What’s in a Name?

We often hear the expression’what’s in a name?’…  and I often think there is much more to a name than might be assumed.  This was confirmed for me recently when I read an article in one of the Sunday magazines that certain names e.g. Anne, George, Susan were happy people, whereas apparently those who went by Molly, James and Joan were sad.  Actually I’m just plucking these names out of the air, and it could well have been the other way round!… but the point is, certain experts believe ones choice of name for a child can make all the difference, and I would actually agree with that – from my own experience.

I also think names are hugely important for animals.  In my own case, it somehow seems more than coincidence that the ponies and horses who have played the biggest part in my life should have a connecting first letter.  Some of you may dismiss this, but may I just say that the letters ‘P’ and  ‘T’ really do have special significance for me.  Consider this!

The very first riding lesson I ever had was on a beautiful black pony called Privet.  He was the pride and joy of a young girl who lived close to us in Midlothian, on a nearby farm.  She coached me on Privet – who gave me that first unforgettable canter – by running alongside us in the cold of the Christmas holidays.  I can still remember my frozen fingers and toes, and the frosting on the trees, but the sheer exhilaration of being in the saddle at last is a magical memory!  Sadly, she went back to university in early January, and then I think poor Privet got sold because I never saw him or her again.

Such was my desire to continue, my father then managed to find me a ‘proper’ riding school.  Looking back, it may not have been that ‘proper’ but with 4 ponies all at different levels it seemed very grand at the time.  I was put on Pixie, a small dun pony of about 11.2 who looked after me beautifully all that idyllic year.  We rode in a felt saddle with a crupper and I had my first jump on her, over a series of sticks and logs in a wood on Dalmahoy estate which is still there today.  Patient Pixie taught me a lot, so did Mr Nicols her owner.

Mr Nicols then found me my own first pony.  He was a smart grey Welsh, 13.2 and pretty hot headed.  He frequently ran away with me on my solo excursions into the woods, but I absolutely adored him so told no one.  His name was Tommy and Tommy lived with us until I went to London at the age of 21.  Then, getting on in years and infinitely more sensible, he was requested by the laird of Dalmahoy for his small son Stewart - now the Lord Aberdour! - where he stayed until he died.

In between all this I had started my own small riding school and my first purchase for this was Polly a stunning black mare, whom I bought at Kelso sales.  (I did not know then that one day I would live at Kelso, but perhaps Polly was the connection – it always held great nostalgia for me).   In fact Stewart’s father was bidding against me for Polly and after she was mine, came up to congratulate me, saying ‘you’ve got a good eye for a horse Sylvia… good luck with her!’  Polly stayed with us until eventually at the age of 36 and long since retired and in the care of my parents when I moved to Portugal (another ‘P’), she died.

Then came my darling skewbald Trigger my second serious pony after I’d outgrown Tommy.  With Trigger I went to Pony Club Camp and at the local shows and gymkhanas experienced the thrill of winning red and blue rosettes for the first time in my life.  Trojan came next, a pony that was deemed unrideable by his then owners, but one who I was able somehow to train to a semblance of good manners and who finally became soft as butter.  I hasten to add that none of these names were chosen by me… the Ts and Ps just kept on arriving, including Tango – a little ex-beach pony who was adored by the children whom I taught in the holidays.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  What I will tell you is there were more Ts and Ps in between, but after Henry died and I was forced to close down our huge equestrian centre at Stoke-by-Clare, Suffolk, my life changed again with the purchase of Palomo.  The story of how Palomo came to me is recorded in a couple of my books, but suffice to say he completely changed my life.  If it hadn’t been for him I would probably be doing some other job now – I had thought about going into Politics, would you believe!? – but how could I when I had such a wonderful and natural schoolmaster?

When I lost Palomo, our horse whispering friend Peter Neilson came around one day to look at my other horses.  We talked about Palomo and he said, ‘you realize Palomo will send forth his successor?’ ‘Is he here?’ I said politely, hoping he’d point out Espada who was gazing snootily over his door. ‘No, it’s not him – but you’ll know when he comes...’ came the enigmatic reply. About a year later, another grey stallion arrived on the yard.

His name was Prazer.  It was another P.  Prazer who stars in Sensitive Schooling as a youngster and then again, in the latter series,  has turned out to be a wonderful schoolmaster for the more competent rider.   Espada – who only really likes his mum on board – is not a natural teacher and can be quite grudging.  To be truthful, Peter’s words (oops!… Peter begins with P too – this gets more and more eerie as I write…) only came back to me after Prazer had been here a good 6 months.  He had come as a schooling livery, having belonged to a charming couple Richard and Melanie Jones.  It was only when they rang up to say, they were going to emigrate to New Zealand and I agreed to buy Prazer, that Peter’s words came back to me.  ‘You will know when he comes.’

As I sit and write this, with my faithful dog Tosca at my side and Pansy, our cat on my lap -  I can’t help thinking – there’s a lot more to a name than you’d think.


Addendum: Our family has always had a habit of making nicknames out of proper names.  Tommy's nickname was Tomar - where that came from who knows - but my parents used it use it as well as me and he was probably called Tomar more than Tommy at the end.  Well, by coincidence, the town nearest to Golega where they hold the great annual Horse Fair in Portugal - and where I have spent so many happy days - is also called Tomar.  None of us had ever been to Portugal in those days and knew very little about it... so I do find this quite a coincidence, looking back.   And every time today, I drive through or past Tomar today - well yes, of course - I think of Tommy.

Picture - Sylvia (aged 10) and Tommy


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