amazing as him in my life for so long. I like to think he is young again now, all his aches and pains are gone and all his departed friends are waiting for him on the other side. He is still with me in so many ways, I see him grazing in the paddock, I feel him stood close by when I am with Shiny. I know he will watch over us until we join him again one day. I love you, you lumpy old fart.
 
Somewhere in time's own space
There must be some sweet pastured place
Where creeks sing on and tall trees grow
Some paradise where horses go,
For by the love that guides my pen
I know great horses live again
 - Stanley Harrison
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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