I have a weakness. Horses. Since I took my first breath, these became my nemesis. The amount of money spent, hardship felt, and both physical and mental pain fashioned by these creatures is insurmountable. I think I could have paid off the national debt if I had ploughed the same amount of cash into it as I have on my horses. I suspect there is many a vet whose children have had the privilege of a private education on the back of my equine bills. But it’s in the blood. Simple. No amount of therapy or broken bones will cure that one, we are inescapably entwined.
My three bovine babies are full of character, and have three very different personalities. Snowberry is the eternal mother, gentle, sweet-natured and friendly; Buckthorn has a kind eye and is friends with those that spend time with her. She knows what she likes and likes what she knows. Willow is more aloof and will honour me with her presence if there is something in it for her, but she is happy and accepts me as part of the herd. All three come when they are called by name and have a ponchance for bread, barley, grass – in fact any food that is considered a sweetie in cow terms. They have grown, matured, had babies and are part of our 32 strong breeding cows that run with our pedigree Limousine bull (Hercules). The herd’s offspring make up about another 70 ‘beasts’ – as they are affectionately named.
My horse, Capote (Ca- poe –tay) is a stunning Spanish PRE – a pure-blooded, hot-headed, fire storm of a horse; deeply sensitive, spiritual, charismatic, with a plethora of emotions and expressions. Routines need to be firmly established, behaviour patterns negotiated, and as all Yorkshire men acknowledge: he ‘likes what he knows and knows what (or whom) he likes – and is not backward in coming forward in telling me. One might even stretch to a diagnosis of autism – he is that ‘Yorkshire’- a true Yorkshire Spaniard. He was brought over from Spain as a ‘backed’ but unbroken four year old. He still bears the scar on his nose that Spanish purebreds carry – from the serrated blade used to ‘encourage’ a perfect head carriage. Fashion is a cruel friend for horse and human alike.
Capote is my soul mate, my best friend and he will stay by my side for the remainder of our days – until whichever of us will meet our maker first. There is a very real likelihood that it will be me, as riding him is like mounting a nuclear warhead. As one highly skilled 4* eventer commented, approaching a fence on him was like flooring a Ferrari. I know the feeling well. He is everything I dreamed of, from the days of childhood to the creeping oppression of middle age. Quite simply, he is perfect.
Bishop Burton 2015
My dream from the earliest of my memories, in the days of ‘Sundancer and Anna’, was to follow the footsteps of the famous: Lucinda Green, Ginny Elliot, Princess Anne and become an eventer. Nothing beats, or even comes close to the thrill of flying a horse over fences cross country. The feeling of two hearts, one body, wind-whipped tears and thundering hooves, then nothing but suspension of flight and pure energy as the ground fast approaches before the thunder returns. In my dreams I fly the 4*s of Badminton and Burghley, but in my waking life I struggle, with my heart in my mouth, over the BE90s. I will never be more than the sum of my total, but that is far better than being the sum of missed opportunities. I have my horse. He flies with me. He breaks my bones, he empties my purse. He sees me and calls to me. There is nothing that comes close.
Casey Jones, Capote and Tara at the back
Capote lives in our little herd consisting of Casey Jones – a neurotic, effeminate, Welshman (Section B for those in the know) and Tara, my mother’s Welsh Section D-cross matriarch. I swear the cross is guinea pig. They have their place and hierarchy, and Tara keeps the boys in check. They love her really. Maintaining the herd is a life’s work. Farriers call every 6 weeks, an equine physiotherapist every 3 months, and dentist every 9 months. Not to mention the vet. Or the instructors, who stand hand on hips, pained expressions and feigned tolerance as we negotiate the complexities of dressage or leap like kangaroos over showjumps. I will make it to Badminton, I will. The mantra resounds round the fog of my brain. Left rein, right leg, shoulder in, don’t fall out, talk through the bit, look to the bend, more impulsion, forward the trot. The instructions rattle like machine gun bullets. I will make Badminton, I will. Even if I am just a spectator…
Horses are high maintenance – in every sense. I am blessed with a team of highly skilled professionals that keep me sane. Huw Dyer and his lads are the farriers of choice that any horse would dream of. They are kind, incredibly talented perfectionists, where nothing is too much trouble. I would be lost without them , as would my horses hooves. They appear like Mr Ben, every 6 weeks with smiles and banter and work their magic. The saying is so true – no foot, no ‘oss. These boys know their onions. The young lads learn their trade from the boss, who guides and steers them under watchful eyes.
Watch and learn
Then there is Tim Jarman. I envy my horse. Tim has magic hands. Once every three months Capote has the luxury of Tim’s hands. He irons out knots and loosens tightness, strokes and pummels and pulls and twists. I stand, holding the end of a lead rope, feeling more tight and twisted and knotted and sore as he works. Capote breaths and sinks and smiles and sleeps. I’m not surprised. In my next life, I’m coming back as my horse.
The legend that is Tim
I perhaps don’t envy the visit from the dentist. Dan Astle-Carter is a gentle, sensitive and intuitive professional that wheels a bloody great drill. He is the dentist from the future, a young man willing to learn and teach, whose holistic belief has changed the future for my horses. Before the days of Dan, Casey Jones was in trouble. His mouth was b*ggered. Years of dentistry from charlatans had taken their toll. Case was doomed. Dan and his drill then performed their miracle, now Case, Capote and Tara have film star smiles. Dan is another of my equine heroes.
Dan the dentist – not sure what Capote is thinking…
That’s a big drill!
The vets that keep the horses fine-tuned are the famous crew from Skeldale: Peter Wright, Julian Norton, Helen, Tim and Sarah all have casted their experienced gaze upon my four-legged friends. I love them and trust them. They are simply the best. The Yorkshire Vets are aptly named. Genuine and gorgeous just as the programme portrays, these highly skilled professionals poke orifices, stick in needles, cogitate and collaborate. Their touch is gentle and their knowledge is strong. My horses are safe in their hands.
Peter Wright – the archetypal Yorkshire Vet
Julian Norton, the Yorkshire Vet (with Kiki & Khufu)
It has long been said that Capote has film star looks. I think so. No rose-coloured glasses can deceive the eye. He is utterly lovely. The team from the Yorkshire Vet television series thought so too and he appears in his cameo role in series one, but then took centre stage in series four (episode four) when my poor baby developed a rash. Only Capote could do this in such style. Not one or too concealable blobs, but a monumental array of lumps. Small pox would have looked better. We evented at Bishop Burton Horse Trials amongst quizzical gazes, as onlookers stared at this spotty oik. No tossing mane and snorting fire dragon, just spots. Lots of spots. As we jogged around and stormed the fences, gasps of awe and wonder filled my mind. Indeed there were gasps – of shock and horror. Capote had acne. Months ensued of vets and examinations, prodding and poking, allergy responses and money. The film crew pricked up their ears. My chance of fame – of Badminton and Burghley and 4* and … spots. The episode is aired next week. I await with bated breath. I love my horse, spots and all. After all the money and tests and stress, a simple packet of anti-histamines did the trick. Good old eBay.