The very idea that a horse might be able to talk was ridiculous. And yet that was the premise of a funny American TV Show called "Mr Ed". I can still hear the theme song now - "A horse is a horse, of course, of course/ And no one can talk to a horse of course/ That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed!"
The show was first aired in 1961 and ran for six seasons. The star of the show was a palomino called Bamboo Harvester.
I hadn't thought of "Mr Ed" for years until this very afternoon when I was walking through the village of Millthorpe. I had just passed the entrance to Cordwell Farm when a grey-white gelding galloped towards the galvanised gate to his field in order to check me out.
I scratched his cheek and patted his neck and emitted a few sentences including, "There's a good boy!", "I haven't got any food for you!" and "I don't really like horses!"
Then I carried on my way, not realising that there was another gate further along the hedgerow. Sure enough, the horse galloped along to this second gate and once again put his great big equine head over the top bar.
I ignored him and carried on, I had only taken a couple of strides when I heard a voice saying quite clearly, "And I don't like people!" I turned round and shook my head rapidly. There was nobody there just the damned horse. I did a double take.
The horse chuckled, showing his big horsey teeth, "Don't look so surprised pal! Horses are more intelligent than you might think!" His voice was deep but unlike Mr Ed, he spoke in a broad Derbyshire accent. To say I was astonished would be to make a massive understatement.
A couple of cars passed by and a wave of self-consciousness passed over me. After all, I was standing on the roadside talking to a ruddy horse! If anybody saw me they would think that I was a nutcase. Perhaps I am. I had to pinch myself to confirm that this encounter was not just happening in my head.
The horse asked for my name so I asked for his. He is called Noddy and he is six years old. There was another horse in the field called Blaze but Noddy described him as "Thick as two short planks. He can't talk like me pal."
I laughed and then Noddy said, "Fancy a ride Mr Pud?"
"What do you mean?"
"A ride round the field on me back!"
"But you haven't got a saddle and I haven't got a riding helmet!"
"You'll be okay. I'll take it easy. Ever been on a horse?"
I could only remember one other occasion. It was when I was a camp counsellor in Ohio. We were trotting along a woodland path in a line and then my horse bolted. It was all I could do to hang on. Perhaps that nameless horse had been stung or spooked in some other way.
I used the gate to climb up on Noddy's back. He snorted and whinnied and then he began a gentle trot around his field. Blaze watched in bemusement. And then I realised that Noddy's gentle trot was turning into a run.
My bottom bounced painfully upon his spine as I clasped his mane. Noddy was laughing but I was begging him to stop. The run had turned into a full blown gallop and I was terrified about falling off. Briefly, I pictured myself in traction in a hospital bed but I needn't have worried. "Stop! Stop!" I yelled. Noddy slowed down and took me back to the gate so that I could dismount.
"I enjoyed that!" he declared.
"Good for you!" I said, with my legs wide apart like John Wayne. My arse (American: ass) felt as sore and swollen as a baboon's red butt.
"Will you come again?" asked Noddy.
"Well please bring carrots next time. And maybe an apple or two. Not those cooking apples. The sweet ones!"
I smiled and patted Noddy on his neck then he snorted and bounded off across the field again.
Walking through the fields to Horsleygate and up the hill to Holmesfield, I reminded myself that he is only six years old. Not the kind of horse with which one could have a serious, adult conversation but I still plan to bring him carrots and sweet apples.