It all started in the year of er, well - the year Ian Botham smashed the Aussies! A deal had been arranged - I'd learn to ride and Shirley would learn to sail. I'd learned to sail at a very early age, and used to spend hours in a small dinghy off the Welsh coast, and in the words of Arthur Ransome my father had the attitude "If duffers, better drowned, if not duffers, won't drown." and despite some fairly hairy moments somehow I didn't drown.
Shirley had learned to ride at a very early age, breaking several bones in the process and had had another break of a different sort, when boys suddenly appeared interesting.
A friend had bought an ancient Enterprise sailing dinghy which he and I spent many a happy hour refurbishing and generally crashing about on the Solent, including such exploits as the mast falling down due to broken rigging, the tiller and centreboard both breaking at the same time, and just for fun, cossing to the Isle Of Wight and on setting out to return found that the centreboard was jammed in the "up" position which made the return trip more than a little interesting. Another friend of a friend had a 33 foot sailboat on the Solent on which we spent some time but as Shirley wasn't allowed to do anything much she wanted to learn a bit more, so the deal was struck.
So - off we went to a jolly good riding school for a fortnight's intensive training. I say the school was jolly good, in that it wasn't of the "ok you can trot a bit, now here's some jumps", but dressage-based - perhaps more valuable, and less likely to put one off for life. Anyway I was paired up with Cardi an excellent Welsh Cob Gelding who I got on with extremely well, and Shirley (due to her previous experience) one class up with Ajax a little grey Cob, about whom the least said the better. To get that bit over with, Shirley tore a ligament on her first ride and spent a happy fortnight watching me being tortured.
By the end of the first week we had got on I suppose quite well, and passed the dressage test with flying colours. Actually I reckon it was mainly Cardi - he'd probably done it many times before, but at least he did need the right buttons pressing otherwise the results could be hilarious. That then allowed me to go out on a group hack (trail ride in other words) and it was at this point that the bug struck - the feeling of the power of the horse was wonderful, and the fact that when chased by a couple of dogs, Cardi and I did not part company and got everything back under control, rapidly and without panic! Hmm!
The second week I was swapped onto Ajax - aargh!! However, we got on ok, apart from his ability to remove a bridle and stick his head over the stable door laughing at you. I should have pointed out, we did everything - groom and tack the horses ourselves - excellent training.
After that experience things went very quiet, as we were searching for a house to replace our flat, which although very nice, being the top half of an old chapel, had no heating and was somewhat damp. Finally we found what we were looking for at a reasonable price and within walking distance of Shirley's school. Oh, and close to a good pub of course. And that's when the trouble struck again.
It was Shep's fault of course, as we were sitting at the bar having a quiet noggin, when in walked a nice family with their dog Shep, who took one look at Shirley and leaped onto her lap. After introductions all round we found that Betty and Jo also had horses, and off we went to look and have a ride of course. Ho Hum, and shortly after that a colleague of Shirley's mentioned that her daughter's horse was looking for a home as her daughter was away at College - a TB mare, Red Lady - available on trial and going complete with tack for the princely sum of £200!
Red Lady came and went as she failed the vet test. Sad really as she was a nice mare. So for a while we were without a horse, and to keep her hand in Shirley decided to go to a good riding school for lessons. As she didn't drive at that time, I had to ferry her back and forth after work, and despite their being a nice bar there started to feel left out, so signed up for a trial lesson. Bad mistake. After a short time, Shirley and I, along with a couple of other jolly souls, formed a medium level class and were used to try out the new horses. This was very valuable as one would ride each horse for say 10 minutes, swap over to the next, and then at the end of the lesson have to give a run-down on what we had found out - stiff left, no brakes, dead sides, whatever - very useful for later on. Oh and this school also did the "up and over" bit - gridwork with no reins, then bareback etc etc. Still I didn't fall off! And cross-country - did that too including one hilarious lesson on a large coloured object called Divine, in which we were to learn to trot downhill and over a few jumps. Hmm - never did get the trot bit as Divine took off like a rocket at every opportunity, despite having a fairly fierce looking Pelham fitted. After flying over the Ski-Jump and table a few times the intructor checked things out - hmm, shouldn't a Pelham have a curb chain fitted? I didn't know then - I do now!
Unfortunately Shirley had been allocated Crispin. T-Shirts were on sale - "I've Fallen Off Crispin" emblazoned on the front. Shirley did. Onto railway sleepers and via a swift sideways kick was put out of action for a long time. I never did get a T-shirt, but did look at the world through Crispin's ears on more that one occasion. Learned to stick on a horse though. Rumpole arrived - oooh! A really class horse at last - fabuluous jumper and I'd set my heart on him. Don't sell without letting me bid on him. Went on holiday and when we got back Rumpole was gone. Rats! So the idea of our own horse started to ferment, and I suggested to Shirley that as a necessity she should learn to drive. Job done - and as an aside she decided to quit teaching and got a job as a sales rep - covered 45,000 miles in a very rapid time.
So - off to look for a horse. Another TB, Basil, appeared to fit the bill, bought from a stable in Lambourne (oh-oh!), never raced or rallied we were told. Hmm - maybe not, but step off a road onto a sandy track and things got very exciting! And Basil hated cows, pigs, tractors and he and I managed to knock over a tree while running backwards from a tractor. Admittedly it was only a small tree, but we were beginning to feel that Basil wasn't for us. Sold to a riding school instructor, we heard later that he had a good career in Hyde Park. Hmm!
What next - had enough of TB's. Hmm - next one was Gold, a somewhat large object of indeterminate age, and uncertain breeding and disposition. We reckon a fair proportion of Suffolk Punch as he was as strong as an ox, and once we got him fit was virtually unstoppable and pulled like a train. Shirley unwisely took him on a 10-mile ride, and tore the ligaments in her arms. Bye Gold! We found out later when he had started his career as a school horse for large riders, that a customer had turned up - asked - is that horse's name Gold? - Yup - well I sold him as a retired field companion at 17 over six years ago! So we'd bought him at 23!
We then had a real disappointment when a superb Cob was available who had when younger been winner of Cob classes at The Horse of The Year show. Fabulous ride, well mannered and a delight to look at. Good price too - but things went a bit eely when we said we'd need to get a photo of him at Wembley - which year did he win? Er, um - oh! Suddenly he was off the market. Research indicated a slight discrepancy between his advertised age and his real one - sad, as we probably wouldn't have minded.
Smudge, another Cob of at least 18 years old came on loan - a great ride as I found out on the one and only time he was ridden in our care. After the ride I noticed a slight cloudiness on one eye - and not an old injury. It got worse despite the best vet care and Smudge had to be put down at the insistance of his owner. Glad I was at work that day as he was a really good horse.
At this time things went quiet again, as we were moving once again due to my job. On the way back from one unsuccessful house hunt Shirley mentioned that the stud we passed had a nice horse for sale - not yet advertised so would be less the advert cost. We stopped off to look. Oh dear. There was Daniel - 15hh 2in, palomino Welsh/Irish 7 yo Gelding. Shot back the next day to try him out. Well - excellent if a little green, (ding-ding should have gone the alarm bells!), but a good jumper and despite his carting me thought the muck-heap we decided to buy him. Only later did we find out he was really only a green-broke 4 year old, who proceeded to grow a few more inches and put on a fair amount of muscle, but he and I covered many, many miles over the next 10 years or so, until an injury caused by a fall over a jump caused arthritis to flare up in his shoulder. Retired now, Daniel spends his life grazing in company with another aged old boy. Oh, and the comments I got at work - how did the house hunting go? Great - got a nice Horse. Never could spell said the boss!
Meanwhile we needed something for Shirley. Coaster, another TB came and went in fairly short order. We then covered half the country answering adverts. And we then formulated the rule of four, due to our experiences. It goes like this:-
|Description In Advert||Reality|
|Age||Add or subtract 4 years|
|Height||Subtract 4 inches|
|Weight carrying||Subtract 4 stone|
|Good Clean legs||Subtract 4|
By now we were fed up - where was that nice 15hh horse with good carrying ability, sound legs and nice temperament? Not in any of the ads we answered. So - what to do? Brainstorm number one - go to a breeder, as in theory they should be jealous of their reputation and even though they might only sell you their second best at least you knew where you stood. So what breed? Pondering this I suddenly said "What about a Morgan?". I've no idea where this came from, as I'd never really heard of them and wasn't even sure where they came from. A quick consultation of "The Book Of The Horse" and - hmm - this sounds alright - right height, good temperament etc etc and although the picture wasn't that good - looked ok. So how to find out more? Look up the Horsemans Directory and there is the number of the BMHS. Which we rang. Come to the clinic! Went to the clinic. Went to the sale. Sad really.
Shirley never has learned to sail.
Now to the Morgan bit!