Something my great grandmother used to say is that a British passport is the greatest gift you can be born with. My mother added a love of horses to that. In an extremely important week for England, with the EU referendum, you might have to excuse me for passing over the first of these gifts. However I am more than happy to explain why the second is so valuable.
A week that combines the best of both has been and gone; Royal Ascot week. It is the kind of event where I really appreciate the small knowledge of horses I have accumulated so far to further enhance my experience of this occasion. And like so many people, we were thrilled to see Jamie Osborne’s win in the Britannia Stakes on Thursday with his filly, Defrocked.
The Osbornes are an excellent example of a family who have made a life from their love of horses. Jamie, prior to becoming a Flat trainer (with wins including the Breeder’s Cup with Toast Of New York), was a top National Hunt jockey, a breed known to be among the bravest of men. This is why I was so surprised when he told me that he has never experienced such nerves as when waiting in the tunnel for a championship in his previous life as a working hunter pony (WHP) rider.
It’s quite something to think of a man who would quite readily sail over Becher’s Brook at break-neck speed, quaking on his pony as he waited for a WHP result. He explained to me that the workers had taught him to cope with pressure and thrive under it in a way that nothing else can, and that getting practised at that as a child meant that “handling pressure became incredibly easy”. And despite the significant tracks which he says teach you to ride “properly”, it is not good enough just to bash your way round because the style mark is so influential.
The very much horse-focused life that he and his family have now has its roots in his younger years where he grew up in with his sister Sarah (now Muirhead, who can still be found on the WHP circuit) and parents Tony (a Pony Club A test holder) and Angela. Jamie is also married to the much-admired equestrian artist Katie O’Sullivan. Jamie’s greatest success in ponies came on the almost unbeatable Huttons Ambo Checkerberry, who he describes as having such a sharp temperament that he was like a fiery little racehorse, making the transition onto the full blown version much easier.
Saffie (pictured top with my sister Susie), the youngest Osborne and one of my sister’s best friends, is a super rider who also competes in WHP and has recently been doing very well in eventing. Her free spirit evidently transfers to everything she does and when I asked her on Saturday evening how long she would be at Ascot, she replied that they had “never left before 10.30pm”, and proceeded to send me a picture of her swigging from a huge champagne bottle later that night.
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And so I would have to agree with my mother (who dreams of being pensioned off into a retirement home full of horsey people, where she will no doubt sit in a chair holding her grooming kit looking back over old photographs), when I see how a love of horses brings together so many fun-loving people in such a perfect British week as Royal Ascot; the very embodiment of all these qualities.