When Alexandra Farrar-Fry got a phone call at 7am from her veterinary practice to say that her much-loved event horse, Grey Finnsky, was about to have emergency surgery for a fractured jaw – which wasn’t the reason he was at the vets in the first place – she could never have imagined that he would win an international horse trials a year later.
After Alexandra’s victory in the CCI3*-S at Barbury Castle on 10 July, she explained the emotional story behind this landmark success – a first at three-star level for the North Yorkshire-based horse and rider.
“I’ve had ‘Boots’, who is owned by a close family friend, Dr Marium Haque, since he was four. When he was six, in 2013, we won the Badminton Grassroots Championship at BE100 level,” she said. “In hindsight, we went up the grades far too quickly. As my now-trainer Caroline Moore would say, we didn’t have enough ‘tools in our box’ to go advanced when he was nine. We both ended up having a bit of a wobble, and went right back down the levels and spent a year at BE100 and then novice.
“We went to Oasby in March 2020 to do the open intermediate, where he felt great. But half an hour after he’d finished the cross-country clear, he could barely walk. We got him home, and two days later he was sound as a pound, which was very, very odd. We did every veterinary check you could think of – the only reason the vets believed he had been lame at all was because I’d taken a video of what he’d been like.
“They couldn’t find anything wrong with him at all, and told me to crack on with him. Then, thank God for us – because I would have run him at Thoresby – Covid hit, and all I could do was quietly hack him around.
“But when I was riding him uphill, I just kept feeling that he wasn’t stepping through with his right hind as much as usual. It was fractional – maybe an inch – but I knew something wasn’t right.
“Everyone, including the vets, kept telling me I was mad – he was sound. The only other thing we could do was to take him into the specialists at Rainbow Equine Hospital for a full MRI scan, which would obviously be very expensive. We made up our minds to do that.”
It was, the 30-year-old says, “horrible” dropping him off, because – due to Covid – Alexandra couldn’t accompany him in.
“He was only staying one night, but I left them a huge list of what he likes and doesn’t like,” she says.
Then, early the following morning, she had a phone call from the practice to say that there’d had been “a bit of an accident” in the night.
“They found him with lots of blood on the bolt of the door, and a couple of teeth on the floor on the other side of the door,” she said. “He must have been playing the blot in the night, got something like an incisor stuck, panicked and pulled back, and fractured his jaw, and they were taking him straight into surgery. He had wire and a brace fitted in his mouth, and lost three teeth, but they said he would make a full recovery from that.”
The general anaesthetic Boots underwent for the jaw surgery meant his MRI was delayed, but, when it was done a day or two later, the MRI showed “red-hot” on his right-hind foot.
“It had already been X-rayed when we were trying to investigate what was wrong, but with his shoes on,” said Alexandra. “With his shoes taken off, they could see that he had fractured his pedal bone. Apparently when that happens, the foot itself acts as a cast, which is why he was sound immediately afterwards.”
Boots spent the rest of 2020 recovering, and returned to eventing at Kelsall Hill in April this year.
“He’s been incredible – the best he’s ever felt,” said Alexandra. “He’s a phenomenal horse. I never think he’s going to get the marks he does in the dressage – he’s a bit like an overgrown Irish bog pony, and not flashy in the slightest, but he tries his heart out. I’ve been training with Ian Woodhead, who has got some unbelievable work out of him, and we’ve even scored nines at CCI3* level this season.
“He’s a fiery little bugger sometimes, but usually we can hold it together in the arena, and in another year, I hope he will be able to ‘sit’ a bit more behind and that will help him move more in front.
“I wouldn’t say he’s the most careful showjumper in the world, but he tries his heart out and Caroline Moore has helped me so much with that. Cross-country, he’s absolutely back on form. We’ve had no wobbles and it feels like we have loads of ‘tools’ in our box now.”
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Dr Haque fractured her back a few months ago and was unable to be at either Belsay – where Alexandra achieved her “far-fetched” seasonal goal of scoring an international win, in the CCI2*-S – or Barbury, sadly.
“But we do loads of live videoing and Facetiming for her. She has been so incredibly supportive, every step of the way,” said Alexandra.
The duo are now upping their fitness plan ahead of a crack at the CCI3*-L at Blair Castle in August, and hope to contest CCI4* level – and be competitive – next year.
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