Written by Diamond’s owner ‘Alison Silver’
Diamond’s father was a travelling man. Her mother was a mature woman, who, having worked hard on a Welsh hill farm all her life, was obviously determined to make the most of what attractions were still left to her. Where and when she would never say, but her daughter’s arrival was something of an embarrassing surprise.
The mare had come to me in the autumn for a holiday, and to help my pair of welsh mountain ponies keep down the grass on my 40-acre patch of upland pasture. She was thin, and through the winter I thought the mares thickening waist was the result of ample grazing until, one morning early in the spring, I saw a small brown shadow following her so closely she could have still been connected by the umbilical cord. The mare’s owners were nonplussed by the news – no they didn’t really want the foal – would I keep it? And so, when her mother returned home, now plump from nine months rest and plenty of grass, Diamond, named for the white star on her forehead, stayed behind to spend her childhood on the flanks of the Black Mountains.
Her companions were two older mares and my gelding, her playground 40 acres of steep, rumpled pasture close to the source of the Monnow. She grew strong and patient, learning to seek shelter from the bitter winds by hiding in the dingles and to find forage in the heather when it snowed. Although not handled overmuch, she grew used to the comings and goings of people, was easy to catch and always glad of a bit of attention. But when she was four and of an age to start her education, my partner fell seriously ill and all thought of pony lessons had to be shelved. When I came back to the issue two years later, Diamond was no longer a co-operative adolescent, accepting authority and eager to please, but a fully grown mare, now the dominant personality in her little herd.
When I began to work with her she simply, steadfastly, patiently, refused to co-operate – without in any way becoming obstreperous or bad-tempered. She would allow herself to be caught and would follow my gelding quietly, she thoroughly enjoyed a good groom, she was happy to allow my daughter to sit on her back and brush out her mane – but that, she made clear, was as far as she was prepared to go. Now I am very much an amateur in these affairs. I had a book in one hand and the end of her rope in the other, but even I could tell from the look in Diamond’s eyes and the set of her four hooves on the ground that she had infinitely more patience and determination than I did!
So I sought help. I am fortunate in living in the same valley as John Jones, a quiet, softly spoken man who specialises in helping with ‘problem’ horses. ‘Diamond is not exactly a problem’ I said, thinking more of vicious frightened horses, horses that bit or kicked or bolted, ‘but I just can’t do anything with her’. ‘Hmm’ was all he would say ‘I’ll come up one day and have a look at her.’ And he was as good as his word. Talking with me after he had met her he explained to me that, despite having a basically calm and sensible nature, a pony like Diamond presents quite a challenge. ‘You see, she has no reason to want to change. She has everything she wants. Why should she surrender that and acknowledge your leadership, what are you offering her that she hasn’t already got? She is very strong. You can make her do what you want by forcing her- by beating her or using various aids but that way she will only give you her obedience grudgingly. What you need to do is to show her that being with you is a good place to be; she has to make the first move. Bring her down to me and I will see what I can do.’
And so Diamond left the high pasture of her childhood and moved down the valley to John Jones’s farm, where her companion was a huge half-bred shire called Flint. The two were almost identical. Even to the patch of white in the middle of their foreheads, and they made a comical pair, the enormous Flint and the diminutive Diamond. But despite Flint’s size there was no mistaking who was in charge. Diamond, almost small enough to walk under Flint’s belly, called the shots! But when it came to her dealings with John, Diamond soon found she did not have all things her own way. John’s patience and determination matched her own – and he, unlike me, understood her every move. He worked with her completely loose in a large circular school, and initially he just kept moving her quietly round the outside. ‘I am waiting for her to decide that she wants to come to me. Watch her – see, she is not looking at me and her ears are both forward. A horse is a herd animal, see – she keeps looking at me – she wants to come in but is not yet ready to trust me. She has to make the first move.’
Diamond was resilient and sceptical – ‘you can see her thinking I am fine out here I don’t need you. But she was not as patient as John. I watched fascinated as she circled round him. ‘See – she is bending her neck towards me; she is beginning to keep one ear turned to me all the time. She is saying, ‘I want to be your friend’. At last she turned towards John and came to a stop. She stood quietly, watching him intently, as he walked towards her, inviting her to step towards him. Careful not to look directly at her and moving calmly round so he could move the back of his hand down the line of her shoulder. ‘She is holding back, though. But it is good enough – She’s an older mare. You can’t expect her to give all her trust, not the fist time. Now watch, lets see what she does.’ And he turned away from her and moved a few paces off. She hesitated for just a moment, and then she followed him. When he stopped, she stopped, when he moved she moved with him, turning to right and left as she turned, for all the world as if he were leading her on the end of a rope. ‘Good baby, good girl. That’s my girl.’ The magic had happened.
This wasn’t a theatrical demonstration – John didn’t swing into the saddle onto her back and ride her out of the ring (although he probably could have done). Instead, he worked patiently with her for the next month. Each lesson beginning the same way, each day she learned something new – to lift her feet without fuss, to stand quietly while he tacked her, to move sideways in response to a gentle pressure on her flanks, to walk on and back up. ‘You have to make it easy for them to understand what you want,’ John would say, ‘you have to ask them politely. Horses are by nature very well mannered.’
When he did ride her for the first time she moved off as smoothly and calmly as if it was an everyday event. She made only one effort to get rid of him – she tried to roll ‘Oh no you don’t’ he said, keeping her head up and gently propelling her forward – and that was that.
Diamond has gone on to be a super pony, calm and confident and happy to do all that is asked of her and she has become a much loved and trusted little girls dream-come-true.