Unlike Anna Sewell, who wrote Black Beauty, I do not know the early days of Gingerbread. She came into my life one hot, dusty August, after a friend had told me how, while he waited for the London train, he gave his lunch to a thin little chestnut pony living by the railway station, that always seemed hungry.
I decided to investigate and found a small, bony but very pretty 10 hand chestnut mare in a bald paddock with only a bucket of water for company. After tracing the old chap who owned her, I discovered she was only 2 years old and “vicious” and was to be sold to our local dealer at the weekend. I felt that with training, good food and correct care, she would make a good driving pony and on the spot offered him £50.00. To my surprise he accepted and I negotiated the rent for his bald paddock until I could move her.
Both her life and mine changed overnight. I contacted an old friend called Stan who, in his younger days, was a horse keeper for a local farmer, and asked him to help me break her in for driving. Together we spent about three weeks feeding, grooming and giving her some tender loving care. I called her Gingerbread as her deep chestnut coat shone like copper as her health improved daily. She accepted his training easily using an old sack filled with straw as a saddle and soon learned to take the bit and respond to the long reins. I went to Wisbech Market with Stan and purchased a small flat cart, together with harness and within a couple of weeks she was merrily ‘trotting out’ with Stan and I around the village. She soon learnt the way to my house where she was allowed to graze on the lawn and also where Stan lived, as his wife Nell was always ready with some apples and carrots.
Gingerbread was very good on the roads as the noise from the railway station had made her used to loud sounds, bangs and squeaky brakes. Changes had to come to Gingerbread when I was ill. As I was a helper for the Elysian Riding for the Disabled at Paradise Farm, Ely, run by Ms Enid Bedford, I asked her if she would take Gingerbread to Paradise while I was recovering as she needed exercise and care. The cart and harness went with her so the training could continue. Her new friends in the field were very curious as she was so small, but a big chestnut mare called Shamrock became her best buddy and they spent many hours together watching the riding lessons and general yard routine. At first Gingerbread was quite nervous of so many children and events, but gradually relaxed and became a favourite to be used for grooming practice by the smallest pupils as they could reach her back very easily. She soon learned to stand still whilst loading was in process and knew exactly where we were going to each ride. The passengers were able to take a second set of canvas reins fitted to her halter and steer her round the course. I was always in control using the leather reins but Gingerbread knew what to do without any instructions! Sometimes we do about 10 to 12 rides during a morning’s work and she never makes any fuss while waiting patiently for events to happen. Everyone is very fond of her and bring apples and carrots as a reward for her hard work. She soon knows when the sessions are nearly over and is looking eagerly for her treats.
Although Gingerbread is now 31 years old, she is as keen to work as ever. She seems to know when Tuesday morning has arrived and is always waiting at the gate as she knows Jo the stable girl will have her breakfast ready.
When I arrive with the harness, she is eager to start her work. Frankie, Sue and Debbie who take turns leading while the driving is in progress, tack her up and she is put to the cart ready to go.
When the session is over and the treats have all been eaten, Gingerbread is taken back to her field to join Cody, Tigger, Candy, Ginny, Lee-Roy, Smudge and Micky. After a roll in the fresh grass she wanders off to join her friends and they pass the afternoon munching away together. Gingerbread is an invaluable part of our team at Elysian Driving for the Disabled and gives so much pleasure to all the drivers who take part each week.
We have just learnt that Gingerbread will be qualifying for a long service award which is so well deserved. We are the only group that offers the driving as a therapy as all our drivers are so disabled.
I never dreamt that I would be so proud of an animal that cost so little and who has given so much to all.