Ride of my life: Sir Anthony Austin

  • Sir Anthony Austin recalls his ride on The Doctor

    The Doctor got his name because he was wonderful at calming the nerves. He never refused one of the huge blackthorn hedges in the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale country and he only fell once in the 10 years he hunted hounds.

    Everybody knewand admired him, including four Olympic eventers and the Price of Wales, who hunted him in 1979. He had the most remarkable physique and tremendous power. All I needed to do was give him a nudge and he pulled away like a motorbike.

    The Doctor always remained nervous when handled from the ground and it too four or five of us to catch him. He was never a horse for petting and remained frustratingly aloof all his life, never showing any affection to anybody – just a desire to do his job.

    One particularly memorable day was when we met at Inwood, Count de Pelet’s estate. It turned into one of those hunts of a lifetime.

    Soon after the meet, a strong fox left one of the coverts on Inwood, leading us across the country towards Pulham and then across its infamous vale. Those blackthorn hedges – ditches front and back – kept coming at us and all required courage and a dash of insanity.

    Towards the end of the day, we were drawn up sharp by a fence that would make Badminton look like a novice event. Even though these people were known to jump places they couldn’t see over, there was a feeling of defeat and some started to look around for a gate.

    Someone turned to me and demanded: ‘Go on, you have a go first – you’re on the best horse.’

    So we did, although nobody saw us land, and we went on to catch our fox as dusk was settling. We owe that hunt to The Doctor.

    When my father retired from hunting hounds in 1984, nearly all the other horses were sold on, but not The Doctor. He came to Devon and enjoyed many days until he died of a heart attack.

    He is now buried under an oak tree in the front paddock, but is immortalised in two paintings by John King.

    Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (16 May) where endurance rider Jill Thomas talks about her “ride of a lifetime” at the 1993 European Championships on Egyptian Khalifa.

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