MEET A MEMBER – Pauline Ling Winter 2021

Pauline is 82 years old and lives in Herefordshire with her husband and their two dogs.  Brought up in Yorkshire, Pauline married Tim and for many years they ran a farm in Pembrokeshire, before moving to their current home, which they have converted from an old, dilapidated farmhouse and mill into a beautiful home complete with acres of grazing and a new lake. 

Pauline’s local IHRT is Gillian Bradley, and she has become one of Gill’s favourite clients.  Her first big project for Pauline was the spooky Rodney (see Wrapping up Rodney issue??) and since then she visits twice a week to work with her other various horses and ponies too.  As Gill says “I always put Pauline’s slot at the end of the day as her horsey book collection is fab and worth delving into, with some interesting old books in there.  And she also has fab photo albums with stories of past and retired horses, so we both enjoy a good old chat, cup of tea and a biscuit after having had a fun time out training the ponies.”

The friendship is clearly reciprocated by Pauline.  “I’m absolutely pleased as punch that I met her (Gill).  I think she loves coming.  I think she loves working with these youngsters, we just clicked really.   You know, I’ve learnt a lot.  If you don’t learn it over 50 years, you’re an idiot!  And I think it’s nice that you can pass it on to somebody who will take it on board.”

Pauline’s experience is vast and it is quickly apparent that she is not only a great font of knowledge, but is also generous with her time and wisdom, all delivered in her fun, no nonsense style.  A successful breeder of both horses and ponies, she has a great collection of stories and anecdotes from working with Harvey Smith to breeding HOYS show ponies.

Brought up in Yorkshire, Pauline spent what sounds like an idyllic childhood with the freedom to ride about the moors and explore at will.  “Growing up in the Dales was gorgeous.  There was no traffic in those days and we could go out for hours.  You could ride all morning, ride your pony back for lunch and then go out again for the rest of the day.  That doesn’t happen anymore, I wouldn’t want to swap my childhood”.   

The local riding school was small, with just 6 children, but they had a lot of fun.  One day, finally Pauline got her own pony.  Although she may not have known it at the time, this pony played a big part in educating her about the value of patience and taking time.   “She was quite ordinary.  I didn’t really know what I was doing as I’d only ridden riding school ponies.  I took her out and I got halfway to where I thought I was going and she said no thanks, downed tools and stood like a rock.  So I had to get off and lead.  And we did that for about 4 months.  Then finally the penny dropped for both of us that we’d better get on with it.  So we did, and we never looked back!” 

They became a great partnership and had a lot of fun together.  “I never realised it at the time, but that’s the sort of pony that children feel comfortable on.  It’s not going to turn round and gallop home.  It’s not going to rear.  It’s not going to peep at every single gateway.  And once you’ve twigged what each other are doing, you just do it!”

With the help of her pony, Pauline learned about hunting and that was a great passion.  As Pauline observes, the mare was just right as she was steady.  She got sharp enough out hunting to be fun, but she was safe.  But she recalls “There would be kids in tears because their parents had put them on hot heads.  They’d be crying ‘I’m frightened’.  Why can’t parents listen to what their children are feeling?  They’re not riding the ponies, the children are!”

(Later Pauline also discovered a passion for beagling, where the followers are on foot rather than mounted.  According to Pauline, the trick to keeping up with the hounds is to wear hockey boots and a skirt and have a couple of rum & blackcurrants beforehand!)

Her experiences as a child put her in great stead as a pony breeder later in life, and the need to produce ponies that children feel safe on.

She stresses the importance of children having ponies that they can just enjoy.  Not to win endless rosettes (although that can be fun) but to get on and just love, without the pressure or worries of being over-horsed.  To feel safe and have the confidence to try.  To give them the space to simply spend time with the pony.  “We’ve always said we don’t want to breed ponies that will win HOYS, although we have.  We want to breed ponies that children can get on and enjoy.”  

Her biggest concern is the lack of time and knowledge people seem to have now.  They want ready-made ponies and producers are tempted to rush youngsters.  “A lot of farmers’ children used to buy ponies, take them on, get them going and sell them on again.  But they’re not doing that these days.  So that middle gap is a serious concern.  Kids want the ready-made ponies, and the mothers don’t know enough to do the job.”

She adds “It takes time, you need to put 4 years in to produce a pony and you need to know what you’re doing.  People say oh it’s 4 it should be doing this, doing that.  It doesn’t matter if the horse is 4 or 14 if it’s not ready.  They haven’t got that space in their brains where they know how old they are.  Give a horse patience and it will come back in spades.” 

I asked what Pauline’s advice would be for parents of a child who wants to learn to ride. “To be honest, if they don’t know enough about the job, take them to a place that does!  Take them to a local riding school.  I can’t think of any better answer than that.    Riding schools have been through it with Covid and they need our support.  And don’t just dump the child there and leave, you need to sit there and watch what happens, because you’re not going to learn anything if you don’t.”

She notes how some parents think you can just simply buy a pony.  They spend money on a smart lorry and buy land and an expensive pony, but they haven’t actually spent the time to learn how to look after it.   “Leave it to the people that know.  These riding school ponies are heroes.  They work hard but they’re in a system, they have routine, they understand their job.”    

Pauline certainly knows what she’s talking about and has bred some fantastic ponies over the years.  Two notable ponies were out of her part-bred Arab mare, Fiona; Forester, a 13hh show hunter pony went to HOYS twice, and his full brother Mr Chips who was bought by Princess Anne for her daughter Zara Phillips. 

“Forester was just class.  He went to HOYS for two years running and got placed second and then third. But he just loved his job and was a king in the ring.  You’ve got ponies that hate their job, but are trying to do it.  If the pony’s loving what he’s doing he’ll give you more and you’ll get the feeling back of what it’s like to be a partnership.”

He was produced for Pauline by Sarah Baker, who did such a good job that a 12 year old novice child was able to ride him in in the notoriously buzzy main ring at HOYS for the finals.  “Sarah is a real artist, quiet and thorough.  People like that are getting rarer.” 

Money was tight, but it certainly didn’t stop Pauline from breaking through on the showing scene.  “I’m not a show off, but I know getting to HOYS was really about putting in the hours.  I worked night shift in a nursing home to pay for that, and day care and we did a milk round too.  When we first qualified for HOYS we set off in Sarah’s lorry taking a few hammers, nails and screwdrivers in case any bits pinged off the lorry on the way!  And we got there and we ended up parked next to the Bamfords with their posh lorry and the kids in a Rolls Royce!  Fair do’s to Forester, he came second, but only missed the top spot by ½ a point.  It’s not what you turn up in at these shows, it’s what comes out of it.”

Driving around the local shows was no different, in the Ling’s own horsebox that was a converted British Telecom lorry.  The children called it Thunder Guts.  “I had to stand up in the cab to change gear!  There was a hole at the front where the telegraph poles used to poke out of, so the ponies had a window.  And there were no springs on the back so I used to have to take a child with me to help with the ramp as I couldn’t do it on my own!”   

Showing and breeding has been a life’s work for Pauline.  “I am competitive.  I love to win.  I do, especially on a pony I’ve bred, which I started when I was 24 I think.  I l just love to beat the producers!

I wanted to know what was the key to her success? “It’s just my passion to see young horses coming on nicely, growing up properly, having the belief in what people are asking them to do, not being messed around.  Giving them nice quiet producers to take them on and selling them to children who will love a nice pony.  That’s my bit.

If they don’t love their job, there’s something wrong with making them do it.  It’s a basic understanding of what you’re asking and giving them the space to work out what it is you want them to do.” 

This appreciation of patient horsemanship leads us on to her friendship with a fellow Yorkshireman, the legendary showjumper of the 1960s and 70s Harvey Smith, (father of showjumper Robert Smith). “That’s how Harvey Smith made a living.  He’d take horses that had gone wrong and give them time.  He’d hack them out on the moors, give them plenty of turn out.  Not these poor horses that are locked in half their life and never see grass.  Harvey used to take horses from people that had got ruined and put them right.  Him and Ted Edgar, all those people, that’s what they did, they knew what the horses needed and they made the best out of what they’d got.”  She adds with a chuckle “I have a picture in my head of Harvey sat bareback on Warpaint, slurping from a mug of tea and his son Robert sat up with him sucking on a lollipop!”  Harvey had bought Warpaint for a song as he had gone sour; later the same horse went on to win bronze with him at the European Championships in Rome 1963.  (Whilst researching old photos for this article, I found an iconic image of Harvey and 3 year old Robert hacking out bareback and hatless, again on Warpaint, mooching over the moors above Bingley.)

“People always used to have the time, whereas now it seems they don’t.  You have to put in the time, or you’re wasting your time.”

Pauline and Tim didn’t just stick with ponies, and they bred some classy horses too.  I asked what her proudest achievement was (her first answer was sticking with her husband!).  But also reminiscing about a lovely young racehorse they had.  “We took on a beautifully chase bred 3yo mare who had fallen through a lorry floor.  I was given her, and we dressed the wounds up and I kept at it until I got the scars right down to the size of a penny.  She went onto bred us some lovely steeplechasers including one who went on to give Bob Champion his first win after he’d been diagnosed with cancer.”

These days Pauline can often be found in her art studio on the farm.  “I trained at Bradford as a textile designer at the same time that David Hockney was there, it was a really good college.  But then I married a farmer so I couldn’t do it we were too busy.  I picked it up again later.  My son (Simon Ling) is a very talented artist and has exhibited at the Tate. He’s got a studio here (on the farm) and a studio in London.”  The flair clearly runs in the family, as her son Chris worked in textiles in London and also is a talented writer. 

Pauline’s son Tony works in London in finance, and his daughter Mia has inherited her Granny’s passion for horses.  “My granddaughter goes to a local very good riding school.  She’s 14 and has a natural ability.  It’s nice to see her coming on and she wants to be a vet, and it’s nice to see the interest going through her.  I just sit here being granny now!”

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