J. L. Brunel’s brother (left) sits on Ponto, a pony that carried all the children in his family to and from school at Kaikōura in the 1920s. His sister is on a horse called Midnight.
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Often children who attended country schools in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s had to ride to school on horses or ponies. For young children this could be daunting, as Mrs D. McGregor recalls: ‘When I was about seven years old my father lost his farm at Fordell in the slump and my mother bought a farm at Mākino Road, eight miles from Feilding and three miles from Mākino School. There was only one way to get there – ride – so I left home on the pony, noting a big heap of logs near our house. When it came time for me to go home the teacher would tell Les Rink to catch my pony, saddle it, and send me on my way, which he did, saying “go that way”. I watched for three miles for that pile of logs and I knew I was home.’
Many children shared a pony. One was Mr J. L. Brunel. ‘We lived on a rough little farm in the foothill of Mt Fyffe, Kaikōura. We had quite a few ponies over the years, the most notable being one called Kitty. There were seven of us in the family and all went to school on her, just a bit short of four miles, riding bareback of course – we never had a saddle – mostly two at a time. Kitty, a little Shetland pony, must have been foaled about 1920. My oldest brother would have ridden her to school when he was seven years old. I was number six in the family, with a brother four years younger. I remember he would go to sleep with his chin on my shoulder. My next pony was a little jet-black one that had been a stud stallion and he was much different to Kitty. You had to ride him with his head tucked under your knee, let the reins go loose and Master Ponto would be off – he would gallop himself to a standstill.’
Accidents could happen. Mrs N. Johnson (then Betty Frost) recalls one when riding to Turiwiri School near Dargaville with her friend Mabel Bartlett on Mabel’s horse. ‘Carrying my school case was not easy, and as I shifted it to be more comfortable the horse took fright. It was immediately after this I saw a big hill and brilliant stars, and I’ll never forget them. They faded into the distance, and I found myself on the grass by the side of the road. Mabel had recovered quicker than me, and was preparing to go and get the horse, which a farmer had caught further down the road. We rode the horse the rest of the way to school, but we were late. No, the teacher did not accept our excuse – we got the cane for being late.’
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