School’s out

Most of the narrative here has been centred on school where friends (and a few foes) were made. Oddly enough my life outside school was just as busy, in fact more so.

From 1960 to the time I left Rhyl in 1972 my life outside school centred round horse-riding, sailing and treading the boards at Rhyl Little Theatre.

Initially, while still at primary school, I developed a love of horses and around 1960 I started Sunday morning riding lessons at the stables of Justin Roythorne (or Hawthorn).

Justin (Roythorne or Hawthorn) down on Rhyl beach with a young woman I believe was called Heather.

I remember going to the stables and being surrounded by the smell of horse sweat and leather. There were youngsters and older children, possibly 15-years-old or more.

Many of them seemed completely at ease with the horses and were bustling around putting bridles on horses and ponies before grabbing saddles and flinging them across the backs of the animals.

To this day I still cannot remember why I wanted to ride.

Could it have been images from Saturday morning cinema of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, or Roy Rogers?

I don’t know, but I do know when I first mounted a horse at Justin’s (well a pony actually, a very small pony called Gracie) I felt at home.

Before this, however, I had been shown how to check if the girth strap was just right: not too loose and not too tight.

I believe that first Sunday we trotted in single file to a nearby field where we newcomers were gradually schooled in horsemanship while older hands were being taken over jumps at the other end of the field.

This was to be my Sunday morning routine for almost three years.

I graduated from Gracie to a larger pony, a brown and white piebald, and towards the end of my time there a proper horse.

The high point, however, was when I joined the group who were taken down to the beach at low tide for a good, hard gallop.

A group of riders on the beach ready for a gallop.

Before this, however, I had started getting to the stables early and was allowed to check the tack, fitting the reins and halter and even saddling up.

It was valuable to learn all this if you are ever going to be even a half-decent rider.

The ponies and horses got to know me and trust me and I would even stay around after lessons and give a hand unsaddling horses which would get a break while others went out for the second session.

There was an extra thrill when I was told that if I arrived early enough the following Sunday I could go over with some of Justin’s regular riders to the field where the horses were kept overnight during good weather.

This wasn’t just a case of leading horses back to the stables. First we had to catch them. Six of us after about 18 horses took time.

I was left with the gentler horses my first time. Once caught we had to put the bridles on them making sure they got the bit properly in their mouths. Catch one: put on the bridle; loop the reins over a nearby fence rail; catch the next horse.

Once we had them all ready we would each mount our chosen steed – bareback – and take the reins of the other two horses in one hand while using the other and our knees to guide our horse back to the stables.

That was a wonderful moment when you could handle a horse with one hand and your knees. Even better was learning to take a low jump without the use of reins. That’s when you know you had really made it.

One thing we were warned about when going to the beach was that sometimes a horse would roll, dropping on its side and rolling in the sand. You had to know the precise moment to jump clear in order to prevent your leg being crushed. You then had to get it back up quickly and get back in the saddle.

Fortunately none of my horses ever rolled.

There was one day, however, that the early morning riders had to stifle their laughter.

Justin was riding his big grey, called Sovereign (I think), and was wearing a new sheepskin jacket (it was a chilly day).

We had been on a gallop and then slowed down eventually to a walk. We were by a number of shallow pools of sea water. All of a sudden Sovereign decided to roll. Justin just got clear in time but he rolled straight into a salt water pool.

I don’t remember seeing him in that jacket again.

Justin sans sheepskin coat.

They were fun days but life got so busy that something had to go. It was the riding. Not that I didn’t ride again. During my sojourn in Australia in the 80s I took up riding again and it was as though I had never been away from horses.

Next time: All at sea.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

6 thoughts on “School’s out

  1. Justin kept some horses in the ‘horse or gorse fields’ off Lynton Walk and bordered by the railway and the Cut probably still owned then by the Rees family. There were a few jumps erected in the fields which on occasion were victims of John Bridge Williams passion for pipe bombs – deadly devices which we were lucky to survive. One of Justins horses appeared in our garden one night at the end of the cul de sac,14 Trehearn drive. It had previously visited without our knowledge apart from the appearance of hoof prints in the lawn. Apparently a companion horse had been removed from the ‘horse’ fields causing the remaining horse to leap the fence and head our way. Justin came for the horse and I hope us having fed it Quaker porridge oats was not a no no. Wish the Cut was still open and as clean as in the 1950’s. Regards Peter T.

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  2. I remember the cut. You could follow the path from Gange Road to Vale Road and about half way along there was big patch of rough ground which had been turned into a BMX style track. You just had to be careful not to end up in the cut. There was a rope hanging off a tree branch which we used to.se to swing across the cut and back.

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  3. I knew Justin. He was a real character who ran a very successful riding school in the 50s and early 60s. It was interesting to hear of your love of horses…I didn’t know we had that in common.

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    1. Always loved horses but in the 60s so much was happening that something had to go. Did ride in Australia though.
      That was the only time I fell off a horse.
      We were in the paddock and something must have spooked Red. He reared back slightly and I landed flat on my back with all the wind knocked out of me.
      The stable owner just said: “Can you stand? Then get back on the horse.”
      Which I did.

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  4. ‘Our’ section of the Cut was from Tynewydd Rd, ran parallel to Lynton Walk and could with mounting fear be followed via the tunnel under the railway to come out by the Grammar school fields. I am reading with enjoyment your other episodes. Surprised by the amount of mutual friends / aquaintances as I ceased school in Rhyl ( Christ Church) just turning 8 and then went to St Chads Prestayn then Wrekin in Shropshire. I knew Ian Cowx for a time through Mike Cash and I expect you knew Richard Heath and the late Gary Daltry who were also Mike Cash’s friends from Rhyl Grammar. The Parker twins became friends as we operated in similar circles. Nice to read that they helped you. I did not know Dave Christley had passed away presuming he is Pete Christleys brother and cousin to the Parkers. Regards.

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    1. Did Mike Cash have a sister Rosemary who played cello? If so I went out with her for a while in the late 60s. Took her to some classical concerts. We eventually parted company. I think at that time I didn’t deserve a nice girl like her.
      The Parker boys were great pals.
      I’m not sure about Dave’s relationship to Pete Christley.
      I hope you enjoy later extracts from my life in Rhyl.
      Stay safe

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