As I walk along the pathway to Hilly’s (Fernhill Present) field, the early night is drawing in and the cold air is nipping at my heels. The heat and excitement of Adelaide’s world-famous four-star event seems so long ago.
I can see Hilly in the distance munching away happy and content. You would have no idea that only two weeks previously he was on the other side of the world achieving something that no other horse has done before. Hilly helped me achieve my dream of being the first Northern Hemisphere rider to complete Adelaide. Our ultimate goal is to be the the first horse and rider combination to complete all six four-stars around the world.
As I reach him he looks up briefly, acknowledges me with with a gentle wicker. I rub his head and look at him:
“Thank you,” I whisper.
Hilly stands and looks at me for a while, he then turns and walks a few steps away before he starts grazing again. I stand and watch him as the darkness draws in around us. The two horses turned out in the field next to him are grazing on the horizon as the winter light gently fades away.
I start to walk away but Hilly, oblivious, hasn’t noticed. I reach the gate way and look back, I can just make out his silhouette distance. “Goodnight,” I say.
As I continue walking back to stables I can see the yard lights ahead being switched off and I’m swallowed by darkness. The hoot of an owl nearby suddenly makes me aware I am very alone. “It’s a strange sport,” I think to myself of eventing. At the height of any athlete’s competition career, hundreds if not thousands of people are on the edge of their seats, watching you. Yet the reality of a successful sportsperson is sometimes that life is the most loneliness of places.
I carry on thinking as I walk along the path back to the house: “I wonder if I could get night vision cameras put up around Hilly’s field?”
Hilly has been turned away. He’s out, and in the famous words of Micky Flanagan: “The boy is out, out!”
He will be out on holiday in the field for the next month. He is checked twice a day but apart from that he is left well and truly alone.
Everyone has different ideas with their horses but I personally think a horse needs the time to unwind and relax after a big competition or a season’s eventing/showjumping or even hunting. As well as being good for them physically to let them down, if there are any underlying injuries the rest will hopefully put these right too.
Mentally I think that this break is key. Horses are unable to tell us how they feel; we are unfortunately having to second guess the whole time but I have not come across a horse yet that does not enjoy being out in the field with a healthy about of grass, the sun on their backs and friends to share their stories with.
Hilly has two friends next to him, mother and daughter Dragon and Fire. I evented Dragon when I was a junior and I did my first intermediate with her. She is now in her 20’s but looks as good as the day I first saw her. Her daughter Fire is indeed a fiery six-year-old. She suffered a minor injury last year and is now in foal.
When Hilly arrived home he stepped off the lorry and marched straight into his stable as though he had never been away. I honestly couldn’t believe how well he travelled back. The next morning I turned him out in the field and the little toe rag rolled, bucked and pulled a shoe off. This is one of the reasons I have to turn him away 24/7. Hilly becomes to fresh and naughty if I bring him in and out of the field. He would become a danger to himself. I, on the other hand, would much prefer to keep him in sometimes — keeping him clean and keeping a watchful eye on him but unfortunately I know this is not in his best interests.
For the first week I did have to be careful with Hilly’s routine though. I didn’t suddenly want to put him out to the rich English grass compared to Australia’s Vegemite grass. I gradually increased the hours he was out each day until I was happy for him to be turned away completely.
My vet PJ Mc Mahon came and checked Hilly over and gave him the all clear. I think we are all staggered with how incredible he looks and feels. Hilly’s farrier Mark Spriggs came and pulled his shoes off and then he was ready for his holiday. Was I? No, no I was not!
I would love to have Hilly in a field right outside my bedroom window so I could watch him all day and night but he would hate this. We have him turned away in a very quiet secluded field where my groom, Jenny McKibben, has nicknamed it Hilly’s “man cave”. Hilly hates being pestered and although horses are herd animals I think if he was in the wild he’d be the loan stallion that would walk the plains by himself.
Hilly was incredibly brave for me throughout our amazing journey and now I must be brave for him and just leave him be. Leave him alone to be a horse at grass. We will feed him a little haylage out in the field but no hard feed. He is such a good doer that he doesn’t need the added calories. He has two rugs on — a heavyweight outdoor with neck and a lightweight rain sheet with neck. I find this is a really effective way to keep them warm and dry without having hundreds of rugs on them and we all know how I love my rugs!
For the first time this year I have also put on a mud barrier grease to help against mud fever. I have done so purely for the fact that Hilly has clipped out legs. Usually at the end of the season we would have let his winter coat grow in and this would help to prevent against the mud.
It is good to be home and I can’t wait for Christmas and the for the New Year to begin! I will be entering Badminton and hoping not to be put too far down on the wait list. I feel that Hilly has deservedly earnt his place to be there and we hope to make history as we complete the final four-star on our list of six!
I am well too. My scan at the hospital in Adelaide came back negative for an appendicitis meaning I was able to fly home with Hilly. My blood results came back as having a very high white blood cell count showing indication of an infection but whether I contracted this I will never know. It took me a long time to feel 100% again but I am grateful it was only this and nothing more serious and even more grateful it was I who was ill and not Hilly!
Thank you all for being a part of my journey. Without your support it would have been a very different experience altogether. Have a very Merry Christmas and have no regrets for the New Year.
Best wishes as always to you all.
Goodnight for now.
Alice and Hilly xx