Authors: Susan Kiernan-Lewis
Tags: #horses, #england, #uk, #new zealand, #riding, #equine, #horseback riding, #hunter jumper, #royal, #nz, #princess anne, #kiwi, #equestrienne
Copyright 2011 by San Marco Press. All rights
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"Princess Anne's husband just broke his nose
trying to throw a girl into the hotel pool."
I put my pen down and stared at the Art
Director with whom I shared my office and who had just made this
Hanging up the phone, he turned to me from
"Actually, I think he was trying to take her
blouse off at the time." My art director, a small and wiry New
Zealander with a perverse sense of what is funny, grinned like a
"Charming." I said.
"And then it seems 'is mates threw 'im in the
I simply looked at him as severely as if he
were responsible for all this.
"Whereupon he broke his beak," he added
I continued to stare at him as if to express
what I had told him many times during our year of working together:
you people are not like us.
"At least the commercial's shot, my darling,"
he said. "Might not be in the can, but it doesn't need him in front
of the camera. Just as well, too, bloke said he's got a huge
plaster across his honker."
Funny, I never thought of royalty as having
honkers. I turned to look at the stills we'd shot of Captain
Phillips the day before. "I wonder what Princess Anne would
David Carruthers, Kiwi, art director, and
seriously demented wit par excellence, scooped up his jacket and
his work diary and headed for the door.
"Why don't you ring her, pet? I'm sure she'd
be keen to know." He smiled. "Meanwhile, if you discover our Mr.
Todd's done himself as well, we're in for it. We'll have to grab
some joker off 'is tractor to double."
The idea of hauling in some local farmer to
take the place of Mark Todd--New Zealand's first and quite-recent
Equestrian gold-medal winner --in Monday's scheduled television
commercial shoot was unnerving.
I looked at David severely, demonstrating my
to-be-understood-in-any-language sourest face.
"Don't worry, darling," he laughed. "She'll
be right. 'Long as the Captain's finished his last take, which he
has, we've got no worries. Fact is, I'm off to see his
pre-fractured nasal-ness in the editing room now. Spot ya."
Ta-ta-ing me, he swung out of the office in a
flurry of blue jeans, books and tatty briefcase. I sighed and
returned my gaze to the slightly creased and tea-stained Phillips
stills on my desk.
Although certainly delighted that Captain
Mark Phillips had completed the required tasks for the commercial
we'd just finished shooting for a New Zealand tea company before
he'd disfigured himself, I was nonetheless a little stunned at this
charming man's reputed behavior in Christchurch where the melee was
said to have taken place.
We'd shot the commercial at a tidy little
horse farm in Mangere, New Zealand--the country where I was living,
and where the advertising agency I worked for was located.
It was the late 1980's. Captain Phillips had
come to New Zealand, after script approval from Buckingham Palace,
to do the commercial at the request of our client, a dedicated
royal-watcher and horse-lover.
After doing the commercial, Phillips would
spend several months in New Zealand and Australia keeping a
schedule of teaching, attending various riding clinics, and
three-day events, and hanging out with his riding buddies--most
notably, Gold Medal Winner Mark Todd (whom we were also featuring
in a tea commercial).
For the present commercial, Captain Phillips
was to be seen instructing seven mounted children of various ages
and degrees of riding ability. At one point in the television
lesson, there occurred an important interruption in order to take a
much-needed and well-deserved tea break--featuring, of course, our
client's brewed product.
Captain Phillips would not speak of the
product or refer to it nor actively endorse it in any way other
than the implication of his appearance in the commercial in the
first place. He would, however, be shown seeming to drink the tea.
Our client thought it was a terrific deal--since most royals (or in
this case, nearly-royal) have a high recognition quotient among the
citizenry of Commonwealth countries. And Captain Phillips was a
particularly choice association in a country as horsy as New
Zealand. (As it happened, the spot got a good deal of national
attention, and inevitably sold heaps of tea.)
Our famous actor was charming, tireless and
utterly pleasant. He worked hard, smiled always. The dust in the
riding ring caused him continual misery with his contact lenses,
the children--allowed to play catch-'n-run on horseback with his
favorite cheesecutter cap, (even trying to feed it to a Welsh pony
at one point)--succeeded in ripping the hat, and the nervous and
awfully-impressed tea lady promptly dribbled our product in his
almost-royal lap during a lunch break.
But through it all he remained soft-spoken
and delightful. He continued to teach the children even when the
cameras weren't running: during morning teas, lunches, and
afternoon teas--throughout the three long days of the shoot. This,
to the total ecstasy of the watching parents, who nonetheless
cringed every time one of their little darlings yelled out:
"Maaaaaark! Come fix my stirrup!" or some other well-mannered gem
to Her Majesty's then son-in-law.
Here was a man who absolutely loved horses.
He seemed to enjoy touching them, watching them, riding them; even
these stumpy little things with the cherry-cheeked kiddies on
During lulls in the shooting, he'd hop on the
back (from behind, Cowboy Bob-style) and gallop the ring, hallooing
and whapping the pony's rump with his mangled cheesecutter. The
children adored him.
Having proved himself a tolerant, even
good-natured participant in a commercial shoot that was at times
less than comfortable, I was disappointed to hear he could be
rather less wonderful. Probably human, even.
But, in any case, he'd re-ignited in me a
memory of what it was like to be a kid and love horses. To live,
breathe and revel in the wonderful creatures. And when it was all
said and done, I took that memory, broken nose and all and spun it
into a reality for myself.
I don't know why little girls and horses are
such a natural match up. I didn't have any little girl friends who
didn't love horses. And although we never seriously considered the
incredible possibility of actually owning one, we drew them,
jumping and kicking, chewing and sleeping, on our first-grade
notebook covers and pretended to gallop and trot like them in the
warm twilight of long summer days, making clicking and nickering
noises alternately as if to be the rider and the ridden both at the
Sunday evenings, right after "Lassie" came
"National Velvet", the television show every horse-loving female
baby boomer raced through her homework to see. Velvet Brown was
this cute kid, just about our size, with adults who took her deadly
serious and a wise, almost-handsome Irishman named Micah who not
only treated her as an equal (this is where the TV series began to
resemble science-fiction to a kid), but respected her riding
ability even over his own. Naturally, there was some awful riding
accident in his past that allowed this situation to exist but who
minded the reason? (Except maybe Micah.)
But the best part was King.
No stodgy, furry pony named "Dumpling" for
Velvet. She had a thoroughbred. And not just any sleek 17-hand
chestnut with a single blaze and perfect conformation and
temperament but one who, of course, was capable of winning the
Grand National. It was the ultimate horse fantasy. And every Sunday
night, thousands of would-be Velvets watched and dreamed and lived
Then, of course, there was Mr. Ed.
Although not exactly what a horse-starved
girl dreamed of, he, at least, was a horse and therefore preferable
over "The Three Stooges" or "My Mother The Car."
Unless you live on a farm or come from a
horse family (two groups neither of which were even remotely
connected to my circle of schoolgirl friends), daydreams and
play-galloping in your backyard were the limits of the fulfillment
of your horse obsession. There would be long, somehow exciting
hours of studying the anatomy of the horse from library books with
your friends, flipping through old tack catalogues that somebody's
uncle's son had left when they were visiting or playing with the
corrals of horse figures you all inevitably had.
Once in awhile the opportunity would come up,
through a traveling carnival or the like, to be perched on a horse
tied to a pole and trudged around in a circle. This did nothing to
diminish the obsession, interestingly enough.
Once or twice, there would be the odd guided
trail ride; only serving to severely cement the dementia caused by
the love of a little girl for these beloved, wonderful beasts.
My parents--noting the signs of horse
craziness in their eight-year old--would allow me to accompany one
or some of their adult friends who occasionally had a wild hair to
go for a guided hack. This was not a romp through someone's
well-tended Long Island estates, mind, but a very orderly, i.e.
single file, walk through narrow trails in upstate New York where
we were living at the time.
I would grip the big Western saddle horn with
both hands and feel the bumps and sways of the beast beneath me,
invariably named "Jet" or "Star" or "Lucky" in those days. A visit
to a stable today will find ponies named "RockStar" or "Mambo" or
"Wicked Boy". But in 1959, life enjoyed a sweeter time, a gentler
I would joggle along, my legs bouncing in the
short stirrups, and I would smell the musky nastiness of the animal
while I longed, with my whole heart, to never be parted from him,
to bring him home and stake him out next to the Super BlueJay Swing
Set I shared with my three brothers, so that I could always smell
him and run my fingers through his tangled, dirty mane and look
into this beautiful, loving eyes.
ust why a girl falls prey to horse-love is
not entirely clear. Why a little girl and not a little boy or not
usually a little boy, is likewise not too clear. In most cases, the
girl is pre- or early adolescent when the interest in horses
becomes predominate. Boys seem to get into it later, but with a lot
less emotion or intensity. Some people answer the "why" questions
with the belief that there is a deep-seated psycho sexual
attraction involved in this girl-loves-Flicka syndrome. Big,
powerful horse...petite, more powerful girl. Girl dominates and
loves the horse in ways she can't dominate and love...what? Men?
There is a theory that young girls will often
become obsessive about horses because they're going through an
unstable and eruptive stage in their lives--the dreaded
pre-teens--and the horse is a friend who will not only tolerate
their every mood, but give them a safe way to express themselves
and sort out some of the feelings adolescence brings. No
criticisms, no questions, no judgments. If you've ever looked into
the dark, empathetic eyes of a pony or sloe-eyed mare, you could
not have doubted that the animal understands you. (You would, of
course, be wrong, but perception is everything in times like these.
Especially to a kid.)
Horses are also a great outlet for active,
even aggressive, feelings. Competitiveness and rough 'n tumble play
are more socially acceptable in a girl when there's a horse
involved. You can live your dream of being Dale Evans--or better,
Pancho Villa--raising great wafts of black dust behind you as you
gallop to the aid of some threatened village or distraught
stagecoach, and not even be called a tomboy.
Heavy metal music and video games not
withstanding, girls still play-act and dream. And when they do,
chances are they're dreams of romance and adventure: cowgirls and
Arabian warriors, Amazons and plucky Indian scouts. All you needed
was your trusty pony and some heart.
And a ten-year old girl has that in
Being horse-crazy is naturally accompanied by
much begging and nagging of parental units. I'm not sure too many
of my little playmates really expected a pony to result from their
constant asking but it seemed the thing to do, and felt a fairly
minimal effort in the cause of horse hysteria. Again, I never
really knew anyone who actually owned a horse or pony and so the
reality of it seemed pretty far from me.