It’s been an exciting week. I spent last Friday full of anticipation as I had so much to look forward to – autumn hound training, team chasing and, of course, my first ride on Denman.
He has been with my friend Peg Livingston-Learmonth for the past two weeks, going on the horse-walker to start off his fitness. News travels fast when there is a celebrity in town and he has had quite a few visitors drop in to admire him.
After a 4.30am start for autumn hound training with the Cotswold, I arrived at Peg’s yard for my first ride. You never know what to expect with ex-racehorses that have previously only had riders legged up, so it’s best to be prepared for anything.
Denman stood like a rock by the mounting block, before humping his back for a few seconds, which is exactly what Dan Skelton [Paul Nicholls' assistant] said he would do. He then stood still waiting for the others to get on, and off we went around the lanes.
He was totally unfazed by the alpacas, tractors and people who stopped to ask Peg whether she had Denman in her yard. Considering he has not been ridden for nearly a year he was incredibly good. If anything he was slightly on the lazy side, which is what Paul and Dan told me to expect. I would much rather have them this way as you can always put more petrol in the tank. On the way back he started swinging in his walk and I could feel what a wonderful horse he is.
On our way home from Peg’s, I stopped in at Sydney Free Saddlers in Cirencester. I had a lovely lightweight, forward cut cross-country saddle made for Earthmover years ago and I wanted to have it re-fitted to Denman if possible. We also made a quick trip to see Tash at Bourton Vale Equine Clinic to have his teeth done (pictured left). Let’s hope I see Tash only for these routine veterinary visits!
Since getting Denman home, I’ve ridden him several times and he goes out happily on his own. He stands stock still while I get on and is striding out round the lanes. He is learning to go forward off the leg, to open and shut gates and walk across grass fields – so he accepts he does not have to gallop as soon as his toes touch grass! He is taking this all in his stride and, like a typical intelligent thoroughbred, he’s learning quickly.
He has settled in well with No More Prisoners (Fred), his new best friend. Fred is my main team chaser for our team Lycetts; A Class Act. The season is now underway and on Sunday Fred and I had a wonderful run round the Belvoir’s course at Garthorpe (pictured below).
It’s a cracking venue with lovely manicured hedges and the ground was perfect. Our lead rider Andrew Shipley, who has ridden with me for many years, was riding another ex-racehorse called Culpeppers Dish. He is the most experienced horse on the circuit and gave us all a great lead to finish second.
Fred is relatively inexperienced and I was thrilled with him. Each horse is different and his confidence has taken some time to build. Earthmover was a totally different ride and took to it immediately – all I needed to do was find suitable brakes as he was so bold. My first jump on Denman will also be hugely exciting – this will not happen for some time yet, but what an event to look forward to!
Read the full report from the Belvoir team chase in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, on sale 20 September 2012