The big cheese,dysfunction and wide-eyed terror

Ronnie and I landed up in Peterborough in February 2000. It’s embarrassing now when I think of it. Gods gift to three day eventing had landed (despite having never contested more than a hunter trial),mind your backs Funnell and Todd. The yard was small but perfect. Rows of Devoucoux saddles, (that’s where that nasty  little habit began) spotless beautiful horses and terribly polite,posh english people. I was SCREWED. My bright orange reins and bright yellow over reach boots-along with the tendency to say ‘fuck’ a lot-meant that this could only go one way.

Ronnie the racehorse was a legend. He had no idea what was going on really but he gave it his best. We never did get to an event but he did jump with class around the Fitzwilliam cross country course and place at dressage. He went lame then with what turned out to be navicular,and that was that. Home,James….

Next stop was a job with one of Ireland’s leading showjumpers. No doubt that I needed to learn to do that bit. I learned plenty and I  loved it there but eventing was what I (thought) wanted to do. Off I went again,to a big event yard down the country. I took dear old Ronnie too but he struggled with his feet. He went home,and in his place landed the greatest bastard I had up to then encountered. A massive tank of a horse with totally psychotic tendencies,no brakes and no limits that went by the name of ‘Cruise’.He was vastly unsuitable for eventing,being three-quarters draught and slower than your average asthmatic snail but he could jump,and he was batshit insane enough to jump anything-as long as you could get to within 10 feet of the fence. His specialist subject was the nap-spin-bolt manoeuvre. I did however-tadaaaaa-event him!!! He did two events before soundness issues began. Turned out he had navicular too. I’m pretty sure that his behaviour was mostly pain related in hindsight. I really loved the mad hoor-mainly out of gratitude for not actually killing me-and I was very sad the day he went to the big pasture in the sky. My beautiful Ronnie went the same way too and it was an annus horriblus for us when we lost a lovely Commanche Run filly in a hurdle race at Gowran and a foal that injured itself irrepairably in the field.

My mother was breeding a few horses at the time and she had in her care what turned out to be one of my two horses of a lifetime in Jj.I took Cruise with me to work on a dressage yard but after he had departed,I needed another horse to event. JJ was only two at the time but he was naughty,so I broke him and hacked him around for a few months. He was flawless in every way. The most beautiful horse I had ever seen with perfect balance,a Mensa brain and a huge jump,this one set me dreaming. Anyway,the event horse conundrum-enter Som Du Ville (Autumn to his pals). He was a gorgeous big chestnut with no mouth whatsoever and he had been hobdayed,so everywhere we went he whistled a jaunty tune. I moved jobs back to another Showjumper and took Autumn and Jj with me. I managed four or five events with Autumn,finding him much easier in a hackamore. I was beginning to realise that this eventing lark was much harder than I had thought,and overnight international superstardom wasn’t really happening. I started to wake up to life a bit when a mile in the lead at my last event on Autumn. He stopped on the cross country. Not such a star now,are Ya….

Autumn went home and it transpired that he had navicular. WHAT THE FUCK WITH ALL THE NAVICULAR??????? So I went to work for  ANOTHER Showjumper and I learned a lot. I ran a 12 horse yard by myself and I surely learned the meaning of hard graft. Jj came along too and whilst at the time I hated it,hated my boss and hated the world at large,it taught me the basis of the methods I use to this day. These methods have served me well and produced many nice young horses. Thanks Paulie.

As fast as I was learning that I was no big swinging Mickey,Jj was becoming convinced that he ruled the free world. He was amazing all the time and he taught me what showjumping is meant to feel like. I decided that he wasn’t going eventing,and along with another absolute topper of a horse called Vector M2S I now had TWO showjumpers and NO eventers. I had a few goes at running my own yard and riding out racehorses in the mornings to pay the bills. Some long time clients invited me to base with them and I was riding 14-16 horses a day. It was insane,but said clients wanted to event and needed someone to school and produce their horses.Opportunity knocked.

Moving to the new yard meant we needed hay and straw,and that’s when fate dealt me the ultimate trump card. I met Niall. Wonderful,special,funny,kind genuine Niall. We are together eleven years now,married for almost six of those and have a little boy called Charlie-That’s for another blog,though.

My clients started buying some very decent horses,and handing them to me to produce. One of those was a Porter Rhodes gelding called Rocky. He was almost as mental as Cruise but he was a bigger bastard and would drop you like a shot from panoramic heights. We headed to our first event,neck stap firmly in hand. I jumped on to do the stressage. He EXPLODED. He dropped me from about fifteen feet up and burst me in the face for good measure. He then turned totally wild and was roaming the Galway Serengeti at quite some speed. Annoyingly,no one had a tranquilliser gun but the fucker was eventually caught. With trepidation I got back on. Trepidation turned to temper on the Xc course and I gave it a proper Tony McCoy ride to finish 7th. I did a few more events on him-enough to know that he was a total machine-before the owners sent him to someone in the UK. He was sold on and contested two young rider europeans for Italy.I was pretty sick over it,and it started the beginning of the end with that owner.

Meanwhile,mother had bred a runt. Small,crooked-deformed even-with a terrible temper,even as a tiny foal. I loved him at once,of course. With the exception of Jj,it seemed normal horses were (still are) something that happened to other people so I got on with loving the psychos. Enter Misty. Horse of a lifetime number two.He was IMPOSSIBLE. Wouldn’t lead nor drag. He bit and kicked for fun,though. He also jumped. All by himself. He would canter loose around the arena and pop over whatever got in his way. The Badminton dream was ALIVE! Eventually we got him to sort of ride,and he completed his first event quite well. His travelling companion that day was a tall black horse belonging to the people I was still based with. The black horse that day won the 4 and 5 yr old class,landing me my first win ‘under rules’. That horse sold to Italy as well and is a nice intermediate eventer.

Mist continued to drive me insane. He had the ‘skillz’ but no way would he bend at the knee for me. By now I was living with Niall and we were just married. The first three events of the season resulted in a fourth and two wins. He then became increasingly more difficult and would fuck it up somewhere-penis behaviour in the dressage,alarming fence judges….I lost count of the times that he had it ‘in the bag’ only to have a disaster. He made it to 1* but my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I decided to retire him to-you guessed it,SHOWJUMPING-and he loved it. It no longer mattered how berserk he was,the jumpers don’t care once the poles stay up. I evented his half brother a bit too. He was a prick of a horse-prettier than Mist but twice the size and with none of the work ethic. He napped like a motherfucker at ditches too which resulted in a lot of William Wallace style cross-country riding. He’s in America now and the horrid bastard is at advanced level….they must have threatened him with a crocodile or something.

Mist and I did our last event together two years ago. We were heading for the two day at Tattersalls but for good luck,it was rained off. I had wanted to event my whole life. Dreamed of it day and night. Suddenly a thought was occuring to me. I didn’t want to do this anymore……


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I am a Sports horse producer based in Ireland. That sounds very grand....the reality is that life here is crazy-trying to fit four horses,200 cattle,a baby and a husband into a day results in tales of the insane and a feeling of lurching through life with no clue what's going on. I have a keen interest in everything from planets to bones to quantum mechanics,and am a perpetual asker of the question 'why?'.

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