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I always look forward to this time of year, as it is so different from the ridiculously early starts, late nights and constantly being on the road during the show season.

Instead, we have the excitement of all the new babies coming in to be broken and we have to endure days and days of their neighing, then refusing to lunge as they don’t understand the concept.

Once they have mastered that we are dragged round the yard on long-reins — but long-reining is so important in understanding how the animal feels in the hand before a rider gets on, plus there’s the extra benefit that I always lose weight through the added exercise.

Then there’s the fascination of how each individual animal handles its “firsts” — the first time having a rider on, first time in the school, first time out hacking, first time going for a ride round at a show. It amazes me how every animal handles it differently.

Just like humans, their personalities differ so much that I find it really important to understand where each of them is coming from. I find the breaking process incredibly rewarding; it’s always nice to find the youngsters rough in a field somewhere and start them in their careers.

A fool’s game

However, over the past few years it has been harder and harder to find animals of the calibre we require. This is wholly down to breeders cutting down or giving up and it is now a real struggle to find the top-quality animals required for the show ring.

On a particularly dispiriting pony shopping trip a few years ago, when I began to think I wouldn’t find anything that met my criteria, I became so concerned over the situation that we decided if we couldn’t find them, we would need to breed our own. My late husband Bob Templeton always used to say, “Fools breed for wise men to buy”, and I agree with this wholeheartedly, but I went ahead anyway.

Bob was completely right. You have to keep the mare, pay the stud fee, then have to keep the foal for three years, hoping that nothing goes wrong, before you start the backing process. Even then there are a million factors — conformation, type, personality, movement and, of course, height — that go into whether or not it’s going to be good enough.

Out of our foundation mare, we were very lucky that our first foal got us to the Cuddy and under saddle has been second at the Royal International Horse Show and second at Horse of the Year Show. However, out of the six foals that the mare has produced we actually only have three live animals, through a variety of unavoidable circumstances.

So, if you are out and about visiting studs with the aim of buying, please take all of this into account and give them a fair price. We all want to find a bargain, but without these dedicated breeders we won’t have an industry at all.

Ref Horse & Hound; 29 December 2016