Secret addiction,dirty little habits and the need for speed.

I LOVE thoroughbreds. I have been hooked on National Hunt racing since the age of about three,when I used to regularly ride a finish up the Cheltenham hill on my rocking horse upsides Francome and Dunwoody. I grew up in a time when national hunt horses were bred for the job and sires such as Roselier,Lancastrian and Over The River were top of the tables. I was hooked on pedigrees and could reel off the breeding of many horses in training-these days the only thing stored in my brain are the lyrics to every 1980’s song ever released and various dressage tests that I will never do again. Why????

When my family is grown and our business has become wildly successful,my intention is to buy up two nice young thoroughbreds to train for pointing. Pipe dream,possibly-but you have to have something to aim for. At various times in my life,I have worked in racing. I started out struggling with the STUPID saddle and pointless bridle (seriously,what is a loose ring snaffle going to stop??) and I ended up riding work regularly. It was a whole new level of awesome,and of developing a knack of holding the runaways. I was small and very light,so the horses ran like the wind for me.

I was lucky enough to land my first racing job with a serious trainer based in Carlow. It was the nicest place I have to date ever worked-we were a small crew and we knew the horses really well. I was treated with respect and paid well,which was welcome as at the time I was trying to run my own yard and finding it tough. The boss sent me horses for retraining as well and I was very happy there.We had three runners at the Cheltenham festival that year and I was devastated when the persuit of my bound-to-blossom-any-minute eventing career took me to pastures new,far away.

My next dip of the toe into the racing world was very different indeed. The boss was a man with a very colourful past and the main owner in the yard featured regularly in The News Of The World. You were paid in fifties,you asked no questions and you told no one what you knew. There were only ten horses in training at any point and although I had ridden some amazing horses in my last job,nothing topped one in particular.He was a small bay horse by Gulch,out of a Theatrical mare and he was serious in a piece of work. He was a bit of a dickhead a lot of the time but he was sheer class to ride-An equine Bugatti Veyron. We used to have to give horses a 20 length start in a piece of work before coolly sauntering up to and past anything you liked without ever coming off the bridle. I also used to school him over fences and he was so classy that you barely felt him leave the ground.

My last job in racing was definately the most fun. Again it was a small yard with only a few staff but it was a laugh a minute from start to end and I loved working there. It was a tonic. Pranks were plentiful. Hacking could become an all day affair requiring the coast guard to find you as we went for miles and miles across random fields,either jumping or crashing our way across the country. We wore wellies to ride out. We used to load up ten horses at a time and sneak onto the local racecourse at half four in the morning the day after racing to gallop. We went racing and had to stop for ice cream ten times on the way,and for a Chinese on the way home. We tried Tokyo drifting with eight of us in the back of a Hilux. We filled someone’s van with live turkeys. We needed resuscitation when the wheel just randomly fell off one guy’s car in the yard as he drove in. It was so much fun. I would have given my right arm to stay there,but the lure of running my own yard up the country was too strong,and off I went again. I wish I hadn’t bothered,because what followed was without a doubt,one of the hardest years of my life.

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I never thought it would happen to me,the joy hoover and but of course.

What would you do if you woke up one morning and the reality of getting up and starting the day seemed impossible? If you felt unbearable,intolerable pressure in your head? If the spark that is you has gone,and you don’t know where to find it? What would you do if you felt an overwhelming  sadness that was drowning you? What indeed.

I myself am a mish mash of contradiction,confusion and effervescence. I love life. It isn’t what I ever thought it would be and im not even in the same Galaxy as my arrogant,eighteen year old self had predicted I would inhabit. There is a conspicuous lack of olympic medals around here. But I LOVE life. I’m motivated and determined. I work hard. I’m affectionate and loyal and honest. I’m pragmatic and cynical and blunt. I like me. Sure I could do to lose weight and be more pretty and make more effort socially,but I’m ok with me. My mind is a kaleidoscope of mad stuff,ideas,vibrant colours and I’m strong in my steadfast belief that in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. A great man once said that ‘every experience is a good one’,and he was right of course. I have bumbled my way through life,getting distracted by shiny things and learning and laughing. I am HAPPY. Depression was not a thing that could ever possibly affect me. Ever. No way.

Except that that wasn’t true. In life,you pay the bill eventually. The consiquences of the decisions you have made will catch you up somewhere,somehow. And so it is. Like every single person mad or bored enough to read this,I have experienced terrible things and incredible things in my 34 years but I never dreamed for a second that there would be a problem. Charlie was born on Easter Sunday 2014. Three weeks of agonising prodromal labour and a lot of freaked out people (sorry Tesco users and the staff at Bloomfield) who witnessed me bent double and crying in agony meant that labour couldn’t get here soon enough. I’m not getting into the rest of this story here but after some pain that I thought (and wished,at the end) would kill me and an emergency disaster and operation,Charlie arrived. The summary of what followed is difficult situation at home,very poorly baby,wound infection,no one to share this shit with,animals to care for and husband back at work. I started to struggle. I started to drown. I felt like my brain was in a car crusher and everything was JUST.SO.DARK. Help came in the form of community mothers,my gp,the public health nurse.and also my best friend NW. I started to feel better. I thought that once you were over this shit,you were over it. I was wrong.

Nine months later,we negotiated a very difficult christmas and new year. Again I won’t digress here but family,money and legalities were turning the screw really tight in my mind. I just hadn’t caught up with that news yet. Myself and Charlie spent three weeks with five bugs between us in early January-four gp visits,a hospital trip and a boat load of antibiotics kept the show on the road. Just. One day I woke up and I took a stroll down self aware avenue. No lights on. No fun to be had. Someone had stuck the joy Hoover into my soul and pressed ‘on’ when I wasn’t looking. My mind felt like it was being crushed. It was so very dark. I was SO ALONE in this barren wilderness of nothing and there were no signposts out of here. I wanted to stay under my duvet. I wanted to be anywhere but here. I wanted to bask in the isolation,give in to it,rest. But I couldn’t. A baby to care for,animals to feed,bills to pay….modern day man doesn’t have the luxury of saying ‘not today,thankyou.

Back out here on earth,I knew i needed help. I felt guilty that I needed help. I’m strong,durable-nothing knocks me down. People are depending on me to be ok. What the hell is even wrong with me anyway? Christ,people would give their last breath for a tiny bit of the life I have. Suck it the fuck up,buttercup.

My gp was amazing,as always. He’s a fixer. He gets shit done. He is helping me through this. Last week,he sent me a copy of some bloodwork and enclosed a note that simply said ‘excellent’. Nice to know that some part of me is doing its goddamn job. I feel so much better. I’m seeing a psychologist to talk this crap out. I’m hoping to avoid meds. My amazing horse thrills me every day with increasingly fabulous work and my husband and son are thriving. Things are great. I’m smiling. I’m fixing. Im mending.I hope.

Whose stupid idea was this,a lack of adhesive anything and anti-gravitational trajectories.

This blog isn’t a follow on to the others. It’s just a few tales of various horses.

My mother used to say that you learn nothing from easy horses. These days I gotta tell you that I would have preferred to have remained uneducated. I suppose my first proper airborne catastrophe came courtesy of my aforementioned replacement angry orange polo pony LG. We were at Tidworth Barracks in the UK at the time.We hadn’t a bogs notion what we were at really so shovelling him full of oats and other rocket fuel was a greenhorn error. It’s a common practice in polo to ride one horse and lead three on either side of you. When I bought LG,he came with a warning that I must never fall off him because a few weeks previous when being ridden in this ride and lead format,LG lost his shit and buried his rider. It got complicated when seven horses fled the scene in an enormous parkland estate. The other ponies came fairly quietly,but not the bold LG. A day and night refusing to be caught when fully tacked up had them calling for the rifle but he did eventually let someone catch him. They were thrilled to see the back of him….can everyone shout ‘FENTONNNNN’…..

Anyway,LG came out of the yard,did some panoramic acrobatics and deposited me neatly at the feet of one of the officers stationed at Tidworth. The man looked at me with some fascination,awarded me a 10 for style,coughed and left.

Another candidate for creating havoc and broken bones was Cruise.Cruise was berserk. Totally batshit insane. He also had a major aversion to horse boxes of any type,especially getting into one. Not only did he bolt frequently when you rode him,he also did so on the ground. Being pretty small and light,I had no hope of sorting this out but a rider by the name of Heinz got pretty sick of the giant grey runaway doing laps of the lorry park unattended at every event with a small blonde girl in hopeless,asthmatic persuit.Heinz caught hold of Cruise one day and he refused to let go.Cruise bolted. Heinz flew through the air like a kite in the breeze but he wouldnt let go. Approximately 17 miles later,Cruise stopped. Heinz turned for home with his shoes on fire,walked the horse up the ramp and that,said he,was that. This battle wasn’t over yet though…..I used to train with a Danish rider called Kjeld Fredrickson and he ran clinics at Charlie Swan’s equestrian centre. I tacked up Cruise at home with boots and rugs on top. I was going to school cross country afterwards as Cruise had a serious problem with water. I led him out to load him,he whipped right and bolted,jumped the fence into our broodmares and took off. FOR FUCKS SAKE…..the only funny thing about it was that he was three quarters draught and the broodmares were thoroughbreds. He was galloping as hard as he could go after the mares,who were scarcely out of a trot and vastly amused at the carry on.

Anyway. I got the stupid FUCKER to Swans and did the lesson. Oh if only I had known what was coming next….

With a firm grip on my stick and neck strap,I headed out to the cross country course. Cruise got about two hundred metres from the water jump and immediately spun and bolted. What followed was a titanic battle of wills and a stamina grind like no other. For THREE HOURS he napped,he bolted,he tried to jump out onto Charlie Swan’s lawn. He reared and bucked. He even tried to lie down. His carry on was so spectacular that Charlie and Donald Swan sat out on the steps of the house and watched. I was so tired that I thought I would either die or fall off-both more attractive options than sitting on this fucking maniac. Eventually,the horse just stopped. Very slowly,he walked into the water. And that was that. Fixed of his water crisis. He never ever hesitated at water again.As I wearily made my way back to the yard,Charlie came over. He complimented me on my quiet persistence and offered me a job riding out. I might have been pleased,but I was too busy trying to not vomit…..

Probably the worst horse I have ever ridden was a chestnut Ashkalani gelding called Khudabad. A beautifully bred Aga Khan cast off,he showed a lot of promise winning a bumper at Naas and going well at Aintree. However,he was a horrible horse. He wouldn’t go onto the gallops without a lead and once he hit the sand it was no longer anything to do with you what happened. You would honestly have had more hope if you had lassoed a wild horse and put tack on it. He had no brakes,no steering,no acknowledgement that the person on his back was meant to be in charge or at least have some input. He terrified me and he was genuinely evil. His specialist subject was the bolt and buck. He would start to bolt and then start bucking. It got higher and faster and higher and faster until you had no hope. Whatever way he dispatched you,you always landed on your chin and chest and you always got whiplash. Its shameful to say but I was frankly delighted when the rotten pig broke down.

On reflection,I can’t say I learned anything from these horses except perhaps the most obvious thing of all-try to avoid fucked up horses with psychedelic imaginations  and a fondness for panoramic views of the countryside. And get a frequent flyer card to your nearest A and E…..

Starting over,selling horses and the universe

The universe has a way of fucking with you. All that time that I wanted to event,I spent inordinate amounts of my life working in showjumping and every horse that landed in the yard was a jumper. When I eventually decided Id like to showjump,my full back Jj died and my super-sub Mist

Nelly
Nelly
image
Mist jumping at home
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Nelly jumping at home

was up on the blocks giving the vets a headache. I’m pretty sure he also funded a two week vacation to Barbados and down payments on a new X5 for everyone at the hospital but I digress. Not a jumper in sight,woolly or otherwise.By now,Vector M2S had been sold to Italy,Mist’s brother sold to America and I had moved in with Niall so horses were stuck in  Corners of sheds everywhere and liveries were no longer an option. Quite by accident and as a result of the sale of Vector,a giant bay mare called Kim arrived. She was fantastic,just the sort of horse you’d love 10 of. She was here 6 weeks and she paid for a brand new horsebox. Money. I like that shit. And I suddenly realised that I could earn that shit too.

what followed was me deciding that buying and selling on a small scale was a good plan. I had two criteria-one,if I didn’t like horse enough to want it for myself,I didn’t buy. Two,I had rules-must be a mare,pref unbroken,under €1200 and not an obvious psycho. It worked a treat. I bought and sold nine horses in 5 years. Some made great money,some not so much but they ALL made a profit and they ALL went on to do great things for their owners. Almost all of them won or placed eventing and a few others that I had had a hand in producing were now also really starting to perform both nationally and internationally. I could do this shit,and I could do it well.

Alongside the horse sales I ran the odd training clinic. In recent times I incorporated charity fund raisers and we have had Giants of the sport over to teach-Lucinda Green,Jock Paget,Blyth Tait,Clayton Fredericks…..it makes no money but its fun and people are learning. Free tea and biscuits proved an excellent lure.

Mist did what he could,when he could but it was becoming obvious that he was struggling. I had a couple of days training with him where he showed just what he was capable of. He pinged out over fences he couldn’t see over easily and for the fun of it but it added to his soundness woes. I eventually was able to have him operated on for kissing spine and he has turned inside out. His joints are still crap but the medication being used has been great and the horse has never ever been better at 13 years of age. Long may it continue.

Two years ago I bought a scrap of a grey mare called Nelly with no mouth,and legs that had so many splints you could be forgiven for thinking she was a one woman abacus. There was nothing to like except that she fitted the criteria and she jumped like a star. I bought her and she was very decent. Since I still had (and have) no idea what to do now,myself and Niall decided to have a baby. Nelly sold to Sweden but in quieter moments I wish I had kept her. I never ever regret money. EVER. But I slightly regretted the sale. Charlie was born,Mist went for surgery and I bought an unbroken three yr old filly from my long time clients and friends in Donegal. It was time to start again.Again. Again.

Dazed,confused and heartbroken…

This particular blog isn’t funny. It’s horrible.

So I was quitting eventing. Only a few months earlier I would have told you you were mental if you had told me I’d quit. I couldn’t bring myself to stay hammering away on an array of unsuitable horses,in persuit of a dream that was never going to happen. Life had

kicked the shit out of me and I felt pretty lost.

You see,a series of disasters happened. Not small ones either. You may recall that my mother was breeding horses. Along with JJ,there was a lovely grey four year old called Tiger and there was also Henry. All half brothers,all such exciting and smart prospects. I thought I was made. Henry was born chestnut with two blue eyes. He was the most precocious horse I had ever encountered. He was so similar to Jj in personality-bold,independent,proud. He grew into a gorgeous tall grey,and I was making arrangements to bring him home to break him. I went to feed him one day and found him with the most catastrophic injury I have ever seen. There was no hope. I lay with him and held his head,the vet came and injected him and extinguished the brightest of bright sparks. I was devastated.

A few months later,Tiger came in to be broken. The day after he came in,he looked a bit unhappy. It was christmas eve and vets were in short supply but I found one who examined him. Loose flexures of intestine. Shit. We went to the hospital where Jj had survived colic surgery a few years previous. No one could find  Out what was wrong but in the end he had to be put to sleep. Happy christmas. Fuck. Such a waste.

Jj was going well as always. He helped me through all of the bad times and he made me just so happy. I could have looked at him all day. He was my wonder horse. Suddenly he got sore in front. Then he went lame. It looked like laminitis. Don’t be stupid. 17hh hannovarians don’t get laminitis. Yes they do.

We tried so hard. He tried so hard. He wanted to live so badly. I should have put him down much MUCH sooner,but he so wanted to live. I will never stop regretting not acting sooner. I spent thousands on drugs,specialists,flying in farriers-but at every turn,he worsened. Fittingly he was put to sleep at 2pm on the eleventh of the eleventh 2011 with myself,Niall and Mist with him.Remember the fallen.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

I think of him a thousand times a day. I’m sorry. Im sorry for everything. You never deserved a  minute of it.

So,yeah. Life kicked me and it kicked me hard. Mist missed his friend and he was also starting to show signs of wear and tear. I just couldn’t cope. I sat on the sofa and I ate food and I watched NCIS seasons 1-10 and I got fat.  One day about 5 months later,I got off the sofa. I went on a diet and I started getting Mist the diagnosis and treatments he needed. The overwhelming question having quit eventing and lost my rock was, now what the fuck am I going to do?

N