Whatever your discipline or aspirations, we all know how hard is to find your perfect horse. But every now and again, a horse comes along that can change your life. This can be true of Jonelle Price, whose incredible performance on Classic Moet lifted the trophy this weekend at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials, or it could be the confidence-giving pony that teaches your children to ride. For me, in recent years, that horse has been Sea Breeze, a young mare with so much potential and athleticism, but with one of the “hottest” minds I have come across.
To say she has been a challenge is an understatement, but she has taught me so much, and in turn, has made me smile every time I play her on the polocrosse pitch; she just makes it so much fun! She is the reason I still have the ambition to play at the highest level, and I don’t think I will find another quite like her.
While schooling her last week, and putting my winter dressage training into practice, I felt such a good connection with her. People don’t realise that I am actually a bit soppy about my horses, and I honestly felt like we were having a conversation where we agreed on everything that was said. The very next day, she ran through a fence and cut her hock to the tendons. If infection had got hold in the wound, we would have lost her. Thankfully, due to the expertise of my vet, and a fair share of luck, she is now on the mend. I don’t mind admitting to shedding a few tears and some sleepness nights, and I feel so grateful that in time, she should make a full recovery. I guess that it is the deal we make when we have horses in our lives; we have to take the bad times with the good.
Another horse that has the potential to have a big impact on our lives is Haydon Oracle, a two-year-old Australian Stock Horse colt that we have bought with the Bristow family. He is currently in quarantine in Melbourne and is due to land in the UK on 23 May. Penny and I have been huge fans of the stock horse as a breed, and have bred foals to our stallion, Diesel, in the past, but this is the first time there will be a registered, live, ASH stallion available in the UK. As he is still so young, it will be a while before he is available to outside mares, but in the meantime, I will enjoy training him so he can demonstrate the incredible versatility of the breed.
The day before he arrives, Penny and I will be at Buckingham Palace, celebrating the Prince of Wales’ 70th birthday. We will be representing the Australian Stock Horse Society, of which the Prince of Wales is a patron. I am showing off a bit here, but it will be the second time I have gone, as I was invited to the Palace to meet the Queen before she toured Australia in 2011. I did wonder what I was doing there among famous Australian singers and actors, but my badge saying “Australian Horse Trainer” did persuade the Queen to stop and have a quick chat with me about racing and the new whip rules that had just been brought in. Who knows, this time I may be able to persuade the Royal Family that they need some Australian Stock Horses in their polo pony lines!
Back to real life and the yard is in full swing. It is always interesting at this time of year as the competition season gets going, I start getting updates on babies that have been through the yard in the previous year, that are suddenly looking like “serious horses”. For example, local young event rider, Emily Nicol, has started competing her young horses that were started with me and they look like fantastic prospects. Six-year-old Simba is about to do his first BE novice, and four-year-olds Arya and Sansa are just starting to get out and about competing. I’m particularly keen on Arya, a quality mare who is just my type, and although she may take a while to mature, I am really excited to see what the future holds for this partnership.
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I always feel so fortunate that I have such a great, hard-working team around me. At the moment, this includes some young lads who are learning the horse training ropes for the summer. Just as I try and learn from other people as much as possible, I see my role as not only training horses and their owners, but being part of the process of developing the next generation of horse trainers, too. Hamish Gillanders, who has been with me nearly a year now, is a real talent. Having grown up riding, competing and teaching in his parents’ riding school in Scotland, he spent a year in Australia with some excellent horse people after completing his A-levels. Starting large numbers of horses is definitely a young person’s game, so I will do everything I can to get him to stay! Sadly, one of my long-standing employees is leaving for pastures new. Annie has been with me since she was 15, and not only has been a fantastic groom, but also a highly able assistant trainer. She has such a good way with the horses, we will all miss her on the yard.